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Skinny Fat

Disclaimer: I have been getting a ton of questions about this topic from both inside and outside the gym, from lots of different people, so this isn’t directed at anyone in particular.  Although, if this topic resonates with you, take the time to read it.  This post is more a psychological and analytical approach to body image, Sean has the scientific approach in the comments.  Lastly, this applies to any weightlifting regimen, not just CrossFit.

One of the most difficult things to fight as a coach is the thought that “Lifting weights is going to make me ‘bulk up'” from women.  My first response is to shake my head and contemplate shoving my hand in a toaster to cure the frustration… Yet, when I stop and think about it, I honestly like the way CrossFit makes my body look.  And I know there are many of us in the gym that wouldn’t be as enamored with CrossFit if we didn’t see aesthetic results in combination with fitness results, so I do think it is a valuable question that needs to be answered.

crossfitsouthbay.com 150 crossfitsouthbay.com 148 crossfitsouthbay.com 94 crossfitsouthbay.com 48 crossfitsouthbay.com 23

The first thing you need to do is look around the gym at girls that have been CrossFitting for a long time. If we created “bulky bodies”, you would see them at CFSB.  All the above are CrossFitters that have been with us a long time… Strong, not bulky, don’t you agree?? (Sorry for not including all our awesome girls, but I only went back three pages on flickr).

Definitions and Misconceptions:

To begin, we need to address some misconceptions about how the body works…

  • You cannot “tone” a certain portion of your body.  Your body will not lose fat in one spot at a time, it will only lose fat.  Thus, you must reduce your overall body fat percentage to see results in the area you want.  This is why the “ab-(insert attention-grabbing verb)” you see on TV won’t work to help you get a better midsection.
  • Lean – having little to no surplus fat – Thus, to look “lean”, you need to have low levels of body fat.
  • Toned – seeing muscle definition on a human body – Thus, to look “toned”, you need to have low levels of body fat combined with having enough muscular development that you can see the shape of the muscle under the skin.  This is usually accomplished at below 20% body fat on women, and below 10% on men.
  • You will never “bulk up” overnight, except from maybe an ice cream and beer binge (guilty).  You will never wake up one morning, look in the mirror, and realize that you just built bulky muscles in your sleep.

First, I want to establish that having muscle doesn’t mean being bulky…

The first thing you need to do is compare these two women:

For reference, the girl on the left is a runway model and the girl on the right is an elite CrossFit athlete.  Both have approximately 12-15% body fat.  Both are doing something they love, and the bodies they have created help them do that.

On the left, we have a runway model who has almost zero muscular development while also having almost zero fat deposits.  She has enough essential muscle to not fall over walking, but not much more.  If you want to look like the woman on the left, sorry, but we cannot help you get there.  Although, if you have an apple and a cigarette a day for about a year, you could get close (it supposedly worked for Christian Bale in the Machinist).  However, CrossFit South Bay will not help you create that type of body.

The female on the right has spent years developing her strength and muscle.  She has battled heavy weights and pushed herself to the limit to squat, deadlift, and lunge heavier weights every time she comes into the gym.  She weighs approximately 35-40 lbs more than the runway model due to the large amount of muscle that she has acquired.  She is likely approaching her genetic limits in the amount of muscle she can develop without going on a bodybuilding routine.  Between her and the runway model, there is likely very little difference genetically, yet there is a huge difference in training and diet (more on this shortly).

Same elite CrossFitter, now dressed up, still bulky??

Thus, you can have a large amount of muscle without ever looking “bulky”.  Don’t you agree??

Now that we know that muscle doesn’t make you “bulky”, what does??

Well, the answer is fat.  Excess adipose tissue will result in less than satisfactory aesthetics.  This is regardless of the amount of muscle you have.  This is easily seen in the image below:

The image at left shows a female figure that has a large amount of fat, while having a very small amount of muscle.  This is described in the fitness community as “skinny fat”.  While not overly “bulky” she  doesn’t have the aesthetics that most of us work so hard to attain.  The woman in this image is likely at a level close to 30% body fat and likely has a similar amount of muscle as the runway model.  So even though she may look fine wearing a sweater, it is a different story at the beach.

The trick is how to fix this.  Well, option 1 is to eat less and do tons of cardio, surviving on a diet heavy with running and light on food, and you will end up looking more like the runway model above.  Option 2 is to develop muscle to burn away the excess fat while doing cardio, resulting in looking more like the elite CrossFitter above.

Ok, so we have started to establish that building muscle isn’t a bad thing, right??  Yet, you are afraid that by squatting and deadlifting, you are making your legs and butt bigger, thus getting more “bulky”, correct??

Here is the kicker, the reason your legs (and shoulders and arms and back) are getting a little bigger is that you have now started to add some muscle to them.  Now, that muscle will burn more calories, starting to help whittle away at the amount of fat you have on your body, even while you sleep.  You now are able to achieve that “lean” and “toned” look, as your body fat levels have decreased, and your muscle is starting to show, giving the “toned” look.

Additionally, you cannot have a “toned” look without muscle.  This is because that “toned” look that you are going for is the result of seeing muscle that is underneath a layer of fat.  If you have too much body fat, it acts as a shielding layer.  For those of us that require a visual, imagine your muscle as an apple sitting on a hard surface.  Now cover the apple; what you cover it with is representative of your body fat.  A wet paper towel=very low body fat.  A dish towel = low body fat.  A comforter = high body fat.  As the covering gets thicker, it becomes harder to see the apple, which is exactly what happens as you gain body fat.  Now, more muscle makes the object bigger, imagine the apple is now a grapefruit.  Less muscle makes the object smaller, imagine changing the apple to a cherry.  Even with all the objects being similar in size, it is the covering that determines how “bulky” they look; same with body fat.

BAD cardio

Bad cardio and worse cardio…

Some people keep saying to be leaner they just need more cardio and less strength.  Well, yes, if you just do “more cardio”, you will lose more fat, but you would also lose muscle because without anaerobic and strength training, your body burns muscle as well as fat.  So, instead of looking more like a Victoria Secret model, you start to look more like a runway model.  Then, once you stop doing “more cardio” you will gain fat even faster now that you don’t have the muscle to burn the extra calories, resulting in the “skinny fat” look.  You can see this in ex-athletes that have tried to “get leaner” by doing “more cardio” only to result in having more fat with less muscle.

Skinny

vs

Strong

This can also happens as we age, as the muscle we built by running, jumping, and playing in our childhood and teens atrophies due to under-use with a more sedentary life, so people in their early twenties are seen as having “high metabolisms”, supposedly not having to work to maintain lean body shapes.  This “high metabolism” is because the muscle they built in their teen years is burning excess calories and fat, and with the low body fat levels, you can see their “toned” muscle underneath.  However, as they take day jobs and do not stimulate their bodies, their muscles atrophy, burning less calories and thereby lowering their “high metabolism” and leading to increased body fat as they age. Usually, people try to do “more cardio” to regain their lean, toned bodies that they had when they were younger. However, since they do nothing to build new muscle or maintain their current muscle, they slowly transition to a thin, but “skinny fat”, look as they age.

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Train like an athlete…. Look like an athlete…

Most people can agree that they want to get “toned” and “lean”, but have you ever asked someone that was “toned” and “lean” what they have done to get that way??  You should, because almost every athlete I know that looks “toned” and “lean” has spent years working to develop strength, power, speed, endurance, and stamina for a sport.  They move HEAVY weights quickly.

Lastly, you will never be able to create muscles like a man lifting weights.

A WOMEN THAT LOOKS LIKE SHE HAS MUSCLES LIKE A MAN HAS LIKELY TAKEN STEROIDS!!  This is the defined truth, a woman’s muscle development is much different than a man’s.  Unless a woman has a very different genetic make-up (a very, very small portion of the population), it is almost impossible to build muscle like a man.  (And, as much as you might think it is true, you only have a 1 in a million chance of being the 1 in a million that has the different genetics, so stop saying, and believing, it)

This is because males have 20-30 times the testosterone of women, resulting in deeper voices, more body hair, and more muscle development.  Women just physically cannot build muscle like men can, sorry but it is a scientific fact.  Some of the maximal amounts of muscle you can put on a female frame with CrossFit training can be seen below.  These are women that built their bodies using sports and strength training.

An extremely high level of muscle on a female will look like the pictures above, but again, only with many YEARS of weights training and a focus on a clean diet.

So, lastly, just to clarify, “bulky” means fat.  Which does not happen when you work hard at CrossFit South Bay!!


Workout of the Day 5/9/2011

Deload Day 1 All workouts are untimed at low intensity. Concentrate on form and technique.

A. 4 rounds (untimed)
3 tire flips or partner tire flips
6 sledge hammer (each side)
10 kb clean and jerk (each side)

B. 2 Rounds (untimed)
The Big Wheel
Each exercise is performed for 3 repetitions.  Alternate sit-up throws between these six exercises:  2-arm thrusts, L & R 1-arm thrusts, overheads, L & R rotations.

 

  • Lisa Weinberg

    For some reason, I feel like you wrote this for me?!? Thank you for continuing to drill this into my head. 🙂 I believe you guys!

  • This is really interesting & helpful article. Thank you!

  • great post!!

  • Slaughter

    Cody ur awesome

  • Sean

    Cody, terrific work on this one. I’d like to say first, I can’t say the the words “skinny fat” and not chuckle to myself. As the self proclaimed “science guy” at CFSB I’d like to chime in on this, just to reinforce what Cody is talking about. Skinny fat is a term that has everything to do with body fat percentage. Body fat percentage is found by calculating what percentage of your overall body weight is made up of fat. The remainder is your lean tissue: muscle, bones, organs, and lots of water. One way to drive down your body fat percentage is to build more lean tissue. Having more muscle will proportionally make your fat percentage go down. As a helpful side effect, the way to add lean tissue to your body also makes you burn fat to power exercise. Cody mentioned as well, and this is very important, that having more lean tissue promotes burning more calories. This is because there is a high metabolic cost to maintain muscle. Your metabolism has to speed up to produce the energy you need to keep all your lean tissue. This is how having more muscle helps keep body fat percentage low.

    It is also very important to understand what a healthy body fat percentage is. Women MUST maintain a body fat percentage of at least 10% for healthy normal function of their bodies. Elite female athletes (like our lovely crossfit ladies) usually come in around 14%-20%. The hormones that regulate gender differences are largely responsible for this. It is a common cultural misconception that the only appropriate level of fat for a woman to have is less than she currently has. That is just a load of garbage, and the sooner we all stop buying into it, the sooner we will have more healthy female athletes who aren’t afraid to be strong and look strong.

    Last, and most importantly, we need to put body fat percentage in context of performance because as crossfitters we care about how this will affect our workouts. There are numerous studies on how anthropometry* affects performance. *(anthropometry= study of what the human body is made of). There is a correlation between lower body fat percentage and better performance. It is a weak correlation though, and it does not suggest that lower body fat percentage is the reason for better performance. Rather, having more muscle mass is a better predictor of success, and having a lower body fat percentage is a secondary side effect of training for and maintaining more muscle mass.

    Thanks Cody, for a nice treatment of a sensitive subject. Ladies, keep up the good work. as a final thought, here is a link to a crossfit journal article that takes a very different way of explaining why being strong is attractive. http://journal.crossfit.com/2010/03/moved-to-mate.tpl. one more reason to subscribe to the journal

  • Slaughter, I second that 🙂

  • 2 thoughts… 1 can anybody else tell that Sean now has a lot more free time?! and 2, this is really just a more scientific treatment of Forrest’s “Daddy Likey” post from about a year ago…

  • Amanda Larson

    Great blog! Maybe you guys should print this up and pass it out to every female on the first day of on-ramp so you can avoid having anyone else say “I don’t want to bulk up”- just a thought as I almost said it to Forrest when I first joined….so glad I didn’t!

  • I feel inclined to share this with every girl I know.

  • Robin A. (CFTSAC)

    Great post!!! Sharing with other ladies ….

  • amen, cody, amen. great post. i hear this question from almost every girl that talks to me about working out at cf. i roll my eyes and do everything in my power from saying”does wayne brady gotta smack a bitch?”….

  • Thanks for all the comments guys, we love it when you guys chime in!! Even better when I have some of my friends from far away commenting. Thanks again, guys!!

    Mark: Just link this for your on-rampers. No more questions.

    Also, because you guys liked this post so much, I will continue to refine it so that we can give it to future on-rampers.

  • We have to tell the girls at the Introduction of their Fitness Program that you’ll never get bulky from weight lifting. It forms the appearance of that from fat that sits on your lean mass between your skin. Look at the pictures above. Lifting weights sculpts and contours your body. There’s not a girl in my class that wants to have a RunWay body. It’s all about lifting weights and sculpting your body.Hit the weights girls! You will love how you look and the men will love it more!

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  • Awesome article! I will definitely share this with the women at our gym!

  • Shelby

    Great article! I teach a Crossfit 101 class and now I can point to this when I hear “…but I don’t want to get bulky.”

  • OMG! LOVE the article! Thank you thank you

  • Erika Cantwell

    LOVE IT!!!!

  • Katie

    This is a great article to show my pre-teen daughter who is an athlete (competitive soccer 5 days a week) and has been struggling with the difference in her body image vs her classmates. I know this is more extreme than her, but still a great message.

  • Great article. I thought I was the only person that used the term “skinny fat”. All the time I hear the ladies saying they don’t want to bulk up. I will, from now on, point them to this article.

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  • JB

    a woman with some muscle is way sexier than one that is skinnyfat that thinks shes in great shape, my ex-girlfriend being a great example

  • jessica

    Hi,
    I just finished reading your article. Let me start out by saying I am not a fan of skinny fat. I don’t know too much about Crossfit but I think any form of working out is positive. However, I will say I feel like I can always spot a lady Crossfitter because of their large rotator cuffs, seemingly broad shoulders, and large biceps. The pictures you showed above I would definitely classify as bulky muscle. How do you feel about Tracy Anderson? This is a body I would classify as strong, muscular, but lean and long. Her method creates very different bodies compared to Crossfit. What do you feel is the difference?

  • Jessica: I completely agree with you, I am a fan of working out in any form (personally, my second favorite is yoga).

    As for your other comments, lady CrossFitters will EVENTUALLY have more muscle mass in the shoulders, arms, and upper back than a normal sedentary person. This does not mean they are bulky. They have just developed actual strength. They can carry a child out of a burning building, change a tire, climb a rope, and hold a handstand. This is similar to any other athlete. To be able to function as an athlete, you need to have muscle like an athlete.

    Additionally, I researched the Tracy Anderson Method. It is a variation of an aerobics class, meant to burn fat through low-level cardio. It is mass-marketed to work for just about anyone just like any taebo, P90X, or other “fitness” gimmick. It will only build minimal muscle while burning fat, thus resulting in a “thin” look, but not being maintainable without constant cardio. While this works to look “thin”, it neglects the fact that we want to be able to perform great, in addition to looking great. Also, she advocates not lifting over 3 lbs… Really?? Find a grocery bag, purse, or shopping bag that weighs less than three pounds. Which now means that every time you pick up anything in your daily life, you are “bulking up”. Lastly, just like with any fitness gimmick, you cannot convince me a method works using only the founder as an example, you need to be able to show that results are possible across the board.

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  • Hey! I just read your article and love seeing more people realizing that muscle is beautiful. Whenever I feel myself worrying about what my body looks like and “trimming down”, I think about getting my next deadlift PR. 🙂

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  • Fantastic article. I’ve been saying a version of this for YEARS and you really pulled all the info together and spelled it out beautifully. Going to share this with our CrossFit Georgetown athletes as well our FB group and hope that it really resonates once and for all!

    Thank You!

    Ginger

  • Really interesting post! The paragraph about becoming “skinny fat” as you age is exactly what I’m seeing happen to myself (much to my displeasure). I’ve heard about crossfit but haven’t looked into it much, I’ll have to check it out 🙂

  • Great post! Some ladies have years of “indoctrination” of body images from those newstand magazines that need to be reversed. This in plain language is a good way to break through. Thank goodness I found crossfit to set me straight.

  • An amazing article. I had to republish on our blog because it resonated with me so deeply. Thank you for championing so eloquently and passionately against the misconception that strong women have to be manly and un-feminine!

  • Cody! AWESOME post!!! I want to re-post it everywhere. More women need to understand how important it is to add strength training to their routines. Adding muscle is SO important — aside from making childbirth easier and increasing bone density, metabolism, strength, endurance, and power — it helps prevent injury, and it looks good. Furthermore, as skin ages and collagen production decreases, the only thing we have to hold our skin up is MUSCLE…
    Females need to wake up and jump on the Crossfit bandwagon. Please post more about this!!!

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  • Liv

    Awesome article! I’m a 36 years old single mom of 2, I started crossfitting in January of this year, and I always give my all at the box. I have to say that my body has never looked better!! People don’t believe me when I tell them I have 2 kids or even how old I am! Crossfit does not get you fat! Bad eating and too little exercise do.

  • I will pick strong over skinny, saggy bony…..ANYDAY!

  • Cody,
    Great article. Next year at my school I am starting crossfit for my PE kids and this will be part of the reading for all of my girls when they start. It is amazing how many misconceptions and lies these kids know by the time they are 14. If you get time you should submit this to CFJ and if you have a copy in another form (word or PDF) I would love a copy for my files.

    Greg

  • Dave

    Good stuff. The one point I would debate is that some women, through weight training, WILL get bulky. Some women produce more testosterone naturally than others, and even without testing it you can sometimes just eyeball it. Of course everybody’s perception of what “bulky” means is different. What I view as sexy and attractive, the woman might view as “too big”. Training could, and should be tweaked for women with these concerns. That being said, I’d take any strong looking Crossfitting woman over any endurance athlete or runway model every day of the week. The ideas inherent in this post are ones I totally agree with, but to tell a woman “you won’t get bulky by lifting weights” isn’t always the case.

  • Tiffany Meinhardt

    Love this! Heck, I workout because I want bigger legs & butt! 🙂

  • RZ

    Love the article. One of my pet peeves of some friends, is that they say, “I dont want to Crossfit because I don’t want to bulk up”, yet you look at them and they’re 20 lbs overweight. It’s pretty ridiculous. Face plant into palms.

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  • AWESOME article!!! No matter how many times we tell our clients this, they still have questions. I am sending this to all of them right now!!! Well written and an easy read! How can you debate??? Crossfit is incredible!!! Thanks!

  • RZ

    Love the post. And I’ll repost here what I said on Facebook when I shared it:

    This is a great article. Read it. I’ve heard one too many times, “I dont want to Crossfit because it will make me bulky”, yet when you look they’re overweight, or can’t go up a flight of stairs without getting winded. Its easier, and more truthful, to just say, “I don’t want to Crossfit, because I’d rather have pancakes”. And one more thing, for you ladies who think otherwise, female athletic bodies are sexy as hell!

  • Great Article Cody! You said everything I keep pounding into people’s heads, day in, day out! I think the hardest thing as a female Crossfitter IS trying to increase muscle mass! It takes a hell of a lot of work, focus on diet and lifting. The average woman’s fear of getting bulky from lifting as you so beautifully stated is unfounded and ridiculous!
    Great job with the photos too, a great visual to back up your position!

  • JohnAtl

    A few questions:
    Just below the “skinnymodel” and “Crystal” photos you say they both have 12-15% body fat. Can we see the report from an immersion body composition tests you conducted?
    In the next paragraph you say the model on the left has almost zero fat deposits. How could she have 12-15% body fat as claimed in the prior paragraph, and have almost zero fat deposits?
    Also you imply the model on the left has a diet of an apple and a cigarette a day. Can we see a report of the model’s diet?
    A couple of paragraphs later you claim “there is likely very little difference genetically,” Do you have data to support this claim? How do you know their genetic makeup?

    I stopped reading at this point.

  • Robert

    To clarify,

    Wang, Z., Heshka, S., Zhang, K., Boozer, C.N., & Heymsfield, S.B. (2001). Resting energy expenditure: systematic organization and critique of prediction methods. Obesity Research, 9, 331-336

    “In contrast, resting metabolic rates of skeletal muscle (13 kcal/kg per day) and adipose tissue (4.5 kcal/kg per day) are low.”

    40 additional lbs of muscle = ~236 more kcals/day

  • JohnAtl

    I don’t like these articles because I have thin friends, some of whom do CrossFit, and this whole “skinny fat” business is just insulting to them.
    It’s like calling someone “tall short” because tall isn’t an insult.

  • Cody – This is super timely and a great article! We have talked about this to our members because skinny doesn’t = healthy! Great work here.

  • Tim

    Great post. I get the same desire to shove my hand into a toaster when a lady says that lifting weights will make her muscular. . . as if it comes easy for us guys. Or me at least.

  • Stephanie

    There is NO WAY that the runway model is 12-14% body fat. Not a chance. I enjoyed the article, but that’s just laughable. I agree with John, show me the test, I’m willing to bet she’s well under 10%.

  • Fantastic post. Great job!

  • Amanda

    This is a great article! I will be sharing with all the women I know. I have recently dropped a ton of weight by doing crossfit and crossfit style workouts and my body really responded to it. The disappointing thing was co-workers freaked out and thought I had stopped eating, when in fact I eat all the time (at work also). I also overheard a mom talking to her teenage daughter in the locker room about how she “ran 5 miles every day when I was your age to stay fit.” Her daughter was by no means overweight but not toned, but mom was making it seem like she needed to do more to “look better.” So disappointing!

  • L. D.

    Very well written. I liked how you did not judge either girl. I will be sharing this!

  • K

    I have to agree with Jessica… I do crossfit and don’t get me wrong… I LOVE it!! But I start to look TOO muscular when I consistently do crossfit. I agree that strong is better than skinny, but isn’t there a happy medium!!?? I feel like the type of “strong” that most people are referring to are the women who are skinny to begin with and then do crossfit and look amazing!!! Well, us girls who are already pretty “strong/athletic” to begin with start up crossfit and begin to look more masculine!! In the crossfitting community, I probably look great, but to others I DO look bulky!!!! How do you find the happy medium of skinny/strong and still continue to do crossfit?? Do you increase cardio, lower the weights or what??!! PS… I’m sorry… but the elite crossfitter does NOT look good “dressed up”…. She looks WAY better in the pic w/ the sandbag over her shoulder.

  • For anyone reading the comments, there are some things I want to address:
    “Skinny fat” was never meant to be an insult. It is merely a term that has been used in the fitness industry to describe a person that is “skinny” but not “toned”.
    As for JohnATL, you missed the point of the article. It was to show that muscle does not equal “bulky”. Critiquing details does not change the message. If I wanted confidence intervals and exact science, I would have looked to the NSCA, not a daily blog. Also, I never said or implied that her diet was “an apple and a cigarette” a day. I made a joke about how eating a very small amount of food results in a very thin body, so I have now included the idea behind the humor.

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  • K – the gem in your post was that “I probably look great, but to others I DO look bulky”… key word being “others”. If you like how you look, then continue to do what you do, don’t worry about what others think. Do what you love. If you love to do gymnastics, then you will look like a gymnast. Do more of what you like.

    If you want to be very strong, but stay smaller, then diet and training need to be tweaked. Check out crossfitendurance.com. Low volume but high weights and lots of cardio=small size but high strength with a low body fat level.

    Additionally, I think this is where diet comes into play. This is one of the biggest factors in appearance.

  • Great article! Apparently it is spreading through the CrossFit community because we heard about it all the way over here in Alabama at CrossFit Rebellion! Will be sharing with our clients for sure! Thanks!

  • Kristina

    I cringe every time I hear or read women referred to as “girls,” which this article does throughout. It’s terrible. Please stop it. The women who do CrossFit are bad-ass WOMEN. The adults in your photos are women. Men understand that it’s a put-down to be called a boy. It’s what slave owners called black men and women boys and girls to demean them.

    Please consider the power of words and the power of calling women women.

    • Jayla

      as a 28 yr old female, i prefer the term girl. I have no children, so i don’t consider myself a woman yet. It’s not offensive to me.

  • Great read. Thanks so much for clarifying this topic so well.

  • Some very interesting comments in here. Most so insightful and encouraging. I had to laugh at the one commenter who wanted proof about what was clearly a jest about the runway model only eating a apple and having a cigarette a day. What isn’t a joke is that we know she likely eats her self-alloted fat-free, sugar-free snackwells a day instead. *huge grin*

    Also, just my 2 cents about the term ‘girl’. I’m a girl and happy to be one. I’m also a woman, a lady, a ma’am (I’m in TX-comes with the manners), a miss, a mother, a wife, a friend … The term ‘girl’ is only disrespectful if it is used to disrespect, as with anything.

    This article is circling through my contacts and through my gym and already so many are feeling empowered by it.

    Thanks again, Cody.

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  • George

    Nice article CRice. It will be shared around the gym.

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  • PJH139

    “or does bodybuilding type workouts, specifically designed to increase the size of the muscles, it is almost impossible to build muscle like a man. ” Stares at author and says “Could you PLEASE point me in that direction? I really want the muscle building workout that puts on muscle so easily on a woman. It takes blood, sweat and tears to put on an inch of muscle on a woman like that. While the guy next to her is zooming ahead. I can row 90 pounds and the little teen twit who just hit that has more freakin muscles than I do. I’ve killed myself for an actual bicep when I flex. I am going “OOOH I have a bump.” The husband who does NOT work out curled his and he had a BICEP. I hate him. Yeah right.. Even if you bust your brains and muscles out actually trying to look like Arnie you will still look like Jillian. It is so pathetic to be so proud of my little bump… It looks like a pimple compared to husbands.

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  • Ben

    Great post! I have linked to it from our website in the hope that the athetics driven culture in Dubai has a read and gets CrossFitting!

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  • Leanne

    Great read!!
    @Kristina – To leave this article and only come away angry that the writer used a word you don’t prefer is missing the point…

  • @John,
    I don’t think the phrase ‘skinny fat’ was aimed at any one person, but at a society that seems to value stick-thin women who get/remain that way at any cost. I train next to a globo gym full of women who look ‘fit’ in clothes but have a very high percentage of body fat when in shorts/sports bra. Not only is the quest to get this way mentally unhealthy, but obese is obese, whether 38% bodfat is in a size 2 of a size 16.
    Also, my dad worked for Lord And Taylor in it’s heyday and trust me, most of those models aren’t even eating an apple a day;…and it’s more like 24 cigarettes and some blow to stay that thin.

  • RZ

    I agree with most people here that if you get hung up with a word, or a phrase or grammatical errors, give it a rest. You’re missing the point of the article.

  • Adam

    Great article. So many poeple have misconceptions of what being “fit” or “toned” is. Ladies…just a random man’s opinion…put some muscle on and be athletic! ABSOLUTELY LOVE ATHLETIC WOMEN!

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  • Stacy

    This is an amazing article. I will be sharing it with all of my workout buddies! Thanks!!!

  • Lily

    Hmmm, I have the sporty ab model girl body and I would trade my I-teeth to look less like a dude (yes, strong isn’t good with clothes on…you do look manly) and look more like the lingerie model. When it comes to looking good in clothes, skinny trumps strong every time. Good luck with this.

    • Deidre E

      It’s true.. As an athlete, I’ve ALWAYS looked bulky in clothes. Broad shoulders, larger arms, and larger thighs just don’t fit nicely in clothes like skinny peoples’ parts. Not that I don’t like being an athlete, but there are days where I look at certain shirts and think “Man, it would be nice if my arms fit into that..”

  • Frank Agz

    nice work cody!

  • This is a great article. I was an elite rower for many years, lifted heavy weights as part of my training, and while my arms were firm – they were never mannish. I have a tendency to put on upper body muscle quickly and while I have firmed up a lot since starting Crossfit – I haven’t bulked out. It pains me to hear women say they don’t want to lift heavy weights because they don’t want to look like a man. Where do they get these ideas from?
    Thank you for demystifying what a healthy strong woman’s physique looks like.

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  • THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. A million times: thank you! I have an affiliate in Houston and am constantly facing the issues you mentioned in this blog posting. If another person asks me “is this going to make me bulky?”, I might have to drop to my knees and weep. No, CrossFit won’t make you bulky. Yes, bbq Ruffles and a beer will. It’s as simple as that. I have posted this blog on my FB page as well as my website. Gracias!

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  • lapenguina

    It’s nice to read such a wide array of opinions from women about body image and the struggle to reconcile what many of us want our bodies to do (be strong, active, athletic) with what we may want our bodies to look like (um, models). Whenever I feel insecure about the size of my biceps (which sometimes look too, dare I say it, bulky…), I think about what my Crossfit coach said at one of my first classes–that the Crossfit program creates the athletic ideal of each person. And I think being an ideal (okay it’s cheesy) is pretty great. Never fails to make me feel a little bit stronger on the inside, where it’s most important anyway.

  • Mary Watson

    Great article, Cody, especially for young women!

  • Chris from Germany

    As a friend of mine recently said…”Strong is the new Skinny.”

  • Renee

    This article hits the nail right on the nose. I know what you mean by ‘skinny fat’ and I’ve always tried telling that to my friends who say “oh you’re slim, you don’t need to work out”. There is a huge difference between being fit & healthy to being slim & not in shape. I joined crossfit 2 months ago and it was the best thing I could have done! I LOVE lifting weights so that’s a no brainer but it has pushed my body beyond anything I thought I could do! I definitely am proud of my muscles that I’m building and so are my friends & family. I don’t care if I look ‘bulky’ to others, I don’t think I do, so who cares what they think. I wish more women would think this way!

  • Marjorie

    Just wondering how this equates to a woman 40ish. I have been crossfitting for 9 months now. I see a huge difference in my muscle tone, but still am carrying a good bit of fat around my mid section and thighs.

  • What a great post. I was inspired by it and the pics of those amazing crossfit girls!! I use to be heavy, started lifting and got in great shape. I am now 7 1/2 months pregnant and have put on quite a few pounds. Unfortunately Ive had some complications so I’m practically on bed rest. I am at my heaviest weight ever but I look way better than when I was lighter prior to working out. I love the muscle I have developed!! People actually say all the time that I look like I haven’t put any weight on except for my belly. I feel it’s because I lifted and toned and tightened up!

  • Fantastic post. You explain clearly and patiently what I have tried to say so many times, but with less patience. Am bookmarking this!

  • Alison G – CrossFit Chicago

    This is a fantastic article! Thank you for writing it!!

  • Dave

    @Marjorie… would need more info, but usually your case reflects a problem with lifestyle (lack of sleep/stress) and/or diet. For SOME people, fatigue based training/high intensity training is too much of a stressor on their body and negatively affects cortisol levels…which affects sleep, food cravings etc…. Try dialing back the intensity on the WODS for a couple of weeks and see if you notice a difference. We have seen great results at our gym by doing that with clients who have a similiar profile.

    Women who carry extra fat on legs generally have higher than normal estrogen levels. There can be many reasons for that…..including diet (soy products should be avoided) , stress on adrenals, BPA’s,….. Not enough info to really give you an answer, but those are just some possibilities. Being that it sounds hormonal, keeping the stress down, eating clean and sleeping 8 hrs a night solves a lot of problems.

  • Lisa P

    The past 3 years of my training, I have lost very little weight, but my body has gone through 3 major body transformations all because of muscle development. While at times as a “girl” I can feel a little bulky because my thighs completely fill out my jeans and my tops may be fitted because my back has broadened, the feeling of STRENGHTH usually outweighs the bulky. Do what you love, do what makes you feel good. TRAIN HARD GIRLS! Good article.

  • Marjorie

    @Dave…Interesting. Lifestyle was my issue.
    I will try to dial it back and see where takes me. I try to workout 4 times a week. I have not been eating clean. Somehow I have fallen of the train on that one. I felt great eating clean, not sure what trigged me to return to the bad eating habits. Need to get back to that. Sleeping has gotten better.

    I did quite a bit of soy, but have stopped that. I think that was having a negative impact on my health, not for sure.

  • nina arian

    Thank you for this article. This has cleared up a lot of questions for me and makes me feel better about working out. I had a physical trainer that told me that weight lifting exercises would make me look more like a man and thus he didn’t want me doing them. Now I know he was full of it.

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  • Love the article and the pics used for illustration. I’ve actually thought about adding crossfit to my fitness regime but non of the centers around here have childcare. I guess their clientele is comprised of mostly men 🙁
    I love running but also love weight training and my ideal body is Laila Ali–so I don’t care what other people think about how bulky I look!!

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  • Or you could just use loads that are 80-85% of your 1RM to hypertrophy your muscle and then create a moderate caloric deficit via aerobic exercise and a reduction of intake and use similar loads (4-6 reps) to near failure to maintain your muscle mass while dieting. This gives much better aesthetic results then random workouts that use loads that are not optimal to build or maintain muscle.

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  • Sara

    “So even though she may look fine wearing a sweater, it is a different story at the beach.”
    Stopped reading. Thanks for including a picture of a woman who looks absolutely fine in a swimsuit and then insinuating that since she’s “skinny-fat,” no she actually doesn’t.

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  • BrianCalifornia

    I disagree with the proposition cardio work outs will make a woman (or a man for that matter) “skinny fat”. I’m a bike commuter, a cyclist, and a surfer. I’m in pretty good shape. I know anecdotal evidence is weak, but I can’t help but notice all the female pedicab operators in downtown San Diego have the best butts. I’m pretty sure most of their money comes from drunk men who will gladly pay 15 dollars to stare at them and get a ride to the next bar. Those girls also attack hills like none-other and look amazing when they’re up and out of the saddle cranking away.

    I like athletic looking women and weight training lends itself to a particular physique, but I like the natural female muscle development that comes from cycling, surfing (or swimming) or running. It’s hard to describe, but to me it’s the difference between a fake tan and the tan you get from jogging on the beach every morning.

    Also – kudos for coining “skinny fat”. I’m going to start using it. 🙂

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  • Mike

    After reading these comments, I’m not sure you all saw the same pictures as I did. All of the “elite cross-fit” athletes in the photos do look very bulky. If you change the definition of the word bulky to mean fatty then, they are not bulky anymore now they look manly. To each her or his own. It really only matters to you, look like what you want to look like. It is ok if someone come up behind you and says “hey bro you want to get me a beer” then you turn around and they say “oh I’m sorry I did not know you were a chick”
    P.S. it is going to take some time to change the definition of bulky to mean fatty. From now on in every gym in the USA when people say “I’m trying to bulk up” remember to tell them that now means get fat.

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  • That was excellent information! Thank you for putting that out there.

  • Jenna

    Hey… love this post… if only I could get everyone I know to read it and take it in… i’m a member of Crossfit NI and absolutely loving it! Already seeing changes in my body after 3 months training… and i’ve been a member of standard gyms for years without seeing these type of results!! Thank you for posting this!!!

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  • AM

    CrossFitters bashing running are as predictable as go players bashing chess. Why bother? Why not celebrate what you have, without needing to put down everyone else?

    My recent experience of decreasing my running mileage for the first three months of CrossFit was that not only have my arms and shoulders grown, so have my belly and my cholesterol.

    Different strokes for different folks. And that’s fine.

  • I enjoyed this article. I am not affiliated with CrossFit but I am a YMCA fitness instructor teaching Power Yoga, Kettlebells and Body Sculpt. It is a low down dirty shame how extremely UNEDUCATED people are about HEALTH. I tell my students all the time that physical health is a three legged stool: Cardiovascular Endurance, Physical Strength, and Flexibility/Balance. Without any one of those three pillars the stool will fall. There is WAY too much emphasis on being a certain weight or a certain dress size – as though either one of those things is a true indicator of health. My students ask me all the time, “How do I lose weight?” I always ask them a question back: “Do you want to lose weight or do you want to be healthy? Those things are not one and the same. Losing weight is one way to be healthier but so is building strength, endurance and flexibility.”
    I think we also have to get away from a cookie-cutter mentality to Wellness. What works for one person may not work for another. In the end it has to be something you can stick with for the long term, something that brings you enjoyment and that has results. I have seen too many people practically kill themselves with insane exercise and drastic weight loss programs that are too expensive, time consuming and masochistic to maintain and within 6 mo or a year, they are back where they started: discouraged and heavier than ever. I will share your article with my students. It will lead to some great discussion!! Thank you!

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  • George

    “CrossFitters bashing running are as predictable as go players bashing chess. Why bother? Why not celebrate what you have, without needing to put down everyone else?”

    To be fair, go is better than chess.

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  • Chelsea

    To say that you can’t become toned, healthy, and fit without lifting HEAVY weights is the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard in my life. To hear people actually agreeing is even more startling. Be healthy and look the way you want to. Guess what? No matter what this article implies, there isn’t only one way to do it.

  • Emily Taylor

    I loved this! I just came across the term “skinny-fat” the other day in a fitness magazine I read and I had no idea what it meant and was worried that maybe I fell into that catagory! I was pleased by reading this that I don’t and your post made me feel very good about myself and how far I have come in my fitness goals! I am excited for the day when my kids are a little older and I too can join a cross fit in my area. My mom and brother go and they LOVE it! And who knew my mom could look so amazing in her 60’s! You guys have a great program!

  • mel

    awesome post

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  • excellent post. I am sharing on my site!

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  • This is such an awsome post – thanks so much for sharing!!

  • Nicole

    For anyone that thinks these girls look anything but great, I say do it and you will see that nothing is more awesome than feeling and looking strong. Even if you thought you wanted to look like the runway model I’m pretty sure having this kind of strength and health would quickly change your mind.

  • I just wanted to say that physiologically speaking it is possible to burn fat locally if you learn how to manipulate your hormones with training. Take a look at this post http://www.thesuperherobody.com/?p=572 where I show how you can lose weight locally.

  • Andrea

    THANK YOU for posting this. I’m going to share this with all my “skinny-fat” friends who are afraid to lift more than a 5lb dumb bell and consume more than 1000 calories a day….and wont come to crossfit with me in fear of 1. passing out and 2. looking like a man.

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  • Jay

    article’s on the right track, but should have left the science part out until you take an exercise phys course. find out what the actually meaning of “toned” or “toning” is….has nothing to do with what a muscle “looks” like. the body hardly EVER burns muscle…that was weird. muscle can atrophy, but rarely does the body use it (protein) as a fuel. and lastly, the whole “put more muscle on and you’ll burn more calories” is one of the biggest lines of BS the fitness industry has ever thrown to the general public. resting metobolic rate changes very minimally with the addition of muscle mass. the theory says 50 cals per pound of muscle. if i put on 10lbs of muscle, that’s 500 extra cals a day and 3500 cals per week (3500 cals = 1lb of fat). to think that someone could put on 10lbs of muscle and do nothing else and burn a lb of fat each week is pretty naive. just think what happens when these numbers are doubled or tripled! sorry, i’m calling BS. strength training has many perks, but this is not one of them. you are absolutely correct in saying you can’t spot reduce fat areas, regardless of what juan’s super hero body website claims. best way to burn cals…..high intensity work. enough said.

    • Cody

      Hey Jay, interestingly enough, I actually agree with everything you said. However, there are some things that I think you missed:

      1. If someone walks into the gym wanting to get more “toned”, I am not going to tell them that they already have a good amount of elasticity in their muscles. This is the chasm between exercise phys. and the general public, almost all of the population has a different definition of “toned” outside the sciences. Thus, I used “toned” in quotes throughout the article to imply that I was using the general population’s definition of “toned”, just like I would explain it to someone that walked off the street and into the gym.
      2. Absolutely correct, muscle can never be “burned”. Again, you must remember the audience, as explaining catabolic states and muscle atrophy is a bit tough in a simple blog post, although I think you are right, I might need to adjust that sentence.
      3. By increasing lean body mass, you will increase your basal metabolic rate, thus muscle will effectively burn more calories, although I think 50 kcal/day is the biggest number I have ever seen. I try to stick with the Katch-McCardle equation (Katch, Frank, Katch, Victor, McArdle, William. Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance, 4th edition. Williams & Wilkins, 1996), resulting in 10-15 kcal/day/pound of lean body mass. Thus, 10 lbs is 100-150 kcal/day, a little more reasonable and accurate, wouldn’t you say?? This also doesn’t mean you burn 100-150 kcal of fat a day, only that your body requires that many more calories to avoid going into a catabolic state.

  • claire

    LOVE IT!! having been both of of the photos – i know which one i choose!! great article

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  • Jay

    Cody, fair enough. I like the Katch-McCardle reference. Yes, that seems like it would be way more accurate. And beings that it is so miniscule, I’d not use it in an approach to get someone onboard with why strength training is so valuable. Last thing you want is some wiseguy/girl who thinks because their BMR has increased they can indulge more at the dinner table. Though they would need the extra calories to stay anabolic, we all know the typical weekend warrior doesn’t count calories. Hell, I don’t even count cals…but then again, I try to beast out during every training session. An old Exercise Phys prof of mine used to say he ate whatever he wanted because he killed it during training sessions 6-7 days a week. It’s Unfortunately, our layman way of explaining the human body to the average person in the gym can be counterproductive at times. Good talk! Train like an animal!

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  • Read this ladies.

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  • Jennifer C

    I am about to have my first three for free session tommorrow night, this article replaced my “i’m not so sure i want to do all this work, i may not have time, actually i’m just reallly freakin scared to fail” attitude with, hey I am scared, but now I’m excited again. Thanks!!

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  • ya! that is right! i’m glad i’m not the only one always telling this to my friends!

    • haz

      excellent article and soooo true x

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  • MF

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! Did I mention thank you? 🙂

  • This is a fantastic article on the benefits of gaining muscle. It’s really well put. Thank you.

  • Yvette Kane

    Thank you so much for the clarification of health in my eyes and what it takes to get to the muscular person (athlete). Certainly the one I am aiming for. I have been going strong with exercise and boot camps and weights but the % of fat in my diet is holding me back. Thank you for explaining this.

  • Such a great post. Going to repost this if you don’t mind! I see a lot of girls at the gym being anxious that they’ll get bulky. This really clears things up for them. Should be required reading.

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  • Christa

    well said – thank you!

  • Amy Bryant

    Can you cross train with a lumbar injury?

    • Cody

      Amy, you definitely can, however, there are some pretty big caveats when working with/around injury. While I am not a doctor and my recommendations should not be taken as medical advice, these caveats are completely different regarding your type of injury (disc, ligament, muscle, etc). I am currently working with a few people with lumbar injuries, and each one has their own program and exercises they can do.

      My answer for any injury follows: First and foremost, do not intentionally do anything that causes you pain. Pain is your body’s way of saying “stop”. Next, we want to correct what caused the injury in the first place (anterior or posterior pelvic tilt, weak stabilizer muscles, improper movement patterns, tight musculature, etc). Then we slowly work on re-developing musculature and movement that is normal and you did in the past.

  • Regan

    there is not a single body on this page that is attractive. I want to be fit and strong, but not at the price of looking beastly. why is there no inbetween?

    • A miller

      Beastly? What is wrong with you?

    • A Staley

      R U nuts? There is no beastly body here. In crossfit you build muscle & tone. Remember muscle weights more than fat! Throw that scale away-its just a number………the only number i want to be remembered for is my total reps in a crossfit WOD (work out of the day)!! My first 3 months lost 9 inches off waist & butt is where it is suppose to be!! You dont look bodybuilderish…………you look SMOKING!! Dont judge what you havent seen for yourself or experienced!!

    • Jess

      OK, “beastly” is a strong word, but… Regan has a point. I don’t think those in the figure/fitness industries realize that by being surrounded by these bodies day in and day out, their perspectives of how much muscle is “bulky” are altered. And I understand their perspective – being healthy and being strong are great qualities and worthy goals, and these women do look “good” and not manly at all… But the truth is, the cross-fit women *do* have thighs with muscles that are large enough that they no longer have the slender look many females in the general population are aiming for. The look, while not as bulky as a body builder, is still thicker than what some women are chasing, from an aesthetic perspective.

      These are beautiful girls with beautiful bodies, don’t get me wrong. But, as Regan says, many are chasing a middle ground, and with all this “don’t blame the muscle, you just need to lose more fat”, there is the chance that, if they’ve been training long and intensely enough under well-meaning trainers who keep telling them this mantra, by the time these women get the fat off they may be disappointed at how thick their underlying legs (particularly the quads) turn out to be. Their trainers may think they look great and not thick at all, but that won’t help the clients who had something different in mind.

      Just saying I see the extremes both ways. What we need is some realism, and photographs like these really do help in that… That way clients can judge for themselves whether they are likely to be happy with the body crossfit, done well, can give them…

      • To say beastly, sure, that’s fine. You want to look like the girls on the cover of shape magazine, go starve and do a tiny bit of weightlifting and tons of cardio. Enjoy it.

        To say that Cross Fit women have huge legs and are too bulky is basically saying that homo sapiens are made in an unpleasant way. Our legs are wrapped in tremendous amounts of muscles, you have the quadriceps, sartorius, gracilis, all three hamstrings, I could go on, my point is, USING YOUR LEG MUSCLES WILL MAKE THEM LOOK DEVELOPED.

        I met my boyfriend about two weeks into doing Cross Fit, at the restaurant I worked at, and let me tell you, guys LOVE a fit body. Men like thighs and well developed glutes, we are humans and our backsides are a big draw for the male of our species.

        Women who are bulky do steroids and heavy bodybuilding. Their goals are not femininity or to look good in a sweater. That’s a very small niche of people and not part of CrossFit.

        Building muscle mass helps you retain your bone density past about age 30. I don’t want to suffer with a humpback and horrible osteoporosis when I’m in my 60’s, I want to have energy for grandchildren.

        I know a woman who started CrossFit about 6 months ago, she is in her mid 50’s and let me tell you, she isn’t bulky, she looks FABULOUS and by eating Paleo and lifting heavy things a-la Primal Blueprint she says she feels as good as she did at 34 as she does now at 54. How can you argue with that?

        The only reason CrossFit women get flak is because people think they’re overkill, they’re superhuman, that regular, negative nelly, bitchers and moaners don’t feel they could EVER achieve that level of fitness.

        This ain’t no country club, this is a family. A family of like-minded people working to be the best they can be for themselves. They work hard, they feel good and they enjoy being around other people who enjoy giving their all and having a great mentality toward living.

        I can’t wait to open my affiliate someday in this tiny town, all I see is skinny fat and obese, people crippled by food and poor health. I cannot wait to find that ONE person who says “I’ve had enough, no more blood pressure meds, no more Type II Diabetes, I want to move and be healthy, please help me” That’s it for me. If I can assist ONE person to change their life for the better, then I will be satisfied. I was overweight, I’d never done any fitness programs besides a sporadic yoga class or roller hockey in high school. Cross Fit has changed my life and my health.

        I absolutely LOVE this article and I share it with people all the time! I got a message from an acquaintance the other day, and she said my pics of flipping tires and things makes her not want to be skinny fat anymore and it is an awesome feeling knowing that you inspire someone, anyone.

        Go ahead and tear others down to lift yourself up. That’s cool. I prefer being this big-legged, thick assed, hourglass shaped STRONG momma that can lift her 5yo overhead to place her into her bunkbed some nights. I can carry both my 5yo and my 3yo on my hip for long distances when they tire of keeping up with me. I turn heads in flip flops and no makeup at Wal Mart.

        The biggest reward? Getting to look sexy as fuck naked…. and living with someone who strives for the same thing.

        Final argument:
        Cross Fit guys are HOT. Like SMOKING hot. Do you know where you meet them? Wanna bet they think it’s sexy when their girlfriend can do the same workouts they do? Just sayin’

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  • Sam

    I am a skinny fat girl, while I do not weigh a lot (118, 5’5) I have little to no muscles. In an effort to get in shape for my wedding, which is 8 months away, I started crossfit this week. My biggest reservation was “bulking up”. When I asked my trainer at my local crossfit gym in Boston if doing crossfit would make me look bulky, she looked at me and said, “look at me, am I bulky, look around at our girls”. I must say, these women are strong and beautiful. This article has helped to further set my reservations aside and give crossfit everything I’ve got. Thank you!

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  • j

    idk, that runway model looks fit, proper buff (uk meaning). showing the “athelete” in “those clothes” doesn’t exactly prove that she looks better than the runway model. maybe if u showed both in “dresses” and then both in “bikinis” or “underwear” it’d be a more effective case study. idk, personally i think being pro-ana/cardio crazy is best to get rid of the fat and THEN start adding the muscle. if u add muscle under fat it just makes u bloaty looking. like, “fat strong” lol. like bouncers at clubs.

    • Brian Catalano

      Except that strength training increases EPOC… Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption… and yields fat loss while adding strength/muscle mass. By the way, you can do all the cardio you want, but much of the results come down to diet. If your diet is in tune, and you lift heavy weights with compound movements, you should burn calories. lose fat, and gain muscle simultaneously. Sounds like more bang-for-your-buck to me than doing just cardio.

    • haz

      thats usually steroids that makes em look like that!!!!!

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  • Alicia

    Would you say that there is a period where you are adding more muscle through lifting but the fat has not yet gone away resullting in feeling bulkier? I assume if this is correct, this will resolve itself the longer you do Crossfit.

    • Lisa W

      I’m happy that I was one of those girls who inspired you to write this article….it has certainly resonated with a lot of people. I was constantly asking you if CrossFit was going to make me bulky (well, bulkier). Thanks for your advice and motivation, Cody! I need to keep working on the comforter…I want to be more paper towel-ish.

    • justin

      Absolutely. And the cleaner your diet, the faster you’ll see the aesthetic you’re chasing.

  • Lynn

    I think that Cardio is important however….mucles burns more fat at rest….I think that you need both! 2-3 Cardio per week with weigh lifting

  • Lisa

    You know that picture of the the crossfitter, all ‘dressed up’ and ‘not’ looking bulky? Yeah, she looks bulky to me. I’m all about building muscle and being healthy and not being skinny fat, but if you want to convince girls they won’t look bulky, that picture is probably NOT the best way to do it. She looks like the epitome of how I wouldn’t want to look.

    • Sara

      I have to say I agree. Beautiful ladies, but definitely on the bulkier side.

  • Karri Weindorf

    Great article for a confessed skinny “fat” girl like myself!! I am a few weeks into my traing at Crossfit NWA and I can’t wait to see the changes in my body!! Thanks for writing!

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  • Ronaldo

    Umm, all these ladies look pretty damn bulky to me, just sayin. Different strokes for different folks i guess. Not everyone wants a woman who’s a shredded 15% bf and has rock hard abs. Women are supposed to be on the soft side IMO.

    Then again i think alot of male fitness models are gross too, so that’s just me i suppose, i prefer the bodies of swimmers or triathletes, they look very “sleek” i suppose.

    • Alex

      Who in the hell cares what everyone else “wants”? Strong women don’t value themselves based on what some pigheaded guy wants. These women are beautiful and I’m sure most women would kill to have bodies like that. And anyone who promotes anorexia should be shot, on site.

  • Jason

    I know of a good optometrist for you guys! And muscle doesn’t burn fat….exercise physiology 101.

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  • Sydney

    I have been trying to fight whether to be fit or anorexic. This helped me so much and makes me want to be active and fit because then I can do the sport activities that i love !!! Thanks

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  • Great article exactly what I have been explaining to my female students for years.

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  • Crystle

    If my butt looked like the women’s in the swim suit (skinny fat) I would cry. Her butt grosses me out. I work very hard to create a nice round bum, shovel butts are just not attractive.

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  • Melissa

    GREAT article! I plan to share this with my friends who are scared to crossfit because they don’t want to get bulky. Anyone who doesn’t think the strong physique is attractive should just stick to zumba and the ellipiticals…and can have fun picking out one piece bathing suits!

  • Like Ronaldo

    I’ve got to agree with Ronaldo on this one. Most of the promoted Crossfit girls look too much like ripped athletic dudes – NOT hot. They might not look “bulky” as you say, but they look “manly”.

    Somewhere in between those two is where my version of hot lies. Definitely NOT the beastly women above, and not the waif. Somewhere in the realm of normal healthy woman.

    • A miller

      Omg! these ridiculous comments make me want to pull my hair out!!
      Women should be strong and fit if they want to be. Screw being soft, flabby. Yuck….
      Well to each his own….I wouldn’t probably want to be with the type of men making these comments

  • This article is SO GREAT. I love it. Do you have a suggested workout plan that would accompany this article? How many times per week? Should we focus on full body or segmented each workout? And if we do need cardio, how much per week?

    If it’s not an option to answer that question, at least tell me this: Should we also consider cutting down on carbs? If so, how much? Currently, without making an effort, about 60% of my daily intake has been carbs (including fruits). I would ideally like to get that number down to 45% of my intake with 30% protein. Is this on track?

    • Alicia

      Hi Jennifer,

      I have never had anyone respond to my comment here so I thought I would tell you my experience with diet and carbs. First, I would ask what your current activity level is? I think the amount of carbs needed would change based on how active you are or plan to be. Also, what are your source of carbs? Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution is a good resource but I can summarize what he recommends.

      Grains, dairy and refined carbs should be eliminated.
      Limit yourself to two pieces of fruit a day and even less if fat loss is your goal.
      Carbs (still nothing refined) are best eaten within 30 minutes following a workout to replace glycogen stores used by your muscles.
      Eat meats, veggies (not starchy veggies) and fats in the form of nuts, lard, avocado, olive oil and coconut oil, and stay away from processed oils like canola.
      Get enough sleep (8-9 hours/night) in a very dark room.
      Stick to the outside perimeter of the grocery store and do not by packaged, processed prepared foods.

      I would imagine the activity level they are talking about here is high intensity, functional movement workouts. Crossfit is what this gym does but if you do not have access to a Crossfit gym, there are some good at home alternatives like P90x and also Beach Body’s Insanity workouts. I have a friend who loves the Insanity workout and many friends who love P90x. Hope this helps!

      Alicia

      • Denise

        Love the article and tips. I’m 56 years old and struggle with the comforter over the apple look. I run 2-3 times a week between 3-5 k each time, occasionally 5-7k each time. Yoga once per week and weights 2-3 times. I try to eat healthy but admit likely not as well as I should at times. Now adding per-menopause to the mix, I’m really struggling.. Any ideas what could help me lean down more? I find when I had cut to about 1200 calories per day with working out I maintain my weight and look more toned but the downside is I ended up with adrenal fatigue. Help!

        • Cody

          Hey Denise, I don’t respond to many questions on here, but it seems like you have definitely done your research and only need a little nudge in the right direction. Without being able to work with you in person, I have to make some assumptions, but here are some things that might help.

          Whole foods – Almost all your food should be coming from whole food sources. This means no bars, no shakes, no processed “lean cuisine” meals. Eat protein and veggies at every meal and watch out for high fat snack foods. Try to listen to your bodies wants, feeding it when it is hungry, not because it is “time” to eat.

          Sleep – If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your hormones will definitely start to go haywire. While 8-9 hours is ideal, work to increase the amount of sleep you are getting. Most people will actually see better results by sleeping more than through exercise and diet.

          Macronutrients – Try increasing your protein intake. Most people are lucky to get 40g of protein a day, when to be leaner, they usually need a much higher protein intake. You should be taking in .75-1 g/lb of bodyweight (meaning 100g is a minimum for most people). This may seem like alot, but a higher protein intake does some other things for your body: fueling muscle and not fat, keeping you full longer, etc.

          Caloric Cycling and Nutrient Timing – It is very demanding on your body to maintain a caloric deficit long-term (1200 is pretty low for an active individual like yourself). Thus, you can cycle lower calorie days with maintenance and higher calorie days to decrease adrenal fatigue. This slows down short-term fat loss, but is much more manageable for long-term results. Additionally, by timing your nutrient intake (both from day-to-day and by time of day) in accordance with your workout patterns, you can actually increase lean mass while decreasing body fat long-term.

          If you want more info or specific 1-on-1 help, you can contact me by email (cody@crossfitsouthbay.com).

          • Jennifer Davis

            Cody, how do you get over 100 grams of protein without a protein shake? I currently get around 75 grams when I TRY to get as much protein as possible, and make up the last 30-40 with a protein shake after my weight training workout.

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  • Dee

    My friend posted this on FB & I just happened to read it. I’m from Adelaide and don’t do CrossFit, but this article has had a huge (positive) impact on me and the way I see my body, my diet and how I want to train and look in the future. I have thought about this article quite a lot since reading it and it’s helping me make better choices about my health and fitness. Thanks so much for posting and talking sense and adding some motivation! I will be sharing this for sure 🙂

  • blogger56

    What a person finds attractive is more of a personal thing. For example, in looking at those pictures, the least attractive look to me is the runway model. I find women without muscles and without body fat look too much like a skeleton which is completely unattractive. The skinny fat look is much nicer to look at on the beach. For me personally I like the crossfit women’s body the best, but that is just because I am an athlete myself and I find the athletic body type to be sexy. Are female athlete’s bulky? Absolutely. Female athletes have muscles which make them bulkier than women who are not. I agree with the cardio comment, but I think it is more gym based cardio which causes the problem. I did cardio for years, before adding strength training, and I look like a crossfitter. However my cardio was in the form of outdoor sports, not gym machines. Being bulky because you have muscles is a trade-off, yeah I’m bulky, but I can also do a lot of things other woman can not. Looking like a skeleton has never interested me, doing sports well does.

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  • Excellent article! It’s amazing how many women out there still don’t get this. Definitely going to share your article with our members.

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  • I can’t even start to describe how much I enjoyed this post. I can totally relate to the question many females ask and that is will lifting weights make me bulky or big. I like you get very frustrated by this statement. Back when I was a personal trainer working in a chain gym I would witness women enter the gym and go directly to the cardio machines. They would do this day after day and never ever touch a weight. These are what we called the cardio queens. I had many female clients that the very first thing they would say to me was they did not want to get big. After explaining to them that this would be near impossible for them they still would remind every time I had them lifting weights. I also have the same though process and that is train like an athlete, look like an athlete. That is exactly what i did with my clients. I never once had a women get big. I had them get leaner but never bigger or bulky. I trained them hard too. I trained them the same way I would a man going through endurance, muscular hypertrophy and strength and power. Thanks for the great post. Now if we could just get more women to believe it. Also another thing that would be great is for people to stop being tricked into buying useless products that are never going to get them washboard abs. Thanks for the post and could not agree with you more.

  • I find that after all the swimming, the only thing that gets me into training myself is make-up, a pair of earrings and a sexy tee- shirt, only then can I concentrate on the weights and the images in the gym, as if I had to match wits. This is all a comedown from the world of dance in a nutshell, but I’m beginning to enjoy this nucleus.

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  • Katie

    This post is AMAZING! I have been searching everywhere to find out how to get rid of this skinny fat look going on, and this is the only helpful post I have came across. So easy to understand and explained things really well, thank you SO much 😀 😀

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  • Ann

    thanks for the article. I train as a triathlete and know that this is what has helped me get back in shape fast after having five (yes five…who has five anymore) kids. =) The muscle tone kept my weight in check while prego and kept the baby from messing up my stomach muscles since the abdominal muscles help hold the baby in. I have had so many women ask me how to stay in shape and get “skinny” fast again after having kids and they totally don’t understand the concept of muscle working for you and working for you overtime. I wish this information was more well known and that women would eat more protein rich foods. Oh…and I’m toned, but most women who cross train don’t bulk up as much as these picture examples (not that I think they look bad…I’m just not that “ripped” and I’m training 4 rimes a week pretty hard =) Ladies…do not fear the muscle toning.

  • Mark

    If only I could figure out how to get my girlfriend to read/accept this article without getting slapped haha, great article, I always try to tell girls this stuff, they never believe me. They reference pics of female body builders and say “Im going to look like THIS if I pick up a weight” To which I reply, “If I train as hard as I do as a man and am not as big as them, how do you think you are going to reach that level”

  • Claire Duffett

    This way of pitting different women’s bodies against one another is counterproductive and unnecessary. If the purpose is to promote women’s fitness, not just looking a certain way, then why so much emphasis on bodies (and comparing/contrasting different bodies then placing nasty value judgments on the ones you consider to vary from the standard that you have deemed to be ideal)? It’s a manipulative, mean way to treat women and aggravate the imagery about female beauty bombarding us all the time and distracting individual women from seeking the lifestyle, eating habits, and fitness routine that suit them best. If health is your concern, then this is a major fail. If appealing to women’s insecurities in order to increase membership to your gym is your priority, then bravo. Job well done.

    • Jessie

      Wait…Where did he say that he wanted people to join his gym? I didn’t see that in the article. Besides, this article has to with the misconceptions about “bulky” verses “toned,” not “skinny” versus “fat.” In no way does the author bash a certain body type; he just states the obvious. Face it, don’t most women like a man with muscles as opposed to one with a high percentage of fat? How then are women able to complain about the” unfair ways people treat women” when it is just as rampant against men? To quote you, “It’s a manipulative, mean way to treat women [men] and aggravate the imagery about female [male] beauty bombarding us all the time and distracting individual women [men] from seeking the lifestyle, eating habits, and fitness routine that suit them best.” (By the way, I’m a woman!)

    • I’m sorry, but I’m fairly certain the modeling industry has been under heavy scrutiny for endorsing anorexia and killing women literally for their ideal of thin.

      I will also quote the previous comment I made when I emphasize maintaining bone density and most of all – having lean mass allows you to eat LOTS of calories and not count them unless you’re seeking a body fat percentage below about 20%

      Bashing unhealthy body images should be done more often. Every fashion magazine is showing off rail-thin women and media pushes that image too far, plenty of women have become anorexic and it seems that trend won’t stop until popular culture shifts its mentality toward true health and well being.

      Very few people have the body type of the model shown above. That is an exemplary job of poor nutrition. The people I have seen who look that thin are lacking in nutrition as much as the obese person. It’s not healthy and THANK YOU, Cody for showing everyone what it means to look beautiful while being in the best shape of your life.

  • Josh

    Great article. A friend of mine posted it on his facebook, you truly made my day.

  • Mary

    Thanks for the great article. My son emailed this to me, and it totally makes sense. Guess this would explain why all of the cardio I’ve been doing for the past several months have not given this “Grandma” the results she’s been seeking. I will be researching ways in which to increase my protein intake, and will be backing my fruit servings to the suggested 2 daily. All of our life, we were taught that heavy on the fruits were good for us, but most people don’t realize the number of carbs and sugars in them. Now, to find a way to do this type of program at home, without a lot of expensive equipment! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, as an expensive gym membership is not possible at this time.

  • Lissa

    A friend of mine posted this on her facebook and I had to read it because, as a former college track athlete, I think good exercise is important. I have always been one of the “bigger” girls when it came to running and yes, it was more fat than muscle and I was a distance runner going as many as ten miles in a day.

    I do have to say something positive about ellipticals. When I got knee injuries, I had to start doing low impact training so that I could save my knees and still compete at meets. I found that as I turned my resistance up, the more defined my leg muscles became and I liked that. (I had always slacked on my weights for track because we shared a weight room with some of the other sports and so people were always in there and it took forever to get out if you did everything. Bad, I know.)

    Since I live out in the middle of nowhere with no access to a gym, I’ve had to find different ways of doing strength by finding workouts that use your natural body weight as well as small hand weights to help you gain muscle (lots of squats, lunges, leg raises, and push ups), but I have to say it’s been changing my body quite well and if I had access to a Crossfit program, it sounds like it’d be a good program for me. Anything that can give me MORE muscle definition would be great.

  • BrandonGrimes @ UteCrossFit

    This was absolutely 100% spot on. I’ve been trying for years to explain this to women and couldn’t find the right words. You did that to a T!!!! Great article!

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  • john

    I actually prefer the ‘model’ skinny look over the athletic one. I like my women skinny and slender like that.

  • Alicia

    Thank you Denise. I just lost a good friend to a anorexia. It is horrible what the fashion and media worlds have done to women.

  • New to crossfit

    I’m 44 and new to cross fit. I love it!! It’s challenging and it’s holding my interest. The sense of community is great. It also feels good to be re-introduced to body parts I had forgotten about! Haha

    However, I had the same concerns about gaining too much muscle. I thought I gained muscle really easily in the past working with personal trainers. If I look back on those times, it was more likely that I looked bulkier because I did not change my diet. I have a sweet tooth. Ugh. I’m a month into Crossfit now. Yes, I can see my body changing shape and my legs look a little bigger but I gotta say my ass looks fabulous! LOL! Anywhoo, now it’s time to dig deeper into how and what I should be eating to minimize the amount of fat covering my new contours. The mystery is finally solved for me! Thanks!

    And Oh! , btw, every guy that I know and polled thinks women who are Crossfit training are SEXY! 🙂

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  • renee

    So sad to see people saying that they’d prefer the skinny model over the crossfitter. That’s God Given muscle actually being put to good use. Also, just something I’d like to point out is that a lot of these women that are doing crossfit in the pictures are in the middle of their workouts. So, naturally, they are going to look bigger than they actually are. They’re blood is pumping, they’re muscles are being used. They don’t normally look as “ripped” while doing everything normal things like fetching the newspaper or getting coffee. Either way, beautiful crossfit women. Amazing article.

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  • Jordan

    Great article! Well written & thought out.

  • roxy

    thank you for explaining it so well! That totally makes sense! You rock!

  • irishrunner

    True, bit shalane flanagan has to spend a ton of time in the gym strength training to be that strong. Lets not kid ourselves and say running alone will give you that. I’m a runner btw beginningto add weights to my workout so I can get that “marathoner” toned look.

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  • Wolf

    Well said, I enjoyed reading the support that was given on your behalf concerning Claire Duffett’s post. It is amusing that someone, somewhere will always get offended with absolutely no grounds, and it is often from their own insecurity.

  • Kristen

    I talk about being skinny fat often and people just stare at me. I’m 5’2″ and 120 lbs but I look frumpy. My goal in working out is to build lean muscle. Never would I want to look like a super model or the one shown. It’s gross ans sickly looking. I don’t know how some people on here can say they prefer their women or theirselves to look like that! I’ll take a little muscle bulk over that any day! At least i would know i was healthy. Great article!

  • Deidre E

    Totally agree with this. I’m all for putting up body type acceptance by pointing out the performance aspects of what different bodies can do, but to put up on body type by putting down another doesn’t help anyone. Body acceptance starts with accepting body types for what they ARE, not what they AREN’T.

  • amy

    awesome article actually..good work. best I have read and very accurate. 2 thumbs up

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  • Dod

    The CFter is bulky – with or without the comparison to the model.
    Look at the CF leader board – those chicks are units! So I can understand why it scares a lot of the females out there.
    Ps. Silly to get a CFter to try and sell it they don’t look bulky – plus the other issue is girls want to look toned – not jacked where you can see every muscle fibre and hardcore six pack.

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