Strong is the New Skinny

Strong is the New Skinny Image

If that doesn’t move you, how about..

“Skinny is the new weak.”  “You can make excuses or make it happen.”

“Your struggles create strength.” “Your body is a work in progress.”

“Does this dress make my butt look weak?”

My first SINS post was so popular and I received so much great feedback, I thought it was worth revisiting the matter of building muscle for the vast majority of women who are still dodging dumbbells and turning to less effective forms of training to get lean and fit. While I was on vacation recently, I introduced some of my family members  to Crossfit. At first, they didn’t buy into the short, high-intensity exercise and they still thought that long-distance running was a better workout for losing weight. They didn’t get how doing 15 to 20-minute workouts with pull-ups, burpees, snatches, power cleans and other standard Crossfit W.O.D. elements could lead to a leaner physique compared to the calories they could burn on a run.

If you aren’t familiar with Crossfit, it’s a  type of training that takes elements of weightlifting, gymnastics, plyometrics and lots of functional exercises using your body weight as resistance. No two workouts are alike, so as an ADD-type athlete who gets easily bored, CF is perfect for me. But what I’m an evangelist for is women doing resistance exercise of any kind.

Your leanness is primarily diet-driven (which I can’t seem to get some people to understand) and running lots of miles does burn calories but most women just eat more and make up for the calories burned during endurance exercise. But building muscle can inherently make your engine, or metabolic rate, slightly higher and help offset the natural decline in metabolic rate that occurs every year after age 20 or so.  Most of us don’t wake up 20 pounds heavier, we gain a pound a year in adulthood until we have to go to  a 20 year high school reunion and realize our 18-year-old body is long gone.

If you think you’ll get HUGE from lifting you’re wrong.  Most women just don’t build muscle mass that way.  You may get some nice definitions but chances are, you won’t bulk up. 

After eight months of CrossFit, I can report that I haven’t split the seams on any of my dress shirts and the only thing “ripped” on my body is an old M.S.U. T-shirt. However, my legs are more defined, my triceps have a few divots where there used to be more, em, mushy bits and my abs have never been so strong…even though there’s still a bumper cushion over them. (It helps for burpees!)

Bulking up from resistance training is just not the reality for 99.9% of women. In fact, I think the faster way to sizing-up your wardrobe comes from NOT doing strength workouts and keeping fit. I know for me, without exercise, I’d gain 1-2 pounds per year like most Americans my age.

I have no desire to be stick-thin (it equals weak to me), but I want to maintain a healthy weight for the rest of my life and that gets harder and harder every year.  All of us have to find ways to reduce calories or burn more as we age to keep our bodies in energy balance (the point where calories in equal calories out).

Losses in muscle mass is one of many contributing factors for why our metabolic rates decline as we get older. It’s the main reason why I’ve taken such a big commitment to strength training.

Small Accomplishments, Big Payoffs

So, what have I gained in six months of CrossFit?

I check my body weight only on occasion just to see my percent body fat.  My weight is about the same (+ or – 3 pounds on any given day), but my body fat is down about 2 percentage points.

However, I’m most proud of some of my skill and performance accomplishments, including:

  • Doing an entire WOD without any resistance bands to assist my pull-ups

  • Mastering the 20-inch box jump box (It took a while and I had to overcome the mental barriers)

  • Doing up to 25 consecutive double-unders

These are small CF accomplishments for many, but for me, they’re big, and the emotional payoffs are even greater.  Being stronger boosts my self-confidence. I feel taller (even though I’m not); I have a little swagger when I walk (until I trip on something); and I stick up for myself more than ever (not that I ever took @$#% from anyone). It makes it worth all the sweat, swearing and muscle soreness.

Finding strength is empowering.  Try it!

Crossfit Ladies
Strong, Confident Crossfitters


  1. says

    I salute anyone who finds satisfaction in their body and their strength. Bravo.

    At the same time, I also know too many Cross Fit acolytes who easily fit the description of compulsive and/or addicted. I have seen recovering ED clients who have stepped into the Cross Fit environment and readily acknowledge that it is very risky for them. As in all things, the challenge is to own the experience without it turning an edge– when the experience owns the individual. It makes me wonder when training pushes one to the point of hurling.

    I don’t find it sad if someone chooses not to pumping iron. There are other ways to gain strength and build confidence.

  2. JenniferS says

    I can’t speak for all CrossFit gyms (as we’re all independently owned and operated), but I can speak for mine. I’m a CrossFit coach and I assure you we don’t encourage or glorify someone working out so hard that they puke. We don’t give a way a t-shirt or celebrate it when it happens. In fact, we spend an entire hour with a person, in a one-on-one session, before they are allowed to join our gym. In this session, we explicitly go over the risks and rewards of training as hard as we do and we give people guidance and instruction about how NOT to push themselves that hard in a workout. We describe it as working out on the “edge of a cliff.” All of our students are coached and reminded about how to workout at the edge of that cliff without throwing themselves off the proverbial cliff (which would look like getting nauseous or throwing up).

  3. says

    Adore you! So happy you are spreading the importance of this form of exercise for women. We need to break the pattern too many women get into of avoiding resistance training. Good work!

  4. Monica says

    Awesome post. A few weeks ago I got a call from my brother in Brazil. His 13 years old was struggling with an eating disorder trying to as thin as possible. She is a tall girl (about 5’7) and was down to just 48 kilos (sorry dont know in pounds, but it is VERY low…)…
    After a long talk (and much prayer) she is now taking care of her issue and I am encouraging her to be fit, not “skinny”.
    Working out with weights and trying new things like jiu-jitsu (great for self-defense) help you firm up – not necessarily “bulk up”.
    Like anything else in life balance is key…but sure is a good feeling to be able to reach better fitness levels!
    I have been severely obese for most of my life, lost the weight and then had an ovary problem (the hormones helped putting part of the weight back on)…still I am in the right path.
    I no longer compare myself to other girls and am working slowly to get my weight back down. I lost another 14 pounds in the last 5 months and really get a quick out of shaking my bootie (Zumba videos are fun!).
    I am also planning to go back to jiu-jitsu soon and increase the weigth work.
    We women have a tendency to love others and do things for them often…yet is sometimes so hard to love and put ourselves first…
    I hope we can continue to share stuff like your post and keep on encouraging one another!
    Being fit (not necessarily “skinny”) is beautiful!

Leave a Reply