Brotherhood of Iron

If you want to know why men appear to be, on average, in better shape than women these days, here’s an anecdote. At the gym today, I realized there was not a single woman present when I started my workout. There were 18 men, ranging in age from 18 to 65, and the only man who was even a little overweight was the old guy who had the sort of round paunch that you see on plenty of 30 year olds.

They were regular, normal-looking guys, there were only two workout monsters with 19+ inch arms even though everyone was lifting free weights and using weight machines. Only one of the men ever used any of the 20 or more cardio machines, but you could see from his arms that he obviously lifted too. Over the two hours I was there, I counted 32 men and 4 women. There was one pretty girl who did machine weights and stretched, one thin but soft girl who only ran on the treadmill, one lumpish 30-something woman who did Stairmaster and her squatty friend who didn’t even change into workout gear but talked to a guy doing Smith squats the whole time she was there.

So, women, if you want to either get into shape or find yourself in an environment where you are surrounded by men who aren’t overweight, get thee to a gym with free weights. And focus on the weights, save the cardio for after you lift or for your off-days. You’re not going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger no matter how much you lift, don’t worry about that. Muscle takes up less space than fat, so you’ll likely weigh the same but be more slender.

Spacebunny has been after me to change my workouts around for about nine years now, so I tried switching from the usual 10-8-6-4 pyramid bench to sets of 12-15 at lower weights. I figured 205 would be low enough, but ended up dropping from 15 on the first set down to 7 on the fifth one. Verdict: hated it. However, she’s surely right and I don’t wish to imitate The Perfect Aryan Male in tearing my shoulders, so next time I’ll limit the first set to 12 and see how it goes. Doing higher-rep, lower-weight squat workouts has been easier on the knees and hamstring, although it’s hard to keep from screaming “IT BURNS, IT BURNS” on the last two or so reps. And I just about threw up after the eighth set the last time I did legs, so apparently it’s actually a harder workout even though it feels kind of like cheating when you don’t have that vaguely alarming sensation of being in trouble when your thighs are parallel to the ground.

The other thing I noticed was that all of the various exercise classes were taught by women and appeared to be primarily for women. This tends to support the idea discussed a few weeks ago that women have a preference for seeking out structured group activities instead of simply doing things on their own.