“How do I tone my arms, not bulk up too much, I’m 62, women?”

Sometimes I get search terms that inspire me instead of killing my hopes for the human race, and this is one of them! How do you tone your arms and not bulk up too much, 62-year-old woman? Or any woman, for that matter? Here are The Simple And Easy Ten-Step Directions:

1. Strike the word “tone” from your vocabulary. There is no “tone.” There is only muscle gain and fat loss. You cannot “tone” a muscle without increasing its size, e.g., adding bulk. Lose your fear of size by recognizing that this fear is culturally created by a jillion dollars’ worth of advertising dedicated to ensmallening women in every possible way.

2. Understand that muscle is hard to build. The biggest men you see at the gym have to fight for every ounce of muscle they gain; the biggest women you see fight twice as hard. After the age of 30, the average woman loses a half-pound of muscle per year. See where this is headed?

3. Realize that the kind of female “bulk” you’re probably thinking of — eye-popping, striated mass — is the result of anabolic steroids.

4. Do not take anabolic steroids.

5. Invite your muscles to increase in size by eating at least one gram of lean protein per pound of body weight per day, in addition to piles of colorful vegetables and a judicious amount of complex carbohydrates.

6. Processed foods and things in crinkly bags must not be chewed, but eschewed. Dumping the junk, combined with exercise and sufficient rest/recovery, will result in fat loss, thereby making your muscles more visible.

7. Accept your genetics. You know how, say, Siamese cats tend to have parents who were themselves Siamese cats? We’re no different. Look at your parents. These are your physical ingredients. Bake with these ingredients what you can. If you are a lemon bar, stop wishing you were an oatmeal cookie or whatever. Be the best lemon bar you can be.

8. Un-invest the word “bulk” with negativity. De-program yourself. Say the word “bulk” out loud to yourself 100 times; more if needed, until it loses all meaning and becomes a mere dull thud of a sound. Bulk bulk bulk bulk bulk bulk bulk bulk bulk bulk. See?

9. Lift something heavy. Put it down.

10. Lift it again.

I’m 40% muscle; the rest is words

So, I bought a scale  — an event worthy of remark because it took YEARS before I could be trusted to own a scale and not freak the fuck out at its mere presence in my home. After I put my foot through the digital screen in fury at breaking 100 pounds, I thought: Perhaps this household item is more trouble than it’s worth and jettisoned it at a yard sale. I declined to be weighed at the doctor’s office until I was 30, and for years after that insisted on standing backwards so I couldn’t see the readout. I was at a normal weight and I wasn’t throwing up anymore, but those are fairly low mental-health standards even in America.

What stopped the madness was weight training. Not therapy, not meds, not the threat of heart failure or osteoporosis. I started to think about what my body could do, rather that what it looked like or who might want to see it naked. I wanted it thick with muscle and sinew; energy and force. Which is why I bought this particular scale — not only does it tell me my body fat percentage, but my muscle/water/bone mass percentages. God only knows how it does this. There’s an infrared scanner and a remote control; that’s all I can tell you. It probably doesn’t cause that much cancer.

You know what would be even cooler? An emotional-percentages scale. You’d get on it in the morning to see what you had to work with that day: 16% patience; 40% melancholy; 24% suspicion; 11% motivation; 7% sociopathy; 2% joy — whatever.  You’d put your spouse and kids on it and adjust your behavior accordingly. You’d see what a potential romantic interest was made of before you signed on for life. Like, I could do 11% asshole, but that’s my upper limit.

Data. That’s what this is about. I want more hard data,* instead of casting about in the dark with a fuzzy headlamp of intuition.

 

*That’s what she said.

strong.

Womyn, please permit me a Sunday-morning brag: I just walked by a full-length mirror, naked,* and realized that people might actually buy a workout DVD** if I was on the cover. All I need is a spray tan.

Here’s what I’ve spent the last three years developing: Thick, powerful quadriceps muscles. Veins running upwards from my pelvis, fanning out towards my obliques. Matching veins in my biceps. Fourteen-inch calves that can raise over 300 pounds. Knotty forearms.

Here’s what that requires: Good genetics. Five to eight focused hours a week in the gym. Four to five small meals a day, all of which include high-quality protein. Never having given birth.

Here’s what that requires: A sizable dollop of socioeconomic privilege.

I don’t make much money. But I do have an education (partly underwritten by my family) and a racial/class background that lets me go into Whole Foods or CrossFit and feel I belong. Even if I have to use a credit card to cover my organic salmon or my $120/month membership fee, those things are still accessible. I don’t live in a food desert, and things will improve financially if I can keep working hard. I don’t share the lifestyle of the lawyers and dentists I do flying burpees and toes-to-bar with, but I feel equal to them because I had opportunities to go to school; to read; to travel.

And, as for never having given birth? That’s the result of good sex education; access to safe, affordable birth control back when I was having sex with men; and the fact that I never had to rely on a man for financial support. No one was able to coercively impregnate me, or force me to bear a child against my will. When I didn’t want to be married any longer, I could get out.

Privilege. Luck. So much luck.

If my life had been different, my body wouldn’t look this way. And my body is a constant visual message from me, to me, that I’m strong. That — barring an accident or illness — I can take care of myself and the womyn I love. I don’t need to be afraid of any man unless he’s got a gun. I can bring in my own groceries in from the car and yours, too. My stepmother doesn’t have to worry about making it up a flight of stairs, because I can carry her. And, if I keep up this level of fitness and luck, I won’t have to depend on anyone in my old age. Dependency frightens me much more than death. And, for now, I get to walk through the world taking up muscular, confident space, thankful that my body can do what it needs to do.

I’m starting to turn a career possibility over in my mind: What if I were to get personal training certification and open up a womyn-only practice? What if I focused on womyn over 40 — the clients most trainers ignore, or simply put up with, because they’re not hawt enough to really invest in? What if I helped create a powerful, strong, Older Womyn’s Army, so that fewer of us have to face dependency and vulnerability as the years go by?

 

*Don’t worry, the mirror is in my house. Not at the mall or anything.

**But not a beauty magazine. Measured against that particular slender aesthetic standard, I look like a monster. Good.

I Can Put My Toes in My Ears

I love CrossFit. It’s the anti-Curves: No 2-pound pink dumbbells; no scales; no mirrors; no money funneled into right-wing politics. Just weight platforms; weight vests; long skinny weights; fat round weights; weights strung from ropes. Some chin-up bars. Tractor tires.

I don’t hear much dysmorphic body talk among female CrossFitters at my gym. Not a lot of noise re: thigh circumference*.  We focus more on what our bodies can do, and although there is a CrossFit body ideal (defined; sinewy) few women are trying to ensmallen. They do the workouts; lift the weights; and let everything fall where it may. Very good.

But I do notice a different kind of obsessive self-abegnation dressed up to look like passion, e.g. pushing until you get hurt. Injury somehow makes you a serious CF athlete. Many trainers (mostly young men) encourage lifters to push more and more weight — even after they lose their form — while the rest of the class yells “GO YEAH YOU GOT THIS YOU GOT THIS” from the sidelines. (I hate yelling at people as much as I hate being yelled at).

Ostensibly, you’re only supposed to compete against yourself, but each workout is timed — and everyone’s time goes up on the whiteboard for easy comparison. Everyone — big guys/small women; young/old; beginner/veteran — does the same workout. CrossFit gyms love to put up photos of members’ kinesthetic suffering: palms blistered and bleeding from the pull-up bars; shins bruised and scraped from the barbell. Showing weakness or discomfort merits only-sort-of-kidding scorn. Sometimes I hear the word “pussy,” and not like I like to hear it.

Guys brag about hurting their backs while deadlifting 450 pounds, as though it were something to be proud of rather than evidence of a personality disorder and/or a childhood spent licking lead paint.

Lifting too much + Lifting too quickly + Sloppy form = Injury.

Injury = Pain, debilitation, and sidelining yourself for weeks or months.

Even worser: These doods often feel free to comment on women’s bodies via athletic negging: “Your legs look great…but your shoulders are underdeveloped. Work them harder, and you can create a V-taper to make your waist look smaller.” Women new to fitness, or over 40, get tokenized to prove that CF caters to all ages and fitness levels — but the zeitgeist of the place runs them off if an injury doesn’t. To them, I say: Life is sadistic and masochistic enough outside the gym, so pick a place and a trainer that trust you to know your own body.  And: admitting your limitations doesn’t mean a bad or fearful attitude.

And don’t do headstands. What are you, six? Just…don’t.

*Shopping for pants makes me cry, for reals. Size 0’s fit my waist and rear, but my thighs are just not having it.