In which I am forced to address the gut biome (and lifting)

The gut biome, it tolls for thee! Plus: How Viola Davis got ripped (actually); the last video on bracing you hopefully ever have to watch, amen; and the 2022 She's A Beast Reader survey. This is Link Letter 55!

In which I am forced to address the gut biome (and lifting)
Viola Davis in The Woman King. Photo by Ilze Kitshoff/Ilze Kitshoff - © 2022 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY.

I have yet to see The Woman King. But a friend whose opinions on TV and film I eminently trust went to see it and then immediately went to see it again. There is also a lovely Smithsonian article on the (thrilling!) historical basis for the Agojie of the movie. Europeans sea-lioning into the area, no doubt, referred to them as Amazons. (I loved this book on Amazons, too.) I've bought my tickets beyond excited to see Viola Davis whale on some transgressors. Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten many, many DMs of the trailer, which is filled with strong and be-muscled women:

I was riding so high on all of this that I went into this article, “The Full-Body Workout Viola Davis Did to Prepare for Her Role In ‘The Woman King,’” with the highest of hopes. They were immediately dashed on the rocks of the “Standing Elbow to Knee Oblique Twist with a Plate” instructions that come at the end, plus several more highly complex moves.

Here is the thing: I don’t doubt the literal truth that these moves were somehow included in Viola Davis’s workout. But let’s look higher up in the article, below (emphasis mine):

Mclain incorporated explosive weight training and strength training into Davis’ fitness routine because [some DNA garbage no one needs to pay attention to]. She trained a minimum of five hours a day during three months of pre-production, including an hour of running, two hours of martial arts, and two hours of strength training. Davis enjoys deadlifts and bicep curls the most, says Mclain. “She always comes alive when she can do some punching and kicking,” she adds. As for the moves she dreads? That would be squats, step-ups, and push-ups.

Why are we, the readers of Shape magazine, not good enough for the clear weight-based strength-training core of Viola Davis’s workout? Sure, she did other stuff, per that paragraph. But the stuff that would build meaningful muscle and strength for the lay reader are the moves in bold. Instead of highlighting that in the article, plus maybe some advice on how to progress and get stronger, you give me the flashy high-step kick-ball-change to foxtrot-two-step Kettlebell Halo with Split Squat? You tell me to even, quote, “skip the equipment and utilize body weight instead”?

This stuff is not easy just because it doesn't use weights! If this type of trainer’s advice serves even one person, I’d be shocked. If these very complex and highly dynamic moves made tons more people feel discouraged about their ability to be strong like Viola Davis, whether they try these moves or not, I’d be just as unsurprised. I’m once again ready for the “Ten Super-Easy Bodyweight Moves That Gave Chris Hemsworth His Six-pack Abs” genre to die. My (Woman) Kingdom for a little more treatment of this stuff as skills and not as activities for generating guilt, shame, and sweat.


~Discord Pick of the Week: Bracing (solidifying your core during a heavy lift for stability purposes) is one of THE hardest lifting concepts to explain or understand. This video has emerged from our server as one of the best resources for explaining what it is and how to do it.

There has been an explosion of woo-woo superstition about gut health in the past few years. And that’s unfortunate, because there are important gut-biome kernels of truth from which the “flush your microbiome of harmful toxins with our Patented Juice Cleanse(TM)” BS springs.

I will not herein claim to be a gut microbiome expert. But! I trust science, and a new research review from earlier this month suggests that “athletic performance” and our gut microbiota don’t have nothing to do with each other!:

Exercise bouts lasting seconds to hours require a continuous supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in order to maintain skeletal muscle contraction. The ATP-phosphocreatine, glycolytic, and aerobic energy systems provide ATP to exercising tissues via substrate-level phosphorylation and oxidative phosphorylation, with the relative contribution of each system dependent on exercise intensity and duration. The gut microbiota influences host energy metabolism through production of its own metabolites, which provide ∼10% of the daily caloric requirements of the host, and via its direct and/or indirect influence on appetite, fat storage, and glucose tolerance.

The simple version: We get energy from the food we eat, and the ability of our gut microbiome to process that food has a direct effect on our ability to harvest that energy, as well as how hungry we are and how we store food as body fat vs. energy, which thus has an effect on how we can perform athletically.

While we are, to an extent, born with our gut biomes, a lot of research has found that we can cultivate them like the little gardens that they are and help it be better at the tasks above. There is no one magic-bullet food for this, despite what the wellness gurus are saying or will say; it’s just your usual suspects: fruits, vegetables, our beloved thos beans.

Many of the related studies are in mice, so obligatory caveat. But due to this and other things, I’m doubtful we are going to later find out that fruits, vegetables, and our beloved thos beans are in fact bad.

(The review also notes that many studies reflect that exercise has a positive effect on gut microbiota generally, so this is a symbiotic relationship. You cannot see it, but I am makingsynergy hands.)

I’m calling upon Olivia Wilde to give me this script:

She was scheduled to follow “Don’t Worry Darling” with “Perfect,” about the gymnast Kerri Strug. But according to three people with knowledge of the project who were granted anonymity to discuss its status, Wilde abandoned the movie after asking for multiple rewrites from different screenwriters before walking away, believing the script was still not ready for production.

Olivia, don’t give up, we need as many women’s athletic challenge/triumph movies as we can get!!

Book research led me to the role of Atalanta in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, played by Cory Everson, a former six-time Ms. Olympia. (Atalanta is also one of the better Greek myths.) TV Tropes informs me that she was “very unlucky in love because most guys were turned off by her strength and physique… In contrast, Hercules and Salmoneus both thought she was hot.” Anyway, this all led me to find out there is an Atalanta action figure, which I purchased for $13.99 on eBay. It’s hideous! But I love her big legs and weapons.

I’m featured here!: The Feminist Act of Lifting Stuff.

Mental health is political.


Rethinking central nervous system (CNS) fatigue. Of note in here: People out there on the internet, and especially TikTok, love love love to vilify the deadlift as “particularly (unnecessarily?) taxing on the nervous system.” Behold this 2019 study, which tested this and found that deadlifts are no more taxing than squats. Squats may even be a little more taxing. “Squat every day but never deadlift more than three times in two weeks” programs StrongLifts and Starting Strength found bald!!

“““New””” (can’t put enough quotes) “body checking” TikTok trend is worrying experts. Not that I go to the New York Post for truth, but after I put this on Instagram, a number of people asked me what body checking even was. The short version: It is a compulsive and/or obsessive need to see or touch your body to evaluate and/or scrutinize its shape and size (here’s a longer explanation). Crucially, it is not garden-variety “looking in the mirror.” But it veers into disordered when it becomes many times a day, or every day, or for hours at a time, or in the specific case of social media, continuously needing validation for body-check-type photos. Anyway: influencers have been doing this a very long time, so the idea of it being new makes me feel like Father Time. I’m glad Gen Z is (sort of?) wise to it.

Disappointed but not surprised: Ms. All-In Radical Body Acceptance Stephanie Buttermore is running ads to sell her program using photos of herself at higher and lower weights to imply it will help you become skinny. The dates of the photos are fudged, too.


Trash TV I’ve been enjoying: Tell Me Lies on Hulu. Vicarious drama at its best! As simple-minded as its “hurt people hurt people” thesis is, it is doing a really good job of representing abusive/emotionally neglectful communication.

How Russian trolls helped keep the Woman’s March out of lock step.

Your body my choice: ctrl + F “violinist” for a great analogy on bodily autonomy and abortion.

Against aboutness. I am tired of so many things forcing themselves down my throat with What They Are (unless it’s Tell Me Lies, which is excused because it is delightful garbage).

The apocalyptic sublime of an intact house drifting off to sea.

Lots of sewing machines and airlines still rely on floppy disks.

Pardon me, sir and/or ma’am, can you spare a moment for putting a kitchen in your kitchen so you can kitchen while you kitchen?

That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—