Thinking about Rachel Cosgrove’s defense of her new book

Rachel Cosgrove recently put out her second book, Drop Two Sizes, and the reception has been…well, from what I’ve seen, it’s been what you could charitably call “ambivalent.”  Charlotte Anderson at The Great Fitness Experiment recently wrote a review of the book in which she said she was “kind of embarrassed to be seen with it.”  It’s pretty understandable.  I have no plans to buy the book but I am pretty sure that I would be making sure to lay it cover down every time I took it to the gym with me.

Two of the main areas of critique that I’ve seen have been the title itself – which frames weight training as a way of fitting into smaller clothing – and the fact that the model is a fairly standard women’s fitness magazine model – you know, not runway skinny but not what I would associate with a trainer and fitness guru who owns a very successful gym.  I mean, the model looks fine but her figure is not what I aspire toward building for myself. (Now Cosgrove, on the other hand…) Anderson also takes the book to task for its diet plan, which falls into the low-cal, low-fat way of thinking about food.

I certainly had my criticisms about The Female Body Breakthrough, but I don’t recall ever being embarrassed to be seen with the book. (By the way, on the advice of a bunch of you, I am now on my fourth week of The New Rules of Lifting for Women and I’m looooving it.)  Plus, I know Cosgrove is legit when it comes to strength training.  She comes from the school of thought that says you shouldn’t spend a billion hours doing cardio and that you’re better off doing compound lifts with heavier weights.  Lots of people respect her, which is why I think her new book was greeted with such dismay from so many.

Last week, in response to some of the criticism, Cosgrove posted a defense of her new book titled “Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover.” In it, she details the editorial decisions that went into the marketing of the book, which includes the models and title of the book.  I found it fascinating, not least of all because I discovered why Women’s Health hasn’t appealed to me in years (because I haven’t been in their target demo since Dubya’s first term).  It was a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the most influential fitness-and-sports media empires, and I came away from it with an uncomfortable mix of emotions.

Initially, I was incredibly frustrated.  Women’s Health says they are aiming to provide the “must-have action plan for today’s modern woman,” but their demographic is women ages 18-24.  That’s a whole fuckload of women who are interested in fitness who fall outside their target demographic, all of whom I guess do not qualify as “today’s modern woman.”  The article contains a lot of discussion about reframing the conversation to meet these women on their own terms, to speak the language of “skinny jeans” and “getting toned” and avoiding anything that seems too hardcore.  It reminded me of the problem with aiming for the lowest common denominator, which is that “lowest” is often pretty freaking low.

But I also respect what Cosgrove is trying to do. She wants access to that huge readership, she wants to get them to shift their way of thinking about their bodies and strength and if she has to do the rhetorical equivalent of baking spinach into brownies to get that to happen, then I can understand that.  It might not be the choice I would make, but then she’s the one who has made a living out of helping women develop their physical strength, and I’m just a schmoe with a blog.

Over the weekend, though, I found myself really thinking more about this, specifically how I would react to a book like this if I was in that target demographic.  I was going through some boxes of stuff and I found tons of memorabilia from my teenage years and my early 20s: photos, newspaper clippings, report cards, awards, my journals. I spent some time looking through everything, and I started remembering so many things about those years, including my relationship to my body, to sports and to fitness.

My path to embracing a life of physical training and athleticism was rather haphazard and weird.  Here are some highlights (or rather, lowlights):

  • Age 17: I sign up for a weightlifting class as part of my volleyball conditioning.  However, I realize I have no idea how to use anything, so I spend my class periods doing hundreds of crunches and leg lifts.  (I was obsessed with the fact that I had a belly pooch that would never go away and outer thighs that did not form a straight line from hip to knee.)
  • Age 18: I go with my boyfriend to the university weight room.  I am the only girl there.  I bail for the cardio machines.
  • Age 20: I decide I want to see if I can make it as a model before I got too much older and thus worthless to the beauty industry, so I begin eating little more than tuna fish sandwiches and grapes. I do yoga for 90 minutes a day.  I develop a system of calisthenics that involves – you guessed it – crunches and leg lifts.  (I never actually become a model.)
  • Age 20-26: If they had a Stoner Olympics, I would have been Michael Phelps.
  • Age 26: I decide to use my new college’s gym.  I use the Nautilus machines and the elliptical.  The abductor/adductor machine and I become good friends. I spend the rest of the time doing my elaborate abs routine.  (By the way, do you see why I am so over the focus on visible abs?  I have burned out the synapses that are capable of caring about that part of my body.  I try to care and my brain just struggles to turn over – click! click! click! – like an ignition trying to start a dead car battery.)
  • Age 27-29: I discover women’s fitness magazines and Pilates DVDs.  I spend my time doing lots of triceps kickbacks.  (I also take up running at this time.)  I still have yet to touch a barbell, and I rarely venture into the free weights section.
  • Age 30+: I stumble upon a wealth of strength training information on the internet, I ditch the magazines and I never, ever look back.

But then this is the really interesting thing: I never once thought that I shouldn’t lift weights because I might “bulk up” or “look like a man” or any of that silliness.  It just never occurred to me that women could or even should lift weights.  Like, my stepdad loved bodybuilding and used to have issues of Flex lying around and he’d watch “Pumping Iron” when I was younger, but, you know, I never once saw him watching “Pumping Iron II.”

While I recognize that this is a stunning lack of imagination on my part, I also want to point out that I also had no problem seeing myself as the first Madam President, nor did I think it was out of the question that I could become an astronaut or a movie director or a civil rights lawyer.  So yes, I failed to use my imagination, but I also was growing up in a culture that was still coming to terms with the idea of women as creatures of physical strength.  Yep, we had Mia Hamm and Lisa Leslie and Picabo Street, but we never saw b-roll of them in the weight room like we have with, say, the US women’s soccer team.  Instead we saw their shampoo commercials and their fashion spreads – media presences that reassured the public that, sure, they might be able to handle a ball, but don’t worry, they are still girly girls too!

So yes, I was definitely one of those women who had to ease my way into world of strength training.  As much as I would like to envision myself popping out of my mother’s womb with a barbell in hand, the reality is that my path to strength training has been very typical in this regard. But none of this really tells me how I would have reacted to seeing a book like Drop Two Sizes, especially if it was presented to me alongside something like NROL4W.  The truth is that I don’t know.  (I don’t have ESPN.)

But even though I am sympathetic to Cosgrove’s decision, I am less inclined to let Women’s Health off the hook.  They say they are catering to the desires of their target audience, but there is no acknowledgement of the fact that they played a considerable role in making those desires what they are.  They contribute to the focus on weight loss and flat abs and shrinking your thighs and low-calorie diets by continuing to put that content in their magazines and their media materials over and over again.  I know the defense – that if they don’t, they’ll lose readers who will go elsewhere – but if these are fitness-minded women, where else are they going to go?  To Shape?  Self?  Fitness?  (As if a magazine-buying woman isn’t scooping all of them up anyway…or was I the only one doing that?)

What I would love to see is a different approach to this.  Instead of helping to create these desires and then throwing their hands up in the air as if they are helpless to do anything but cater to them, I’d love to see mainstream women’s fitness magazines try to change the terms of the conversation.  Show models with a wider variety of bodies, and not just for a feature about “finding the best swimsuit for your body type!”  Work harder to deconstruct these persistent myths about women and strength-training.  Quit supporting the idea that a healthy, active woman should be able to live off 1,200 calories a day or whatever the magic number is these days.  Do something, but don’t act like you have no say in the matter.

I do take solace in the fact that I think perceptions about women’s bodies and strength are changing.  The truth is that the mainstream media – especially the older forms of them – are like cargo ships, and it takes them a lot of time and effort for them to make major course changes.  Meanwhile, culture and perceptions can and often do change a lot faster, which is why you can look at online media and see a much more progressive, forward-thinking way of dealing with women’s physical strength. Sure, there are lots of people pushing old-fashioned ideas out there, but there’s a lot of people who are working to provide a counterbalance and to show that there’s another way to do this.

In fact, it was in online media that I encountered a story that gives me hope that things have changed dramatically from when I was a teenage volleyball player confronted with the confusing, intimidating world of weight training.  I’m referring to this post by Ginger Calem, who has been training a pair of “high school athletic superstars.”  She works with them on Olympic lifts and squats and deadlifts and…well, the post was just delightful and I don’t want to ruin it so just go read it yourself.

I keep thinking about how I would have fared as a young woman had I shifted my life forward a decade and a half.  What if I had access to weight rooms with trainers and coaches who believed in it?  Would I have continued to crunch my way into oblivion?  What if the magazines I picked up had encouraged me to eat to build muscle, and had never used the word “tone”?  What if I had grown up in a media environment that regularly showed female athletes doing hard work in the weight room and not just swinging around heads of shiny hair?  Would that have shown me that weights are not gender-specific?  Would I be like the girls in Calem’s story?

Again, I don’t know.  But one thing I do feel confident saying is that I think most mainstream women’s fitness media is copping out here, and that’s a shame because they could do so much more with the resources they have.

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62 responses to “Thinking about Rachel Cosgrove’s defense of her new book

  1. If you like “New Rules of Lifting for Women”, you will LOVE “New Rules of Lifting Supercharged”. I finished all but one stage of “for women” then moved on to Supercharged… and it’s fantastic – incorporates a lot of new ideas and improvements over the “for Women” program, which was written four years previously. Still glad I read “for Women”, don’t get me wrong, but think the workouts in “Supercharged” are even better.

      • The abs/core exercises, in particular, are completely revamped. Authors found stability/dynamic stability much more effective than crunches/sit-ups. The workouts are “menu” based – you pick the exercises you want to incorporate based on a template and a list of exercises by category. I really like it.
        Loved your post, keep up the great work!

  2. I hated the Female Body Breakthrough. Not because I found anything wrong with the exercise plan but because of the dumb acronym she used that I can’t remember but basically boiled down to: being “hot” makes you empowered. Also because of “there’s NOTHING more unattractive than that little bit of fat between your shoulder and arm.” NOTHING, yo. And because half the women in the before and after shots were pregnant in the before shot.

    For all I know the exercise plan was the only thing standing between me and Xenadom. But her general tone put me off so much I wanted nothing to do with it. I had no idea she had another book out, wouldn’t have read it if I did and don’t plan to now that I do know.

    • The B.I.T.C.H. thing. Yeah, I remember it. (I had to look up what it meant though: “Be Inspiring Totally Confident and Hot”) I basically held my nose through the front part of the book and gave the workouts a shot, but after writing about my issues with it, I lost the motivation to keep up with the plan. The way the book was framed never worked for me.

      I much prefer the NROL4W, and I never once had the weird sense of being condescended to that I had when I read TFBB. I thought Schuler treated the reader like we were competent, intelligent women who wanted to learn how to actually lift and not just be smaller, which I really appreciate.

      • I think I need to reread NROL4W. I read it a few years ago and it didn’t make an impression, but the love it gets around here has.

    • First time poster here–just discovered this awesome blog.

      I saw this

      Also because of “there’s NOTHING more unattractive than that little bit of fat between your shoulder and arm.”

      and wanted to say that that bit of fat is typically actually trapped/built-up lymphatic fluid in that area and doesn’t go away with exercise. It can harden and *look* like it has “toned.” You can work on it by doing lymphatic flushing, and that’s about it. It has nothing to do with being fat or out of shape or anything else. It’s just the way some of our bodies work.

      • It’s not, unless you have a lymphatic disorder–then you learn *all* the places where toxins have built up ;)

        But almost all women get build-up around their armpits (back, front, and in the hollow). Just bodies being bodies.

      • Thanks! And also, I’m not even really sure what she’s referring to. Is it the fat in front of the shoulder/arm connector? Under it? So many ways to fail at having a pretty body, I can barely keep up sometimes.

  3. P.S. I picked up a copy of Women’s Health for the first time in oh, probably 2007. It struck me as just another ladies’ mag akin to Cosmo or Glamour, aka “Guide to Spending Money on Lotion and Shit.” I was actually pretty surprised when I read Women’s Health used to be a semi-legit fitness magazine.

    • That was actually about the time I decided to let my subscription lapse. Actually, I remember the exact moment – when I saw a half-page article about Michelle Obama’s Five Secrets to a Happy Marriage. I believe I threw my magazine across the room in aggravation. (And I admire the hell out of the First Lady, too…) I hear they brought a different editor on board and he was like, time to Cosmo-fy everything!

  4. One thing that frequently frustrates me with things like Women’s Health and Cosgrove’s book is the assumption that not only do all women want to look “hot” but that they want to – or are capable of – becoming physically smaller. If you’re a woman who – OMG – wants to _gain_ weight, either by eating more or gaining muscle, you’re out of luck, as you are apparently a magical faerie creature that does not exist in the human world.

    I can tolerate the idea that I should strive to be more “attractive”, but I can’t be skinnier without endangering my health, let alone smaller. I’d have to pare off muscle and bone to do that.

    • Yeah, I find that really alienating, too. I usually skim over anything that has to do with weight loss because honestly, I find it kind of boring and irrelevant to my personal goals. As a result, though, that means I skim over A LOT of mainstream fitness content. Really, it’s easier for me to just not even bother.

  5. I really appreciate your insights and you sharing your path. I recently discovered weight lifting through NROWLFW. I am a beginner, but it is the first breath of fresh air I have had in a long time. I gave up my Shape and Fitness once they stared with the celebrity spreads. Because my life has anything to do with someone who has a personal chef and personal trainer.

    • Ha! Yes, celebrity fitness coverage is supremely annoying. The spreads are like, “Learn Kate Hudson’s fitness secrets!” and I’m like “Have $10 million and unlimited free time? Sounds totally doable!”

      • Hmm, I don’t think she has unlimited free time. Being an actress is a job.

  6. I’m torn on this… on one hand, many women could benefit considerably from strength training, so getting them interested in it can’t be a bad thing. However, the mindset that this approach caters to isn’t healthy either. Do you reinforce some messed up ideals just to get women training smarter? Or just leave them to their millions of crunches?

    As an aside, I am SO THANKFUL I found NROLFW when I was only 19. Many books have changed how I view the world, but that honestly changed how I live. Glad you’re enjoying it!

    • I know exactly what you mean about feeling conflicted.

      About finding NROL4W when you were younger – did you feel at all alienated by the workouts or the muscularity of the models? I’m curious to know more about your mindset going into reading it. I am just having a really hard time with the idea that young women would en masse put down a book like that out of fear of becoming bulky or whatever.

      • No, quite the opposite, I wanted to look like the cover model. But I’ve never been particularly girly, and especially at that age I had a bit of a superiority complex about not being one of “those girls.” But over time I’ve realized that not only was that perspective really sexist, but also that many of “those girls”–the girly ones–are totally just normal people who are capable of handling this shit.

  7. I did actually have that early access to, and instruction in, weightlifting that you wonder about. I started weightlifting before I entered high school, enrolling in the school’s summer conditioning program. (It was mostly for football players, but you didn’t *have* to be a football player to go. That was who the training was designed for, so there was a lot of lifting — bench, squats and cleans were the holy trinity — supplemented with sprints, speed and agility drills, and plyometrics.) It was an almost all-male environment, always coached by men and very much geared for the male athlete, although girls were not at all made to feel unwelcome, either. We were just very much in the minority.

    Anyway, I had access to all this, but I definitely had to self-select into it, and I’m sure that my strong identification with the male, rather than female, gender role played into my choice. Losing my femininity wasn’t a drawback for me, it was a bonus.

    Even so, there were always (or almost always) other girls there, too. So it kind of both a guys’ space and a gender-neutral space … hard to explain.

    • Hey can I ask about what year this was and where this happened? I am trying to figure out what factors played a role in my lack of understanding about all of this.

      I can’t say I was particularly strongly girl-identified – I mean, I was a pretty big feminist even as a teenager, I played sports, I wore men’s clothes and I hung out with dudes – so the idea of not being feminine or whatever wasn’t a big issue to me, because I never really felt all that feminine. I guess I just don’t understand why I had this big gaping blank space in my head. Like, when I think about how I could have possibly reacted when seeing a book like Drop Two Sizes or New Rules or whatever, I can’t come up with anything, because I never thought about it. It’s just this big cognitive hole, which is really weird to me, because I had opinions about EVERYTHING.

    • The first year I participated would’ve been … hmm … 1998, and the place was a suburban school district in northeastern Kansas.

  8. FORGOT TO MENTION: As a corollary of the gender stuff I brought up in my comment, I probably would’ve been seriously turned off by any effort to “reassure” me that I could do weightlifting and still be skinny, attractive, etc. I would feel condescended to, and also like the person telling me all this (do xyz to tone your arms, for example) was at cross purposes with me. Like, #1, I’m not scared of hardcore, I WANT hardcore, and #2, I DO NOT WANT to be conventionally attractive! I want to get as big and strong as I can, and also, I AM QUEER AND DO NOT NEED YOUR HETERONORMATIVITY IN MY WORKOUT THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Indeed, any effort to make my sex a salient point — good or bad — is more likely to make me feel bad than good. You try to reassure me that I am “still feminine” even though I am lifting more than you? Great, you just made me feel like I’m not good enough, like I’m not “there” yet, if I still read to you as feminine. And if you tell me I’m unbelievably strong *for a woman* I’ll wonder what that means in absolute terms. It feels suspiciously like a backhanded compliment.

    • As a teenager and self-identified feminine queer woman? person?, this also bother me a lot. These people don’t know whether or not you identify as feminine, or don’t but want to “feel” more feminine/masculine/androgynous, and should just mind their own business. It’s not their job to tell others whether or not they’re feminine, and also I think they can’t know since they’re not in your head. It’s like telling someone else they’re not tired, no you’re not tired, when in fact they’re telling you they are or aren’t asking for your opinion.
      I’d like to get bigger as well (I hate being skinny because I hate how people see me and what they assume I can physically do because I’m skinny and a woman, but I’m working on it) and it bothers me and make me feel bad when people tell me I can’t. It also makes me feel bad that it seems the only reason for women to weight train would be to look good. It’s not a problem that some do it for that reason, but it’s the only representation of women who weight train there seems to be, or I don’t look in the right places, and most stuffs for women are geared toward “looking good” and reassure you about how you’re gonna look. On some forums, you can see these guys saying women will not become bulky and masculine, yet then they post pictures of women who weight train and says they’re too muscular/bulky/look like guys, or post pictures of natural bodybuilders who compete in natural bodybuilders competitions and say they’re on steroids, which is so hypocrite. It also makes me so angry that people think weight training is bad for women’s health and that they shouldn’t weight train “because nature made them to make babies” (because of what I know now is called the female athlete triad.)
      Also Lafay, one writer about bodyweight training, once complaining about a lesbian woman concerns over some parts of his book and called her and hysterical lesbian and, well, he said a lot of bullshit but that’s what hurt me the most in his post. Seriously, I don’t feel welcome on any french strength training forum.
      It’s actually quite shocking that so many men strength train, yet people can be shocked that a woman weight train or when they aren’t they assume *why* she strength train.
      So yeah, thanks for saying that.

  9. Rachel Cosgrove is taking her husband’s advice and riding on his current fitness fame in the industry and trying to create a “passive revenue” stream by writing books. The problem is that in order to write a book, it helps to have an actual message you want to get out.

    Her first book was a horrible waste of reading effort. I tried to read it. Twice. It made me nauseous it was so stupid and trite. I can’t imagine how this could possibly be worse but apparently it is.

    Rachel, at best, is a b-rate trainer with some education who got lucky and married a really smart, very charismatic, not so attractive man which, at least, gives her some leverage in their relationship. I wish she would stop writing books. She is taking up space on shelves that rightfully belongs to someone with some actual talent and a real desire to educate women not just turn a profit so she can retire early with her husband.

  10. I just bought The New Rules of Lifting for Women today! I’m a little worried because the author really seems to hate endurance running, and I’ll start training for my first marathon in 2 weeks. I’m curious to know how the program works out for you. Be sure to report back!

    • I don’t think it’s so much that the author hates endurance running as much as it is that he’s against the idea that you have to run or do hours of cardio to get into shape. A lot of people who espouse this point of view are careful to say that if you love to run (or ride a bike or swim or whatever), then you should totally do it. The issue is that a lot of people do these things despite not enjoying them, because they feel as though they are supposed to if they want to be healthy. I actually appreciate that perspective a lot despite being an endurance athlete myself.

      I would personally suggest that you wait to start the training program until after your marathon. The training program has a lot of leg work – the first stage alone has you doing either deadlifts or squats each day – and I have found that if I do legs, I can’t run the day after. So I would say that this is a program best reserved for a time when you are not running a lot. I do believe in strength training for runners (because it helps with endurance and fatigue resistance and also limits your ability to get injured) but this program is better suited for a time when you aren’t marathon training.

      I will make sure to post something soon about my experiences with it!

    • For what it’s worth, in his later books (like New Rules of Lifting for Life and New Rules of Lifting Supercharged), he clarifies/elaborates that cardio can (and perhaps should) be done on non-lifting days.

  11. I feel like this sums it up: “they are catering to the desires of their target audience, but there is no acknowledgement of the fact that they played a considerable role in making those desires what they are.” Bingo. I’ve always wondered why they use that as an excuse. You cater to the market, but the market hangs off your every word? Something doesn’t work out in that logic.

    • Yeah, this is an ongoing criticism I have with media of all stripes. They help create the demand, then act helpless when the demand is criticized as shallow and harmful. It’s annoying and a big reason why I am super selective and critical about the media I consume.

  12. I have to admit I don’t really know who Rachel Cosgrove is, I think I’ve come across her name once before but either she isn’t big in the UK or my avoidance of all womans magazines (both fashion/lifestyle/fitness) for the last 2 years is finally paying off in terms on not cluttering my brain with worthless information. Unfortunately I can’t do anything to actually purge Tracy Anderson from my brain.

    To be honest just the title makes me want to stick pins into dolls, again the assumption being women want/need to be smaller versions of themselves. Whether they do this by lifting heavy ass weights or running marathons I object to that premise.

    As for womans fitness magazines (a ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. sorry. ahem) they are little more than lifestyle magazines in leotards. I don’t find them useful, motivating or inspiring at all. They are motivated by advertising and advertising wants you to buy into new workout clothes, new workouts, new workout shoes, new diet/health drinks. Weights are boring, you need a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and a bottle of water. No magic tricks, no gimmicks.

    • Yep, you can only generate so much content out of weight training and fitness before you start repeating yourself. I mean, sure, you can cover new trends and offer recipes, but really, in the end it’s all just an excuse to sell you things, whether that’s fat-burning supplements or the latest Lululemon yoga top.

      The fitness-oriented magazines I like best will also make sure to offer quality feature stories in addition to the boilerplate content, which is why I have become a big fan of Outside. Like, they did a big piece on Tilikum, the orca that killed the trainer in SeaWorld, and on an ultrarunner who is trying to overcome a history involving addiction and prison. It’s quality stuff. I’d rather read that then yet another list of snacks that are 100 calories or less.

  13. It seems to come back to the new “strong is the new skinny issue.” Meaning that you really need to be skinny and strong.

  14. I liked reading your life history of fitness, and it struck me that it might have been really different if you were exposed to lifting earlier (or at least if someone explained how those machines worked!)

    My (super conservative Christian) high school had single-gender gym class and my senior year they ran an experimental (and controversial, I don’t think it was continued) class for the girls: Muscle development. (Of course, the boys had this already.) And I took it and loved it and was proud as heck of having the biggest bench out of all the girls (a whole 75lb :) The teacher helped us design programs for our individual goals, and taught us how to use the machines.

    I wish all girls could get exposure to lifting growing up. Instead, we see stupid magazines that I swear give useful-looking but destined-to-fail advice, so we buy the next magazine…

    • That class sounds amazing, and no wonder it got torpedoed after a year. Can’t have the ladies feeling strong and confident, it might upend the “natural order” of things.

      I would have loved a class like that. I don’t think I was adverse to weight training. I just didn’t have a clue what to do or where to even start.

      Instead, we see stupid magazines that I swear give useful-looking but destined-to-fail advice, so we buy the next magazine…

      Yep. A permanent class of consumers who will always feel as though they need you to tell them what they are doing wrong.

    • My high school offered weight training as a gym elective, too, and had a unit on it as part of the gym class everyone took.

      I definitely agree that it’s important to have someone teach you how to do the lifts. (How to use the machines, and also how to do free-weight lifts with proper form. I know that, even with instruction, I watched and waited for three years before I felt confident enough to try a power clean …) Makes all the difference in whether you feel at home in a weight room or not.

  15. Hi again, Caitlin! I really feel as if I’ve met a kindred spirit with you. I love how the world works. Thank you so much for linking back to my blog, especially because it gives my girls a little more ‘air-time’ and they certainly deserve it.

    Once again I agree with you pretty much point for point. One of my funny little slices of past fitness ‘tricks’ I played on myself … in the late 80’s I enrolled in an aerobics dance class in college because I’m the kind of person who will do anything for an A and I’d have to show up and do the class to get the A, so I’d be forced to do the aerobics! Ha! That said, the instructor was actually good and made the class fun and really hard.

    Of course these days, I’d lift heavy over anything long, slow, endurance any day of the week! Oh how I’d wished I’d known all those years.

    • The idea that long, slow endurance is THE way to get fit is a tough one that doesn’t seem to want to die. I’m all in favor of people doing what they want to do when it comes to exercise, but I can’t help but think that more people would be interested in getting active if “getting active” wasn’t synonymous with the treadmill or the elliptical.

      • Amen!! Also, I think more people would be interested in doing more heavy weightlifting if they experienced how effective and efficient it is for overall increased fitness.

        And here I am off to my gym to lift some weights. ;)

  16. This is exactly why I would like to start my own (serious) training magazine tailored towards women. I cannot find any magazines that aren’t full of supplement ads and unrealistic models with pathetic workout routines. I am in the UK, and the female fitness magazines over here are a joke. At least the US has Oxygen and Muscle and Fitness Hers, which at least show women doing more than tricep kickbacks.

    I haven’t read either of Rachel Cosgrove’s books, but I have been following the recent shitstorm through Charlotte’s posts and Rachel’s defense post. All I took from that post is that she is a sell-out. Very disappointing.

    • Tara, I’ve been reading your blog since finding it a while ago through GOMI and I have to say, I would totally read anything like that that you put out. That said, I actually had to stop reading Oxygen and M&F Hers because I felt like I was starting to put unrealistic expectations on myself based on what I was seeing in the magazines. The emphasis leans heavily toward women who want to compete, which made it less than ideal for someone like me, whose strength training is supplemental to the pursuit of a sport. I’d love to see a strength-training publication that didn’t focus so heavily on bodybuilding for competition.

      • I can’t believe you read my blog! I have been lurking on yours forever :)

        I just bought a copy of Oxygen at the train station for the first time in almost a year and it’s just not how I remember it! The workouts are terrible and it is so unrealistic for women to think they can obtain bodies like these models by doing similar workouts. I’m much more interested in reading something about being as strong as possible, but sadly it doesn’t exist – yet ;)

      • You have?! OMG! That’s awesome! Yay for mutual adoration societies!

        I stopped buying Oxygen a couple of years ago. It served its purpose in getting me to feel more comfortable in the weight room, but as I became more knowledgeable, I also became more critical, and Oxygen just no longer met my standards for what I wanted out of fitness-oriented media. The internet has stepped up, though, and provided more than ample resources to fill the hole left by magazines. :)

  17. I lift weights at the university gym where I work, and I’m typically the only woman there lifting. Any time another woman does come in, she’s usually tagging along with her boyfriend, and she might do a few tricep dips, but otherwise it’s a beeline for the Stairmaster. I just want to say “HEY YOU DITCH THAT GUY AND COME OVER HERE I WANT TO SHOW YOU SOMETHING.”

    I’m more into the oly lifting/Starting Strength style programs, but I might have to check out the book you recommended. I tend to get really skeptical about anything fitness related that’s marketed toward women specifically these days, because it’s not as if the laws of physics apply toward women differently than they do toward men. I did see though that there’s some basis in the six basic barbell lifts. Perhaps I can be swayed.

    • I have Starting Strength and I have tried to read it, but it’s slooooow going. I’m really into barbell exercises but I get nervous about doing more Oly style lifting without a coach. There’s a trainer at my gym who specializes in it and I keep thinking I should get some sessions with her, but alas, only 24 hours in a day and all that.

      I’ve actually read New Rules of Lifting that has the dude on the cover – I should take both books and compare the programs. I’m guessing they wrote the one for women because a lot of women didn’t feel like a weight training book with a guy on the cover was for them. Lou Schuler said they’d gotten a lot of requests for it.

      • Barbell lifting can be pretty intimidating, so I can appreciate the effort to make it a little less so, especially to women. I stayed away from it for a long time because I was both very intimidated and afraid of doing it wrong. Starting Strength is INCREDIBLY dry. It’s also amazing, if you can chew on it little bit by little bit, at explaining the mechanics of those lifts, how your body should be situated, and how it should feel. Doing a barbell squat isn’t all that complicated in theory, but when I started turning my feet 30 degrees out and keeping my back at the correct angle, which enabled me to squat lower, it was like lifting in color after doing it in black and white. But yeah, it’s pretty hard to read. I’d fall asleep on the bus reading it, and I can never fall asleep on the bus. Little bit by little bit.

        What finally got me going on the oly lifts was watching a LOT of YouTube videos and then separating out the genuinely good ones from the crappy ones full of people lifting lots of weight with total crap form. I managed to find some really good instructional videos from legit people (including Mark Rippetoe, who created SS), and with some form practice only using the bar and no additional weight, was able to build my confidence and form enough to lift on a regular basis. If you ever want to see the playlist I’d be happy to share.

  18. We encountered weights a few times in PE as I was growing up–but nothing systemized or really geared to teach us how to incorporate strength training on our own. In middle school the weight room was actually located inside the boy’s locker room–kind of a strong message about who should do strength training!

  19. I find this all really interesting.

    I wandered into my college weight room the summer I turned 20 and, advised by a guy (no women in there, summer of 1978) ended up bulking up like mad! Oh well. Then I took up ballet again to smooth out my shape.

    I’m a journalist/author and can tell you that looking to any mass-market magazine for “truth” or helpful material is usually a fool’s errand. The editors are given very specific instructions what will appeal to their advertisers and then tailor all material to their “demo” and the ads that will keep them all afloat. With the crazy changes in the industry (i.e. job losses, magazines closing) anyone with a staff job is not going to rock the boat from the inside.

    I’ve never read any women’s fitness magazines. I live an active life, but don’t need or want instruction from the media. I enjoy reading Outside, though. I find myself much more inspired by other women athletes.

  20. Totally digging this post and discussion, and of course I want to chime in on everything but I will restrain myself in the interest of not writing an 8 page comment.

    But I will say this… I am not pro-crossfit as a whole for a variety of reasons, but I do love that it’s making it posh for girls to lift weights. Real weights, not Barbie weights. And I love that it’s at least taking a stab at busting the “lifting will make you bulky” myth. Exposure to the concept that girls can/should lift weights is the first step to getting people to adopt this idea, and Crossfit is doing that. It gives me hope.

    Reading NROL4W was a big turning point for me, mindset-wise and it’s totally changed my life. Excited to see how it works for you!

  21. I think this is an interesting topic. Growing up, I was never athletic, was a definite book worm type (still am really). Gym classes were mostly about team sports and running, which do not suit me at all and I hated it; for years I thought I hated exercise. I remember one gym class in my high school experience where we did an aerobics class (I was in high school in the ’80s) and I actually thought it was fun, I also liked hiking and swimming when my family went camping in the summer, so walking and aerobics were pretty much where I went when I decided to actually start exercising in my twenties.

    In my early/mid twenties, my roommates sister left a pair of 5lb dumbbells at our apartment (she was moving a good distance and didn’t want to take them with her). I was quite fascinated by the idea, but really had no idea what to do with them.

    When I was around 30, I was working full time, had my own apartment, walking and doing aerobics videos for exercise. I saw a dumbbell workout in a magazine, decided I wanted to try it, went out and bought dumbbells, and discovered that I liked it.

    I’m not any kind of serious weight lifter. I strength train at home with dumbbells on a regular basis, and have been for years now. It’s an activity that suits me, I enjoy doing it, enjoy the challenge. I really think, that if I’d been given the opportunity way back in high school when I hated gym class, I would have liked it then too. I don’t think my high school even had any weight training equipment, if it was there, it was well hidden.

    I realize we are talking about the fitness industry, and marketing, more so that phys-ed classes, but I do think providing more options would be a good thing. And I think the assumption that girls wouldn’t want to learn about weight training is wrong. Some girls wouldn’t, but I’m sure that some girls would.

  22. My road to lifting weights? I started actually lifting in high school but only did so for a year and just picked it back up this year but since we had a weight set in the backyard growing up it was never a stretch of the imagination to lift weights. (We had no idea what we were doing and mainly did bad Arnold impersonations) We used to play games as kids that revolved around the bench/bar or see who could do the most pull-ups.
    However, I still didn’t really get into weight lifting until this year and I’m so glad that women like you are out there to find. Thanks for the awesome blog.

  23. Where are you? I just started to read and love your blot and you have not posted in like forever ugh

    • Hey Lisa, I’m here! I’m just taking a bit of a break because I’ve got some stuff going on, but I’ll be back with some new content very soon.

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