All my life I heard, “lift with your legs, not your back.” And all my life I was like, “The body simply does not work in this way. I invite any scientist to watch me pick things up and explain to me, biologically, how to do anything not with mostly my lower back.” It felt impossible, because if you try to use your legs, your knees and thighs are all in the way, and the thing you are trying to pick up is then two feet in front of you, too far for your noodly arms to do much about it. How can my back NOT be involved in this?
Besides: Everyone’s lower back and upper back and shoulders and neck hurts, right? And the older you get, the more they hurt, and the worse you are at moving around generally, right? That’s normal, as natural to the human body as falling asleep when it's tired. The defense rests.
And then I learned to lift, or most germane to this situation, I learned how to DEADlift. And everything changed. It turned out bodies can move this way: legs can get out of the way, hip mobility can allow you to get low, and the upper-body strength allows you to bear-hug the accursed heavy object.
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I was disappointed to see on TikTok recently that the deadlift is under attack. Some fitfluencers are hatin’, HATE-TEENG, upon the deadlift. They are saying deadlifts are “not safe”; they are saying “not the best movement if your goal is hypertrophy”; they are saying “the accumulated fatigue is too high.” These claims are, respectively, “wrong” for the first one (or true only if you are a dummy who learned form from the biggest curls-in-the-squat-rack bro in your gym) and "true sort of, but not relevant for anyone but experienced lifters” for the second two. Sure, if you want to be built like a fridge, you can probably do it without deadlifts (this is a common problem with general conversation among Fitstagram/FitTok; we experience it as casuals, but their info is really for other bros who have been bro-ing the good bro for years and years).
But this sucks to me, because deadlifts gave me everything, “everything” being “the ability to do all the bending down and/or picking things up that daily life requires with the big muscles I’m supposed to use, i.e. my legs and hips, and not the relatively tiny muscles in my lower back.” Deadlifts changed the daily-life game for me. If you want a ~functional~ movement that translates to real life, you can hardly do better than the deadlift (and the five or so other movements that make up a good beginner strength program).
Here is a brief list of tasks that I don’t even think twice about doing anymore because lifting, and mainly deadlifts, built my body stability and mobility, taught me strength, and taught me good form:
- Bringing the 40-pound box of cat litter inside the house, as above
- Putting a suitcase in an overhead bin, and believe you me I pack that sucker heavy
- Picking up the couch so my partner can chase a squirrel out from under it (true story)
- Bringing groceries in the house
- Toting both cats in a carrier around town like they are nothing more than two dumplings in a little picnic basket
- Shoveling snow (cleaning off the patio where all my gym equipment is is a GREAT warmup)
- Carrying laundry down to the scary basement where the machines are
- Feeling reasonably assured I could fight any creatures or small creepy children I run into in the basement
- Getting the AC out of the window
- Bending down to pick things up (shoes, clothes, dropped pieces of dry pasta because not a noodle shall go to waste in this house) off the floor without straining my lower back
- Moving any big plants around
- Getting one single piece of camera equipment out of storage that’s buried four heavy boxes deep in storage for some reason
This also barely counts because it’s so specific but, when I was building my outdoor gym, I bought an extra 45-pound, 7-foot-long barbell by mistake. So I picked it up and carried it the five blocks down the street to the mail store to return it, where they looked at me with very big eyes and said I could lean it against that wall over there. Being able to lift is the perfect skill for slightly frightening any bystanders at the grocery store, hardware store, or mail store.
To learn to deadlift, these are two of my favorite videos. But I also wouldn’t suggest just deadlifting; most good starter programs are very is super simple and involves deadlifts. (If you can’t lift a barbell yet, don’t worry; LIFTOFF will be here soon :)))) in the meantime, you can learn how to hip hinge with no weights).
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What subscribers will be receiving this week: By now you’ve heard of PLATESLAM, the open virtual strength event for free-range PRs with friends taking place December 17-18. But subscribers will be receiving ~special advance access~ to a PLATESLAM-related surprise in their inboxes this week. They will also be getting some tricks on plate-loading math and some clarifications about whether the protein from bread "counts." If you have struggled with these things as I have, you know what to do!—
Achievement unlocked: I was on the Longform podcast this week! I knew all those exceedingly long newsletters weren’t going to waste. If you are interested in me as a writer and/or the newsletter biz, that was most of what we talked about. but we didn’t really get to talk about any of the actual Longreads that I’ve Longwritten in my day, so my little links section on the podcast page is uh, badly impoverished. But this is my newsletter, so let me dredge up a few pieces, both on and off-topic:
—One of my all-time most popular columns, "How Do I Lose Weight?” Is the Wrong Question, technically would qualify as a feature newspaper piece (facts of no use: Swole Woman columns average about 2000 words!)
—My piece on Adele’s weight loss that I honestly don’t believe could have run anywhere BUT this newsletter (or at least, you don’t know how long I would have had to spend explaining it to an editor instead of just… writing it)
~Discord Pick of the Week: I am LOVING this playlist from one of our community members aptly/beautifully named Sexy Robot II: Femmebot’s Revenge.~
NFSW possibly, but we stan a 50-year old MILF making it on OnlyFans by chopping wood and lifting logs.
I’m normally a science person, however for this narrative I’m ready to crawl over the broken glass of every possible spurious variable and methodological flaw and say that yeah, sure, women cry more and live longer, therefore if men want to live longer, they should cry more.
I loved this post on how pleasure needs no politics. I’m a firm believer that every day, I need a certain amount of Brain-Free Time, and it doesn’t matter what I do with that time—watch reality TV, stare into the sun, dig a very big hole in the ground—because it simply can’t be put to use. My brain has limits. Therefore there is no point in judging or optimizing or politicizing Brain-Free Time. It reminded me distantly of this very good old post about how bikini body competitions are not a feminist choice.
Look: I think doctors do a lot of work, and I respect them, in large part, very much. Some of them suck! But many can give us help that no one else can. That said: In various past columns, I have hated upon the type of doctor who says “if it hurts don’t do that,” which seems like a lot of them. I’m not a doctor, but intuitively, I think this is fucking stupid. We hear contraindications of this “wisdom” here and there—most recently, the accepted solution to lower back pain became NOT "lying down all the time and oxycontin,” and instead "move around," a development I was thrilled about. So imagine how my heart swelled reading this graf from the New York Times’ chronic pain series this week:
Complicating things further: Pain can beget more pain. For example, an injury may turn up the volume on your pain response to future injuries. Stress may cause pain to persist long after an injury has healed. And if your back twinges and you start imagining all the ways it could get worse, that fear can magnify your pain, which may lead you to avoid physical activity, which then makes the pain even worse. Experts call this the pain cycle.
Well well well. If it isn’t the inactivity-loving doctor chickens coming home to pain-treatment roost. In fact, working out is mentioned as, not a cure, but a concrete step that can help with persistent pain, in not one, but two of the series’ pieces. I consider this matter settled; everyone in general should stop not working out, no matter how many articles about how "exercise doesn't help with weight loss" (ugh!!!) outlets see fit to publish. And I know everyone knows in principle working out is good for the purposes of “health.” But I feel like all I see all day long is 27-year olds complaining their back hurts. Your back shouldn’t hurt! You were in college moments ago!
Moving on: Ever since reading Sarah Hagi’s review of Emrata’s book about hotness and her body, I’ve been closely monitoring the reaction, hoping as always to find out who is right. So far there are two camps: one is “there are some nice thoughts in here, however ‘being hot’ does not constitute a ‘problem,’ and cute though it is that your notice you are ’succeeding within capitalism’ and are winking at the camera about it, that does not constitute a meaningful step toward dismantling capitalism.” The other is something like “no one more acutely experiences transactionality around hotness privilege than hot people, therefore they are uniquely suited to talk about it.” Who is right?
Then: An unbelievably drama-filled Unpopular Opinion thread from reddit on the theme "Exercise IS hard and some people will never like it." If you want my opinion: yes, the exercise itself is generally not fun per se. However, don’t set the expectation that every day, or even any day, is going to be on the same effortless joy-and-success level of “receiving a pony as a gift” and you will probably have an easier time in life.
A minor roiling drama in the fitness influencer sphere has been current/former fitfluencers making forays into being business/life coaches (???) and charging clients absolutely exorbitant fees, to the tune o f$25,000. This podcast episode from Des Pfeifer goes into, not just getting fleeced, but the whole fitness influencer world of 2014-15ish that got us here.
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You know what, I don’t feel like I rested that much this week, and that’s on me. I did watch the Alexander McQueen documentary for the first time ever, was reminded of how MUCH I love his clothes, and immediately bought the Met exhibit book.
I also bought, for the first time ever, some PEScience protein powder. Once I try it, I might become the first person ever to speak publicly about PEScience without being sponsored by PEScience.