Deadlifts Are for Girls Too

Here’s a short video I shot today:

 

Deadlifts aren’t just for bros, they’re for girls too. All of weight training is for girls as well as men.

The video shows my friend Michele doing a deadlift set of 9 reps, with 135 pounds (61 kg) – that’s two heavy plates plus the bar. That’s also 1.1 times her body weight.

Michele is 52 years old, and weighs 122 pounds at 5’6.5″, giving her a body mass index (BMI) of 19.4. (Where normal BMI is 18 to 24.9, less being underweight, more overweight.) According to the CDC, that puts her BMI well within the 10th percentile for women who are younger (age 20-49) than she is, and would have done so even before the age of obesity. See chart below. Within her age group, 70% of women have a BMI > 25, that is, overweight or obese. The point is, she’s in very good shape.

bmi age women

She lifted weights earlier in life, stopped for many years, but took it up again about four years ago. Before that, she did standard aerobic exercise, like some jogging and cycling. She says she feels and looks a lot better now that she’s lifting.

Michele says that she isn’t looking for muscle gains anymore, at least in the sense that most of us lifters seek gains. She just wants to stay in shape, have a healthy heart, keep the fat off, maintain strong bones, and avoid muscle loss with age, and knows that weightlifting is the best way to do this.

She also eats a low-carb paleo diet, though she says she sometimes cheats a bit on the carbs. Before she started eating this way, again about four years ago, she ate the standard low-fat way, with little meat and plenty of added sugar in her diet. Pasta was a mainstay for dinner, cornflakes for breakfast. She says she often had hypoglycemia, and her heart would race uncontrollably after dinner, to the point where she wondered whether she would have a heart attack. This happened every night.

All of those distressing symptoms disappeared when she changed how she ate.

Michele does intermittent fasting a couple times a week, but usually of not more than 14 hours at a time.

She also said she used to have severe leg cramps at night, and supplementing with magnesium citrate stopped it immediately.

Since going paleo and taking up weightlifting, her doctor told her that her lipid profile gave her “zero percent chance of a heart attack”. And heart disease runs in her family, so she’s concerned about lowering her heart disease risk.

She emphasizes that she got very quick results.

So, for the ladies, this is how you stay in shape.

Michele lifts about once every four or five days for about 45 minutes at a time; on her off-gym days, she walks or does other low-intensity exercise. She says that she really needs the recovery time, as she hits the weights hard. She does the major compound exercises: squats, pulldowns, bench press, shoulder press, and rows, in addition to deadlifts. All lifts are done to failure.

She’s one of the very few women in my gym who does a major weightlifting program; some of the others may be seen from time to time with a small weight or two in their hands, but their main focus is on the cardio machines.

Strength training and a low-carbohydrate diet is the way to go, not cardio and low-fat, as documented in my book, Muscle Up.

If middle-aged, or any aged, women want to look like the average, by all means do what everyone else is doing: eat lots of processed food and make sure your exercise of choice isn’t too intense. If you want to have a low BMI, a nice figure, and to feel well, then I would suggest that what Michele does is the way to go.

Michele describes herself as an ordinary woman, and thinks that if she can lift weights, anyone can. She self-describes as “feminine” and wants to look that way in the gym.

Some bro in the gym once told her that he’d never see a woman lifting with such conviction as her, and he asked her why she did it. She replied that she never wants to use a walker, and she wants to see her grandchildren grow up.

 

Leave a Comment:

12 comments
Anonymous says January 25, 2016

According to the CDC, that puts her BMI well within the 10th percentile for women who are younger (age 20-49) than she is,

Do you mean 90th percentile?

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says January 26, 2016

    I suppose that depends on how you look at it. According to the chart, 10% of women were under BMI 20.3, 90% of women under BMI 38.7. An analogy might be with IQ: the higher your IQ, the greater the percentile rank, e.g. I’m at 99.9 percentile. (True story, bro!) The difference is that in BMI as opposed to IQ, higher numbers (above underweight) are considered worse. I guess you could say she’s in the top 10% rather than 10th percentile.

    Edit: Wiki says percentile “is a measure used in statistics indicating the value below which a given percentage of observations in a group of observations fall. For example, the 20th percentile is the value (or score) below which 20 percent of the observations may be found.” So in this case, the woman in the post is in the 10th percentile of BMI, since only 10% of observations fall below BMI 20.3.

    Reply
Paloma says January 26, 2016

Congratulations for this blog, it is most interesting!
Regarding todays subject, I could not agree more! You are totally right. It’s been 3 years since I started lifting weights and switched from vegetarian to paleo. My body did not change much apparently, as I might have gained 1 or 2 kg, but my measurements are more proportioned (reduced waist and increased butt and chest: from 84-68-83 to 88-65-90 in cm), my strength has skyrocketed (I also practice pilates and now I can hold my abdomen much better than before).
I am 38 years old and never felt so good and full of energy. Have two litle kids, ages 8 and 5 and people get surprised when they met me and learn this (I know I do not look like a mum :))
My last crusade was to get my husband (he was not very active) into weights. Now we work out at home 2-3 days a week. It has became a nice activity we can do together.

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says January 26, 2016

    That’s great, Paloma! You obviously changed your body composition to more muscle and less fat without losing weight.

    Reply
Geoff says January 26, 2016

FYI, her butt is way too high. Like WAY too high. Check out form at http://www.crossfit.com

Reply
    philip says January 26, 2016

    What you are seeing is a conventional, high hip deadlift. So long as she keeps her back flat (and she does) there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. For someone with long arms and long legs it is the ideal setup. If you drop the butt any lower the knees shoot over the bar and it becomes a squat with a really awkward bar path.

    Reply
Geoff says January 26, 2016

I should have started with “YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES women and men should do compound lifts like deadlift and squat.” Didn’t mean to just accentuate the negative. Working through the first of the two books I bought by you…good stuff.

Reply
Dusan says January 28, 2016

This is very motivating!
Keep up Mangan!

Reply
Joshua says February 3, 2016

Very nice! And is that a double-overhand grip she’s using too? I’ll bet she can open jars most women her age would hand over to their hubbies..

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says February 3, 2016

    Nah, she’s a lightweight! Mixed grip.

    Reply
Robert Guiscard says February 4, 2016

Nice work.

I highly recommend doing strength training in shoes with a non-compressible sole!

You want all of the force your body is producing to transfer to moving the weight, not compressing the rubber in the sole of your shoe. Also, this compression often doesn’t happen evenly across the sole of the shoe, so you can have balance issues as well. No good.

To keep things simple, I lift with a pair of olympic weightlifting shoes. This actually isn’t ideal for deadlifting (with the raised heel you’re pulling the weight farther than you’d have to otherwise,) but it’s better than doing so with cross-trainers or whatever. And on the plus side, the raised heel really helps with squats; it lowers ankle mobility requirements.

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says February 4, 2016

    Thanks, Robert. Myself, I lift in a pair of skater shoes, nice and flat, although they give me a bit of bother doing calf raises.

    Reply
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