Somewhere, someone popular broke the news to women that lifting weights wasn’t the “instant bulk” formula that they should be afraid of.
For that, I can speak on behalf of strength coaches worldwide when I express eternal gratefulness. Introducing the idea of traditional weight training has forever been an area of difficulty, since, until recently, most of its spokespeople were male.
Add a boom of social media and unearned celebrity, and we’re now being doled exercise advice from the likes of the Kardashians, readily consumed by the masses.
I’ve done my fair share of CrossFit bashing in my day, but I’ll say this to their defense: What CrossFit has done to popularize conventional barbell training to the female crowd is to be applauded. It’s becoming much more common knowledge that resistance training is a vehicle to real results in both health and physique.
With that said, the glute-centric training epidemic needs to see its end.
And an epidemic it is. Media has seemingly taken away force-fed social constructs of old, and replaced them with better ideologies that have sadly become slowly bastardized by way of, let’s face it, the very same methods.
I Get It
Believe me – I’ll be the first to admit it: Most, if not all of us train in hopes of improving our physiques by our own perception (or maybe even the perception of others), and this isn’t intended to be a body-shaming dissertation angled against people who want their glutes to pop. Especially in the tumult that is today’s social climate, my inbox would be full of vitriol faster than you could say Nicki Minaj.
If you didn’t understand what I’m saying above, let me simplify it: Training to just plain look good is higher on most individual training agendas than many are willing to admit.
Especially for the female crowd, that agenda may include getting the glutes in tip top shape.
Wait, There’s a Butt
Seriously, type “exercises for a ___” in a Google search bar, and among the top suggestions offered to complete the sentence, “round butt” unfailingly shows up as a keyword option. It’s a high-demand goal that’s a big deal. And I would bet my bottom dollar that the majority of women who have learned a number of resistance exercises to train the glutes, aren’t doing so with first mind towards correcting pelvic tilt, setting proper order to the firing chain of the posterior muscles, or eliminating potential for back injuries down the road. Rather, they probably have an idea of a certain shape, development and fullness from a completely cosmetic standpoint that they know doing such exercises will bring them towards.
And really, who can blame them?
Like I said above, people train to look good – so you may as well employ the right methods. The problem comes when people start missing the import of resistance training as whole.
Before you write me off as a dastardly generalizer, let’s not act like this doesn’t exist, especially within the millennial crowd. At almost every gym I’ve belonged to, there’s always a population of women – small or large – who might smartly swap out the endless cardio for weights, but each “strength training” workout consists of any or all of the following:
- Glute bridges
- Hip thrusts
- Banded lateral shuffles, squats, and hip extensions
- Machine glute kicks
- Split squats
- Pull throughs
- Step mill with exaggerated hip extension strides
- Curtsy squats/lunges
To be clear, I’m actually a big fan of many of the exercises above. The movements aren’t the problem. In the early 2000’s, we well intended fitness professionals cracked down on guys pursuing overall size gains for egregiously focusing on bench press and biceps curls – because, well, balanced physiques are much more important to have. They’re also healthier. On a similar note, the idea of too much of a good thing is definitely in play here for the ladies.
Every time I see this situation make itself manifest in the gym, it gets me thinking. A dozen or so years ago, it was a widespread falsity within the female population that weights will “make women too bulky”, and it was hell trying to change anyone’s mind. But with the glute-centric strength training craze facilitating a general neglect for basically the entire rest of the body, has the “weights are evil” problem really been solved?
If the cosmetic goal is that of development – namely, shaping, lifting, toning, rounding out, or whatever trite predicate you’d like to insert to complete a mental picture – then might the omission of other areas of the body that clearly need help actually come from being victim to the same old-school thinking that we’ve been trying to erase?
It seemingly takes a celebrity to make the masses follow a fitness trend. People who are steeped in the training industry or are otherwise well-informed may scold me for saying that, but it does this group well to recognize and acknowledge that they’re indeed in the severe minority. People, in general, are visually oriented, are in search of “the fastest way”, and seek positive reinforcement after. Slowly but surely, excellent trainers who have celebrities as their clients are making more of an effort to publicize such ones performing legitimate training methods that are complete in nature.
With their help, soon deadlifts and squats won’t be popular in the under 30 female community only because Kim or Amber promoted them first. And they surely wouldn’t be just as easily abandoned in the freak scenario that either of them told everyone to ditch them from their workouts.
Instead, they’ll be recognized as the healthy movements that offer countless benefits – glute strength and development being only two.
Hold on, There’s More
As mentioned, the craze at hand has caused very little attention to be directed to some key areas that many women would do well to address for their health and wellness. A few of those areas stand out to me enough to include them in programming for my in-person and online clients:
Neck & Upper Back
Simply put, your posture strictly depends on the strength and responsiveness of these muscles. There are also contributing factors that can make women more prone to poor posture than men. The health of the thoracic spine, strength of the scapular muscles, flexibility of the pecs and mobility of the shoulder joints are all major players here, and foam rolling, lacrosse ball rolling and performing every row pattern you can think of are probably a good place to start.
OK, I’ll admit it. This is probably the second area of focus of late behind glute training. But again, it’s usually handled the wrong way. First of all, the abs are only part of the core. Second, there are more exercises to address this region than planks. Loaded carries, lifting offset loads, resisting rotation, creating rotation, and quadruped stability are worth their weight in gold to create better trunk health and a more stable spine. As an aside, a severe low back arch may feign the appearance of developed glutes, but it wreaks havoc on the spine, hips and core. Proper trunk training in conjunction with glute work can help to even out the scales.
Notwithstanding 5 and 10 pound dumbbell work, it’s a true rarity for me to find women giving upper body pressing work the time of day at a typical fitness chain box gym. Using loads that actually pose a challenge for overhead pressing can very positively affect the shoulder complex and pay dividends in the form of improved upper back health and posture. Using alternate angles to ease into such movements (like a landmine attachment) is also a smart move.
Death to the Double Standard
Ladies, weight training won’t make you bulky. Training and eating for SIZE will. And that knowledge shouldn’t be allowed to come and go when it’s convenient for you and the exercise in question. In other words, if you’ve been fixated on your butt in the gym, it’s time your upper body gets the attention it deserves. If strong is really “the new sexy”, it’s time to give all of your muscles a fair shot at getting there.
For the cosmetically inclined, it’s important to remember: more than anything, genetics and skeletal frame determine one’s physique. If you have naturally wide hips and a small rib cage, chances are you’ll never naturally attain an insane V-taper you might be in fear of unless you train specifically for that outcome for years. Add this to the fact that your testosterone levels are lower compared to men, and the stage isn’t necessarily set for you to be building muscle volume at an alarming rate.
I’m Not Calling out the Individual, I’m calling out the Culture
To be fair, no one here is badmouthing the idea of having a butt-lift as one of your training goals. In my books, that’s cool as long as it’s not the sole reason that lifting weights is part of your exercise regime whatsoever. Recognize the myriads of benefits strength training can provide to the total body, and diversify your portfolio. Don’t become prisoner to a culture perpetuated by misinformation and what celebrities might deem trendy.
Let’s just hope the insta-famous moguls don’t discover sprinting for nice glutes – or else weight training may reclaim its status of notorious evil that it once had.