The author at 64 Julia Hubbel

Because being strong is body agency. And, it’s sexy as shit.

Medium buddy Joseph Geary wrote this to me the other day in response to a piece I did on the compulsion to be thin at all costs:I wish I had a dollar for every woman I’ve helped weight train who was reluctant to add pounds, reps or sets to their programs, when they clearly could handle more, but who cheated themselves out of fitness gains, because “they didn’t want to bulk up”.

First, Joseph and I are both swirling around the big 70, and we’ve both been around long enough and in the fitness field plenty enough to know bullshit when we hear it.

Second, my thanks to Joseph for again calling out the complete and utter lie that so many women use to stay away from weight work.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Women, particularly Women of a Certain Age LOVE LOVE LOVE to claim that lifting an itty bitty three-pounder for ten reps is going to make them ripped like this guy, above.

Will you kindly GTFU ladies. Just, please.

Here is an edited response I wrote to another Medium fitness writer who was encouraging my fellow females to lift:

As a dedicated non-competitive bodybuilder for 46 years, if I may offer some thoughts:

  1. There continues to be a ridiculous either-or argument among aficionados about whether we should do strength training OR aerobic. Kindly. Both. They do very different things, and longitudinal studies show those oldies (like me, I’m 67) who do both live longer and….well…prosper (sorry).

2. I am a serious gym pig but never ever was interested in steroids. Over the years I’ve battled eating disorders and obesity. One thing I always was and am still: strong. Grew up on a farm, had to lift and move big heavy things. Twice in the last two years I’ve had to move big heavy couches. Alone. No problem. Not. At. All. The day I can’t move most of my own furniture I am packing it in.

Yup. I moved every bit of this and a whole lot more three times. THREE times, up and down stairs, and this last time with ONE HAND down. Julia Hubbel

To that point, this past year I packed and moved some 4200 cu. ft. of my belongings, all but the biggest pieces of furniture, up and down stairs, multiple times. Not only that, after moving to Eugene, I just did it again, and I had one hand down because of a car accident. That saved me about $3–4000 in moving fees. I can’t speak for anyone else but that’s damned useful.

3. The body tends to fall into several categories: mesomorph, endomorph, ectomorph. Some have a combination. How we respond to weight training (as in, can I get cut up? will I bulk up?) depends a great deal on where the body holds its fat, what you eat (85% of what we look like) and how you lift. It is a puerile and ridiculous argument to say “oh I’m afraid I’ll get all bulked up” to avoid weight work. Look sisters, if you did half of what I have done at the gym you still wouldn’t likely “bulk up.” It took me years and years to get sizeable biceps. How tall you are, your individual proclivity to develop muscle, how often you lift and how heavily you lift all play into it.

As with all things, it depends. But as with all things, PLEASE learn proper form. Weights can injure, and seriously so, so an investment in someone with proper skills will keep you out of the ER. I love seeing women at my gym, but watching them try to lift like men scares me to death. I’ve never injured in almost five decades and that’s only because some very good people protected me from myself.

4. This is NOT for everyone. Sometimes just body weight work is enough, which is just fine. It’s strength. PERIOD. Strength. Last February I was on a horse in Tanzania who decided to get into a vicious kicking contest with another horse at a rest stop. I was thrown forward and to her right, about to fall in-between two 1200-lb Thoroughbreds having a hissy fit with flying, iron-clad hooves that would have killed me in a heartbeat. I just hung onto her neck, and when she calmed down, I pulled myself right back up. I am strong because in my line of work (adventure travel) if I am not strong, limber, flexible and focused, I die. Just that simple.

5. And finally to that point. You don’t have to choose to do what I do in order to want strength. But here’s the piece. Since I turned 60 I have undertaken some 40 major expeditions all over the world. Some of them have involved very serious injuries, including breaking my back in eight places (horse) having my ribs kicked in and my shoulder stomped (horse) falling down stairs (just being stupid) and smashing my pelvis. I just flipped my car at 65 mph due to a kidney stone attack.

Every. Single. Time. I got up and walked to safety. Every single time I was able to get away from the danger. And in a few weeks, back at the gym, on the horse, whatever. And every single time the doctor said that had I not been in that kind of shape I’d have been dead or a quadriplegic. There is nothing like having real body confidence in life, as you and I age, and as we inevitably diminish. Age-related muscle loss or sarcopenia begins in our twenties and gets worse as we age, as does muscle capacity. You and I can slow that process way, way down with weight work and an aerobic program. Nothing to do with being an Olympic athlete. Regular movement, regular weight work, regularly. You do not have to be an endurance athlete to transform your fitness.

Thin does not translate to fit. Fit translates to fit. And that is as individual as a fingerprint.

Strength, PLUS flexiblity (think yoga) and balance. These things give you options. Options. As you age, and again, I’m nearly 70, and I am not a natural athlete, I have options. Lots of them. More muscle means better healing. More muscle means a more efficient metabolism. More muscle means confidence.

I could go on, but you get the point. I realize that from a cultural standpoint we’re taught that being strong isn’t feminine. Kindly, I have rarely heard such rarefied bullshit in my entire long life. What that is, is a lie. Women have had to be monumentally strong for all time, forever. The weaker we are, the more manipulated we are. Strong is personal power, and it’s beautiful.

I love the look of muscular women. It took me nearly five decades to achieve this look:

The author at 64, and yes I still wear this dress at 67 Julia Hubbel

My regular readers will forgive my overusing this shot, but it’s all I have these days particularly due to Covid-19.

Strong is sexy. Strong is feminine. Strong is just amazing. It’s not a competition. It’s about confidence. It’s about options as we age.

The older you and I get, the more important weight work is. For those of us who are Asian or Caucasian and who are thinner, we have to do some kind of weight-bearing work or suffer bone loss. I fight osteoporosis regularly, and the way I do it is weight work.

It’s not about being thin. It’s about being fit, fit enough to get up when you fall down (and you will, albeit probably not as spectacularly as I do) and you sit on the floor with the kids and grand kids. You and I were designed to be strong for life, but not without work, both aerobic and weight-bearing. Finding the program that works for you and your unique body can be immensely rewarding and fun, but not if you buy the bullshit that weight work “bulks you up.”

Not unless you’re willing to a lot more work than I do, and I put in yeoman’s hours at the gym. I am hardly “bulked up.”

So please. Just stop with that nonsense. You work your body, it will love you back. For life. Period.

Photo by Melody Jacob on Unsplash