Understanding that health is not an obligation, barometer or worthiness, or entirely within our control, and that every body has different abilities, and that ableism and healthism are real and they privilege some people and oppress others, I think that strength training may be the absolute most under-recommended part of health for people of size.
I was at the front desk at a friend’s gym and beside me was a fat person having his first session with a personal trainer. They were talking about goals and he said “I just want to be in better shape – lift some weight, be stronger.” The trainer replied “We’re going to focus only on cardio to get some of that weight off. We don’t want to bulk you up or put more weight on you.” I almost bit through my tongue.
This is a huge mistake for every reason imaginable. I would feel differently if the client said that he hated strength training or that his goal was something different but he was asking a professional and he got horrible advice. Far too often we blame mobility issues on being overweight when really it’s just as likely that we simply are under-strong – that we don’t have the strength to move our weight around. People always ask me how I can move like I do at my size – obviously it’s not that the rules of physics don’t apply to me, there’s a bunch of dance training, there are my genetics, and there’s the fact that I’m strong enough to move my body around. My ability to put on muscle is tied in to my genetics so your mileage may vary, of course, but there’s a far better chance of someone getting strong long term than of that person losing weight.
The idea that people should do cardio at first to “get weight off” would be completely wrong, even if weight loss was possible for the vast majority of people, since additional muscle mass in theory raises basal metabolic rate and doing only cardio causes you to lose lean muscle mass as well as fat. The truth is that most people will never be able to achieve long term weight loss. If you have a 400 pound object and your dolly will only hold 200 pounds, you don’t try to make the object lighter – you get a stronger dolly. Considering the realities of weight loss it is super extra ridiculous for a personal trainer to purposefully not add strength to facilitate mobility in a larger body.
Similarly the idea of not wanting to “add weight” to the body with strength training seems to be based on the concept that smaller is always better if you’re fat, which is just modern mythology. I believe that fitness programs should be based around the client’s actual goals. If you want to compete as an Olympic weightlifter your training program should be very different than if your goal is to be able to pick up your grandkid. Programs designed to just make people smaller are almost guaranteed to fail, and when they do, those clients won’t be any closer to any functional fitness goals. Also, strength training can be really good for people who don’t enjoy more cardiovascular-centered workouts, and weight training programs can be designed to create a cardio benefit without being anything like running or being on the elliptical or whatever.
For me being strong is about more than functionality too. I like how I feel about myself when I’m strong. I feel like I can trust my body and I feel more prepared to take on whatever might happen, I walk through the world differently when I feel strong. I remember when Darryl first asked me to climb the Santa Monica Stairs for the film and though they looked daunting, I didn’t hesitate because I knew that my strength would allow me to do it. Of course it’s not like that for everyone and I’m not saying that it should be, just suggesting that if you’ve never tried strength training you might give it a shot and see how you feel.
To be clear, strength is not an “if one person can do it anybody can” situation. People’s genetics and abilities are different – some are built with the ability to put on more muscle, or more of certain types of muscle than others (most women do not have the genetics to become “bulky”). And I’m not saying that my love of strength training overrides the studies that show that 30 minutes of movement a day gives you amazing health benefits.
The point that I’m trying to make is that if you are struggling with mobility, or with body confidence, and you feel like you would move better, or like your body more if you were lighter, then based on both science and hearsay you might consider putting some energy towards being stronger.
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