Feel the Burn: Goals and Bulkiness -The Toast

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If you’re just joining our fitness coverage (which is mostly meaningless, since this is only our second installment), you can catch up here.

Today, as advertised, we’re discussing goals. This is really the most important part of beginning to strength-train, and, you know, life and stuff. Partly because it provides focus, and also because it helps you cut through bullshit like a hot knife through fudge. This will happen to you a lot, particularly if you read a whole bunch of different things about fitness on a regular basis, like I do. You need to know when to tune it out, and when it’s not applicable to your situation.


“Don’t waste your workout by eating a PowerBar/drinking a Gatorade afterwards. You might as well not have bothered.”

Well, now, that really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish, doesn’t it? I love eating after I train. If I go up on my weights or do an extra set, I will probably go home and make a cheeseburger. When you’ve created a bunch of wonderful little micro-tears in your muscles, it can be lot of fun to sit there gnawing away and imagining you’re sending protein in to patch up the gaps with new tissue, possibly with Innerspace-esque visuals. After a normal workout, I’ll often make a ridiculous recovery drink involving whey protein, whole milk, a banana, and a dollop of chocolate-almond butter. Am I “wasting” my workout by consuming something super-calorific? Well, no. Because MY goal is to increase my strength, and to love using my body, and to enjoy going to the gym.

As to Gatorade, well, I don’t do a lot of steady-state cardio. It bores me, and I like to get my cardio via doing stuff with weights and burpees and box jumps and stuff like that. Also, to be honest, I don’t do great with anything that tells me how many calories I may or may not be burning based on me occasionally gripping elliptical sensors with sweaty hands. I’m a lot better off, personally, not having information like that. So I’m rarely in a situation where I feel like I need to get Gatorade into my body. My friends who are cyclists? Cut some of them open, and they’ll bleed lemon-lime. Their goal is to cycle for a hundred miles, and not die by the side of the road and have vultures eat their eyeballs.

When people say something like “don’t waste your workout,” they have a very particular image in mind. It’s a woman whose body they disapprove of, doing a form of physical activity they don’t believe will improve her body. You hear this a lot on strength-training boards, sadly, from people who should know better. I hate it. There are lots of people who go to the gym to use the elliptical at a low setting for thirty minutes while they leaf through a magazine. Lots. They are not all deluding themselves. Maybe their goal is to have a little time to themselves, to break a mild sweat, to rehab a knee, to read a trashy novel, to get their company to give them a small break on their health insurance premiums. I don’t know. Maybe they like Gatorade. It’s not my business. I don’t need to feel better about my slightly SWOLE BRO attitude towards training by finding a counter-example to eye-roll at. Neither do you.

So, what is it you want to do?

Let’s say you want to get strong. That’s what I want, so this is what I’m going to be assuming, as we get going on this thing we’re doing together. What a great goal! How clever of you.

Where do you want to get strong? Probably everywhere, really. One of the nice things about functional strength, which is what we’re going for, is that it’s great for building up all the little stabilizers and supporting infrastructure that help your larger muscle groups get the job done. So, you know, the difference between using a machine which targets your shoulders, and physically picking up free weights and doing an overhead press with them. Oh, maybe one side at a time, so your core has to try to hold itself so you don’t fall over! Let’s do that! Let’s do it while standing on a wobbly thing so it really improves our balance! We’ll get there.

Hey, that’s another great moment in goals buffeting up against fitness advice. There’s a new Norwegian study, which I am not even bothering to link, because it’s not important to what we’re doing, which suggests that the recent trend towards working out on unstable surfaces (Bosu balls, wobbly benches) doesn’t really activate any extra muscles and is a waste (WASTE, again) of your time.

But maybe your goal is to improve your balance. Mine is, because I do very balance-intensive sports when I’m not in the gym. So, yeah, I’m going to add instability elements to my training. It works great for me, and what I want to accomplish.

You see what I’m getting at here. Your training regimen is your own. If you like what you’re doing, and you’re using good form and reasonable caution, it is impossible for it to be a waste of your own time.

Since we’re talking goals, and this is early on in our fitness relationship, what a great time to talk about the number one dog-whistle lady-athlete freakout issue of all time, which ideally we will handle now and never speak of again.


I dunno, man, we’ll use you to insulate our homes? What does that even mean?

I’m being deliberately obtuse, SHOCKER, fooled you, I know what it means. It means that the person saying this or having it said of them is worried that they will get big muscles, and look like a dude, and then someone will hold them down and give them a spray-tan and a spangled bikini and they’ll never be able to play a Henry James heroine in a major motion picture again.

WELL, let’s just dive on in.

1. Maybe you actually want to get huge muscles and a spray-tan and a spangled bikini. It’s not my scene, but lots of women think it’s fun. Chase that glorious rainbow, shine on you crazy diamonds, etc.

2. YOU FUCKING WISH YOU COULD GET BULKY. By which I mean that many people would be really happy if it was that easy to put on muscle. Those fifteen year old boys you see with their noses pressed against the glass at GNC have two thoughts in their heads: a) masturbating, and b) getting bulky. It’s really hard! Some of you can do it, though. My dear friend, Aurora, who will be my fitness video co-star, can pack on muscle like she’s juicing 24/7. It is INSPIRING. It is FRUSTRATING. For me! ‘Cause I can’t. My arms are pretty great-looking and great-working, and I’m almost at the point where randos might say “ugh, her arms are so manly,” but I’m still working on it. You’ll see! But Aurora is the best, because when she starts training, invariably some jagweed will weigh her and say “girl, imma take ten pounds off you, through EXERCISE!” and she’s all “whatever, you can try, but it ain’t happening,” and then you see her two weeks later and she needs new t-shirts because she can NO LONGER FIT HER BICEPS INTO HER OLD ONES. She’s adopted. I think her bio-parents were circus folk.

3. No one wakes up bulky. Maybe you’ll train for a long time, and get to a point where you like your muscles, and don’t want them to be bigger. So, you’ll do different stuff. You won’t lift heavier things. Maybe you’ll pick up a sport, and just enjoy what you’ve got. Problem solved. Hand to God, you will not close your bathroom cabinet, catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, and go OH NO I’M BULKY NOW.

The last meaningful thing I want to say today is about people preying on the above fear to sell you their services. If someone promises you “long” muscles, instead of, y’know, short stubby muscles or whatever it is you have, via their whatever system, they are full of shit.

You are to say to them: “I do not know if I am comfortable allowing a personal trainer to literally slice into my body and remove my muscles and tendons and reattach them to my bones in a different manner,” because, hey, that’s the only way to lengthen your muscles. Your muscle insertion points are genetic, they cannot be changed. You can build muscle, or lose muscle, and some big muscles are weaker than some smaller muscles, but there is not a goddamn thing you can do to make short muscles long. Not a goddamn thing.

Okay. Let it begin.

See you back here Thursday after next. This would be a great time to make sure you have well-fitting shoes, something to work out in that allows freedom of movement and that you feel comfortable wearing around other people, including a decent sports bra if you are a lady, and a place to train in. Any gym will do, including the YMCA, and if you only have access to your own apartment, we’ll have some ideas coming for you too.

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