Workout tips for transmasc and masculine-of-center individuals
Jessie is a trans/nonbinary circus artist, and personal trainer. He came out in 2013 and finished his transition in 2016. Jessie loves existing at the crossroads of two very niche communities (trans folks + circus artists) and being able to support both. They teach flexibility and weightlifting through their company, Twisted Fox Training. Outside of work Jessie loves gardening, foraging, and cooking.
When discussing dysphoria and the drive to change your body, many people will try to deflect what they feel is an uncomfortable discussion. A lot of the advice I was given was “you are more than your body, your body is the least interesting thing about you, and focus on one non-physical thing you love about yourself.” While all of these are VERY good pieces of advice, sometimes dysphoria can’t be sidestepped or ignored. What got me through the early days of my transition was picking one body part that I loved (or didn’t hate, depending on my dysphoria that day). As a college dancer, it was my legs. I didn’t care if they looked ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ – all that mattered was that they were strong. They carried me through my classes, rehearsals, and my entire transition. Even though the desire to leave behind as much as we possibly can is strong early in transition, finding one thing you like now can help carry you through. No matter what society says about your body, it is yours and will continue to be. If love is too strong a word, start with finding one thing you don’t mind and learn to make your body feel like home.
As an athlete and fitness professional, I know how difficult it can be to exist as a trans person in a world with such narrow concepts of gender and an intense obsession with aesthetics and physical appearance. Thankfully, the internet has both expanded our world and brought us all closer together. I guarantee that you can find one cisgender person who looks like you, or one trans person whose look you like so much you don’t care what society thinks. Maybe even one of each. Every cisgender person looks different, as does every trans person, and the way you exist right now is just fine.
If you are nonbinary, your body is already nonbinary. If you are transmasculine your body is already masculine. If you are a trans man, you already have the body of a man.
It’s ok not to want or need a medical transition, to love parts of your body that society doesn’t see as ‘masculine’, and to express yourself and gender outside of society’s norm.
I had to start with a good helping of self-love because we all need a lot more of it, but this article is about helping you use exercise as a tool to craft a body you are going to feel more at home in. So, let’s get down to business.
The Natural Transition Fallacy
It’s been a while since I came out, so I don’t know if ‘natural transition’ is still a big thing in the transmasculine community. For anyone who isn’t familiar, ‘natural transition’ is a collection of lifestyle changes that is purported to increase your body’s natural production of testosterone. The book of the same name details 14 different supplements to take each day including fat-burning pills and testosterone boosters. My advice is to ignore every shred of information you find on the subject.
Testosterone boosting supplements are usually expensive and unregulated, at best they are a waste of money, at worst they could be dangerous. The food and diet recommendations are restrictive and don’t offer enough of a hormonal change to make up for the added stress and disordered eating. The trans community already has a higher rate of eating disorders. If you are someone who wants to hit the gym for aesthetic purposes, you need calories to fuel your workouts and build more muscle.
So, what muscles should you focus on?
To build a bigger torso and balance out curves, you are going to want to focus on the pecs, deltoids, and lats.
Lats are large muscles spanning much of your back. They attach on your upper arm and travel all the way down to the pelvis. We use rows, pullups, and pushups to build these muscles and add width to the back.
Also include the traps and serratus. The upper traps run along the top of the shoulder and can help visually fill out the upper body, the mid and lower traps are important stabilizers to help balance your movement and physicality. The serratus is fan-shaped and sits along the ribs. It assists both functionally and visually helping to fill out width alongside the lats.
Working Out Safely
A lot of my upper body muscle was built from training handstands. While this can be great fun, it is not always an accessible starting place, nor is it the most efficient method of building large muscles. Keep in mind that as you build upper body muscle, especially lats and traps, binding can become difficult and sometimes painful. Never bind while working out. Instead, opt for a minimizing sports bra or compression top. If you haven’t already, give Trans Tape a try.
Include the hamstrings in your routine to balance the lower body, both visually and functionally. Hamstring curls, hamstring bridges, and deadlifts will help you gain strength and reduce the potential for injury in the gym and daily life.
Building Size vs. Strength
The most effective way to change your body’s shape is through strength training and hypertrophy (muscle growth). When training for muscle size, choose a medium amount of weight or resistance, completing 3-4 sets containing 6-12 repetitions of each exercise. Take shorter rest times, about a minute, between each set. Getting effective hypertrophy is all about progressive overload. In this training style you add just a little bit more weight or resistance each day or each week to continually challenge your muscles. This can be done first by adding just one rep to each set until 12 reps feels easy, then increasing sets until 4 sets feels easy, and finally adding more weight.
Final words of advice
Whether for strength or aesthetics, training is a long process. Results come in months and years, not days, so find a gym buddy, a good support system, and just keep going. Search QueerDoc’s directory to find trans friendly gyms in your area, fill your Instagram feed with trans people and community, and find transgender personal trainers (like myself) to get information and support that is made just for you.