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Health

What Is ‘Mid-Size,’ and Should I Want to Be It?

Addressing a grab bag of health and body things people are confused about from the depths of social media.
July 7, 2021, 4:29pm
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Today we are knocking out some smaller questions that have rolled in over the last few months, mostly centering around stuff people are doing on social media and whether it’s real and/or if you should worry about it. The world of fitness and health can look and feel messy when it’s coming at you in an endless feed of content with no rhyme or reason, so today I’m going to try and cut through a few of the things you might have seen and said to yourself “?”

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You’re probably on vacation this week anyway and don’t want to hear about how to get your life together so much as why some other people might be wrong that validates the ways in which you are sipping a frozen Painkiller on the beach right now. So let’s go—

Who are some mid-size influencers to follow? --TK

Well, I don’t love this, for the following reasons. There’s a new raging debate in body shape stuff over the emerging “body goals” look of people who aren’t extremely skinny, but aren’t quite plus-size either. At some point, the term “mid-size” emerged, which those people seem to have happily adopted as a way to characterize their bodies. More recently, the plus-size/fat-acceptance community has taken issue with the term, and identified “small fat” as preferred terminology. This doesn’t make a ton of sense to me while the term “plus-size” exists, but “mid-size” also sounds like a car.

I’ve been identified as “mid-size” by other people (really a while before it became a controversy), but I find this all kinda weird because the world still accommodates me as well now as it did when I was a size 4. I feel like I’d be stealing valor to call myself any variation of “fat” (and then there are many, MANY people who disagree with that still more, and would say I’m huge; I don’t hear from them often but I’m sure I’ve put many a Judge Judy off of lifting weights because I’m not small and diced to the socks). My own personal journey has been to think ever less about what my body “is” beyond “does it feel good and is it staying basically healthy via some training and occasionally eating things other than instant noodles.” I have to live here and I’m trying to make it nice. 

Fat activists say, rightly, that it’s a privilege to not have to think about one’s body as ever being an imposition. They have also long been arguing, rightly, that they own the terms “body acceptance” and “body positivity” because they are a given for everyone else, politically speaking; personal self-acceptance is different from societal acceptance. As a mid-size by definition (but not identity) I feel deeply unsure anything is gained by me claiming I’m “fat, a little.”  

This might inspire eye rolls, but if I experience any fleeting moments of happiness on this mortal coil, it’s not because I’m not fat but not thin either. Body size as identity (beyond creating a needed political movement) just feels like a trap. 

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I know someone saying “don’t think about this” makes it impossible to not think about it, so think about it as much as you want. The process of self-acceptance is like a lot of circles of hell; it feels possible to me that getting something out of watching not-fat but not-aggressively-skinny people jiggle their stomachs in “unposed” Instagram posts is one circle you stumble upon with delight, only to ultimately depart with a little skepticism as to whether that was good, actually. But the more I think about why I think about all this, the more I feel I’m happier not thinking about it at all. Therefore, the people I like to follow are the ones who build their identity around what they can do, not what they look like. 

I have a feeling you will have a problem with this video but I don’t see why I wouldn’t just try these things. What if I just did them? --JS

Well if you do any of these things, you’d be doing “exercise,” whether you do the things you’re not supposed to do, or not. In this video, a fitness influencer claims the reason "your glutes are not growing" are due to movement choice, and that sumo squats will grow glutes while regular squats won't, and a reverse lunge plus a kickback will grow glutes while lunge jumps won't. 


Here she is overstating a number of things, mostly that growth of any muscle is mainly a result of choosing one move versus another, instead of eating enough, training with heavy weights, and progressively overloading (and as part of that, building enough strength to use heavy-enough weights to make muscles grow). Doing a kickback instead of a lunge jump does not a big glute make. These moves do use glutes slightly more, but in terms of overall growth for an otherwise inexperienced person, it's the cherry on the frosting of the muscle growth cake. Go do some basic strength training; this will get you much closer than swapping moves.

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I think I found a good TikTok video that’s correct and not making anything up? --BaB

In my experience, this guy is almost perfectly correct. Trying to "lose weight" as a concept is an entirely false errand, and even with the better-adjusted goal of "losing body fat," an entirely cardio-based regimen is too likely to chip away at the precious muscle we need to move around and live life. 

The same is true of an overly-aggressive caloric deficit; I've been to the place of feeling like the "do less" approach of an aggressive diet was easier than the "do more" approach of learning to lift weights and protect my muscles. But if that was ever true, it was true only in the extreme short term, and meant that both the process and end result of "weight loss" sucked experientially and didn't stick. Since muscles are so key to health and we basically have to exercise, I'm a big fan of the constructive approach of focusing on skills and constructing a whole balanced picture of a life I can basically enjoy as an initial step; there is only pain at the end of making working out or eating all about "losing weight" or even "losing body fat.” 

What is your opinion on supplements? Should I take preworkout? --Gina

I get a lot of questions about supplements, and the supplement in question here is "pre-workout." Most pre-workout is just fruity caffeine, and as all caffeine does, it will give you more energy. (There are other pre-workouts without caffeine, but their effects are less studied.) 

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In terms of having an energetic workout, I find two other things to be more helpful than pre-workout, which can sometimes make me jittery from slamming a big dose that peters out before my workout is even over. One is creatine, which helps more in terms of not feeling gassed toward the end of a workout (creatine essentially helps muscles store more energy than they otherwise would). People often think of creatine as a scary and unsafe substance for meatheads, but it's not; aside from the fact taking creatine makes it more important to drink your water, it's fine. 

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The other thing is having a sugary intra-workout drink or snack during long sessions (we're talking an hour or more), like Gatorade or some candy. I don't use these all the time, and I didn't start working them into my routine until I'd been lifting for quite a while. No supplement is necessary, but these are pretty common ones. Just stay away from the contraband Jack3d on eBay and you’ll probably be okay.

(On the note of the poster in question swigging a dry scoop of the powder, that's generally a bad and unnecessary thing to do. My people have been dry-scooping for a long time, but it's typically done as a matter of urgency, when you don't have any water handy in a container where you can easily dump in a messy scoop of powder, like a single-use water bottle. Even in that event, you'd chase the scoop with a swig of water like she does in the video.  Just don't be a dummy and try to dry-swallow a pile of caffeine powder.)

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Please rate The Rock’s leg workout without writing 2000 words about it. --Alex

Ok, here is a workout you're simply not going to get through without some supps (and plenty of food before, during, and after). It's a buckwild amount of volume, hundreds and hundreds of reps, four of them hammering basically the same movement patterns and muscles in the same way. Maybe the most important thing to keep in mind while looking at something like this is that one workout is not a whole regimen; The Rock does lots of other stuff, and this is possibly one "high volume" “leg” day that may be mixed in with other themed days (high intensity days, “shoulder” days, “back” days, and so on). 

The other thing to keep in mind is that The Rock is essentially a bodybuilder, so he works out for aesthetics and hugeness; these are the people gym machines are really made for. A normal person will likely get more functionality mileage (that is, building strength that will carry over to daily life) out of primarily using free weights like barbells and dumbbells. Either way, "working out like The Rock" in this case isn't something anyone should worry about except people of The Rock-type experience who wish to look as much like The Rock as possible. When people “review” things like this, it’s like reviewing a Lamborghini or a spaceship. On a scale of “one to ten, ten being unnecessary for you” I rate The Rock’s leg workout a 17/10.

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Please tell me what this is I have no idea --KN

Basically this is a squat variation that might be called something like "pause squat with pulses at the bottom." A certain kind of personal trainer (and especially barre instructors) simply love to have clients do "pulse” movements, possibly because it's an easy-enough concept to grasp and it hurts a lot. Technically, they might fall into the category of "zone" strengthening, as a way of using muscles that would be activated at a particular point in a movement's overall range of motion. In the case of a squat, glutes and hamstrings are the most activated at the bottom, but still not much

A lot of fitness content for women, if you haven't noticed, revolves around "targeting glutes" at any cost, but any squat is still going to be mostly about quads. But there are an infinite number of things that would better “target the glutes”—any kind of deadlift, glute-dominant back extensions, clamshells, hip thrusts, bridges. But if you aren’t sure how to do a squat, period, you will be 1000% better off drilling down on that in all respects before doing anything like this. 

And while we’re on that note…

What do you mean hip thrusts are overrated??? --TI

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I said offhandedly online the other day that I thought hip thrusts, the most cherished religious practice of glute worshippers the world over, were overrated, and people Reacted. You’d be forgiven for thinking that in order to be strong or have a huge butt, you must be able to hip-thrust 400 pounds. We owe much of this hip thrust hegemony to “The Glute Guy” Bret Contreras, who made up an unnecessary $500 contraption to sell about it.

But speaking as someone of weak hip and overactive lower back experience, hip thrusts couldn’t hold a candle to teaching me to actually use all the muscles in my hips the way a hip hinge did. A hip hinge, if you don’t know, is essentially “bending over at the hips.” Sounds simple, but as someone who sits all day and wasn't blessed with DaVincian body mechanics, it was probably the most important thing I ever did. Getting to know the hip hinge watered my crops, whitened my teeth, called my mother, and ended several wars. My glutes and hamstrings were blind, but now they see. 

I even have a lazy hip from playing field hockey for several of my formative years, where you spend hours at a time hunched over on one side, so drilling hinging one hip at a time with dumbbell kickstand (or “B-stance”, as they are known on TikTok) Romanian deadlifts was especially important for me. 

In a person with perfect body mechanics and “good form,” hip hinges and hip thrusts are not even diametrically opposed, and both have their uses. But what’s missing from most fitness content out there, I think, is that most people looking at it don’t have a grasp of the essentials, so all of this ticky-tacky discussion about lunge jumps versus kickbacks or hip thrust variations versus “frog pumps” ignores the fact that a lot of us have not once in our lives accomplished the basic task of lifting anything “with our legs (hips) and not our backs.” 

This is why I’ve decided to throw all my weight behind the hip hinge. The hip hinge is a useful movement pattern that, having learned to do it right, I can now do a good hip thrust when I couldn’t really before. I’ve seen too many people doing hip thrusts who are just torquing their lower back around. This is a maybe unscientific opinion, but if you can’t hip hinge, you probably can’t hip thrust all that well. Do hip thrusts to your heart’s content, I am not the boss of you; but don’t neglect the humble hip hinge.


Disclaimer: This content is for education and entertainment purposes only. 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. Consult a professional for your personal medical and health needs.

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 swole.woman@vice.com.