Okay: Blogilates' muscle-building journey DID have some good lessons
Whether she actually saw them, we'll never know. Plus: intermittent fasting has no "biological benefits," people are over Peloton, and Natalie Portman has guns. This is Links 34!
Last we checked in on Blogilates’ 90 day “muscle building” journey, she had made a bunch of improbable progress claims. They were so improbable that, if they were real, they a not a useful yardstick for any normal person to set their expectations by. We also went through how it would be possible to manipulate a body scan and make it look like someone has added lean tissue (essentially: having already-trained muscles, taking a reading while dehydrated, packing those muscles full of glycogen and water, and taking another reading; bonus points for additional bloat that comes from muscles adjusting to new stimuli).
Now, here we are, the 90th day of Her reckoning, so to speak. How did the second two months go? She has her own takes in the two respective blog posts, but I’m going to zoom out and look at the the numbers and overall arc here.
Real Fact #1: Bodies fluctuate, especially when you change what you’re doing
Blogilates, a.k.a. Cassey Ho, checked in at Day 60 with another DEXA scan, where the numbers were actually almost exactly the same as Day 30. She lost a pound of body fat. She “gained” two and a half pounds of muscle; much less drastic changes than the first month.
While I feel like this validates my read on her Day 30 numbers, I also actually like these Day 60 numbers, because they reflect a slightly more normal rate of progress. They would still put her in the realm of being a remarkable easygainer, but again, it might be because she has a long training history.
And zooming out from her interpretations: Bodies actually do fluctuate quite a lot in weight and how much fluid they retain when they start doing and eating radically different things. How could they not? This is the first Real Fact of the Blogilates 90 day muscle building journey: New training can cause fluid retention. I’ve seen too many people bail on working out because of this, thinking that working out is only making them fatter. Nothing could be less true!
Bodies are essentially like sponges: A dry body that hasn’t had water in many hours weighs less; a wet body that is well-hydrated weighs more. Really, try it: Personal demons permitting, weigh yourself in the morning after you haven’t consumed any food or water all night, and then again at the end of the day. You “gained five pounds,” or more! Magic! Ho either doesn’t want to see this or doesn’t think her audience will understand, so she packages it in the 60-day post as “I gained 9 pounds of muscle.” Well, whatever, this brings me to my next point—
Real Fact #2: It’s easy for people who built muscle before to build it again
What’s really wild to me is that if the framing of this “experiment” had been totally different, I would have been Drake-at-any-Raptors-game.gif. Here is another Real Fact of the Blogilates 90 day muscle building journey: She could have said, “I’m starting an experiment to show you how easy it is for me, a person with a long and diverse training history, to turn on a dime and put my muscle back on. This reveals how bullshit it is when famous people and their expensive trainers and long training histories dupe us into thinking it’s possible to build a whole new physique in a matter of weeks”—if she had said that, if she had said that, I’d be swinging from the fucking rafters. I’d be standing on a corner with an amp and a mic handing out pamphlets, yelling at passersby that Jesus is alive in our time.
Even if she’d said “I trained hard and ate a lot and gained nine pounds, and look: my personal self worth is intact, in fact I love myself so much!”, I would have been admittedly less happy with that as it is mildly fatphobic. But given her regressive audience, it could have been a stepping stone toward detaching skinniness/low body weight from self-worth.
Real Fact #3: Body composition changes don’t happen in a straight line, and expecting perfection is folly
My other problem remains the dieting, the relentless dieting, the dieting even in the face of ostensibly gaining body mass. Without enough food, there cannot be more of your body.
Ho did bump her calories to 1800/day starting in her second phase. But that would only be a 10% surplus, enough to build muscle, for a 4-foot-7-inch woman who weights 90 pounds. Therefore, once again, in order to have put on weight as she did, Ho was either:
eating more than she realized (or claimed!)
manipulating her DEXA scan
a statistical outlier so beyond the realm of scientific understanding that, once again, her journey is not instructive to other normal beings, only a fantastical journey for the spectator to enjoy a la The Hobbit or a Marvel film
But let’s put that aside. Because in her last 30 days of the 90-day journey, Ho stated in her blog that she intended to turn right around and cut body fat. This is a shame because, based on the numbers, that she was already possibly recomping pretty nicely by the second month. However, a twist!: Ho says in her 90-day post that she stopped tracking food in these last few weeks, and just aimed to keep her protein high.
In the body composition manipulation world, we call this the Delusionist’s Weight-Cutting Gambit.1 I’ve been here more times that I care to count, thinking I can offhandedly eat less during a cut. I always end up regretting it, because the dual effect is that I end up eating more than I realize, and also end up overthinking or even feeling guilty about every individual food choice, which is not how a cut could or should be. Ho ended up appearing to lose a very small amount of muscle and gaining a little fat, which she initially takes as a “failure,” and then tries to recalibrate her thinking.
Thins brings us to another Real Fact of the Blogilates 90 day muscle building journey: Particularly for women, body weight and composition almost never moves in a straight line, and it is eminently not worth getting hung up on a few pounds of fluctuations. Her interpretations aside, the ups and downs of the numbers in her chart are so normal as to be mundane. As I said last time, even DEXA scans have a margin of error that would amount to 6-7 pounds up or down for Ho. She is totally right to a) look at the whole long-range arc of what she did and b) strive to go easy on herself. Her 90 days also speaks to how this body composition stuff can be, and should be, phasic: You don’t cut forever, you don’t bulk forever, you don’t recomp forever. Bodies are not fans of it.
It’s not easy to weave through Ho’s narrative and see all this, particularly when she’s pushing what I think may become the next dark narrative in fitness and health: that weight or weight gain is okay as long as it’s pure muscle.
But big picture, there’s a lot of good here. She lifted heavy weights. She put on weight. Fluid retention or manipulations aside, she gained at least a couple pounds of real muscle. She was open about falling off with tracking and relentlessly pursuing her goals—who among us! And she was open about her thought process in working through her feelings about achieving less than perfection. I wish she saw it all this way.
A lot of the packaging around these Real Facts still irks me: the low calories; the fear of fat gain; the fact that she’s not trying to meaningfully educate anyone about the role played by her training history. But for someone who seems to feel so much pressure from the audience she has built around “weight loss” and disdain for heavy weights, this still ended up being not quite as either misleading or bait-and-switchy as it might have.
Well, except that it was possibly all done to sell a new Blogilates-branded protein powder.
What subscribers got last week: I’ve previously covered how to deal with the emotions of starting over at the gym after a break. But lots of people are recently asking, literally how do I do it? What weights do I lift? Where do I even start? I’ve got you in last week’s Ask A Swole Woman edition of this very newsletter. Not only have I got you, but subscriptions are currently 30% off!
Natalie Portman, who has been a slight little thing all my natural-born days, is out here sporting guns for one of the Thor movies!!
She talks a little bit about her training in this Vanity Fair piece from August, and I quote: “it’s definitely changed the way I move. You walk differently; you feel different.” Hell yes you do girl!!
~Discord Pick of the Week: “What? Never seen a jacked train conductor dead lift 450lbs with a corgi on his back?”~
The girlies are out there doing LIFTOFF! First, this wonderful short essay from Crissy Milazzo’s newsletter on how a new relationship with her body bloomed after she finally tried lifting weights. Second, an essay from Cheryl Wischhover in Gloria (to which I’m a longtime subscriber!) talking about trying LIFTOFF and all that she had been missing with strength training.
In related news, this week I posted a follow-along video for the Phase One workout of LIFTOFF. I tried my best to choose good music and cultivate gentle vibes; if you’re considering trying to program out, it’s a great place to start before actually buying the book (though I do recommend the book for all the “understanding why” part).
And here’s another newsletter, nothing to do with LIFTOFF, that’s just some really beautiful writing about lifting.
What Americans Keep Getting Wrong About Exercise, a really nice piece about the tendency of, ahem, some writers to overinterpret studies on super-atomic scientific studies on building strength (”one three-second bicep curl per week) as actual workouts. I’m quoted here about how the New York Times seven-minute workout is something everyone wants to read about, but is so unpleasant to actually do that no one actually does it—a fascinating example of content that is both highly clickable, has saturated our consciousness, yet has almost zero real-world impact.
TBT to this wonderful piece how buttered toast is a god-tier food.
“Scientists Find No Benefit to Time-Restricted Eating.” Rests head gently in hands Look,,,... okay, here is how to think about this. There are not any diets (the holistic “food we eat” kind, not necessarily the “restrictive weight loss” kind) known to man with actual, significant biological benefits. Whether a diet “works” for anyone to maintain basic health is almost exclusively about, say it with me now, adherence. Adherence is essentially “how well you stick with it over significant periods of time.”
I just hate this type of head-fake, as if we are going to discover the one magical “biological benefits” diet. The problem with most “diets,” especially weight loss ones, is that adherence goes to zero over a long enough time frame, and then we are stuck back at trying to figure out how to eat “balanced” meals in the big wide world of food.
I know “balance” is annoyingly broad and so generic as to be meaningless. The real problem is that we lack the educational infrastructure to help people navigate “balance” on a day-to-day basis (we also have a significant food insecurity problem, which precludes ever achieving balance!). But I’m begging everyone to let the “biological benefits” thing go.
A really excellent feature here from Katie Way on the Brazilian butt lift industry, and Miami as the after-care capital. I have no time or space to talk about this today but I often see women posting photos of other women on Instagram, asking if it’s a BBL or if their results are “achievable” through working out. I have yet to see one that isn’t very obviously a BBL.
I referenced the transgressions of Kayla Itsines in my IG stories the other day and got a lot of “What did she do??” DMs. Here’s one recap.
How am I the one who feels bad for Peloton now? I love an underdog, I guess. Still, seems like everyone has finally recognized all the ways that Peloton, just like intermittent fasting above, actually will not fix them.
Stop. Skipping. Leg Day. Stop skipping Leg Day!!
Scientists are studying the psychology of assholes.
I will read any Caity Weaver story cover to cover, and loved this one about #vanlife; there’s a really excellent insight in there I don’t want to spoil.
We started watching Lost, my first time since it was airing live. I have enough thoughts for a whole other newsletter, but the main one is: Damon Lindelof innocent! We did him dirty! I, for one, apologize. It’s all on Hulu and from the time when networks would still do 25-episode (!) seasons of hourlong (!) shows, and there are at least three, maybe four good seasons there.
Thanks for reading!! I will see you back here for the Sunday open thread and again next Friday. Love you, thank you, let’s go—
I made this up
Exception being certain diets for certain medical conditions, e.g. the keto diet can help with epilepsy in some cases.