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Why Are Women Afraid to Have Muscles ?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

That is a question that puzzles me. In the time that I've been with Spark People, I've been surprized by the number of women who post and say that they don't do any strength training because they are afraid to pack on muscle. I've seen dozens of posts from people who don't want to run or cycle for the same reason i.e. they'll get BIG thighs !

What's wrong with having muscle ? I am pretty fit. I have good muscle definition and I don't look like a man or a body builder. I'm proud of the muscle I now carry. So, it seems strange when I hear someone say they don't want muscle.

This happened to me last night. I was getting ready to teach class (Powerflex, a muscle conditioning class) when I asked if there was anyone new. A young woman held up her hand. So, I went over to tell her what she needed and what to expect from class. The first thing she said to me was,"I don't want to put on any muscle". Huh ?????? At first, I thought she must have mistaken my class for a step class because of the benches (steps). No, I told her it was a muscle conditioning class that she might enjoy.

I'll admit, I was shocked. She showed me the one pound weights she selected. I told her she could use those, but they wouldn't give her much of a challenge. As it was, I had to tell her firmly that she had to use a bar during class. I showed her how to set up the bar with weights and selected something light to start out. She seemed terrified at the prospect of doing something that would work her muscles.

I told her that she would not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger if she took my class. I told her not to worry about the first class. Learn the form first and when you've learned form, then add weight. Have fun. don't worry. I didn't have time to start a lecture on why it's important for women to carry lean muscle. However, I really just couldn't believe that a healthy young woman didn't want to have any muscle.

I'm sure the reason she was at the gym was because she wanted to lose weight in spite of the fact that she was already at a very healthy weight. She was not overweight in the least. If anything, I probably would have recommend that instead of losing weight that increasing her lean muscle would be a better option.

So, I don't understand, why some women are afraid of having muscle. It really is perplexing. Once again, I didn't want to start a lecture on women not having enough testosterone to pack on muscle the way a man does. I didn't have time to tell her that having muscle would decrease her risk of osteoporosis.

Personally, I love having muscles ! I love being fit and strong. Why are some women afraid ? What scares them ? And this wasn't the first time this has happened to me. Another woman who takes my cycle class said exactly the same thing. She only uses light weights because she doesn't want to pack on muscle. This woman was older and very well educated. And yet, same thing, she doesn't do a lot of strength training because she doesn't want bulging muscles. So, I asked her the same question, do I look like a body builder ? no, she said. Do I lift heavy weights ? yes.

I did take the time to tell her all of the above. However, she still insists on doing more cardiovascular exercise than strength.

Some days, I just don't know what to tell women. How do I say it's great to have muscle ! ?

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Great blog. I too don't understand the fear. My thighs have actually slimmed down due to weight training. I love the look of defined, sleek muscles (note I didn't say bulky or bulked up). Shoot, remember how Linda Hamilton's arms looked when she played Sarah Conner in Terminator 2? Totally awesome!
    3381 days ago
    I get it because I used to feel that way too. I mean, really, there is just a lot of social expectations that women be small in every way- so women don't want to gain size anywhere. As well there is a fear of being unfeminine and even strength without looking like a body builder still has some unfeminine qualities to it. Women aren't supposed to be strong. We are supposed to be little, weak, dainty and rely on men.

    I don't think most women who are afraid of building muscle and strength really think it through or have a very strong argument for why they are, so it's kind of hard to argue with. It's just this automatic, "oh no, I'm going to be bigger!"

    And for me personally part of the reason was that I already have a wide body structure, I seem to show muscle a lot more quickly and easily than other women, and I spent a lot of my life fighting being associated with being "manly". Whether it was because of certain physical characteristics that I thought seemed to manly, or things as stupid as the fact that I prefer to keep the gas in my car above E, which my mom and sister who drive on E all the time consider a "man thing".

    Eventually I got over it and now I'd like to be as strong as I can be, and if it means big, visible muscle- I'm more than happy with that :)
    3386 days ago
  • CAELYN2.0
    I wanted to second the thanks for posting the link.

    I don't get the bulk-a-phobia either. I love my muscles, I love being strong and I love weightlifting.
    3386 days ago
    I'm glad you posted the link. Great blog. For the life of me, I don't get the "bulk paranoia" either. I've had women tell me I'm too big for their tates. Cripes, I'm 5 foot nothing and 107 pounds!!!!
    The weird thig is, these comments are ususally from overweight women who are looking to drop bodyfat. I work my a** off to keep my bodyfat low enough to see my muscle definititon. It's hard to convince women they aren't going to look like that by a few strength training sessions. In clothes, no one would ever accuse me of being big. But we were transferred to FL 2 years ago, so we skin 12 months out of the year here.

    You look great, BTW. I'm glad you finally posted some pics. And thanks for the jeans Sparkgoodie~
    3386 days ago
    I don't get why so many women are afraid of muscle either. I would love to build more for a leaner look. I don't do a lot of strength training with weights, I just use my natural body resistance. I guess because I was athletic when I was younger, I know that having muscle is the difference between being able to do, or not do.
    3386 days ago
    Well said, Archimedes!
    But we need to be told more often that muscles waste away at the rate of 1lb per year after the age of 60 so it is very important o build/strengthen muscles. Perhaps we talk too often of BUILDING muscles and immediately these awful muscle bound women come to mind - Madonna included!!!!
    3454 days ago
    It's a good question. I used to feel that way myself until about a year and half ago. IMO, women equate muscle with male traits. Even the "tools" used, free weights are something that we link with men, not women. Look at the pictures that we see in the media of "beautiful" women....are they strong and muscular or are most of them as thin as a rail with very little muscle. It is changing a little, but not much.

    In the past, I think our society didn't encourage women to be "strong". are suppose to be strong during childbirth, or if there is a tragedy and god knows you are suppose to be a superwoman and mom, but physical strength? No way. That is what a guy is suppose to be..

    BTW, I love muscles. I have more muscles now than I ever have and I am 57 years old. I've never looked so good. I love the feeling of power and of delighting in what my body can do. I love knowing my body and actually liking it. (Think about it, how many woman look in the mirror and hate their bodies?)
    No one would mistake me for a
    I am proud to say that I have convinced more than a couple women to strength train over their objections of "I'm gonna look like a guy". They love the results. It's all about education.
    3479 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/14/2009 5:53:43 AM
    I don't get it either. I have well defined muscles on my upper arms and get many compliments on them, mostly from women, BTW. My boyfriend is OK with them too, so I'm not really worried about what "men" might think of them, as one poster mentioned. I figure if a man wouldn't want to date me because of my muscles, I wouldn't want to date him anyway, so no loss there!

    I suppose women who are afraid of bulking up are just not aware of how hard it is to really get that way, and there probably isn't much you can do to sway them, maybe it's not really that they don't want muscles, but that they just don't really like lifting, so it's an excuse to avoid that...I personally love my strength workouts, especially with my trainer, and love being able to do "real" push-ups and the occasional pull-up, and hope to just keep getting stronger!
    3488 days ago
  • NGM1692
    you wouldn't have the problem with me in your class! i tend to shun the cardio for the strength training!
    3491 days ago
    I love lifting, and it makes me feel great! i threw out my back in June, and I know that had I not only lost weight but not been lifting as well that the effects of throwing my back out would have been 10x worse.

    Women need to realize that lifting will not cause them to look freaky with big muscles because we are not built the same as men.
    3491 days ago
    I think you're on an uphill battle, one that you'll probably lose, Karen. I've had men who knew I was lifting weights tell me that they wouldn't date a woman with bigger muscles than them, and so I should be careful if I didn't want to land this fate of being dateless.

    whatever. I love lifting weights. I feel powerful, sculpted and toned. And yes, my muscles do get pretty big (it's just my genetics) and I'm perfectly fine with that... :-)
    3491 days ago
    Did you tell her that lean muscle burns more fat?

    I wish I had the muscle strength that I had as a youth, maybe then I'd be able to swing a golf club and actually get the ball off the ground.

    Do you think it's too late for a 66 year-old to reconnect with lost muscle?
    3491 days ago
    I too find this strange... as I want to have good muscle definition... I want to look cut... but not like a body builder... eventhough when I was about 16, I had dreams of being a woman body builder.

    I think some women are afraid that most men wouldn't be attracked to a woman with good muscle definition... as I've heard some men make comments in this regard... but WHEN I was single... the one thing I ALWAYS got compliments on ... was the muscle definition in my calves...

    I think that if we (women) were educated more on the importance of toning our muscles, we may think differently... after all... muscle tone is the reason we still burn calories while sleeping! (Isn't it?)
    3491 days ago
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