Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Too Much Pink

A series of events occurred over the last couple of days that prompted me to blog today’s topic.

Event #1: My wife returned from a business trip to Las Vegas (hey, it REALLY WAS a business trip). For her flight home, she bought a couple of magazines that included fitness magazines marketed to women. Unfortunately, during some down time, I picked them up and scanned through them. I tore out all the pages with quality information on them, but I seemed to have misplaced it. ("it" meaning one page…actually is was part of one page, but you get my point).

Event #2: A new female client expressed her frustration with her lack of progress with her previous exercise program as she stated, “Even though I was doing my Pilates and yoga classes three times a week and following a diet that I read about in the magazines.”

Event #3: A friend mentioned that she’s not seeing the results that she’d hoped from her exercise program. She mentioned that she’s doing as much as an hour of aerobic exercise and another hour of strength training. After inquiring what she’s actually doing, she mentioned that she’s using the exact same program that she started 2 years ago and is using the exact same weights as when she started her program that she got from a fitness magazine.

Does anyone see the common connection here?

The media that is supposedly designed to help women achieve their fitness goals, improve their health, and help them feel better about themselves is actually sabotaging their efforts.

Women are being misguided, mislead, and misinformed.


Too much pink.

Let me explain.

When I was in high school there was a study in which a police station painted their holding cells a color called Baker-Miller Pink. What they found was that this color of pink (about the color of bubble gum) had an aggression reducing effect on violent or aggressive arrestees.

I actually attempted to duplicate this study myself as part of my science fair project (hey, I took woodshop too!) where I had guys randomly stare at a Baker-Miller Pink card or another colored card for several minutes and then tested their strength. The subjects had no idea what was supposed to happen but in a majority of cases, when staring at a pink card, strength was reduced even if the pink card was chosen first which ruled out fatigue as a factor (Got an “A” in science that year too).

Does it work in the real world?

Well, there are actually football teams that paint their visiting lockerrooms pink in an effort to suck the aggression out of their opponents, so maybe it does.

But my point is that women are failing because there’s too much pink in the magazines.

Not literally but figuratively.

Here’s what I mean.

If you take all the components that make up a successful fitness program designed to promote fat loss and lean muscle gain but softened it up to make it seem kinder, gentler, and less threatening, that’s what the women’s fitness magazines are doing.

I do know why they do it that way.

It sells more magazines than teaching women the reality of changing their bodies and becoming more physically fit.

However, in doing so it perpetuates myths and misinformation that prevents successful fitness programming for women leading to countless frustrated female fitness fanatics.

I would hazard to guess that if the women’s magazines changed their ways and told the truth, they’d sell fewer magazines, but there success stories would increase 100-fold.

What the women’s magazines need are some BALLS! (yeah, well write your own blog)

If I were made editor for a day for The Ladies Day Shape Health Self Fitness Home Journal, here’s how I’d change it.

1. Raise the intensity of the strength training

One of the reasons women fail at achieving their goals is that they don’t know how hard they’re supposed to work. NO MORE PINK 3-POUND DUMBBELLS ALLOWED!

When it comes to strength training, if the training program says to do 12 reps, it means to use a weight that will allow you to perform 12 reps with good technique. If you can do 13, you need to use more weight.

Before you even think it, don’t give me any crap about not wanting to get muscle bound. You gals lack the hormones to gain huge amounts of muscle. Besides gaining large amounts of muscle is far from easy. Most guys have trouble gaining large amounts of muscle over a period of years with the intention to do so.

2. Teach the reader the importance of progression

You must strive to be stronger this month than you were last month. You must make the effort to do more work in the same amount of time. If you aren’t progressing, you are regressing. If you aren’t progressing, you aren’t changing.

3. Drop the word “Aerobic” from the women’s fitness vocabulary

You’ve been brainwashed to think that aerobic exercise = fat loss. It doesn’t. It simply means that your energy needs are being met by the aerobic energy system. This type of exercise is rarely effective in fat loss programs even though you’ve been told that ad nauseum.

4. No more Touchy Feely, Mind-Body Exercise programs

Yes, you may enjoy that type of program. Rarely does anyone make significant impact in their ability to lose fat with this type of exercise. See #1 above. If you must do it for fun, go ahead and then do something productive.

5. Forget about programs to slim body parts, firm something, or lift something

Exercises claiming to slim your hips, firm your butt, lift your breasts, and tighten up the lose skin on the back of your arms rarely if ever do so. Focus on exercises that emphasize total body movements like squats, deadlifts, lunges, step-ups, presses, and chin-ups (you can learn to do them if you want it bad enough). These stimulate your body to build metabolically active muscle and burn more fat AFTER you exercise. If you want proof, one research study that used 3 full body exercises increased metabolism and fat burning for over 39 hours after the workout was over.

6. Teach women that eating fat doesn't mean that it turns to fat

This is really misguided thinking left over from the 80’s and 90’s. It results in eating sugar-filled “fat free” foods, large portions of carbohydrate that raise insulin and increase fat storage or even insufficient calories. Metabolism is the rate at which you burn food. If you don’t eat enough, and that includes healthy fats, you essentially slow your metabolism and that means no fat loss.

I could go on but this is a blog, not a book. (See below for that)

Think LESS Pink.


P.S. If you’re looking for a program that works in the real world, my friend Rachel Cosgrove has a great book called So You Want to Be In the Best Shape of Your Life.


Anonymous said...


Excellent blog! I'm going to be printing this off to show my wife. She's getting back in shape after having our 3rd child.

I've been telling her many of these things, but she tends to listen better when it's coming from someone like yourself rather than a spouse.

It took me weeks to convince her the "fitness expert" on the news (new years resolution story) was full of it when he made the comment that women need to do mostly cardio to lose weight with minimal weight training.



PS- Enjoyed your T-Nation articles, I hope there are more coming.

Anonymous said...

6. Teach women that eating fat does mean that it turns to fat

I think you meant to say "doesn't mean that it turns to fat". :-)

I agree with wholeheartedly

Stephen Holt said...

Hi, Bill (Smartest Man in Fitness) -
I'm so glad to see someone else writting about this. I'm sure my "choir" is tired of my "preaching."

Here's my Conspiracy Theory:

Women's fitness magazines do this on purpose.

Here's how it works ...

- You publish a workout focusing on pink weights knowing it won't work

- You know your readers always believe anything and everything published in a glossy magazine filled with skinny models

- The workouts can't possibly lead to results because the resistance isn't enough stimulus to get anyone's body to change

- So your readers buy the next issue with hopes that the next workout will actually get the advertised results ("melt fat", "tone your thighs", "flatten your tummy")

I hope women will follow your advice and start using weights that are heavy enough to lead to results.

(Psst - please post more often!
- Stephen Holt.)

g+ said...

So true!!

My addendum to conspiracy theory:

1-Gym Trainer reinforces goofy Fitness Mag training methods (this week, i want you to really work on your arms! Burn that belly off! More crunches!).

2-Any failure to get results is blamed on lack of compliance, not enough effort, etc. Therefore, it must be something *I'm* doing wrong.

3-Determined customer/victim renews focus on dietary restricions, and buys more personal training sessions to fight lack of progress.

4- Repeat step 2.

M@rla said...

Thank you SO MUCH for writing this. I'm going to email the link to every woman I know who's spending all her time with the 3-lb dumbbells. And this is why I read men's fitness magazines all the time - maybe some of the info isn't 100% relevant to me, but I don't feel like I'm being lied to in order to get me to buy a new shade of nail polish.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more, that's why I read Men's Health!I am looking at Shape magazine April 2007 which shows a sidelying hip flexor stretch which is to be held for 3 seconds. Wow, bet that is effective.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear. But what really ticks me off is the people who keep spouting the conventional wisdom that permanent weight loss requires exercise; or that it's necessary to give up 500 calories a day to lose one pound.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with this.

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Anonymous said...

Women's Health is a fairly decent magazine, and avoids the same routine day-to-day. Fortunately, I have a fitness trainer that agrees with combining strength training and cardio, and encourages the use of heavier weights. She also stresses the importance of eating a healthy diet -- one does not gain if they watch their diet and not exercise, or visa versa. Amazingly, you find that your health improves dramatically by combining all of the above.

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