Does crossfit make women bulky?
Something strange happened towards the end of the second week. After each session, the trainer would ask whether I'd enjoyed it. "Enjoyed?" I'd ask, confused.
Crossfit, as I discovered, with its torturous intensity, is primarily for the self-flagellators among us. Crossfit may be many things, but it is not exactly what I'd call enjoyable.
So, when I found myself sort of nodding in response to the question, sort of actually enjoying myself, I was very confused.
I was half way through a month-long experiment to see whether Crossfit builds a bigger you. After being reduced to a pathetic puddle of a person following my first ever class, I was curious to see how it could change your body.
But having never done weights before and being utterly incapable of push-ups, let alone pull-ups I, like many women, was wary.
"Our culture has traditionally viewed strength as a masculine trait and promoted a small, frail body as feminine," say the authors of a study on women and weight-training in the journal The Physician and Sports Medicine. "Consequently, girls have been discouraged from participating in gross-motor-skill activities and strength development."
Luckily this is beginning to change.
More women are trying on weight-training for size and while more men than women currently do Crossfit - which involves weight-training as well as gymnastic and cardio elements - the growth of women's participation in the sport is outpacing men's.
Its popularity supports the idea that strong is the new sexy. Bulky, however, is not.
We've heard the line that lifting doesn't turn you into a lady brick. That it builds muscle and muscle burns fat so it's the fastest way to get lean.
But then you have trainers like Tracy Anderson, who has sculpted many of Hollywood's most formidable physiques, stressing that women shouldn't work out with anything heavier than three pound weights.
Besides, when you see the pictures of many of the women who lift a lot more than that, you start to wonder whether Anderson is right - at least from an aesthetic as opposed to an athletic perspective.
As a result, many of us tend to be distrusting when we are told that weights are the way forward for women.
This is despite the American College of Sports Medicine's assurance that we won't turn into Arnie if we lift. In fact, they suggest that, to reap a range of benefits, women (and men) should weight-train at least twice a week.
It is also despite findings that building strength and lean muscle mass are biomarkers for looking younger.
So I press Luke Baranowski, the athletic development coach at Crossfit Bondi where I'm doing my challenge, on the point.
He tells me that the women who look like they could bench press you with their pinky have killed themselves to become like that through rigorous training, eating and supplementation. Additionally, he says, the majority of these women are genetically and hormonally built differently to begin with, so their body type responds differently to heavy resistance training.
Women generally have around one 10th the level of testosterone as men. That said, it varies from woman to woman and this can affect our development of strength and muscle.
He says that unless I train six hours a day and eat like a king or artificially wreak havoc on my hormones I, like most other women, won't become colossal. In fact, he tells me I have Buckley's chance of ever making it as a professional crossfitter, which I'm crestfallen about, but that's another story.
And, so far, he seems to be right.
I've been attending around three times a week and have passed the month mark. To my surprise, I've not become massive (yet). Instead I've rediscovered abdominals that have been MIA since circa 1999, and all body parts have more definition. I've also noticed my stamina has improved on my meditative, but largely ineffective, long runs and any strength-based poses I do in yoga are easier.
Crossfit is not for everyone and as with all exercise there is no one-size fits all. It's a process of trial and error and seeing what works for your body (as well as how much of a masochist you are).
But it is dynamic and, assuming the programming is good, your body rarely has the chance to adapt. This means you are constantly challenged and never bored.
For this reason, I can understand why women (and men) get a little culty about Crossfit. I'll stick to a part-time cult member status, with the view of never bench-pressing you with my pinky.
That said, if you start lifting or crossfitting you can rest assured that it won't make you massive. Just beware: you may find you have the disconcerting realisation that you (sort of) find the punishment fun.
Sydney Morning Herald