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To Be A Man, Train Like A Woman

This is a guest post from Todd Boyer from Phitzone. Enjoy the post, but don’t mess with his wife.

by Todd Boyer


When I was a junior in high school I dated a girl that was a competitive power lifter. She happened to also work at the local gym (there was only one in the small town that we lived in).

I would work out very hard. Six, and sometimes seven days a week. Often up to two hours per day I would train. Like a man! I worked out with some hardcore fellas. A couple of which tried their hand in regional bodybuilding and power lifting competitions.

It was during that time when I saw what training was really all about. Of course, I didn’t understand, or even realize it at the time, but the seed was planted. You see, for the first time ever, I trained with a girl. And I saw some real female strength.

With Purpose

She never picked up a 2.5 lbs. dumbbell to do sets of twenty in order to “get tone”. She didn’t log any time on the treadmill either. For one thing, it was an old school gym–there were no treadmills. For another, she was banging out sets in the squat rack. Or bench pressing more than some of the guys on the football team (they knew who they are).

She trained with purpose. A very serious purpose. The young lady trained with as much weight as she could possibly move, and constantly challenged herself. She trained with intensity. This girl trained like one of the guys, but differently at the same time.

With Intensity

This was very different. She pushed me to train with more intensity and purpose. Her influence forced me to train like a man as well. More so than the guys that I usually worked out with.

She eventually dumped me for some squid (local lingo referring to the sailors in town), and may have popped out a litter of kiddlets. Just one of the downsides of living in a small Navy town.

Society, Women, and Strength

That was over twenty years ago. The perception back then was that women shouldn’t be strong. Women who did get in shape did so by dancing along with Jane Fonda, and the like. You just did not see the female of the species in the gym all that often, and when you did, they were “toning” with tiny weights and a bazillion reps.

I see more women using free weights in the gym today, but most will not use heavy weight. This could be due to a lack of information being made available to them, keeping the old stigma about not wanting to bulk up. Or, it could just be that society doesn’t look kindly upon strong women.

I began training my beautiful bride fifteen years after high school. She was reluctant at first about lifting weights. It was the usual objection. She didn’t want to bulk up and look like one of those “dude’ish looking bodybuilder chicks.”

I explained that she would never bulk up like a man, primarily because she doesn’t have the boy parts required for such a thing. On top of this was the fact that those ladies are “chemically enhanced.” She was then on board.

We were both in the process of trimming down. One day I began to notice that my wife really likes to push herself. She actually enjoyed lifting heavy weights, more so than spending countless minutes that seem like hours doing cardio. Even today, on a weekly basis she increases the amount of weight for a given exercise.

While I do not train with her, per say, she still inspires me to push my limits. To train with a purpose. To be intense in my workout. To be a man, and train like a woman.

About The Author: Todd Boyer is an exercise enthusiast with over two decades of experience in health and fitness. He and his wife, Becki, are the owners of PhitZone.com.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Caleb December 29, 2009, 7:59 am

    You know, Todd, I have to agree with what you said about a misconception or lack of information for women vs weight training. I’m sure awareness will continue to grow; it will just suck for all the women that miss it. Good message. O, my wife too had an issue early on about lifting… glad that changed.

  • Henri @ Wake Up Cloud December 29, 2009, 8:16 am

    Nice post, Todd!

    I’ve bumped into this problem many times, where people are afraid of waking up and looking like Arnold the next day. It’s an interesting myth to say the least 😉

  • Srinivas Rao December 29, 2009, 8:28 am

    Interesting post Todd. I think it’s funny that anybody would be worried about a fitness routine turning them into a “body builder looking dude” (especially a woman).

    • Josh Hanagarne December 29, 2009, 11:02 am

      Srinivas, in my experience training, it is the number one thing women worry about. I hear it every single time.

  • Todd December 29, 2009, 8:40 am

    @Henri Now that you mention it, I’ve talked to men that were afraid of bulking up. It is an interesting phenomena.

    @Srinivas The fears come from ignorance. We don’t know what we don’t know. I think the human response of what we do not understand is fear.

  • Helen Hoefele December 29, 2009, 9:14 am

    I’m newer to working out, so I’m by no means an expert on this, but my understanding is that there are different benefits from using a heavy weight with a few reps versus going with a lighter (yet still challenging) weight for more reps. For fat burn, I believe the latter is better (please correct me if I’m wrong.)

    It’s probably true that the bulked-up female “role models” out there aren’t the ones to focus on….but to me when I think of Venus & Serena Williams or Marion Jones, I can say that their “look” would not be my goal.

  • Todd December 29, 2009, 9:43 am

    @Helen Remember that somebody like the Williams sisters or Marion Jones, are genetically gifted with their physiques.

    Intensity is the key when it comes to strength and muscle building. It is also the main ingredient in losing weight. Training with light weight and low repetitions is anything but intense.

    Bulking up, whether man or women, takes more than lifting heavy weights. It also takes the proper genes.

  • Helen Hoefele December 29, 2009, 10:09 am

    @Todd I guess we probably need to clarify what we mean by a “light” weight. For me, a “challenging” weight wouldn’t be the heaviest thing I could lift, but instead a heavy enough weight that I have to push myself to reach 10-15 reps. I’ve found that “keeping the heart rate up” during and between sets helps with weight loss, too…is that how you would define “intensity”?

    And, just for the sake of argument, if some women have genetically gifted physiques, then couldn’t it be possible that a woman could “unintentionally” bulk up even if it wasn’t her goal? thus the concern isn’t that unfounded? Either way, I agree, she wouldn’t bulk up the same way a man would.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 29, 2009, 11:00 am

      Helen, 99.9% of the people lifting weights, men included, have no idea how much teeth-grinding, seeing-stars-type effort it takes to put on serious bulk. They don’t eat right and they don’t lift right. The only way for you to bulk up unintentionally would be to accidentally spend a couple of years working at your limit and accidentally shoot up a bunch of testosterone in many, many cycles.

      I’m not poking fun at you, and you’re obviously not the first one to ask this question. You ask a great question, but it is not founded in any reality. The best thing most women could do for their physique is to gain ten lbs of muscle. That gets me some horrified looks when I say it, but that muscle burns more fat and makes you look great. Not big. Not wide. Not bulky. Not even muscular, necessarily, but you’ll know what I mean if you’re able to do it.

      Dan John says his daughter can deadlift over 300 lbs. She was also the homecoming queen:)

      • Helen Hoefele December 29, 2009, 1:09 pm

        10 lbs. of muscle weight (along with significant weight loss) won’t make me look muscular? I think I now have a goal for 2010 to test that theory. 🙂

        • Josh Hanagarne December 29, 2009, 1:46 pm

          Hold on, Homie Helen. Let me clarify:) “Muscular,” as in, “I don’t want to get too muscular,” usually means women are envisioning huge veins and bulging shoulders. Here’s what you can expect–you arms, legs, and back gain weight. As your shoulders square off a bit, your waist looks smaller. As your waist gets smaller, your waist looks smaller. When I’m thinking of “muscular” women, I usually think of dancers, not Mademoiselle tennis tantrum Williams.

          • Todd December 29, 2009, 2:05 pm

            I couldn’t have said it better myself.
            BTW, Josh, thank you for posting this article. I appreciate it very much.

          • Josh Hanagarne December 29, 2009, 3:09 pm

            You’re welcome, Todd, it’s been great to have you. And this has been a great discussion.

          • Helen Hoefele December 29, 2009, 2:23 pm

            Good point. It is all relative. To me, “too muscular” would mean bordering on “unfeminine”, kind of like Madonna relative to the sleeker Jillian Michaels (from “The Biggest Loser”). Either way, you are both right that any “over done” look doesn’t happen overnight or without significant intentional effort.

            So, maybe instead of trying to gain 10lbs in muscle weight, I’ll just focus on increasing my strength & stamina and burning fat and then see what amount of muscle weight that turns out to be.

            (Thanks for the debate on this.)

          • Todd December 29, 2009, 2:31 pm

            Debate is good. I’m just glad that you are seeing the light, young padawan. (I really have to stop watching Star Wars).

  • Laura Kimball December 29, 2009, 2:17 pm

    Hi Todd,

    I really appreciate this perspective. I’m a femaie CrossFitter and there are some amazing women at my gym (some are built, most aren’t). They’re inspiring because when I see them lift I know that someday I’ll be able to lift like that, too.

    I love pushing myself and that I can actually ‘see’ my progress a lot faster than running a treadmill. It’s fulfilling to add on ‘big’ weights more than running x more miles faster than I did the previous week. Lifting ‘old school’ weights has been the only ‘workout’ that’s worked for me. Not to mention it’s satisfying to tell people that I go to CrossFit and lift weights instead of yoga or pilates. 🙂

    • Todd December 29, 2009, 2:29 pm

      Laura, that is awesome. My wife has mentioned going to the local CrossFit. I really wanted to compete in the Fight Gone Bad a couple months ago. Timing didn’t work out for us though.

      Good job. Keep lifting hard. Oh, and don’t count the yoga out. I may cuss a lot while doing it, but it is good stuff. 😉

    • Josh Hanagarne December 29, 2009, 3:09 pm

      Although I don’t do Crossfit–I just have goals that are too different–I love to see the women get excited about lifting, and I teach at a Crossfit Gym. This year I watched a woman scream their head off when she deadlifted 185 for the first time.

      Dan John swears by yoga, though, so maybe there’s room for overlap. But I don’t want to do yoga, that’s for sure.:)

  • Niel December 29, 2009, 3:27 pm

    Great post Todd.

    I always think a woman who lifts weights easily has 10x more fun than doing something like running.

  • Heather December 29, 2009, 6:02 pm

    Todd and Josh,

    First, Todd, thanks for writing this! Josh, thanks for having him over for a guest post! Now. . . .Todd, I think your wife is a hottie, just like I think Janette is a hottie! I am so glad there are other ladies out there who want to lift heavy not so much to kick ass, but to have an ass-kicking set of legs, great arms, rockin’ abs, and can kick ass if they absolutely have to.

    I worked with a substitute teacher at my school a couple of years ago who placed second or third in a local power-liftinf competition at Marshall University. Allie is da bomb! She was awesome, and she was cut like crazy! I STILL WANT HER LEGS (but she’d find it difficult to walk without ’em, so I’ll have to work on my own!).

    OK, now I DEFINITELY have to get my act together, get my less-chubby keister in gear, and hit up over one Dragon Door for “Convict Conditioning” and that Goddess Workout Kettlebell DVD thing.

    Screw New Year’s Resolutions, this is a lifetime commitment! Thanks, guys! 🙂

  • Kelly Diels December 29, 2009, 8:08 pm

    did I hear something about a goddess workout kettlebell DVD thing? I so identify with the word goddess. Have I found my thang? Tell me oh great JOSHTODDorama.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 29, 2009, 8:14 pm

      Yep. Go get it. I’ll drive up and train you within an inch of your life.

      • Todd December 29, 2009, 9:45 pm

        Have kettlebells, will travel? 🙂