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CrossFit, Olympic Weightlifting

Let’s get Naked

It’s summer time, and it is hot out there. Who needs clothes? Let’s get naked!!! And jump in the pool, drink an ice cold drink, and sit by a fan while wearing sunglasses and smothered in spf 70.

Many people are uncomfortable in their own skin, and there are many reasons for this. A major factor is social media telling us all what is ‘ideal’ and we grow up never meeting that. I find people who lift weights or work out to ‘get healthy and strong’ rather than for aesthetic reasons are a bit more comfortable in their own skin, simply because of confidence and knowing what their bodies are capable of, rather than how well their abs are on display or how little their skin folds when they sit down. (Oh PS working out to ‘get strong’ often results in a better physique, just FYI.) Ahhh body image. Vanity. Mirrors. I wonder if other animals worry about this stuff? They’re naked all the time!

Since I’m a girl, I know more about how girls are affected by all of this, and this post will reflect that.

So, I went to an all-girls’ college for undergrad. This college was great, but it recognized that women have some serious body image issues and this often results in eating disorders and other unhealthiness. in an effort to boost confidence and self-esteem, Scripps College has a “Love your Body week”. They come out with shirts for this week of self-love that read (in the mirror) “you’re beautiful” and “hey, gorgeous”. Not only is this good for facilitating the shift towards a healthier body image, but it gets girls interested more in overall health rather than “can I fit into a size 2?”. 

The lifting world is so much different: girls WANT bigger legs and a bulbous booty and traps and lats and all those things that will assist them in moving bigger loads on the bar. I’ve heard many an Elite female CrossFitter, even, say “I want to put on a few pounds so I’m trying to bulk up a bit by drinking more whole milk.” Girls — and boys — are proud of their posteriors that make it difficult to find the perfect pair of jeans. Celebrate the booty.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the following phrase: “if I could only lose 10#, then these pants would fit!” I used to be guilty of this utterance. Can you blame me? “Beauty” magazines left and right are trying to dole out secrets to losing that extra 5-10lbs while posting photo-shopped images of celebrities and models on their covers. Who WOULDN’T want to look like that?!?! So, naturally, those peevish words are uttered by females more often than not, and now I just shake my head. Whereas, yes, it is true. If you lost 10# you would be smaller and those pants might fit, there is another way: change your overall body composition (less body fat, and equal or more lean mass) and those pants could also fit. It’s how I lost 2 sizes and lots of body fat but very little overall weight. First tip: eat meat. Second tip: eat fat. Third tip: lift heavy. Girls: I PROMISE you that you will NOT ‘bulk up like a man’ if you start using free weights (unless you also take testosterone and HGH and stuff like that, because then you will look like a man). Don’t believe me? These girls all weigh under 120lbs and are cute as a button and are all ridiculously stronger than I can ever hope to be. They do NOT look like men: Maria de la Puente and Julia Rohde (battle of the 53s).

Let’s turn the discussion to the health industry and the doctor’s office. And when you go to the doctor’s office, you sit there waiting for the doctor to come in, and your eyes wander around the room, briefly noting the posters of anatomy, until they settle on the chart. You know what chart I’m talking about: the BMI (body mass index) chart. I have always loathed this chart. Now, I am someone who has struggled to maintain a ‘healthy’ weight. I have seen the scale fluctuate drastically over the past 10 years, somewhat like a rollercoaster. The past few years, however, I’ve eaten consistently (high protein, no grain/sugar, lots of veggies) and lifted weights and exercised intensely (2 years of CrossFit and now 7 months of pure weightlifting), and it’s paid off. The only time I step on the scale and ‘worry’ about weight is a couple weeks before a meet, when I have to make sure I can weigh in under 69kg for my weight class, and whenever I step on the scale I realize there’s nothing to worry about. I eat. A lot. and I lift. A lot. And I weigh a lot more than people think when they see me. And then I remember: muscle is more dense than fat, and I have quite a bit of it. Don’t believe me? How about an Olympian, Sarah Robles?

Now back to the BMI chart, which assumes I am your average sedentary person (it’s not gender specific), and that I do not have as much dense muscle hiding under my skin as I do. I weigh 150lbs and am 5’5″.

Shamelessly ready for summer

According to the BMI chart, I am just on the cusp between “normal” and “overweight”.

Yet I wear a size 6, my body fat is under 20%, my bloodwork is very good, I don’t take medications, never had a broken bone, and I can snatch my bodyweight, deadlift twice my bodyweight and almost squat that much to boot. I can do 5 strict pull-ups in a row (that’s right, no kipping allowed). I can do a whole bunch of real ‘boy’ push-ups in a row (chest to deck) — not sure how many, but it’s at least 35.  My fastest 5k run time ever was just over 23 minutes (just over a year ago). I’d say… I’d say I’m pretty healthy, no? Not overweight?

The average doctor’s office does not take into account the athletic person. This person is built differently. In fact, athletes are built differently given how each sport shapes us (literally) in significant ways. I’ll demonstrate with some Olympic figures.

Many sports go a step further and have weight class divisions: boxing, wrestling, weightlifting (not CrossFit, though, but, then again, most people don’t consider that a “real” sport). This is only realistic. You can’t expect Mike Tyson to go up against Manny Pacquiao and have it be a fair fight. Mike could just sit on Manny and be done with it (I actually lost a BJJ match this way once, when they let the girl who weighed about 180lb roll in our class so she could compete, and she just plopped her arse down on me and it was all I could do to just breathe after that).

Lately I’ve competed in Olympic lifting and powerlifting, so I’ll use those as examples. Last Saturday I competed in a 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation American Challenge. It was a pretty big meet (over 100 lifters), and I did quite well. Despite the way they calculate ‘best lifter’ based on your Total and coefficient of that Total and your weight, I still won “best female lifter”. I also won “best Total in my weight class and age group” (yeah they even take age into account!). My mom also won a medal (she earned it, too, by deadlifting a wicked 92.5kg [203#]).

Back to weight classes and how it’s awesome they take this into account. So the best two pulls of the day were by my fellow teammates: Renee and Jen. Renee is in the -75kg weight class, and Jen is in the -60kg weight class. Renee pulled an easy 150kg (330#) (seriously she made it look easy), and Jen pulled 142.5kg (314#. Given that Jen weighs so much less than Renee, Jen ended up winning “best deadlift”, even though Renee lifted more weight. See how that works? It’s a pretty nifty and realistic system they have going on there. Olympic Weightlifting does the same thing with the Wilkes ratio — the ‘best lifter’ of the meet is not s/he who puts up the best Total, but the one who has the best Total:body weight ratio.

So I’ve talked about body composition, lifting heavy, weight classes, my mom rocking the lifting, rocking the recent Powerlifting meet… what else is there? Boys, I guess. I’m going to go out on a limb here and speak for the boys, even though I am (obviously) not a boy. While you hear many girls who first enter a gym say “I want to lose some weight and get rid of this belly pudge”, you hear a lot of boys enter a gym and say “I’d like to put on a bit of muscle but don’t know how to gain weight” (and then the girls just shake their heads and think “I can teach you how to gain weight! Piece of cake!”).

Well, I’m going to direct you to 70sbig.com. Because ’nuff said. Boys, you are not alone. And I commend your desire to get big and strong.

I think I just touched on another subject here mentioning the differences between why some girls and boys first step foot in the gym: reasons to train. Why do you train? What are your goals? Not just “lean out” or “bulk up”, but GOALS. What “results” do you want to see? Whether it’s a number on the bar or a number on the scale, write it down, make a plan, and get after it. You gotta work for it no matter what it is. There are no easy paths to victory. Oh, and eat meat.

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About Elizabeth

PhD student in Classical Art & Archaeology at UVA with a focus on Greek heroes and iconography (yet forever awed by Roman 2nd and 4th style painting). Salsa and Argentine tango dancer extraordinaire. Weightlifter and Crossfitter the world over.

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