Women Don’t Build Muscle That Easily

Posted: January 10, 2015 in General Fitness
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

This is one of those things that is said all the time in fitness forums, articles, and books, and it usually makes me want to scream.

Usually it comes in the form of reassuring women that weight lifting will not make them “bulky”. But it can take other forms as well, and regardless of the reasoning it still annoys the hell out of me.

A lot of women who lift and want to build noticeable muscle do find this to be true. But not all women are the same.

The reasoning behind this is that women don’t have enough testosterone so building any muscle for us, all of us, takes a long more work and takes a lot longer. But fun fact, “hormone levels” aren’t actually exactly equal among all women. In fact, they can vary quite a lot from woman to woman. We are not actually all clones.

Sometimes I wish that I could see muscle growth more quickly, but overall I don’t usually feel like I have a very hard time building muscle. And never have. It’s always seemed like I could see more muscle growth more quickly than this well known fitness fact seems to imply I should.

I mentioned recently some changes I’ve seen with my body from weight lifting. Which is also what got me thinking about this topic today. Because according to many folks, what I notice is just not possible because I’m a woman.

Besides being fairly intimately familiar with what my body looks like and feels like, I take measurements semi-regularly, and noticed first awhile back that my arms (measured around my bicep) were getting surprisingly bigger (especially surprising given I don’t specifically train biceps) meanwhile my arms look and feel more ‘toned’, more recently my thighs have increased in size at the same time I can notice that my hamstrings look and feel much larger.

Which I’ve actually been told by random dudes (actually all men- which makes sense because clearly they are the experts on women)  even though they don’t know me, that this is just not possible. As a woman, I have not been lifting long enough to build enough muscle for me to have that significant muscle growth. Clearly I’m just getting fatter and lying to myself about it.

I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it because unlike them I know my body.

And to be clear, it’s not that I need to prove to anyone that I’m not getting fatter or that it would be any of their business if I were. That’s not what this is about. What this is about is that it’s really annoying to get excited about building muscle (because I get excited about that!) and being told that I obviously just don’t know my own body and can’t tell the difference between fat and muscle because women just can’t build muscle like that (source: everyone just knows that).

This whole idea that all women’s bodies work exactly the same such that we can make this universal claim that women don’t build muscle easily just needs to die already.

  1. I am one of those women who very easily builds muscle and my weight training is not particularly intense. I think it goes without saying that even men differentiate in how quickly or what form muscle development takes with them. We always go wrong when we start comparing ourselves to others. Like you, I know my body well, so conversations where someone tells me what can and can’t be true usually end very badly.

  2. G says:

    I would be happier if the conversation around women and muscle shifted from “women don’t build muscle” to “what’s wrong with muscle? why do I need to look not-strong to be feminine? why do we associate femininity with weakness and passivity?”

    For what it’s worth, I also build muscle quite easily. Don’t let the trolls get you down 🙂 You know your body best; there’s no point in trying to convince them.

    • ebay313 says:

      Agreed. Though it’s also a little frustrating when even women who want muscle stl make such a big thing about how nearly impossible it is for all women when it’s really not universal. Wish puerile would realize things related to sex and hormones and really all ways bodies work is just not universal one size fits all.

  3. Tessa Racked says:

    Seconding G’s comment. I’m genderqueer, and strength training helps me feel comfortable with my body and my gender expression. I’ve been using the dumbbells more often and (safely) pushing myself to use more weight at the gym over the past several months. I can feel my arms and shoulders filling out my shirts better, which has really helped with the body insecurity tailspin I’ve been in over the past year. However, since I’m also dfab I default to reading articles targeted at women when I need information about exercise, and that “reassuring” comment that seems to be in every. goddamn. article. makes me feel discouraged and alienated. It also makes me wonder if the writers are “holding out” on me, and there’s something I could be doing differently to get bigger muscles more efficiently…

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