Why would a ballet dancer lift weights?

Why exercise that makes you sore (like cardio) doesn't necessarily make you stronger, featuring an extended metaphor about paper, plus: hot swoalts, welcome to the PLATESLAM, and a useful hotline.

Why would a ballet dancer lift weights?

I don't think the average person thinks TONS about how or why athletes are strong. But if I were a gambling woman, I'd bet the average person thinks whatever athlete's body and ability comes 99% from doing whatever their sport is: running, dancing, boxing, tightrope walking. In my Instagram story this week,  I briefly went over how dancers do, in fact, lift weights. A few people asked what it is that lifting weights does that dancing, or running, or doing 100 reps of a movement with a resistance band, or whatever can't do.

Why would a dancer lift, or a boxer, or a soccer player?

Basically, the difference between cardio and weights is intensity (which is not the same as "difficulty"). Intensity, or taxing your muscles a lot very quickly, affects them differently than less intense activity over a longer (or the same!) period of time.

Here is a thought experiment: Picture a sheet of paper, and imagine crumpling and uncrumpling it. After a lot of crumplings and uncrumplings, it is a little more ragged than before. This is like what running does to your muscles. But if you were to try to "repair" the paper, the overall damage to it is pretty minor, and because it wasn't really harmed, there's not really room for improvement either.

Now picture taking a different piece of paper and poking some big holes in it with a pencil. The paper is pretty mangled now, and you probably didn’t even need to poke it that many times to absolutely thrash it, worse than anything lots of crumpling could do. The hole-poking is more like how lifting works on your muscles.

Now if you were to repair this second piece of paper, there are much bigger "opportunities" to "rebuild" it. The paper might even have so many holes, such large holes, that you can fit "more," and possibly "better," repair-paper into that space than there was before (we're gonna assume for the purposes of this thought experiment that the papers can be seamlessly fused together without you needing any particular skill). You started off with a flimsy sheet of copy paper, but now you're filling in the gaps with some thick and juicy cardstock. At the end, you actually have a slightly larger and more resilient piece of paper.

In this extended paper metaphor, the cardstock is doing what protein does to muscles. Muscle doesn’t get repaired without protein, and you need carbs and fats to make the fuel that powers the pencil punching holes in the paper/lifting the weights. This is why you can lift weights, even REALLY struggle and strain, but if you don't eat enough, you never make any progress or see any changes. Even then, the muscle-building process is really slow.

Dancers or runners are probably not pushing the muscle envelope as much as they could be, because it’s not their top priority. But at minimum, they want to maintain their strength so they can jump high (dancers) or, let’s say, stabilize themselves after tripping (runners). Someone who lifts weights that are substantially heavier than their body weight will be able to jump higher than someone who just jumps, where the only weight is their body. You can jump and jump and jump, but at a certain point, it just takes a ton of... discipline? Sheer willpower? to force yourself to go higher and higher, when you can just outsource some of that to some weights.

This might be easier to picture: Imagine training your throwing ability with a heavy ball. You throw and throw and throw the heavy ball, and you might not even be able to do it nearly as many times as you could throw a regular ball. But the next time you try throwing regular ball, it feels light, and you can throw it harder and faster than before, because you’re used to the heavy ball. Same principle applies times 100 when talking about lifting weights to build strength for other movements.

That’s why even people who seemingly do nothing but cardio professionally, whether they are running or running or running, still lift weights. It’s not even because lifting is for people only at absurdly high levels of skill; it’s just the way a balanced  program works.

You might be reading this and be thinking “oh I have plenty of muscle already, I just wanna tone.” You might be right; you might be wrong.


A post shared by A Swole Woman | eating/lifting (@swolewoman)

What subscribers got this past week: People were talking about Adele’s body, which meant it was time to talk about talking about Adele’s body, or anyone’s body, for that matter. I also covered Kumail Nanjiani, Action Bronson, and made up a “levels of body enlightenment” scale. If you subscribe now, you get access to all past subscriber posts!


A general PSA: I haven’t tested my strength in a long while. So on December 17/18, I’m going to have a PR day. I probably won’t be one-rep-maxing any of my lifts, but a PR can be lots of different things: the most reps you’ve ever done with a particular weight, your longest-ever pull-up negative. It’s just the most you’ve ever done, of something. At the very least, I’m going to go for an AMRAP. A member of our community Discord came up with the name “PLATESLAM” for this event, and who am I to argue? Please add December 17/18 to your calendar and use hashtag #plateslam2021 for all your PLATESLAM needs, so that we can all PLATESLAM together when the time comes. Before you choose not to save it, ask yourself this: Who slams, who jams, who tells your story?

I need to set the record straight: Many of you have been making the protein oatmeal aka “swoalts," letting it sit overnight in the fridge, and then heating it up in the morning.

This was not my intent, for a couple reasons: 1) cooking protein powder (or anything with protein powder in it) causes it to “denature” pretty quickly, meaning it clumps into gritty little balls and loses all nutritional value, and 2) “hot sweetened yogurt” just is not up my alley. The oatmeal, I’m pleased/confused/ashamed to reveal, is perfectly ready to eat after sitting overnight in the fridge (thus “overnight oats.”) All that said, I have never tried this and begrudge no one happiness wherever they may find it.

However! It’s finally gotten colder in New York, so I’m bringing you my hot swoalts recipe. Note that it’s only different in two minor ways: the amount of liquid, the addition of salt, and the order you put the ingredients in. (Also: the egg whites recipe from the previous swoalts letter is also a hot swoalts recipe.)

I’m trying to do my best with temperature-related instructions here: DO NOT stir the yogurt in to these oats. Think of it as a creamy temperature-contrast topping, like whipped cream on a slice of pie. If you stir them together you will have vaguely cool, room-ish temperature oats. To me, gross.


5/8 cup (50g) rolled oats
2/3 cup (110g) Greek yogurt
2/3 cup (160g) milk (or 1/3c milk and 1/3c water; sometimes this seems to help keep it from boiling over in the microwave)
Pinch salt
1 tbsp (12g) brown sugar
1/2 scoop (12g) protein powder
1/3-1/2 cup of topping of your choice (berries, banana, nuts, peanut butter, etc)

Protein content (before toppings): >36g

INSTRUCTIONS: Combine oats, milk (or milk/water), and salt in a microwave safe bowl and cook according to oats package instructions (probably 2-3 minutes), stirring halfway through. Remove and let cool for one to two minutes. Stir in protein powder and brown sugar. Scoop the yogurt on top, followed by toppings of your choice, and serve.

And one last swoalts tip: If you just mix together the Greek yogurt, protein powder, some milk, and maybe some sugar, you have a lovely base for any granola, muesli, or cereal (probably leave out the sugar in that case). I will also make this gloop with maple syrup and dip bites of pancakes in it in the judgment-free zone that is my home.


2/3 cup (110g) Greek yogurt
1/4-1/3 cup milk
1 tbsp (12g) brown sugar, or an equivalent amount of another sweetener (if using)
1/2 scoop (12g) protein powder

INSTRUCTIONS: Mix all ingredients together and then follow your heart.


A post shared by Claire Zai MS | Strength Coach (@claire_barbellmedicine)

Claire of Barbell Medicine put together a really nice guide to getting your pull-up with a more diverse set of movements than “just negatives,” with demo videos and everything! Per the comments, you do each block for as many days or weeks as it takes to get easy, then progress to the next one.

Would you look at this, I start doing nordic hamstring curls in my backyard and, like magic, a Greg-Nuckols-approved Stronger By Science guide to nordic hamstring curls appears. And now, it’s just the simple matter of learning to do them correctly.

Will people talking themselves into jumping off a 30-foot tower into water help you talk yourself into going to the gym today? Maybe!


Sarah Hagi wrote a great review of Emily Ratajkowski’s new book, My Body, which seems to be broadly about the way other people feel or take ownership of her body as a woman, and further, as a hot person (and also the privileges thereof). This seems like a topic ripe for evisceration, so I’m surprised the book sounds… good? I’m always looking askance at the specific goal of becoming hot, however, I will defend to the death anyone’s right to assert their hotness.

I love the new r/Antiwork reddit with all its screenshots of people quitting their jobs by text.

We need a hotline like this but for guys who have just been exposed to a woman arching in her bench on Instagram.

Happy to learn the way that I wake up in the middle of the night for hours at a time most nights is not fucked up or making my life worse, but that I’m actually living my biological human truth?


A post shared by GRRRL ™ (@grrrl_clothing)


They cancelled Y: The Last Man! But that’s okay, I’m onto The Great, because the second season features Gillian Anderson and I’m not going to miss that for the world. A lot of these historical-type shows are insufferably meta and woke in a tedious girl-boss way, but The Great strikes a nice balance.

Agreed on this—I would die for a cozy mystery. I’m sick to death of self-serious true crime! If you know of one…

This of us who love mess are going to be reading the Katie Couric book, which will pair nicely with the way I watch the worst TV show, The Morning Show, every Friday night like clockwork.

I got requests for links to my shearling slippers (on sale!) and water bottle. Honestly, don’t get the 40 ounce version though, it’s just comically large. Do like 20 ounces.

Any typos or copy errors were to make sure you were paying attention. Thank you for reading, I love you, let’s go—