The New York Times makes a dangerous suggestion in its strength training guide

Happy Birthday, She's A Beast. We have a big discount available early to subscribers, plus: strength training makes you smart, gym-ing on a road trip, (sigh) Brad Pitt's Fight Club body. This is Links 51!

The New York Times makes a dangerous suggestion in its strength training guide
Sweaty, flyaways, in constant search of good lighting since 2014, 2016, but also 2021. 

Folks, we did it: Welcome to the one-year Anniversary Issue of She’s A Beast.

With Labor Day and sweater weather rapidly approaching, this is a good and poignant time to take stock of all that has happened, especially for me, a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils sun sign.

To be honest, one year ago, I had no real plan. At the time I pulled the newsletter parachute ripcord after getting shoved out of the Soviet-era plane with one working engine that is media, I’d been testing the limits of what constituted “advice” while writing my Ask A Swole Woman column for five years. But I only ever published that column every two weeks, sedately committed to the bit of “work-life balance” as I am.

But still, I had a suspicion that “health and fitness coverage through the clear eyes of someone baptized by the fires of lifting weights and delivered from the terrors of diet and weight-loss culture” had legs, as a concept.

I sort of doubt anyone imagined there was enough to talk about week in and week out, especially given that there are so many struggling health and fitness publications already out there. “It’s a saturated market,” they said. “It’s incredibly competitive, and dominated by literal and metaphorical titans,” they said.

Well—whether they underestimated the sheer amount of stuff they didn’t know about, or my patience and fortitude for forming opinions and assigning values to things, I hope it’s clear now that there was room to dream bigger. I vowed to write shorter, but haven’t been able to most weeks for the sheer amount of material there is out there, and people really listened. This was an experiment that terrified me, but it worked, and it is working.

A problem I find is that, even a year in, still no one knows how to describe what She’s A Beast is. I stay deeply flattered and humbled that so many publications have tried. They seem to land on something along the lines of, “it’s a newsletter about strength training, but man… it’s also about… so much more than that, you know?

As terrible a job as all those words do at convincing anyone that this is a newsletter to subscribe to, they aren’t wrong. But I think when people read it, they get it. The world at large is extremely thirsty for people like me to have an airtight marketing script, an elevator pitch, a flawless personal brand with social media posts as steady as the tide. I’m endlessly grateful that you all allow this place and thing and person to exist without those things.

(I actually hope that that’s part of what YOU appreciate, too: that I and you and we can just exist and do things like build a beautiful, civilized, and passionately supportive Discord for paid subscribers, without having to Assert Our Brand Values in each other’s faces, even if you weren’t doing it intentionally. I think a lot of newsletters don’t hem and haw about this kind of thing, but there is no strain of Branding out there as white-knuckled as fitness and diet stuff, so I worry all the time that I’m making a precipitous choice by opting out of that).

But anyway, what is this newsletter about?

Let’s circle back to that derangedly complicated sentence I wrote earlier: “health and fitness coverage through the clear eyes of someone baptized by the fires of lifting weights and delivered from the terrors of diet and weight-loss culture.” Wordy, but actually, that’s not so bad.

I’m out here seeing all the same things that everyone is seeing—Adele lifting weights, Will Smith losing weight, Chris Hemsworth marketing bodyweight workouts, Blogilates doing weight manipulation tricks, Noom being little more than a structured on-ramp to an eating disorder. But I see it all so differently from how I used to because of what lifting has taught me about how muscles work and grow, eating, and resting. It taught me my body is not ornamental; I have to live here every god damn day of my life, and it doesn’t have to feel like a creaky old haunted house or a torture device. I didn’t even realize the degree to which it was a creaky old haunted house or torture device, but lifting showed me quick, and that’s its biggest magic. It lets me see the monsters of things like the “exercise snack,” the 1,200-calorie diet, pull-ups, and tiny baby dumbbells for what they really are: utter bullshit wastes of time foisted on us to keep us too exhausted to build a real relationship with ourselves and lafy a foundation of strength.

Anyway, I’ll keep working on that elevator pitch; as I said, it’s not my strong suit.

This newsletter also helped give me the confidence to fully launch LIFTOFF: Couch to Barbell. LIFTOFF is still but a little baby at eight months old, but it’s been covered by outlets including GQ, MSNBC, Bustle, and Hello Gloria.

LIFTOFF now has the distinction of being a recommended starter lifting program in the wiki of my virtual strength-training birthplace, r/XXFitness. I have it on good authority it will soon be linked in the wiki of r/Fitness, too. It fills me with joy now to think that, not only did I actually make the thing I wished I had when I started, but it now lives exactly where I would have found it eight years ago. (Also wow, I’m learning just now someone made LIFTOFF a Goodreads page; I’m too scared to look at it, but leave me a good review!)

This is all a long way of saying: I’m happy and humbled that you all enabled this fever dream of a publication for an entire year, and here we stand, literally and metaphorically stronger than ever. Thank you.

To celebrate our own birthday, I’m kicking off a limited-time 30% discount on the Beasties tier of this newsletter! You can read a full description of the benefits here, but I just want to highlight that you will get:

You can get 30% off monthly for a year ($7/month), or 30% off an annual subscription ($70/year). (These links will appear to take you to the homepage, but give it a few seconds and a pop-over menu will offer you the discounts.) Don't wait; these deals will only be available until 9/18!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you all for your support and enthusiasm. And if you wanna wish us all happy birthday, please; hold your comments for the comments at the end of this post (they work now!). Here’s to many more years of newsletter reps. <3

What paid subscribers got last week: I get tons and tons and tons of questions about protein, and specifically protein powder: which ones, why, how, when, how much. Many people also ask me what become of the Wirecutter protein powder guide I edited lo these many years past. I answer all this and more, plus pass down a few hard-earned protein powder recipes, in The Last Article on Protein Powder You Will Hopefully Ever Have to Read, Amen.

Subscribe now at the Beasties tier (now 30% off!) to read the most level-headed protein powder guide on this or any internet!


~Discord Pick of the Week: This screenshot from a beloved and blessed reader’s gym website:

Now more than ever, I insist that we all REINVENT and DISRUPT the NORMCORE of our HEALTH; TODAY!~

A blockbuster for my fellow longtime sufferers of “cardio: the intellectual’s physical activity” this week: Muscle contractions increase metabolism in brain regions related to learning and memory. In other words: “strong muscles are essential to healthy brain function,” my fellow damn nerds!!! Checkmate, runners! One more quote because I can’t resist:

Studies have shown that even in people with existing brain disease or damage, increased physical activity and motor skills are associated with better cognitive function… There’s a robust molecular language being spoken between your muscles and your brain. Exercise helps keep us fluent in that language, even into old age.

A great post from friend of the blog Greg Nuckols this week on how not-useful body composition assessments (body fat scales, DEXA scans, etc.) can be. This week, the dreaded MyFitnessPal moved its barcode-scanning feature behind its paywall, so this is a good time to remind you that, if you’re going to pay for any macro-tracking app, MacroFactor (made by Greg and team) is better in almost every way. You can use the signup code BEASTIES for a 14-day trial.

The humble empire of Knees Over Toes guy (he’s a Scientologist!)

How to Gym on a road trip. Some great tips in here.

Mildly interesting: Walmart just ships kettlebells with no packaging. Makes sense: They already have a handle, they’re indestructible, and they’d destroy any packaging you tried to put them in. Someone learned something in our years of pandemic.


I had to set aside valuable but nonetheless important time this week to laugh at the New York Times, and specifically the “Why Women Can’t Do Pull-ups” Well section that published it, when it recirculated a guide this week trying to assert authority about “How to Get Strong.” I must have at least skimmed this when it came out back in March, but missed this crucial detail:

So here is the thing: There is no one in the world who can lift 80% of their one-rep max (1RM) for 8, let alone 12, reps, because 80% is very heavy. You’d be able to lift 80% of a 1RM for 5, 6 reps at the absolute best. And that would be a max all-out effort of RPE 10, which is something that anyone would only attempt every few months at most, not… literally every workout. (You can play with the numbers and see for yourself with this calculator.)

What is RPE? I’m glad you asked>>>

None of this is privileged or even particularly arcane knowledge; anyone who’s ever tried to do their own strength programming would be aware of the basic relationships between these numbers. The hubris you’d have to have to publish a guide like this on this subject and make these mistakes? Is absolutely staggering. A breathtaking work of staggering hubris.

What is even better (or worse) about all this is that it would not be obvious to the average New York Times reader. At least, not until they attempted to follow the seemingly straightforward and innocuous instructions and then threw out their back, or tore an ACL, labrum, meniscus, etc., and then went on to tell all their little friends until the end of time not to try strength training because “it’s too dangerous.” (No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

This guide has been out since March. How many lives ruined? How many “bad knees,” “bad shoulders,” and “bad backs” did the New York Times cause in hastily trying to cash in on the strength training trend? No way to know, unless those people were to email me.

The '90s are truly back, because people are once again talking about how to get Brad Pitt’s body in Fight Club. I say again: just lift weights, you nerds! This was pre-rampant-PED era and is probably more achievable than you might think. But also, if you can, discard the goal of being hot in working out; it takes too long and will probably only make you mad.

Related, the people are backlashing PEDs on TikTok, I hear; but I’ve also heard they are giving each other straightforward guides to taking them without talking about any of the side effects. Classic fake, near-disinfo TikTok!


Elyse Myers of TikTok fame deserves all the success in the world.

I’ve discovered a new soothing activity: sitting on the floor stretching while playing Mario Kart (optionally, you can play '90s hits during this time). Video games are the perfect distraction for the not-quite-passive activity of sitting in a sort of uncomfortable position.

That’s all for this week! I love you for reading not just today but all year; thank you, let’s go—