illustration of a woman's muscular arms
Elnora Turner

Gamers Are Mad a Woman in a Video Game Has Muscles

Don't worry, almost anyone can have big arms like Abby in 'The Last of Us: Part II.' Here is how she probably would have done it.
Sick of clean eating, perfect gym outfits, and chiseled abs? A Swole Woman is here to help you be healthy, enjoy carbs, and get jacked.

What do you think Abby's workout regimen is in The Last of Us: Part II? I believe she mentions in the game (as a younger, less buff version of herself) when she pulls a guy up over a ledge and he's like "whoa dang you’re getting strong" that she “pushed 185 the other day.” So she must have been on the prowler? The most physically intimidating human in the game, not counting the psycho near the end who made no sense, is a woman, and that’s VERY cool. —Tom


So people in the gaming world, I hear, are mad. Mad that a woman has muscles, to the point of issuing death threats. I hate to be the one to tell these guys this in the year of our lord 2020, but when you leave your house someday, or even venture onto the internet full of content outside of video games packed with balloon-titted stick figure women, you will be surprised to discover that women who look all different kinds of ways are simply everywhere. They aren’t necessarily gay or trans or on steroids (which is what some of these people are suggesting), though that would be fine.

Many of them look the way they do on purpose, because they like to. Some of them may not have even given much thought to the way they look, because they don’t care what you think; they look the way they do because it’s what happens when they put a lot of effort into activities they love for a long time. Sometimes it's a little bit of both. I’m one of these women; I’ll gladly fight you.

This reaction shouldn’t surprise me, since I think most people who thought Gamergate made a lot of good points are still out there with their minds fundamentally unchanged. But I hate to leave my cozy Instagram feed bubble of jacked (or fat) women powerlifters and fat (or jacked) pole dancers and ripped Crossfitters and volleyball players and gymnasts to hear the tiny whining violins of people who are clawing their faces off in horror because a woman has a tricep. I’m begging you to get over yourselves. This is what you are upset about?:


While I have not played this game, I can’t believe the absolute stir that one woman’s arms have caused. A huge number of people are insisting that a woman can’t look like that, that she must be taking hormones. Some of them, when confronted, try to back their confusion up by saying there’s no way a woman *in an apocalypse* could be that jacked. Sure she could, especially if she is doing physical feats all day every day like climbing over walls and beating people up. I recall exactly zero people having a problem with Norman Reedus’s arms looking like this or this in The Walking Dead, several years into a supposed post-apocalypse storyline, but go off.

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Abby is, to me, what the average high-level Crossfitter looks like (and she is actually based on a Crossfitter, Colleen Fotsch). I feel sorry for the Bigoted Online Man who has to channel his confusion about whether he wants Abby or wants to BE Abby into feeling threatened and posting about her HRT intake. But thankfully we have you, letter-writer Tom, simply asking what her workout must be, which I’m sure Bigoted Online Man also wants to know about even if he doesn’t want to admit it.

I can say with authority Abby needs no enhancement to have arms like hers; lots of women have them simply from lifting heavy weights with intention for years and years. (For context, Colleen Fotsch has been doing Crossfit for about six years, and she was on her college swim team and an All-American, so she was definitely not a stranger to weight training from a pretty young age. When you look at her, you’re probably looking at at least a solid decade of dedicated heavy lifting results.) The fact that Abby works out is even documented in the game, where she is shown to both have a gym setup and tell another character she “pushed 185 the other day,” and that’s even before she’s at peak muscles in the most popular photo of her.


(As an aside, it’s a little hard to say what Abby means by “pushed,” because it’s not accepted American syntax for anything related to lifting weights. “Push/pull” is a common style of lifting program, and also describes subcategories of most compound lifting movements: a “push” moves weight away from you, and a “pull” moves weight toward you. So when Abby says “pushed,” she could mean a push press, a jerk, a prowler push, or a bench. It’s MOST likely she means she BENCHED 185 pounds “the other day.”)

That’s a seriously impressive bench, but not even beginning to reach the level of impossible or even improbable: Several women just at my gym can bench about this much. For context, the world bench records for women who would be about Abby’s weight class (given that she’s six feet tall) are 302 pounds and 369 pounds.

With some dedication and effort, which Abby clearly puts in, I have great news for Bigoted Online Man: most people could look like Abby and bench 185 pounds like Abby if they just put in a lot of time training, even Bigoted Online Man. However, getting Abby’s arms, or Colleen’s arms, is not a given, and they don’t happen overnight, and they’re not the result of “lifting weights at all.” I look smaller than both of them, and I’ve been lifting weights for six years.

The best thing you could start with to look like Abby, if you’ve never really done much lifting, is get going with a beginner strength training program, which is not going to make you big by any stretch but lays the groundwork for big arms if that’s a choice you make for yourself later on.


But an important thing to know about Abby’s arms is that they don’t look that way from just doing dumbbell curls; her whole body is extremely well-balanced, including in her back and shoulders, which suggests she’s doing all kinds of heavy compound movements (movements that use multiple muscle groups at once), including her lower body. She would also do a lot of hypertrophy work to increase her muscle size; here is a more advanced program that would definitely get your upper body popping. All that said, these are the most important things to do to get an upper body like Abby’s.

Learn to bench

Benching feels scary because it involves holding a heavy weight over your chest/head/neck, but the big secret is that you actually don’t have to bench more weight than you can handle, and that you only need to do a few sufficiently heavy reps for a few sets to start getting a lot better at it.

Based on what you see in the gym, benching can seem like mostly an excuse for men to stereotypically stand around together and scream “light weight!” at each other, but it is a lot faster than working out each individual arm muscle the way the one billion weight machines at gyms want you to. If you want to “push 185” like Abby someday, this is THE movement. Here is a more extensive column I previously wrote about the joys of benching.

Learn to row

If benching is a “push,” rowing is a “pull.” While Abby doesn’t specifically mention her “pulling” ability, she talks about her 185 bench right after using a single arm to pull a grown man up to a ledge. Abby is definitely getting her pulls in, which would be rows and deadlifts.

Rows can take many forms, including bent-over rows (maybe the most classic kind), cable rows, chest-supported rows, upright rows; here’s Colleen doing an isolateral ring row. Rows are fun, and they will help make your deadlift better, which is another exercise I feel sure Abby does and wish she had talked about. If everyone did more rows, I feel sure society would be better.


Another “pull” worth mentioning here is “pull-ups,” but these are really hard for beginners; you can work on them by doing negatives or band-supported variations, as well as lat pulldowns.

Learn to press

This is probably not what Abby meant by “push,” but her bodysake, Colleen, is definitely doing her presses. These are super hard, but if you want to have shoulders like Abby, you need to get them in. Crossfitters like Colleen will often do presses in the form of handstand pushups or thrusters (squatting with a weight in your hands and then using upward momentum to push it above their heads), but you can also just do a classic overhead press, which is fairly simple.

Learn to eat

A while ago, my partner offhandedly described the idea of not eating after a gym session as “wasting” the workout. This blew my mind, that he knew the positive relationship between food and working out to be an absolute truth, while I spent so many years thinking that if I ate anything at all after a run or gym session, THAT was a wasted workout. How do so many of us go through life thinking completely opposite things about fairly basic biological stuff, and neither of us knows? Anyway—he is the correct one, a wasted workout is the one when you don’t eat after. Muscles need protein to repair and you need carbs and fats for fuel. You will never grow up to be Abby, Bigoted Online Man, if you don’t eat enough food in balanced meals a few times a day and get your sleep.

Ultimately, Abby doesn’t look the way she does by accident; Abby clearly loves to lift and be jacked, probably because strength and capability matter to her when she is fighting whoever the enemies in this game are. We should all be more like Abby.

Disclaimer: Casey Johnston is not a doctor, nutritionist, dietitian, personal trainer, physiotherapist, psychotherapist, doctor, or lawyer; she is simply someone who has done a lot of, and read a lot about, lifting weights.

You can read past Ask A Swole Woman columns at The Hairpin and at SELF and follow A Swole Woman on Instagram. Got a question for her? Email .