Search This Blog

Friday, January 17, 2014

Strength, the Marines & A Gawky Kid who Discovered Her Purpose in a Weight Room

Gawky little Catholic girl with toothpick arms
I get most of my news online, though the other day I found an LA Times lying in my gym’s staff break room and passively flipped through it as I chatted with a coworker. Much as I wanted to read the latest headlines, I also wanted to check after-holiday sales.
Except one headline completely caught me off guard:
US Marines Postpone Fitness Rule After Most Female Recruits Fail to do Three Pull-ups-More than 50 per cent of women at boot camp could not meet a new minimum requirement due to go into effect in 2014.
Enraged, I tossed the paper onto the couch with a dramatic sigh. My coworker caught my glare and gave me an Uh oh,
here goes a Jini tirade look. Did I ever: My coworker got an earful, which went something like this.
Why the Marines Got this Completely Wrong
Feminists want equal standards until it comes to stuff like this, when they suddenly applaud the Marines for lowering standards because women have 20% less upper body strength than men. (Yeah, I know I’m showing my political colors here.)
Listen, if I were a guy – especially a big guy – would I want my bullet-ridden body dragged to safety by a female with no upper body strength? Under their politically correct revised standard, that female Marine probably wouldn’t be able to carry a wounded soldier and he’d be left there to die. Where are the herculean standards we expect from soldiers? America’s finest, my ass.
Put this into perspective. The minimum strength standards for men are three pull-ups. Three. According to these revised guidelines, women can’t even keep up with their weakest male counterparts.
Who’s to blame here? Do these low standards reflect the Marine Corps’ inability to train properly to even do three pull-ups, or does it show a lack of effort among female Marines? Do we blame feminists for giving women a free pass?
As a classic ectomorph, I have long arms that put me at a biomechanical disadvantage for doing pull-ups. Yet I can eke out 6 or 7 pull-ups with no problem. I’m not boasting; I’m just perplexed that, even with this disadvantage, I can do more pull-ups than Marine standards. 
I’m not pointing fingers here, but we deserve more credit. Women deserve higher standards. So do men with their paltry three pull-ups. So do Marines.
Go Beyond the Surface: Why Strength Matters
So you’re not planning to join the Marines, and the only combat you’ve ever seen is the final clearance sale at Barneys Warehouse. As a female, why should strength matter? After all, Madonna’s got muscle, and look at how the media lampoon her “mannish arms.”
Besides, you can pay your delivery person to put that 50-pound bag of dog food in your car. What’s the heaviest thing you’ll ever lift: Maybe 10 pounds? Get too strong and you’ll become bulky. Off-the-rack clothes will fit awkwardly and men will find you freaky, right?
Listen, I’m not going to give you a laundry list of reasons why you should lift. If you already do, you know its advantages. If you don’t… Well, I can promise you’re not going to become a steroid-looking she-male if you hit the weight room a few times each week.
Physical strength has its rewards. You won’t struggle putting that heavy bag in the overhead bin and you can lift your kids or grandkids without becoming breathless.
You look and feel sexier when you’re strong. Muscle builds confidence. My friend Dr. Jade Teta calls muscle building the fountain of youth, and he’s not kidding: You feel more energetic, you walk into a room radiating confidence and vigor, your sex life improves, and you feel confident enough to face any challenge.
That last benefit is perhaps most important: Beyond physical capabilities and aesthetic appeal, strength training can powerfully impact your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. It certainly did mine.
Skinny Bitch isn’t a Compliment…
I was a weak, skinny kid who, through adversity, became a strong adult. Even my own father made fun of me as a child, ridiculing me because my younger sister had to fight my battles.
Back then, way before video games and other sedentary activities became common, we played outdoors, often until the sun set. Sports ranked high in my family. While my three siblings fell anywhere from “passable” to “rock-star” athletes, teammates always chose me last.
Being a skinny, fragile, awkward adolescent sucks. Kids asked if I had some kind of weird disease. (Today, any female with a fast metabolism would be labeled “anorexic.”) Girls scrawled cruel things with chalk on the sidewalk as we awaited the bus. Boys shoved me to see if they could knock me down, or hocked “loogies” into my purse.
Everyone laments being the childhood fat kid, but few people acknowledge the underweight, low-self-esteem skinny kid. I’m not cueing the world’s smallest violin for my condition, but I can attest it was traumatic.
“You need to toughen up or the world will chew you up and spit you out,” my dad said. As you can imagine, this does wonders to an awkward, gawky young girl’s already-poor confidence levels.
Sadly, beyond those hurtful words, he was correct. And now, years later, I thank him for it. I couldn’t depend on others to always fight my battles. Somewhere in my twenties, things changed one fateful afternoon when I walked into a weight room.
I Gained it at the Movies: How Terminator 2 Changed My Life
At first I just wanted to play around. Those dumbbells looked so menacing and I wanted to see if I could lift one. Little did I know how 10 pounds of solid steel would change my life.
None of that became relevant until I saw Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. Who needed Schwarzenegger? Hamilton was the story’s heroine because she was a badass. 
I never achieved Hamilton’s badass-ery, yet something clicked and I determined to become equally strong. Not crazy, freaky ripped, but strong.
As a science nerd, I began to research. I learned you could be incredibly strong without being bulky. I learned that muscle makes you look sexy in anything, from a bathing suit to jeans. (I’ll take a Target tank top and fabulous arms any day over designer clothing.) I learned I was already stronger than I imagined.
Over time, I determined to find out just how strong I could become. To me, strong meant capable, confident, courageous, and accomplished. More than anything, I wanted those qualities.
I eventually went back to school to study kinesiology. I pushed myself harder and harder, despite whatever obstacles stood in my way. I learned many of those obstacles were self-imposed.
Lifting that 50-pound bag of dog food unassisted feels pretty damn good. So does knocking out 20 military push-ups and realizing you’re stronger than more than half of the female population.
But like I said earlier, strength goes beyond physical reward. Knowing you can care for yourself, that you can roll gracefully with any punch life doles out, that no one can steal joy and confidence from you: Those are the real rewards.
Maybe those things were inside you all along, but it took iron, sweat, and determination to draw them out. You never know what you’re fully capable of until you push yourself physically.
I still get resistance from females about lifting. Maybe you’re already confident, you rule the world (or at least your little corner of it), and you don’t need a barbell to help you discover strength.
Hey, more power to you.
Wait. Look beyond the moment. Think 10, 20, or even 30 years down the road. Think about osteoporosis, hip fractures, flabby arms, and walkers. Oh, I know, it’s not cool or sexy, but aging happens to us all. Do you want to grow older gracefully or succumb to time’s ravishing decline?
You can’t control the future. Life is going to throw some brutal punches. You can’t control certain fates like cancer or a car crash. You’ll likely struggle through breakups, through job firings, through lots of bad things in life.
You can’t control the weather, but you can control how you respond, and physical strength gives you the ammunition to cope with nearly anything life throws at you.
Becoming your strongest self gives you the power to weather the storm gracefully and remain strong, poised, and confident as you grow older. No pharmaceutical drug, no amount of money, no significant other can ever give you that empowerment.
You have permission to do so, free of charge, as long as the byline and
the article is included in its entirety:

Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

If you use the article you are required to activate any links found in the article and the by-line. Please do not use this article in any publication that is not opt-in (spam).


  1. I read that article on yahoo news, sometime ago, and I thought; Yeah, PC meets reality, haha

    1. I don't know about you but, if I can't "make the cut," I don't want to be there under any other circumstances