Women and Muscle

*A note from Sarah: Below is another post by guest blogger Jason Seib of Primitive Stimulus.  I love all of Jason’s posts but this one is incredibly near and dear to my heart.  I used to have a misconception that if I lifted heavy weights I would “bulk up.”  Fast forward to today and I am so grateful that somebody finally shot that notion clean out of my mind.  There are “fitness professionals” out there currently preaching that women should never lift more then 3 pounds.  Please tell me ladies, does your toddler, bag of groceries, or even your purse weigh less then 3 pounds?? I’ll leave you with this thought; changing my attitude about exercise changed my life, and very likely saved my life and today when I go to the gym I absolutely lift a heck of a lot more then 3 pounds and I’m grateful to be strong enough to pick up and toss any “fitness professional” who tells me I should do otherwise.

I’ll let Jason take it over from here…

Women and Muscle

This one is for the ladies.  Gentlemen, see you next time.

I’m generalizing here, but an average workout for for the typical female Globo Gym client consists of 30 – 60 minutes on a cardio machine or cardio class of some sort, followed by 10 – 15 minutes of “core” work.  If the path from the cardio equipment/class passes too close to the barbells, they must walk very quickly so as not to wake up tomorrow morning with 20 inch biceps and a full beard.  Okay, I’m being facetious, but this is a frustrating problem for many a trainer.

Ladies, you must lift weights! No matter what your goals may be, you will get the biggest bang for your buck by lifting heavy things in lots of different ways.  I covered the basic movements here so I won’t repeat myself, but we need to talk about the reasons you need to be lifting and the inhibitions you may have.

Unfortunately, the consensus among new female clients is almost always that lifting weights guarantees that you will look like this in short order:

Now I’m absolutely not passing judgment on anyone who actually wants to look like this.  In fact, I have nothing but respect for the amount of work this woman put into her sport.  But this requires drugs and an unbelievable level of dedication.  To assume that even a fraction of these results might happen to you by accident is naive and insulting to female bodybuilders.  This woman altered her capacity for hypertrophy (increased muscle size) with artificial hormones, used training methods designed specifically for maximum muscle mass gain, and probably ate more food per meal than you eat all day.  Do you intend to do all of those things?  No?  Then you can’t look like her.  Stop worrying about the impossible and load a barbell.

In my gym, the women with the heaviest lifts and the best overall physical capacity are also the women with bodies that are envied by the rest.  I think that most women who are new to fitness would assume that you can either be strong or you can be cute.  I think most men would disagree – at least men with any fitness experience.

I admit that the following is completely anecdotal, but let’s use Katie as an example.  Katie has been a client of mine for just over 3 years and she is a monster.  On her first day of training she weighed 172 lbs at 5 feet 2 inches tall.  She is a mom with 2 young children, she was eating a standard American diet, she could barely do a sit-up, she was not happy with her body and this is what she looked like:

After deciding she was fed up with her body, she got down to business with her training and nutrition and here are a few of her current stats:

Deadlift – 255 lbs

Back Squat – 200 lbs

Shoulder Press – 85 lbs

Clean – 140 lbs

If you think like the average women, these numbers probably sound appalling and unladylike.  Well, you be the judge.  This is what Katie looks like now at around 135 lbs:

I should also mention that Katie doesn’t do any “cardio” by the mainstream definition.  Anything she does that might resemble “cardio” is done in short intervals.  She also does not weigh and measure her food.

I’ve exploited Katie here (thanks Katie!) because her results are typical of all of my heaviest lifting women.  Granted, we are not training them exclusively for strength, and that’s not what I’m recommending, but they are absolutely trained with strength and power as a top priority.  In fact, when the newbies ask for advice from the top  women they are often told to get into lifting and get strong.  I have no doubt that Katie would advise the same.

Another reason women need to lift weights is to maintain bone density.  Any women reading this who are over 40 years old have probably been emphatically prescribed copious amounts of calcium by their doctor.  What the doc neglected to consider is the lack of stimulus necessary for your body to use valuable energy to build more bone.  Maybe you should drop off a bunch of lumber in your doctor’s yard without mentioning why, and then get mad at him when he doesn’t use it to build a deck.  He’s playing the same game with your body.  Why would your body assume that you need more bone density if you never bear loads that would necessitate a stronger frame?  In reality, if your diet and exercise are on par with the needs of your species you probably don’t need calcium at all.

If you are having a hard time getting your head around all this, you need to find a quality fitness facility, one that consistently produces excellent results, and talk to their women.  And you need to roll the dice and try it.  I have already asked you to dramatically change your thinking about nutrition in my previous posts.  Now I’m asking you to trust me again.  Get motivated.  Get educated.  Lift heavy.  You won’t regret it.


  1. says

    I totally agree! I’ve been doing a workout called ChaLEAN Extreme through Beachbody and the instructor, Chalene Johnson debunks this myth with almost every workout! She has at least 4 ladies workout with her that consistently do her workout routines or lift heavy (alternate between failure at 8-10 reps and then 10-12 depending on the month) and they are not huge. They are lean and awesome looking.. one even has had 7 kids – the last 4 being quadruplets! Lift heavy ladies.. that’s how we’re going to get the body we want AND the metabolism we want!!! :)

    • Michelle says

      This is the exact first thing that I thought of when I read this article- I also did this program (until work-related stress injuries forced me to put the lifting part on hiatus) and it’s awesome.

    • elizabeth says

      Hi Jason,

      I have a question. I have been paleo for a few months and it has been great for me but I’m having trouble with exercise. Currently I swim some and that makes me feel good and use the treadmill to race walk but when I do more intense stuff my lupus quicks up. I would like to lift weights and do high intensity workouts but am not sure that is the best thing for lupus because too much too fast can cause a flare. I notice when I do a big workout there are more bubbles in my urine which is a sign of protein leakage. I know you are not a doctor but is there any way to ease into heavy weights. Any suggestions???

  2. Belinda says

    Couldn’t agree more. I love my time in the weights room and can’t believe how few women are ever in there. You look at the cardio machines, and the level of body fat of most people on them. Then compare to the weights room, and it’s obvious where the leanest people are hanging out!

  3. Karen Harris says

    Another great guest blog. I can tell the difference in my body and I am loading the bad to my fullest safe potential. I’ve noticed (and my husband too) that the muscle definement that I have gained as improved my body physique not made me look like the first picture of the “extreme lifter”. Thanks for sharing this post with us.

  4. says

    This is great! I absolutely recommend lifting to all women of all ages! Muscle burns FAT – period – and it is great for kicking osteoporosis in the butt and many other aging issues women face. Are you listening out there girls, ladies, momma’s and overall women of all ages??? LIFT some weights!

  5. JasonS says

    Before there are too many more comments I would like to add that Katie is not an exercise addict spending all her free time exercising. She works out 3 or 4 times per week at the most and always less than an hour at a time. She is a monster in the gym, but I doubt she spends much time thinking about her fitness goals after she leaves. Katie isn’t as gregarious as Deb from my last post, but I will see if I can get her to chime in on these comments.

  6. Beverley says

    Katie looks great! Could I ask what her measurements were before and after? I’ve been weight training without any kind of instructor for about a year – just research of my own and whatnot – so I am trying to figure out where I am progress-wise.

    • JasonS says

      Her waist went from 38.25 inches to 30.5 inches.
      Her hips went from 44.25 inches to 38.5 inches
      Her thighs went from 24.5 inches to 19 inches.

    • JasonS says

      CrossFit has introduced a lot of benchmarks to fitness, but most of the training Katie does these days isn’t specifically CrossFit.

  7. says

    I know for sure that I don’t spend nearly as much time working out as a lot of women on cardio machines and I look like I should be training some of the female trainers when I work out at a local Globo/24hr Fitness gym. I think it’s awesome that we can achieve this level of fitness by doing 20-40 mins of a workout, intensely, for around 3 or 4 days a week. Rock on – strong chicks rule.

  8. Katie says

    I feel that it is important to say that I would not have had these results without Jason. I NEEDED someone to coach me and make me get myself into shape. Before meeting Jason I was guilty of periodically purchasing a monthly gym membership to use a treadmill to try and run off the last 25lbs of baby weight that my body didn’t want to let go of. I never would have considered wondering into the unknown to try and lift weights on my own. Jason has helped me see the importance of lifting weights and a proper diet. It has changed my life. I feel great and I am much happier. Moral of the story don’t shy away from weight lifting it doesn’t have to be scary even if you don’t have experience with it. Find yourself a good coach to teach you proper form and go for it. It works!

  9. says

    Wonderful post.. very well written. This is exactly what my trainer shared with me. I spin, do intervals & lift… to be fit for my kids, myself& increase bone density. I have just started the paler diet (I am autoimmune)& looking forward to better results in the coming weeks,

  10. says

    Truer words never spoken! All my girlfriends ask what I do for exercise, and I always say the surest way to get my body exactly the way I want it is lifting free weights. They don’t believe me generally it seems, and I think they must conclude that when I’m at the gym 3 days a week for 40 minutes each time I must run on the treadmill, or cycle reading a magazine!! Um no. I get in, work out hard, lift a lot of iron, get some funny looks, and get out. My mum, who is 62, can deadlift and press more than me, she is a machine, an inspiration, and she is TINY!! Strong, very very strong, but petite and feminine and HOT!! I still steal her clothes and I’m 30!

    Another point here is how important it is for bone density and strength training as women get older. My grandmother snaps something if she walks into a chair. This is not going to happen to me, or to my mum. It is so important for this misconception about weights to be changed. Thank you for posting.

    • Sarah says

      This is so great Elisa, I love the visual of your mom, I can only imagine how beautiful and strong she must be! I think about my own mom a lot when I work out and I wish wish wish that I would have known when she was still alive what I know now about fitness and nutrition. You and your mom keep spreading the word as well, leading by example is huge!! You go girl!!

      • says

        Thank you Sarah. Just think how much you are giving your kids (loved the video of you family workout by the way!) and thank you for your blog, both my Mum, mother-in-law and I love it!! Xx

  11. Stacy says

    All women should lift weights. I love how strong I feel when I walk into the weight room and start to load up the squat rack. I’m 7 mths pregnant and i’m sure I lift more than the average lady. Lifting weights is a huge confidence booster bedsides all of the health benefits.

  12. says

    KAtie you are a BAD ASS (sorry family show I couldn’t help it).. strong and fit and beautiful. Nice work. Way to get the word out… LIFT HEAVY.. you won’t regret it!

  13. Becki says

    As a woman who has competed in drug free body building competitions and now lifts more as a way to fight gravity, I appreciate this post. Lifting didn’t take away from my femininity at all. In fact, it helped to shape me in areas that needed a little extra shape. Lifting is so empowering to a woman, I highly recommend every woman who wants to look her best to find a coach and press all the weight she can!

  14. says

    Well, I’m doing the paleo diet but I am one of those weird chicks who DOES want to put on muscle. I’m training at the gym, and hoping that this diet will not prevent me from building my upper body the way I want to. I was born with strong legs, and am trying to train my upper body to match. I know losing the fat is essential to actually seeing “what lies beneath”… but I do want to build muscle once the fat layer has receded. Any suggestions?

    • JasonS says

      EAT! Shovel down the food and train for hypertrophy. Reps in the 8 – 12 range, short breaks. It certainly can be done, just not usually by accident like many mistakenly believe.

      • Traci says

        Thanks for responding to this question in particular, Jason! I’m similar to Marcheline, in that I WANT to be muscular! I tend to put on muscle quickly (yay!) but have a layer of blubber roughly equivalent to that of a club seal to get through first.

  15. says

    Great article, good information … but …

    I’m not a girl. I haven’t been for many, many years. I am a 40 year old, mother of 2, been lifting heavy weights for many years Woman. (BS 217.5/SP 97.5/DL 265/SJ 155/Helen 8:32/5’4″/130)

    If you call me a girl, I’ll call you a boy.

    • Jennifer Siegfried says

      THANK YOU, AMY! Yes, that was yelling. “Girl” has a definition. It does not mean a female over 18 years of age. We’re in the Common Era now – only the diet and exercise should be Paleolithic. Let’s get the vocabulary up to date.

      • JasonS says

        So… I should be offended by “boy”? I’m just not sure I have the time or energy for that. Regardless, edits have been made and all mention of “girls” have been removed.

        • says

          I don’t think it’s so much of an “offense” thing, but women who are below 40 often are referred to as “girls” rather than women.

          Men have this awesome intermediate, age-neutral term of “guy.” Women don’t really have that (unless you consider lady acceptable). Thus, any female human over the age of 18 ought to be rightfully referred to as a woman.

          Women are often referred to as girls because of that lack of intermediary term stated above. Being called a girl makes many feel as if they are deprived of their adult status. In a world that many feel deprives women of power, this is especially hard to handle. The term girl refers to a juvenile, unexperienced and often times ill-informed. A girl is someone who needs to be taken care of and handled. A woman is independent. To refer to a woman as a girl is, to some, to imply that she needs to be taken care of.

          • JasonS says

            In my defense, a couple of years ago we had these shirts made that said “CrossFit is for Girls” and they sold like hotcakes.

          • says

            I think everyone feels differently about it. I personally don’t like being called a female. I would prefer to be called a woman, but I see no need to pitch a fit about it. I establish my power in other, more awesome ways. 😀

        • Jess says

          Yeah, I’m with you on this one, Jason. I get where you’re coming from, ladies, but we live in an all too quick-to-take-offense world. Trying to figure out what we can or cannot say in order to not offend every single person who might read something is energy-draining.

          Jason is doing great work and giving excellent advice for us women – let’s just take that and appreciate him for what he’s sharing with us here! He is helping to empower females by making them stronger and fitter, so I highly doubt he meant any offense by using the word “girl.” :)

  16. Traci says

    I really needed to read this. I am a month into my weight training and am sad that I am not immediately seeing the results I’d like. I’ve been Paleo pretty solidly since March, but have a lot more weight than Katie to lose.

    It is really hard to wrap my brain around the long term health and fitness goals, since I’m so used to yo-yo dieting. It really helps to see other women not just eating Paleo, but lifting weights and building long-term strength. I know reading this really helps remind me that my hard work will pay off.

    • saschamy says

      Traci: Are you using a scale to measure your progress?I have only been lifting weights for a little over a month. I was amazed when my trainer took the “banging the weights” approach, as previous trainers (over 5 years ago) have been much more about cardio (not that they ignored the weight training, but was not the focus that I have now). I have not seen the scale move much, though my inital goal was to lose 20 pounds in 6 weeks (Overall, I have 50-ish pounds to lose). I have lost only 7 in four weeks. I bemoaned this to my trainer and he asked if I had noticed other differences. I had to admit that I had. My arms and shoulders are losing fat and starting to show some definition. My butt is shrinking. My clothes first started to fit better, now they are baggy. Look for these signs. Also, see Sarah’s 2 postings about the scale and how it is not an accurate measure of progress. I’ll tell you the spoiler here: Deb weighed 155 in January but had a very soft build. In June she weighed the same 155, but is beautifully shaped. I hope you are working with a trainer. It made all the difference for me. But most of all, keep at it.

  17. says

    I’d love to hear Jason’s thoughts on kettlebells. I like them because they are portable and easy, and most importantly because I can do them at home without finding a sitter for my kids. In your opinion, can kettlebells be a complete workout? (with other at-home exercises like pushups, pullups, squats, etc added in) If not, what should be added and what would you recommend for stay at home moms that can’t hit a weight room?
    P.S. Katie- you look great!

    • JasonS says

      Kettlebells are a great tool, but it’s hard to do the big compound movements with them unless you have some HUGE kettlebells. For example, a 200 lb deadlift is a good benchmark for the girls in my gym and we try to get all of them to reach that goal. A 200 lb kettlebell is a little ridiculous. If kettlebells are all you have, by all means use them, but get creative. Don’t leave out things like goblet squats, lunges, step-ups, and one leg Romanian deadlifts. And of course form is a factor in all of these movements. DON’T ASSUME YOUR FORM IS CORRECT! EDUCATE YOURSELF!

  18. Pam says

    I really appreciate this post. I’m in my late 50s, and didn’t exercise consistently until about 5 years ago. Then I started the standard gym routine: 30 min on the elliptical 6x/week, with strength training (on machines) 3x/week. It helped, but I wasn’t really seeing noticeable results from my strength training. Where the hell was that elusive muscle definition in my upper arm? Then I started CrossFit 10 months ago, and put my hands on a barbell for the first time in my life. I have loved, loved, loved this journey into lifting heavy things. And I love, love, love the muscle mass I’ve developed. I laugh at myself every time I catch a glimpse of my bare arms in a mirror and pause to admire the muscle definition. I love the shape of my thighs and butt! My trim abdomen. Most importantly, it is a huge thrill for me to feel this strong. To say it’s empowering is an understatement. I feel more comfortable with my body, more at one with my body, than I have in my entire life.

    At the risk of being immodest, I will also say that I turn heads. Literally. Strangers on the street. (Who says older women are invisible?) Lots of people have been telling me I look fantastic. Best of all, my husband really likes what he sees. And he’s been very sweet about telling me so. Often.

    Muscles on women: definitely feminine and sexy.

  19. Hal says

    It’s worth noting that the fear of “bulking up” that some women have (not me!) is not always a fear of looking like a female bodybuilder, but a fear of muscle definition at all. This was the case in some of my CrossFit classes. There were women making great progress but they were not so thrilled about the larger traps, triceps, and thighs that went along with what they were doing. Among other things, it’s almost impossible to find button down shirts that fit a lifter’s waist and arms. Grrrr….

    And some women will add more muscle than others. My body is prone to packing on the muscle, and at this point it’s one of the first things people notice about me (especially in a tank top) even though I’ve still got a healthy layer of body fat everywhere.

    All of this isn’t to discourage women from lifting. They absolutely should, for oh so many reasons. But lifting does change your body shape. You’ll have broader shoulders and chest, a narrower waist, and larger thighs. So you should also make good friends with a tailor. :)

    • JasonS says

      Agreed. Many women still think the concentration camp look is sexy. I’ve noticed that I never seem to see that look on happy people.

  20. Tony says

    FINALLY!!! My fiance is under the impression that she is going to get all JACKED if she lifts weights. This is exactly the article I need to finally get her to believe me that she doesn’t have the genetic makeup to allow that to happen. Thanks!

  21. Hanna K says

    Couldn’t agree more. I see the best girls at my CF gym lifting CRAZY amounts of weight every day and they all look beautiful – NOT butch. Lifting heavy always gives me a huge feeling of accomplishment at the end of the workout, too.

  22. Gwen says

    I am in awe of this post and I WISH more women would GET IT! I have done 4 natural figure shows and the heavier I lift the more shape I get! I eat like a horse and train like a warrior and STILL HAVE A GIRLISH FIGURE! Who would have ever thought it, eh?!?!?
    Anyway, it’s so nice to see women who are not afraid of lifting iron. I am a trainer at a globogym (stabbing my eyes out with a fork) and I cannot stress it enough to the women there that they WILL NOT GET BULKY! Unless of course their diet sucks…but that’s a whole different conversation! ha

  23. SaraJ says

    Love this post! Can you give any tips on how to get strong when I don’t have access to a gym? I have two small kids and don’t have time or money to drive to the gym several times per week. Anything I can do at home to build the kind of strength that one would otherwise do with weights?
    Thank you!

    • Sarah says

      Hi SaraJ, In the back of my book I have an entire fitness section that is suited for the very beginner all the way up to a more advanced athlete. You can do all the exercises and workout routines at home and I even tell you where to find the equipment you might need! I hope that helps! Here is the link to where you can order my book from Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/dp/098256581X/ref=cm_sw_su_dp

      • SaraJ says

        Of course! Thanks Sarah! I do have the book, and I’ve been so focused on the recipes that I haven’t spent much time at the back of the book. I will definitely read over that. You, your book, your blog have seriously changed my life! Paleo for almost 2 months now and feeling better than I could’ve ever imagined!
        Thank you!

  24. Sabrina says


    I’m so impressed by Katie’s results! I am a self-confessed “cardio queen” who loves to run and do the elliptical but has never been able to be consistent with weights – I’ll do it for a week or three, then not really know how to progress and go back to the cardio comfort zone.

    For the past month, I have been consistently adding 2-3 weight training sessions per week and I’ve been able to increase the weights on some of my exercises. I typically do 5 for upper body and 5 for lower body, a mix of free weights and machines. 3 sets of 10 reps.

    I have been hearing a lot lately about “lifting heavy” and it’s repeated here as well, but how does one find out what “lifting heavy” means for them? And I’m guessing that if you lift heavy, you do fewer reps, right? For example, I clicked through on the video for the deadlift and I’m afraid of going too heavy and hurting my back. Can you point me towards any good resources that help sort out lifting heavy concepts for noobs like me?

    • JasonS says

      First, stop doing cardio. It isn’t doing anything for you but elevating your cortisol levels which will keep you squishy and/or limit your muscle growth. I insist that my clients quit doing anything that looks like cardio. We huff and puff through sprints and high intensity interval training, but we don’t do an hour on the treadmill at 70% of our VO2 max while we watch Oprah.

      With heavy lifting, form is essential and I would highly recommend you find a qualified professional to teach you the big compound movements like deadlifts and squats. I’m not saying you need a trainer for life, although a trainer like Sarah will make all the difference in the world, but you should at least get educated before striking out on your own.

      “Heavy” is subjective, but you should regularly be working with weights that you can only handle for a few reps and you be trying to increase those loads. I try to get all our women to 200 lbs on their deadlifts, around 150 lbs on their squats, and 75 lbs on their shoulder presses. Of course I’m generalizing. We have women that will never hit these numbers and we have women that far exceed them.

      I hope that helps.

      • Sabrina says

        Thank you, that does help. I think I could happily give up most cardio, but I do love to run and am signed up for a couple of races in the next few months. Not sure how that will work out but am open-minded and willing to try anything.

        I just realized you are here in Portland. I have actually worked with trainers here in Portland (but they never taught the method you mention, unfortunately) and have a membership with 24 Hour Fatness. I would love to schedule time with a trainer to get a baseline plan established, that I could then take to my gym to execute (because I can’t afford two gym memberships). Is that something you ever do?

  25. Gwen says

    Congratulations, Katie! This is so inspiring. Now I’m wondering who I can find in my city to help me out with this. Can anyone recommend a trainer in Seattle?

  26. says

    I know you told us guys not to read, but I didn’t listen. I agree completely, however. I’ve been doing cardio for years – marathons, Ironman races, etc. The ONLY thing that truly blasted through my “I’m never going to lose these last 20 pounds!” is lifting. Lifting, lifting, lifting. Bonus: I’m faster and more agile when I run.

    I never used to believe. I have newfound respect for lifting weights. Seriously.

    Great piece. Thanks for it.

  27. karen says

    I’ve lifted weights and done yoga and pilates. Any kind of strength training is important–it doesn’t just have to be weights.

    • JasonS says

      The point here is load bearing exercises, and progressive overload for most people. Yoga and pilates would not fall in this category.

  28. Melissa says

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of these posts and has totally helped me. I’m a 37 year old female, with about 60 lbs I would like to lose. I am a newbie to the paleo way and am about to jump full throttle in to this way of eating. I do have a couple of questions though….is paleo the best way for me to lose this weight, along with the lifting in the gym? Should I do any cardio at all or strictly focus on lifting?

    If crossfit isn’t what is totally taught, what would you recommend?

    Thank you!

  29. JasonS says

    You are basically asking me to tell you how to lose 60 lbs in the comments of a blog and if it were that simple I would be unemployed. You will need to get educated because there is a lot here, but here is the short version. Paleo is the answer to all diet related questions in my opinion because it is not a diet. Paleo is human nutrition as established by a couple million years of natural selection. You should be walking, but not doing any traditional cardio, although you will need some high intensity interval training. There are some good CrossFit gyms out there, but they are mixed in with a lot of horrible ones.

    I think I have answered these questions in a little more detail in these posts:

  30. says

    I work out at a rather large health club. I really enjoy weight-lifting and I take a group fitness class once a week that generally kicks my butt. I love that! I leave there feeling sore and bit ache-y becauce there is an emphasis on heavy and overload – it all feels really good. My issue is that I haven’t made my way into the free weight area, something I really, really want to do. Any advise on how to cross that threshhold? It’s a place full of really fit people, mostly men. I always feel like I don’t belong there…

    • JasonS says

      If you are doing all your resistance training on machines you definitely should make that transition to free weights sooner than later. Machines are likely to set you up fro injury in the future when you try to translate your machine strength into real life strength. Again, I would recommend that you find a good trainer and have them show you the ropes with the big movements like deadlifts, squats, and presses. Don’t just run up to the first trainer you see. Do some digging to find someone with a great reputation for success, not just a personality that everyone likes.

  31. Jen Young says

    As a trainer and someone who busted the “bulking” myth for myself long ago, I am amazed when a potential female client tells me she doesn’t want to lift because she will get big. Like Sarah, I realized pretty early on that women were built for pregnancy (hello, bowling ball in the belly) while multiple kids swing from her limbs. There are women in this world that carry heavy loads balanced on their heads while carrying kids.

    Congrats to Katie! Here’s to the amazing strength capacity of women. Yeah, baby!

  32. Jess says

    This has been so fascinating. I lift weights but just recently consulted with a trainer and was told that I need to be lifting heavier. I have fibromyalgia so had stayed away from lifting too much for fear of hurting something (although I think I was just kind of letting myself off easy). I’d like to find a trainer who is well-versed in this method but I’m not sure how. I belong to a gym but is there some kind of a trainer database that lists specialties/methods/philosophy? Otherwise I am afraid I’d have to interview every trainer at the gym to find someone appropriate.
    Oh, and, I hate cardio. What a waste of time (unless it’s a long walk or cycle by the beach). I’m so glad to be let off the hook for that and just focus on the lifting.
    Really fascinating stuff. Thank you!

    • JasonS says

      Unfortunately there is no gatekeeper in the training industry so anybody can get a certification over a weekend and call themselves and expert. That means there is no way to create a database of trainers unless someone finally comes up with a better system of testing them. I have a post on the broken fitness industry that offers some help and I think Sarah will be posting it eventually. I wish I could be more help.

  33. Sandy says

    Thanks for the amazing article! I’ve been eating Paleo for a year and have almost effortlessly lost 80 lbs! It was mostly baby weight from carrying horse size twin boys (and an ever present couple of “tires” around my middle). I’m 6 ft and now weigh 173. I do a circuit like work out at the Y 3x a week which includes super high intensity 1 min intervals on the elliptical alongside using the weight machines with 8-10 reps to failure. I’m doing 230 on the leg press, 55 for biceps, triceps, 140 for lower back, etc. The whole workout takes 30 mins. I also do power yoga once a week because I’m a clumsy oaf and this seems to help my agility. All this, and I still have stubborn fat around middle and not as much definition around my arms as I would like. Is what I’m doing sufficient? I’m a stay home mom so we’re on a tight budget. I love the weight machines and would love more muscle tone and strength but wouldn’t be able to afford a personal trainer to make the transition to free weights. Any thoughts or tips? How do I know I’m at the right weight for my height? How much of this weight is just excess skin? Which hot stock options should I buy right now (ok, I threw that in for fun)?
    Thanks for your help and time!!!

      • Sandy says

        Out of curiosity, why are the machines bad? Also, how does walking get rid of the extra fat? Should I add walking to the 30 min work out or do it separate? Thanks so much for your time and for sharing your wisdom! Much appreciated! Now to work on getting rid of the scale… That’s a hard one!

        • Yvette says

          First off, congratz on the weight loss!! That is such a huge step forward for your health.

          I’m no expert but what I have learned about machines is that they isolate single muscles and do all the stabilizing work for you. So for example, a leg extension machine has you sit typically so you don’t have to use your body to stabilize yourself. You don’t have to worry about engaging your core, flexing your gluts, and controlling your movement with other muscle groups. An Olympic lift is so much more functional and you are engaging more muscles.

          NOTE: Jason has repeated this no more than 100 times in this thread. FORM IS IMPARATIVE! You don’t just walk into the free weight section of your gym and start throwing around a bunch of weight. If you can’t afford a trainer, watch the CrossFit instructional videos over and over agian. Start with very little weight and concentrate on form. Video yourself (side view tends to be the best) and compare your form to what you see in the CrossFit videos. The Crossfit site has forums as well and I’ve seen plenty of people post their videos and ask for tips on their form.

          Hope that helps.


  34. says

    Thanks for this article, Jason! I particularly appreciate your willingness to answer questions in the comments section, because I certainly have one.

    I’ve never been overweight; instead, my body’s inability to manage “heart-healthy whole grains” and nightshades manifested as joint inflammation, among other very unpleasant health problems. By the time my husband and I found the Paleo diet this April, I had trashed my knees, hips, elbows and wrists pretty thoroughly. Now, with no food triggers and a glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM regimen, there doesn’t seem to be any active inflammation to speak of, but the fact remains that when I overdo it, I hurt… badly.

    I’m 39, 5’3″, and weigh 115lbs. I own and manage a small farm and my daily routine consists of tasks like lifting 50lb. hay bales, hefting 60-ish lb. buckets of soiled bedding to shoulder height and tipping them into the manure spreader, hauling 40lb. buckets of water back and forth, pushing heavy wheelbarrows full of feed, etc., and then sitting on my butt for six hours a day or so, being a freelance writer.

    I’ve been afraid to approach weight lifting, because I know how much the “real world” lifting of heavy objects hurts. Right now, I do Pilates because it seems to help with my general pain levels and is relevant to horseback riding– my main passion.

    I’ve gotten conflicting advice about weights: from “Oh, yeah, it will totally help your joints feel better”, all the way to “Are you crazy? You’re going to need a wheelchair by the time you’re 50 if you do stuff like that!”.

    After all of the amazing health improvements that I’ve seen in the last few months (Goodbye, IBS! Goodbye, depression!!), arthritis damage is the last remaining physical problem that negatively affects my daily life, and I’m fairly desperate to fix it, if such a thing is even possible.

    So, is weight lifting my ticket to a mostly pain-free life… or a really stupid idea for someone with bad knees, hips, elbows, and wrists?

    • JasonS says

      I would still recommend lifting, just maybe not constantly pushing for a new personal record, and never on a timer like in CrossFit workouts. If you are controlling your inflammation with your diet, your joints are probably in a “use it or lose it” kind of situation. Of course anything less than beautiful form will only make things worse. Also, you are already lifting in your day to day life, but those kinds of repetitive lifts can lead to muscle imbalances that can exacerbate joint problems. The bottom line is that you will probably need a little coaching to make sure your movements are PERFECT. Any chance you live in the Portland, OR area? I would love to train you! Helping people like you get past your obstacles is part of what makes this job fun for me.

      • Elizabeth says

        Hi Sara B.,

        I am 38 with Fibromyalgia. I can tell you that in the past when I worked out on weight machines, I would have trouble with my joints. When I switched to working out at a Crossfit gym with a trainer lifting free weights, I never had any joint pain from the workouts. I was amazed that I was lifting much heavier weights and doing a lot more activity and having no Fibro pain in my wrists, fingers and legs from the workouts.

        • says

          Thanks for the replies! Unfortunately, Jason, the commute is prohibitive– I live in Missouri. :-) I will see about starting with weights as an adjunct to Pilates, though.

        • Jess says

          Elizabeth, I have a question for you. I am 37 and also have fibromyalgia. I control the pain by working out – it helps so much! However, the hardest part for me is gripping things. So, for example, when I do chest presses gripping 12 lb free weights, my hands/inner forearms hurt before my chest does. Do you have problems like that? You said you only do free weights so I’m wondering if you have any tips. I’d like to increase my weight but I am worried about pushing myself too hard. Do you do any lunges/squats and do those bother you? Thanks in advance for your responses!

  35. says

    Such a great post! I really enjoyed reading it! I don’t lift as heavy or as often as I would like to. My workouts consist of HIIT, alot of body weight exercises and I do mostly lower body exercises like squats with bar bell, lunges, dead lifts, jump rope etc. I need to work on my upper body more, but my shoulders get very sore after doing any upper body work and it stops me from lifting wights or doing much upper body. Any advice on why my shoulders get so sore? I’ve been told by my osteopath that I dont lock the shoulder blades down properly, and no matter how hard I try and locke them down, and I think that they are stabilised, they still end up hurting really bad!
    Thank you.

  36. Jamie says

    Dear Sarah,

    Since having my first baby, I have become a fan of high intensity workouts similar to CrossFit such as Insanity etc. For the amount of time that I have had to workout, it was the only thing to get me back into my pre-pregnancy shape or better shape than that. Being a marathon runner, I would run 6-8 miles 5 times per week and do pilates/yoga 2 times per week and weights 2 times per week throughout my first pregnancy up until 38 weeks. We are thinking about trying to have a second child, but I don’t want to go back to my routine of long endurance workouts just to stay in a safe heart rate zone for baby. Not to mention, I have loved the physical benefits I have seen from doing shorter, high intensity workouts. My typical routine now looks like 3 high intensity workouts per week, 2 five mile runs, 2 hrs pilates/week. Do you have any suggestions as to how I could modify the high intensity workouts for pregnancy, but still feel like I’m receiving the benefits and being safe?



  37. Cat says

    This ^ is awesome. I started lifting a few days ago as an addition to my current cardio routine (I have a crazy dream about being able to eventually persistence hunt a wild animal, or at least be fit enough for it). It was super fun and I look forward to growing stronger and becoming more capable.

  38. Amanda says

    My question is always…but how long did it take? The discouragement comes when we expect to see results quickly, and don’t see much of anything, especially when we’re heavy, and while it’s inspirational, the first thing I think of is…’But it probably took her a year and she was probably 100% paleo.”

  39. says

    I think claiming that women pass by free weights (or weight machines for that matter) is a total misconception these days. As long as I remember, ever since I moved to US, what was 19 years ago, all gyms I had attended always had women lifting heavy weights. Some lighter, some heavier, but one never knows how it feels for them, even if it looks like 3 lbs – if they breathe heavy and sweat, they are doing something, and yes, with a personal trainer it’ll be a heavier set, but not everyone can afford that. Anyhow, I just disagree with coaches keep claiming how ladies need to turn to weights – it happened, long time ago, wake up, nobody argues it. Applauds to all. If the rest doesn’t turn to something, it means they choose not to, for different reason (yes, often lazy, hopefully they realize that too).

  40. Kimberly says

    Hi Jason,

    I used to train quite a bit heavy lifting but had a child, had a hysterectomy etc. Now that my son is in school I am back at the gym. I have been going for 3 weeks and am certainly seeing gains. I see my muscles starting to come back and the inches are dropping off. The scale however isn’t really moving.. I mentioned it to one of the trainers and he suggested I do a keto diet. I am 5 days into the initial phase and following the plan he gave me religiously but I feel like garbage and it is getting old very quickly!!! Just curious on the benefits of the Paleo versus a Keto diet? As I am seriously considering switching over!!!

  41. says

    I am turning 60 in June – started working out with light weights about 2 months ago – am doing pretty good and getting comments about definition already – I broke my humerous (spelling?) 2 years ago and have been babying my arm for the past two years. Now I have built muscle around it and am not afraid to use it like I was before. All your comments are wonderful and make me want to push myself a lot more – I don’t do cardio as much as I thought I would because I do see more results with weights. Thanks everybody!! my goal is to have a six pack by my 60th!! Wish me luck.

  42. Super She-Ro!!! says

    No offense, but Katie’s a little to thick for my preference which is why I don’t deadlift her weights or lift as much, etc. Her build is not what I strive for. Sorry, but I just like my arms to not be jiggly and lots of cardio aka 2 hours 5 to 6 days a week, every week without fail keeps me at what I like. I prefer slim, not strong looking. She does look better than before, but she doesn’t look bikini slim. I’ll stick to my routine. Her routine is good if you looked like her before she met you(trainer).

  43. Gina says

    Usually, when you start a sentence off with “no offense”…offense is exactly what will be taken. The fact that you like the slim, non athletic look and that you don’t prefer to be strong or build/increase bone density (so that when you fall off that treadmill when you are a older gal, you have less of a chance of breaking a hip) is your own business. If that works for you and makes you happy, I’m happy for you. for you. I’m pretty sure Katie would damn good in a bikini if that is what she chose to wear but really, who the HELL cares what she looks like in a bikini? Quite frankly I am a tad confused. How about having respect for, and congratulating Katie on all the hard work she has put in to get her self stronger and healthier? How about that?

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