Weight training is important for trans guys/FTMs for many reasons. Are you thinking about doing some weight training? This post explains why body building is very important for trans guys/FTMs. Weight training will build not only your body, but also your confidence and self-esteem. It will also help boost your testosterone levels. And in the long term, it will help you to live a long and healthy life.
Body Building will Help You to Pass
Most of us trans guys want to pass, and body building will help you to do that. On a personal level: since building a better physique, I feel so much better about my post-transition body. The overall impression I give, whether from a distance or closer, is much more masculine. With clothes on or off!
And because my body is now so muscular and masculine, I feel like my chest scars are not such a giveaway. This photo contrasts my chest before top surgery, and after starting body building. In my opinion, my growing pecs were starting to distract the eye away from my scars. And once I threw a t-shirt over my new pec muscles, my chest appeared 100% masculine. Since this photo, I have defined my chest further, and the scars have faded a little (not completely).
Aspire to Going Shirtless!
Thanks to time and body building, I have reached the point that I now bike and swim shirtless. This is something I never thought I would achieve in this lifetime. Frankly, I now look so strong, that I don’t really care whether anyone notices my scars. I have noticed that these days other men just politely acknowledge me. They treat me with respect, because it looks like I can handle myself. If it happened for me, it can happen for you too.
All Men Want to Look Manly
It is not just us FTMs who worry about looking masculine. Cis guys also strive to look as manly as possible. That desire to look masculine fuels many men’s appetite for body building. The common aim is to look big and strong, with broad shoulders, a strong chest, and muscular arms. The overall impression most of us want to give is that of a big strong V, tapering from broad shoulders to a narrow (or narrow-looking) waist.
Working consistently and hard on a body-building routine will help you to move towards this kind of manly appearance.
Other Benefits of Resistance Training for Trans Men
Body building doesn’t just change the way you look. It will also make you stronger, which is a great confidence builder. Many of us FTMs feel some vulnerability in this world, and for good reason. Knowing that you are very strong and have a reasonable chance of defending yourself will help with that feeling of vulnerability.
Nowadays, if I am in any situation where I feel vulnerable, I just square my shoulders and puff out my strong chest. Believe it or not, this usually works. I feel more confident, and it shows. Instead of coming across as a weak potential victim, I come across as someone who is not to be messed with.
Boost Your Testosterone
Body building boosts your testosterone levels in several ways. First, the simple act of pushing weight will send your testosterone levels soaring. And your human growth hormone levels too. Both of these changes are extremely good for you. Out of all the exercises you can do, weight lifting is by far the best to boost your testosterone levels in both the short and the long term.
Second, replacing fat with muscle has a profound impact on your testosterone levels. Fat tissue has a high amount of an enzyme called aromatase. Aromatase convert testosterone molecules into estrogen molecules. As a trans man, this is pretty much the opposite of what you want to achieve!
- A 1983 study showed that after lifting weights, men experienced significant increases of testosterone. (See list of sources at the end of this post.)
- A 2001 study found that resistance training temporarily increases testosterone and impacts fat distribution.
- A 2004 study found that regular physical activity increased testosterone and growth hormone levels and improved brain function.
- A study published in 2008 found that in men who did not exercise, their levels of testosterone increased by 14.5% after they started exercising.
- A 2012 study found that regular exercise was linked to higher testosterone levels.
- A 2016 study of obese men found that regular exercise did more to increase their testosterone levels than even losing weight.
Improve Your Fat Distribution
When I was transitioning, I found that my fat distribution was the single greatest barrier to my passing. I had typical female-type fat distribution, carrying most of my fat below the waist. No matter how masculine I looked from the neck up, it felt like my fat distribution was a give-away. This is a very common problem with trans men.
Time and taking testosterone combats this quite a bit. But for many of us, the problem never goes away. I found that weight training was an enormous help with this. And in fact, research has shown that weight lifting impacts fat distribution, even for women.
It is a simple fact that resistance training will help us to age well. All of us want to not only live as long as possible, but also be healthy and able-bodied for as long as possible. Weight training will help with that. There is a huge body of research that proves that weight training is the best form of exercise to help us to age well.
If you want to be able to live a long and active health span (not just life span), the single best thing you can do is start a body building program today. And keep it up into your seventies and beyond.
In short, weight-training offers so many advantages that I now prioritize it over cardio training in my pursuit of a long, high-quality life.
Remember that Body Building is a Little Different for Trans Guys
If I had been born with a male body, I would have had the benefit of testosterone from before I was born. Then that testosterone would have kicked in even more when I went through adolescence.
What does testosterone do? Among other things, it builds bigger bones, bigger muscles, stronger joints, and bigger lungs with greater ability to process oxygen.
As it was, I only started getting these benefits in my late forties. This means I will always be a shorter man with smaller lungs, smaller bones, and smaller muscles. I can never be as strong as I would have been if I had been born in the correct body.
That means we need to go easy on ourselves. We need to be careful not to try to compete with cis guys in the gym. That way lies the risk of injury, which could sideline a guy for months.
Personally I find I prefer to work out in my home gym. It just takes the pressure off. I have explained how to set up a home gym in a post here.
Testosterone will Help You to Gain Muscle
Despite having a later start, I find that with the benefit of testosterone, I now have a greater capacity than ever before to build muscle. For example, I was astonished to see visible pectoral growth after just two months of starting to work out.
And when my wife and friends started to comment that they could see my impressive chest muscles through my t-shirt, every minute of working out was more than worth it! Since then, resistance training has become a way of life and a top priority for me.
If you are on testosterone, you should have the same experience of being able to build muscle more rapidly than ever before in your life. This is incredibly motivating, and will help you show up consistently for your weight training workouts.
But Wait – There’s More!
This is the first in a series of posts about weight training and body building for trans guys/FTMs. This is the complete series:
- Why Weight Training is Important for Trans Guys/FTMs (This post)
- Tips for Success with Body Building for FTMs/Trans Men
- How to Set Up Your Own Body Building Program
- How to Set Up Your Own Private Body Building Center in Your Home
- The Best Body Building Workout for Trans Men/FTMs – Complete Guide
Sources Used in This Post
- Ari, Zeki., Necip Kutlu, Bekir Sami Uyanik, Fatma Taneli, Gurbuz Buyukyazi, Talat Tavli. Serum testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor-1 levels, mental reaction time, and maximal aerobic exercise in sedentary and long-term physically trained elderly males. 2004 May;114(5):623-37.
- Hawkins, Vivian N. Karen Foster-Schubert, Jessica Chubak, Bess Sorensen, Cornelia M. Ulrich, Frank Z. Stancyzk, Stephen Plymate, Janet Stanford, Emily White, John D. Potter and Anne Mctiernan. Effect of Exercise on Serum Sex Hormones in Men: A 12-Month Randomized Clinical Trial. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Feb; 40(2): 223–233.
- Kumagai, Hiroshi, Asako Zempo-Miyaki, Toru Yoshikawa, Takehiko Tsujimoto, Kiyoji Tanaka, and Seiji Maeda. Increased physical activity has a greater effect than reduced energy intake on lifestyle modification-induced increases in testosterone. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2016 Jan; 58(1): 84–89.
- Nindl, BC, WJ Kraemer, L A Gotshalk, J O Marx, J S Volek, F A Bush, K Häkkinen, R U Newton, S J Fleck. Testosterone responses after resistance exercise in women: influence of regional fat distribution. Comparative Study. Int J Neurosci. 2001 Dec;11(4):451-65
- Vaamonde, Diana, Marzo Edir Da Silva-Grigoletto, Juan Manuel García-Manso, Natalibeth Barrera, Ricardo Vaamonde-Lemos. Physically active men show better semen parameters and hormone values than sedentary men. Comparative Study. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012 Sep;112(9):3267-73.
- Weiss, Lawrence W., Kirk J. Cureton & Frederick N. Thompson. Comparison of serum testosterone and androstenedione responses to weight lifting in men and women. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology volume 50, pages 413–419 (1983).