I’ve just come across an article in the Guardian which refers to a recent study undertaken in Australia; it concludes that fear of judgement is stopping women from exercising. Apparently they are worried about how they will look when they exercise (red in the face, sweaty and disheveled) but they are also worried about becoming overly muscular and less feminine! I really cannot understand the former as everyone gets hot and sweaty when they exercise be they male or female but the second could be, I suppose, a legitimate concern for some women if they don’t understand the forms of exercise that are available to them.
There is a great difference between building muscle and having good muscle definition. If you start going to the gym and gradually lift heavier and heavier weights and eat more and more to compensate then of course you will bulk up. I speak from experience here; when I was in my late twenties and early thirties I started going to a gym that was mainly used by people who were they to body build and to weight train. I have a massive competitive streak and so I started to train with weights in order to compete at the same level as the most experienced women there; after about 9 months I was beating them. At this point I will readily admit that it became something of an obsession and I was in the gym 4 nights a week for 2 hours at a time and, after a few more months, I was pushing myself to be able to compete with the men. As I was so dedicated (or perhaps, looking back, slightly unhinged) the owner of the gym started to train me personally as he wanted me to compete. I was more than happy to go along with that and the weights continued to go up and up and up. At my peak I was dead lifting 125kg, bench pressing 70kg and leg pressing 340kg which was more than some of the men. I was also doing cardio and was burning huge amount of calories which meant that I was eating more than I ever had. However, as I was working out so much and my diet was tailored to my work outs (lots of protein, fresh fruit and veg with controlled carbs) I had very little fat on my body and amazing muscle definition. The down side was that I had really bulked up; I weighed around 11 stone (70kg) and was wearing a size 14. That said, in no way did I feel unfeminine, not that I’ve ever been a frilly, lacy kind of girl; I felt empowered, strong and sexy. I was probably at my most healthy at this point in my life and I loved it. A series of events in my personal life meant that I had to stop going to that particular gym and so I lost my personal trainer. However, I carried on alone and, over time, I learned how to keep the muscle definition but also how not to bulk up too much.
High weights and low repetitions will build muscle and strength but lower weights and higher numbers of repetitions will give you muscle definition and stamina. You will also find that the more muscle you have the more easily you will burn fat, so it’s great to work out if you want to lose weight, but that doesn’t mean that you need to end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Protein is very important so you need to be eating plenty of chicken, eggs, milk, cheese and lean red meat. Accompany these with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and not too much bread, rice or pasta. You need a certain amount of carbs to fuel your body but excessive amounts will pile on the pounds.
Before you go to the gym make sure that you eat something about an hour before; some people swear by weight training on an empty stomach but I just find that I tire more quickly and struggle to finish my workout. I find that a small handful of almonds or a banana give me plenty of energy to do what I need to do.
After I lost my husband I dropped about 2 stone in weight and I’m now a size 10; I’m happy with that and all my clothes are a size 10 so I don’t want to start bulking up again. For this reason I stick with 3 sets of each exercise with 10 repetitions per set but I will do 30 minutes on the treadmill before I start and I will keep the weights heavy enough so that I know my muscles are working but not so heavy that I have to drop down to 4 or 6 reps.
In addition I also do Pilates for an hour twice a week and yoga 2 or 3 times a week when I feel the need to relax or to stretch tired muscles. Both Pilates and Yoga create long lean muscles and shape the body – bum and boobs are lifted, the stomach is flatter and the waist more defined.
All of this exercise may leave me a sweaty, unkempt mess when I’ve finished but a quick shower and a bit of make-up soon sorts that out and, far from making me feel self-conscious or less feminine, knowing that my body is as healthy and in shape as it can be is nothing short of empowering. So, ladies, stop worrying about how you’ll look when you exercise and concentrate on how you’ ll feel ;O)