Headline – Women Underachieve at the Gym.

What? Whoa! What? – Women Underachieve at the Gym

Ouch! Being a woman who dutifully goes to the gym that hurts. How dare you!

 But, what of it?

 First, don’t take this the wrong way.  Watch men at the gym compared to women. Men tend to aggressively lift weights to push their strength threshold, use treadmills not to jog but to run, and spin rather than leisurely pedal stationary bikes.  Men also seem to approach their gym time with a sense of urgency—they demand the most of their time—and they think ‘progression.’  Can I lift more?  Can I do more cardio?  Can I run faster?  Can I do more crunches today than yesterday?

Women, differently, seem to approach the gym much more casually tending to ‘tone,’ ‘sculpt,’ and ‘correct problem areas,’ a focus with appearance rather than performance improvement intent.      

Overstated?  Too generalized?  Exaggerated?  Unnecessarily polarized?  Perhaps.  But evidence suggests otherwise, a point that is perplexing, disturbing, and frustrating, but mostly sad – especially knowing that worldwide, women more so than men are dissatisfied with their health and more likely to contend with health problems, physical pain and sadness 1 – each conducive to mitigation through regular, achievement-oriented physical activity.

 Perhaps due to misguided perspective stemming from archaic notions about women and exercise, women inherently tend to UNDERachieve at the gym by not training to improve performance. 

 While it may be wholly unintentional, women create their own Fitness Glass Ceiling!    

 Not so long ago women’s professional aspirations were limited but for being female. Today, women command power across all sectors including positions that persuade our national government—and with one on the radar poised to run the country it seems only a matter of time before a she sits in the Oval Office.  Women are also now among the suits of the old-boys bastions of Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association.

 While pockets of inequity still fester, girls today can pursue the vocation of their calling.  The ‘glass ceiling’ predicament seems as outdated as yesterday’s tweets. More than less, gender has no bearing on conquering what is of interest to conquer and limitation but for being female is for history book depiction.

But how about the realm of physical activity?

 Unlike professional entities where others imposed limitation, women seem to underachieve in physical activity due to self-imposed limitation.

 Legal action (Title IX) and medical community assurance that the female reproductive system did not render women too fragile for vigorous engagement catalyzed equal opportunity within physical activity over 40 years ago, yet illogical thinking lingers, including the notion of the ideal female body.  Women underachieve in physical activity by falling prey to erroneous, archaic, scientifically refuted myths and wives tales about engagement, and yielding to the cultured ideal body.

 The big deal?  Self-imposed limitation IS cause for concern: 

  • Nearly ¾ of all USA women carry unhealthy weight and are under active.
  • Women (and girls) are proportionately heavier and less active than men (or boys).
  • Women are more prone to overweight/obesity than men due to our reproductive hormones and how we respond to aging.
  • Women are more prone to, and more women die of heart disease than men
  • Women risk osteoporosis and certain cancers (breast and colorectal) that regular engagement can reduce the likelihood of developing.
  • Women are more likely than men to have unhealthy nutritional habits to elicit quick weight loss.

Physical activity engagement can mitigate the dire health implications faced by many women but it needs to be sustained and achievement-oriented. The following describes ways in which the fitness glass ceiling is manifest:

Failing to weight train to BUILD muscular strength, mass, power or endurance

Muscular strength, mass, power and endurance impact vitality and vigor, and bone density and joint efficacy. Weight training to ‘tone’, ‘shape’, or ‘sculpt’ stems from seeking appearance rather than health-related outcomes, and the fear of developing masculine musculature. Seeking appearance outcomes has limited impact on muscular health. Women do not carry the same level of hormone as men to develop comparative muscle mass. 

Focusing gym routines on ‘hitting trouble spots’

Mass media (and perhaps a 12″ plastic female doll) has conditioned women to seek the (wholly unattainable) culturally defined perfect body (again, appearance goals) and ‘fix’ any part that falls short. ‘Glossy’ and women’s fitness magazines commit regular pieces to transforming ‘trouble spots’—thighs, abs, hips, and the back of arms—altogether impossible, at least for how it tends to be presented. The media schlop renders women self-adversarial, disgusted by their deficits and unable to regard their physical self positively.

Given physiology, ‘hitting a trouble spot’ will neither address the ‘trouble spot’ nor impact health-related fitness as could be otherwise. First, spot reduction is impossible! Weight is lost across the body, not in one area without loss in others. Certain areas may transform before others due to genetically determined adipose tissue (fat) distribution, but the energy in-energy out balance that mitigates body weight is systemic.

Second, the common strategy used to ‘fix trouble spots’ is fundamentally flawed. Resistance training of high reps with light weights (aka ‘toning’) will not transform physique. Body composition changes by reducing carried fat and increasing musculature. ‘Toning’ does not yield the lean tissue increase necessary for (realistic) physique transformation.

Attempting to transform physique to look like someone else, or the body parts of someone else—e.g., a certain celebrity’s or public figure’s arms or legs

Sadly, transforming into the physique of someone else (or the arms, legs or abs of someone else – usually a model or celebrity, or otherwise public figure whose image is a constant or instantly accessed on mass media platforms) is a prevalent gym goal. The genesis of this goal is infatuation with achieving the cultural notion of the ideal body.

Its pursuit frames the purpose of exercise sessions—at the expense of total body conditioning—which leaves health-related benefit to chance.  And, it’s unlikely that sculpting will result in precise specification given genetics’ determination of shape and contour. Motivation erodes with disappointed outcomes (even if unrealistic to begin with) which jeopardizes sustaining engagement.

Failing to address each component of health-related fitness—i.e., doing only yoga or pilates, or resistance training, or cardio

Exercise routines need to address each health-related fitness component with sufficient intensity to yield engagement’s optimum benefit.  A recent fitness trend is mind-body activity—yoga, pilates, etc.—but at the exclusion of other forms of engagement.  In general, mind-body activity fosters some health-related gains (e.g., flexibility) but less directly impacts cardiovascular or muscular gains.  Focusing solely on one form of activity means certain underachievement for how it limits health-related benefit.

Failing to monitor cardio intensity

Engagement will yield cardiovascular benefit IF the level of intensity (heart rate) is within one’s training zone (determined by a simple mathematical formula*).  Underachievement is avoided by knowing your training zone then regularly monitoring your heart-rate during engagement. Any engagement is always better than no engagement, and going for a leisurely walk or casual bile ride sure has merit, but intensity-appropriate engagement yields optimum cardiovascular benefit. 

(*Heart-rate training zone information is widely available on the Web. One site is http://www.runnersweb.com/running/hr_calculator_new.html.)

Failing to develop a short and long-range training plan; approaching a workout from a ‘just’ perspective.

Failing to plan (your routine) IS planning to fail (underachieve)!  Optimum benefit requires sustained engagement that appropriately addresses each health-related fitness component. Without plans, daily engagement can be haphazard which risks overlooking certain components, more likely given harried lives that leave us frazzled at the gym after long days. Plans also help avoid routines becoming ‘too routine’ and approaching engagement from a ‘just’ perspective.

‘Just’ engagement–‘I am just going to walk on the treadmill’ or ‘I am just going to do some weights’—means certain underachievement for its lack of purpose and implied lack of commitment.  It also conveys a focus on the minimum.  With sites set upon MAYBE reaping SOME benefits it’s only MAYBE that SOME benefit will be yielded—minimum effort yields minimum results.

Note -‘Just’ engagement, “I’m going to just get in some quick cardio” can yield benefit if it’s appropriately intense, and research shows that cardio can be effective when taken in segments during the day (e.g., 10 minutes three times a day).  Also, some days ‘just’ is as good as it gets. The 15 minute session of cardio sandwiched between a meeting that ran late and picking up your kids is sometimes the only engagement opportunity – and some activity is always better than no activity!

Working with a trainer who possesses a marginal understanding of health-related fitness, or is otherwise professionally incompetent.

The personal trainer whom we entrust our health-related well-being needs to possess adequate content knowledge to induce optimum benefit. More women than men work with trainers who are well-intended but mis-informed. These trainers tend to have personalities that make them very popular at gyms—they are friendly, outgoing, always pleasant, always smiling—but the smile needs substance for underachievement to be avoided because:

Content knowledge is the main factor that differentiates an expert physical activity professional from one who is merely effective

Working with a well-informed trainer increases the likelihood of optimum benefit.  Examples of incompetency include:

  •  The inability to clearly explain health-related fitness concepts using everyday language.
  • Using nonprofessional language about anatomy/biomechanics/physiology; and/or using gimmicky/dummied-down language about exercises, fitness concepts, and/or equipment.
  • Failing to develop or communicate a progressive training plan.
  • Failing to maintain records of routines or regularly assess performance.
  • Failing to provide corrective feedback.
  • Focusing on appearance results that ‘will make you look like’ a certain celebrity or body shape. (ie certain celebrity’s butt, legs, arms, etc.)
  • Repetitious routines – same thing day after day, over and over.
  • Copying what other trainers do without knowing the purpose of moves/exercises or their safe execution.

(As adapted from Certified or CertiFRAUD? Assessing the Professional Competency of Your Personal Trainer – Who’s Minding Your Store?  Also included in the book is a protocol to use to select a personal trainer.  Available for purchase at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=certified+or+certifraud+assessing)

Women rob themselves of the health protection and life quality engagement uniquely yields by imposing the fitness glass ceiling.  Unlike what many women have been led (or brainwashed) to believe, health-related fitness is not gender differentiated – what’s good for men is what’s good for women. Women need to be as aggressive at the gym as in other facets of life. Lift heavy weights and vigorously (and safely) do cardio!  It matters!

  1.  (http://www.gallup.com/poll/155558/Women-Health-Trails-Men-Former-Soviet-Union.aspx)