The Female Perspective on Gaining Muscle – From Scrawny to Brawny
Coach Greg Glassman once said, “The greatest adaptation to CrossFit takes place between the ears.” I recently posted a transformation post on instagram, showing what my body looked like with an 8 lb. increase on the scale. I know what it’s like to be fixated with the number on the scale, it can really mess with your mind as we tend to believe that a heavier weight on the scale is indicative of body fat. Of course, that’s not always true (see 11 Ways the Scale Lies). Sometimes being heavier on the scale might be exactly what your body needs! Whether that’s for health reasons, to achieve a certain physique or perform better in activities and sports that you enjoy. Gaining muscle is a vital component of that and that will inevitably lead to weight gain at some point.
Whether or not you agree with me, not only do I think I look better with more muscle mass, but I’m happy to report that my growth in perspective between the two pictures has also significantly improved.
The evolution of Roz from scrawny to brawny 💪🏻😆 and more…
Here I am about 4-5 years or so ago, back in my high intensity body weight training and running days. I was about 100lbs in this picture and had stopped having my cycle.
And here I am most recently competing at the North Naples Fitness Festival in June 2019. Feeling healthy, fueled and maintaining a regular cycle for the past 3+ years.
In BOTH pictures of the “before & after” instagram image, I was doing CrossFit, training hard & tracking my macros. Through flexible eating I got down to my leanest body weight on roughly 1300-1400 calories a day – something I’d never been able to do before without severe calorie restriction and excessive exercise. But I found sitting at around 100 lbs. was limiting my strength in the gym. I wanted to feel powerful & strong & I wanted to look it too! Despite years of attachment to bodyweight & believing that cardio was the only way to maintain a lean physique, my mindset shifted. I stopped allowing the number on the scale to limit the progress I wanted to make in the gym. Instead, the numbers I decided to focus on were my deadlift, clean & jerk & snatch! I wanted to be able to lift heavy shit like all the other bad ass women kicking butt at my gym and other boxes around the world!
Here’s some neat facts about how my lifts in the gym have improved since I gained some more muscle mass:
95# squat clean ➡ 145#
80# squat snatch ➡ 105#
165# deadlift ➡ 215#
100# split jerk ➡ 135#
These numbers might not sound super impressive to some, but to give you a little perspective, I’m 5’1″ and only started lifting weights/doing CrossFit 4 years ago. Before that, my entire life I’d pretty much only done racquet sports, bodyweight training and cardio. So, it’s taken my body some time to develop strength and the proper mechanics for some of the more challenging olympic movements. Allowing my body to make gains slowly over the course of the last 2 years has helped to keep my joints and tissue healthy and free from injury. Gaining muscle requires you to lift heavy weights, but that doesn’t mean you have to launch your body into doing that right away! There is a safe progression that should be followed and that’s why working with a coach is recommended.
It’s been a long hard process and both nutrition & training – kudos to my coach Domenic D’Agostino 👊 – in the last 6 months alone have had a phenomenal impact on my rate of muscular growth and performance improvements. In these 2 years I’ve listened to my body, kept it safe from major injury (aches & niggles are part & parcel of training hard) and paid attention to my nutrition in a way that was free from stress & psychological distress. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been tough times or periods when I doubted my progress or ability. But I persisted, mainly because my coach wouldn’t stop programming for me! 😆
I know that many people will stuff themselves silly in order to “bulk” up and put on muscle. Then they cut like crazy to lose the body fat they gained and lean back out again with the goal of preserving the muscle they built during their bulking phase. I opted not to do that because I didn’t want to put my body or mental state through the rigors of dieting and a severe caloric deficit. Instead, I decided to be patient and approach the process from a place of self-compassion and awareness.
Gaining weight slowly over this time, has allowed me to appreciate food even more as nourishment and fuel. It’s also made me even more impressed by all those female CrossFit Games athletes! Man the amount of work they are putting in to perform and look the way they do is unreal! So if looking like a Games athlete has ever been a deterrent for you to trying out CrossFit then you REALLY don’t need to worry. 1 hour a day is not going to get you the results that 5-6 hours a day of ridiculously hard training is giving them!
It’s also allowed me to further detach myself from the difficulties I used to have with stepping on the scale. I understand for most women, there’s a fear of putting on weight associated with CrossFit or weightlifting or any kind of strength-based program, but let’s not confuse the number on the scale as something more than just a piece of data. How you’re performing at the gym, feeling in your clothes, and looking in your progress pictures, are much more helpful in determining whether you’re achieving your body composition goals. The scale is one metric, not THE metric.
The even bigger picture is how you go about enjoying every day life because of your fitness & health. Learn to celebrate your body’s potential and have gratitude for the daily opportunities it grants you as a strong, healthy & vibrant individual.🙌🏻 External influences and metrics have a place, but don’t forget to question what’s really important to you and why! Being able to go about my day free from pain and injury, void of stress or anxiety about my nutrition and confident in how I feel in my body are all much more important to me than what the number is saying on the scale or what someone else thinks about women with muscles.
Gaining weight is easy! Give me a pint of ice cream every night & I can put on 10lbs. in a weeek! Gaining muscle while keeping body fat low is the hard part. Not just because our bodies need time to adjust, but because often our minds do too. Eating more food and being comfortable with the number on the scale rising is part of the process. Working with a coach during a process like this is definitely recommended as you’ll benefit from the added accountability, guidance and expertise. Gaining muscle will take you out of your comfort zone, but if you try it, you stand to gain more than just muscles!