Strong is Sexy…

…and kettlebells can get you there.

Recently a very good friend of mine decided she might pick up kettlebell training to battle the onset of body fat that she has finally chosen to face. She asked me for advice on how to begin, because I am an RKC II and a Performance Training Specialist-and I just plain like to lift heavy things. “What size kettlebell should I start with?”, she asked. The choice was between 7 pounds or 10 pounds. Bless her heart, but I had to chuckle. My four year old son could train with a 7 pound kettlebell! It’s not her fault though-she’d always been told to “lift light”. 

This is yet another example of the common misconceptions of strength training as it relates to females. We are under the impression that we should lift tiny pink weights in order to get “toned” or we shouldn’t lift weights at all and we should stick to yoga or pilates for “long, lean muscles”. Don’t get me wrong, yoga is GREAT for so many reasons, but it won’t get you the body you want and it won’t get you crazy strong. Unfortunately though, an alarmingly large percentage of women think if they lift heavy weights they will get “big” or “bulky”.

I’m here to tell you that is complete BS. I am extremely passionate on the subject of women and strength training because once upon time I was a girl with a lot of these common misconceptions, training inefficiently and nowhere near maximizing my athletic or aesthetic potential. Now, not only do I maintain 13-14% body fat and an athletic physique, but I have accomplished things with my body that I never even imagined. Such as: deadlifting 250 pounds, strict pullups witha 16kg kettlebell, pistols with a 24kg kettlebell, single leg deadlifting 135 pounds and snatching a 60 pound dumbbell-all at 123 pounds body weight. Those examples are not intended to brag or boast by any means, but rather to drive home the point that ANYTHING is possible. If I can do it-anyone can.

Lifting heavy (heavy is relative) and training intelligently hard, as well as maintaining a strict nutritional lifestyle is what gave me the body I have today. When I used selectorized machines, practiced yoga 3-4 times per week, attended “cardio kickboxing” classes, or went for 2-5 mile runs I DID NOT have this body. Nor did I have the sense of accomplishment and intrinsic strength that I have today. I gained 50 pounds when I was pregnant with my son, and didn’t understand why considering I was “working out” on the elliptical machine and doing leg presses. I haven’t touched an elliptical machine in years, and I have NEVER been happier with my body. Did I mention I was passionate about this? 

So why is the notion that women need to lift light to get “toned” and avoid “getting big” complete BS? Well, allow me to enlighten you.

First of all, testosterone is the key factor in the growth of muscle mass. Women simply don’t have enough testosterone to get huge, unless they ingest it purposely. Do you take testosterone? Chances are you don’t (I hope). So I don’t want to hear any hogwash about getting big or bulky (and yes, I just said “hogwash”). If you train hard and eat to fuel your body, you will gain lean mass and lose body fat. You will look like you workout. Your muscles will “show” and you will appear strong and fit. You will not look like a man because you are not a man. Furthermore, strong is the new skinny-haven’t you heard? Strong women are sexy, not just because their bodies look amazing, but because they exude confidence.

Secondly, there is no such thing as “toned”. This is a fluff term created by the media to sell misleading fitness magazines. Actual “muscle tone” is something completely different all together and has nothing to do with the appearance of the muscle. You are either strong or you are weak, fit or unfit, lean or fat. Again, if you train hard and eat to fuel your body you will gain lean mass and lose body fat. Did you see the word “toned” in there anywhere? No, because it’s not real. Change your mindset to train for strength and power and you will get your “toned” muscles. Train for “toned” muscles and you will end up with a smaller version of your previous fat self.

Train with purpose and intent and not only will you gain a better body but you will gain a stronger, more secure sense of self. That’s worth more than any SELF or SHAPE magazine could ever offer. 

Thirdly, the only way to get stronger is by progressively increased resistance or demand. When you lift tiny pink dumbbells, swing around child-sized kettlebells or spend hours taking “Zumba”, you don’t progressively increase resistance or the demand placed on the body. You waste time, and we all know time is at a premium. When you lift weights that challenge you, and gradually increase that load, you get stronger. Getting stronger is the key to a better body. AGAIN: More lean mass=increased metabolism. Increased metabolism+proper nutrition=less body fat.

To add to this point, why would you ever lift a 5 pound dumbbell? What good could that possibly do for you? Think about it, when have you ever needed help lifting something 5 pounds or less? My four year old son weighs 40 pounds! How am I supposed to lift him comfortably and safely by training with little to no resistance? How can I insure I won’t injure my back moving heavy furniture if I can’t even deadlift my body weight? Listen, ladies, it’s not your fault. The media has lied to you. They’ve told you that you need only lift soup cans or wiggle your hips around to get the body you have always desired-both inside and out. They’ve encouraged you to walk and “spin” as a means for burning body fat and to do Pilates to “lengthen” your muscles. They lied. They will always lie, because it’s what people need to do to make money. People with no integrity, or people who simply don’t know better. So, of course, it’s not your fault-you were deceptively misinformed. But, you have an opportunity now to see the light. Please don’t let me rant in vain! 🙂

Lastly and possibly most importantly, gaining physical strength directly translates to gaining mental and emotional strength, confidence and self esteem. You don’t need to be a card carrying psychologist to surmise that women could use a little more self worth and security, and a lot more positivity when it comes to our body image. And strong feels good. 

For the sake of females world wide, put down the tiny dumbbells, step away from the SHAPE magazine, and pick up something that you can’t lift more than 10 times with perfect form. Pick up a copy of “Core Performance Women” by Mark Verstegen, or “The Female Body Breakthrough” by Rachel Cosgrove. Even better yet, look up your local RKC (Russian Kettlebell Certified Instructor), and find out what you’re really capable of. Because you’re stronger than you think, and your lean, athletic body is waiting to meet you.

Don’t believe me? The following ladies are all proud members of the RKC instructor cadre. Notice what we all have in common? Bangin’ bodies. Know what we do? Lift heavy stuff. And most of us are moms. ‘Nuff said.

Myself and my friend and long time client, Jamie

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