Train Like a Woman, Look Like a Woman

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Back in 2002 I was contemplating becoming a teacher.  A health teacher to be more precise.  As an undergrad I was studying Health Education with a concentration in being awesome Health/Wellness Promotion, and as many of you can probably guess, a major part of the requirement for completion was to spend a semester student teaching at both a local middle and high school.

In my case “local” meant driving 50 miles (both ways) to Binghamton, NY.  And while I could easily sit here and bemoan some aspects of the experience – driving 50 miles through the lake effect snow capital of the world during the dead of winter comes to mind. As does teaching human sexuality to a bunch of 7th-graders. Hey, you try to explain “nocturnal emissions” WITH A STRAIGHT FACE – I have to say, all in all, it was an amazing few months.

I learned a lot about myself during that time (like, how to properly tie a tie), and it was a wonderful opportunity to, as Chip and Dan Heath describe in their book, Decisive, get an “ooch,” or “taste” as to whether or not teaching was the right fit for me.


Turns out it wasn’t.

When it came down to it:  I decided it was way cooler to spend my time hanging out in a gym making people stronger than it was hanging out in a classroom teaching kids what cell-mediated immunity was.

Still, I was reminiscing the other day about my student teaching experience and amid my thoughts of lecture plans, pop quizzes, and the differences between boy-down-there-parts and girl-down-there-parts (seriously, try to keep a straight face!), it brought me back to the day when I was asked by one of my students if I’d be willing to attend his poetry reading that he was organizing after school in the cafeteria.

While the Jaws theme music immediately started reverberating in my head as soon as the word “poetry” left his lips, being the good trooper and responsible teacher that I was, I gladly accepted.

Hopefully without sounding too mean, there’s Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off Broadway, the two homeless guys fighting over an empty Coke can in the park, and then there’s the poetry reading/one-man monologue/play that he put on in front of a group of 20 or so people.

I feel like a major a-hole for saying it (more than ten years later), but it was face palm bad.  But I survived.  And well, giving credit where it’s due:  it’s not like I’ve ever done anything remotely as ballsy as that.

And because I really don’t have any other way to segue into what I actually wanted to talk about today, want to know what else is face palm worthy?  The following story………..

It’s a Doozy

After linking on my site THIS post she wrote on why she doesn’t believe in barre classes anymore, last year my friend Emily Giza Socolinsky wrote a stellar guest post on this site titled A New and Better Butt? Why Not a Stronger Butt?

Note:  before you continue, I’d HIGHLY recommend you read the actual post(s) because what follows won’t be nearly as vomit in your mouthish if you don’t.

Finished?  Okay, good.

Great message, right?  I felt Emily hit the nail on the proverbial head with that one.  Any message which empowers and encourages women to not be afraid to lift appreciable weight, as well as any message which debunks the notion that lifting something heavier than a 3 lb dumbbell, bar, or purse will turn them into a Highland Games competitor overnight is alright in my book.

Apparently someone felt otherwise and took offense to Emily’s “tone.”  Well, to be more precise they originally took offense that, unbeknownst to Emily, the photo she used in her original post was of an actual owner and instructor of a Barre class (that she snaked off of Google Images).

Emily gladly took the photo down. But it was the snide comment that the owner left in the comments section of Emily’s post which really grinded her gears:

” You have used the photo of barre class with out permission … Please remove it. This is a photo of my instructors at a barre studio and myself.. It is not stock for public consumption.

Separately, you are completely wrong about barre class. I don’t know what kind of class you taught at your studio but our clients are much stronger, much more confident, ski better, play tennis better, etc and aren’t just there to tone their thighs. Perhaps they can not pull their husbands out if a burning building – not sure whose overall goal that would be anyway – but they are not looking to build enormous muscles and look like a man either.

Remove the photo immediately.

Thank you.”

OMFG – when will this ever end??????????????

Excuse me while I go face palm my face into a cement wall.

Emily responded like a champ:

“Thank you for your comment. I apologize for using your picture. I will remove this out of courtesy to you and your instructors.

However, what I cannot and will not do is apologize for my post. I am not completely wrong about barre classes and if you actually read my post, I am all for women doing what works for them and makes them happy. But I want to deliver to my female clients what I believe to be a better program for getting stronger and gaining confidence.

While I am sure that your clients have gotten stronger from your barre classes, I believe that my clients are served better by actually lifting weights that will challenge their bodies, minds and spirits. None of my ladies look like a man.

In fact, all of my women have dramatically changed their bodies into curvaceous, strong and fit women. Your comment implies that my goal is to make women look like men. Women can be strong, have muscle, lift heavy weight and still be women.

I want to deliver the best program to my women and for them and for me, this includes picking up weight that weighs more than 3 lbs. Sure, you can get stronger by doing anything….but in my world (and many others) building a stronger body means actually lifting weights.

And for me, I DO want to know that if I had to, I could pull my husband out of a burning building.”


The absolute best response I saw on Emily’s Facebook Page was this:

“Ski better, play tennis better” is the bougiest response to anything I’ve seen in a while. “

Our clients can handle many pottery barn shopping bags.” “She has the strength to open the hood of her own 3 series.” “Our clients look great in their cocktail dresses when they attend philanthropy luncheons.”

Well said by whoever said that!

I don’t feel I need to add any fuel to the fire here since most of you reading know my stance on this topic.  I just find it disheartening that this is still the pervasive attitude which dominates much (not all) of the female psyche.

For the love of all that’s holy can you blame some of them?

I have a female client who’s a personal trainer on the side and she mentioned how she wanted to ween herself out of the commercial gym setting, and start working with younger athletes (particularly female) at the local high school where her son goes.

As it happened, she sent out an email to all of the girls athletic coaches at the high school telling them that she’d be in the weight room this summer to help out, and she asked the coaches to encourage their athletes to come.

She heard back from TWO coaches, one of which is the female PE teacher who also coaches the field hockey team.

This is what the coach wrote back:

One issue is the lack of user friendly equipment for the girls. They are not interested in the heavy lifting machines. I wrote a grant for strength training circuit machines and cardio machines, but it did not get funded.

Well no shit they’re not interested if this is the mentality that’s being engrained from the get go!

For the record:  my client noted that the “heavy lifting machines” this coach is referring to are the TEN squat racks in the weight room.

Since when do females need user friendly equipment?  Since when do they need to be pampered with cardio machines?

It’s all BS if you ask me.  Worse still, it’s a disgrace and woeful fail in judgement on the coaches’ parts.  Way to go!  You just pandered to the fears that every girl has towards lifting weights by telling her she needs to head to elliptical row!


If females are being “programmed” by their elders and coaches at such a young age to think that boys and girls need to train differently and that the squat rack isn’t “user friendly,” is it any wonder why this seems like a losing battle at times?

Why not, I don’t know, encourage young, impressionable women that the squat rack isn’t Mordor. That they don’t need to train any differently than the boys?  That lifting appreciable weight can be a key to unlocking a treasure trove of beauty, athleticism, and maybe even more importantly, confidence?

Can we turn the page sometime in the near future?  Please?

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Sean

    Tony, I completely disagree. The squat rack IS Mordor, for any sex, if used correctly!

    July 9, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Reply to this comment

  • CodieD

    hehe, Mordor! I helped my family with a yard sale this weekend and squatted down to pick up a box with a bunch of odds and ends. I don't think it weighed more than 40 lbs. My family started shouting at me, "woah! woah! woah! You better let one of the boys get that." You would have thought I was about to run over their favorite dog the way they shouted. I work hard at the gym so I can lift heavy stuff at home too, dang it!

    July 9, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jacob Morales

    Tony, I am volunteering with a local high school's coed aquatics summer strength and conditioning program and one of the biggest challenges I face is trying to change the girls' psyche from thinking they're going to look like men if they lift heavy. Some of them are stronger than the boys, and I can tell they are embarrassed by that. I've told them as a group multiple times to not be afraid to lift heavy, but they're still hesitant. Any advice on how to change their thinking and get them to lift to their potential? Thanks, Jacob Morales

    July 9, 2013 at 9:27 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Shelley

      Jacob, One thing that might help is to educate them about their biology and about the types of lifters they have probably seen in magazines. Unfortunately most females have seen photos of female lifters who are using steroids and look like men, only they're never told that those women got that big because of the drugs. Then girls are afraid to lift because they don't want to look like that. Educating girls about their own biology (i.e. we don't naturally have enough testosterone to get that big) and showing them how amazing women like Emily, Nia Shanks, Kellie Davis, Molly Galbraith, etc. look might help alleviate some of their fears. These women also have fabulous websites that the girls could look into. If there are serious female lifters in your area, you could also look at trying to get one of them to come and talk with the girls about lifting and how great it is. In the end, they might just need a bit more encouragement than the guys do too. I know I did when I started out.

      July 10, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Just don't highlight it I suppose. I think if you don't make a big deal out of it, they won't. BUT on the other hand, maybe it's just a matter of continued encouragement and positive reinforcement?

      July 12, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jay

    One does not simply walk into the squat rack...

    July 9, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Monzeekee

    I train mixed genders, and once women are NOT afraid of the heavier weights and the full pushups and other 'men stuff', they have such a good time and such a boost in confidence :) One of my ladies blew this dude clean out of the water in one of our group workouts, and a week later he is still mentioning her prowess with hushed awe xD it's fantastic.

    July 10, 2013 at 1:32 am | Reply to this comment

  • Julia Buckley

    Just want say, great post Tony. Thanks for writing it. :-)

    July 10, 2013 at 10:18 am | Reply to this comment

  • Sam Thomas

    I have a female friend who has come to me for advice because she fears she is getting "frumpy". She told me her current exercise routine, rife with steady state cardio and other similar things. I'm not a trainer and don't pretend to be one, but I gave her a few myths she needs to dispel immediately, told her to forget everything she's ever heard or read about exercising (especially pertaining to women), and then directed her to this website and to look up Nia Shanks.

    July 10, 2013 at 11:48 am | Reply to this comment

  • Teri Skinner Chadwick

    56 y.o. female here .... who lifts at the "rack" and trains women in lifting "something heavier than their purses" (quote courtesy of Rachel Cosgrove). Thank you for a great article, Tony! Hear, hear!

    July 10, 2013 at 11:26 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Stephanie

    Tony, I feel your pain -- For 4 years I was a health/sex-ed teacher to 10th graders at a prep school... and it was pure torture. Some of those kids were practically grown men already (17 yr old sophomores? Hello prep school hockey) , and there I was, straight out of undergrad, trying to show them how to put on a condom. Yikes. But anyway -- Love the rest of this post. Emily's response is spot on, but what really got to me was that coach at the high school. Female friendly equipment? What does that even mean?!? Yikes again.

    July 11, 2013 at 5:24 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      That's EXACTLY my thought process as well. I mean, if the coaches and elder females are doing nothing to promote strength in the young girls, can we blame them for thinking how they do? Can we blame them for not understanding that the squat rack is where they should lean towards?

      July 12, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Reply to this comment

  • SaoirseLee

    I think the tide is turning, very slowly, but it's turning. Perhaps a big part of it is the family culture the woman grows up in, even more than the wider culture? For example, I grew up in a rural area in Ireland as part of a large extended family. There was pretty much always manual work to be done, moving hay bales, carrying bins of turf (fuel for fires), picking potatoes, moving cattle, carrying buckets of feed to animals. (this was the 1980s and 1990s, not the 1880s and 1890s, btw, in case this sounds like Little House on the Prairie!) There were about equal amounts of men and women in the family, but probably the women did even more of this moderately heavy work than the men. Stuff just need to get done. I attribute this to the influence of my grandmother, who was a tall strong woman who loved working outdoors, so she simply set an example of women doing heavyish work. It wasn't seen as unfeminine, and in fact, all the women of the family were very glamorous and particular about their appearances when not working. I grew up taking it for granted that I was perfectly capable of doing this kind of stuff. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I realised that most other women significantly underestimated their physical strength. Like CodieD's experience above, you were treated like a crazy person if you wanted to lift more than the weight of a sickly kitten, with frantic calls made for any available man to take over. However, the normalisation of women's strength was so engrained in me from my upbringing, it was never drowned out from the wider culture. Men have a lot to gain from women acknowledging and training their strength. They're less likely to be treated like pack donkeys. I can never get out of helping my husband lifting and carrying furniture, for example. (dammit!) ;D anyhoo, the TL;DR version, git em young and brainwash 'em! We'll soon have armies of Amazonian women doing farmers walks!

    July 26, 2013 at 4:56 am | Reply to this comment

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