July 21, 2010

My Girlfriend's Perspective on Female Weight Training

Hi. This is Pei Xin, Wee Kiat's girlfriend. I wrote this post to share with you what I think about women's weight training.

If you don't know yet, I go to the gym on a regular basis too. And I don't just do cardio, as most women who head for the gym do; I also venture into the unspoken rule of male territory that is the free weights and machines area.

Why do I say unspoken rule of male territory? Take a look at any gym. The male-to-female ratio that occupies the strength and resistance training section is... I would say about 7:1, based on what I observe at the gym I go to.

And I believe this estimated ratio extends to other gyms as well, based on the general public's view about weight training. Bodybuilding is a sport that appeals more, much more, to men than to women. When I ask around about what ladies think about weight training, they go, "Eee. I don't want to be like a man." Which brings us to

#1 The General Misconception

If you haven't tried weight training, I can understand if you have such apprehensions, because of the phenomenon called fear of the unknown. Understandable are fears such as "what if I can't go back to being femininely slender after I start weight training, even after I stop weight training?" or "what if my muscles turn into fats and I get even flabbier than before?"

These are some of the views I receive from my little social poll. And what can I say? People who have tried weight training know, for a fact, that these beliefs are untrue, because of knowledge of how the human body works. But it takes more to convince the public otherwise, when they're this sceptical and also paranoid.

#2 Inspire Others

But I believe that I can at least convince my friends and family, through myself. You see, I used to be fat.

I believe I started ballooning from the age of 13, when I started eating more junk food. And I wasn't athletic, so other than Physical Education lessons, I didn't exercise much. This went on for 6 years, until the year 2009. It was when I had an 8-month long break after my 'A' Levels that I channeled my time and energy into trying to slim down.

I referenced CLEO magazine, which had a workout section in every monthly issue at that time, and I followed them. I also started eating 6 small meals a day, which became a lifestyle change.

Anyway, I could go into details but I don't want to bore you (and myself, actually). Basically I just plodded on like this until I met Wee Kiat. Wee Kiat introduced me to the world of weight training. I did say that he made me do an arm exercise the first day I met him. It's 9 months since I started weight training, and also 9 months since I met him.

And my body has changed. 9 months ago, I never imagined that I could stand in front of a mirror and feel good about my body. When I look at my toned arms, I remember the months of training put in, squeezed in between studying. I only vaguely remember the muscle pain. Because when you get the results you worked so hard for, you don't really remember how hard you worked for it; you're too busy savouring the fruits of your labour.

I have never met a girl who didn't wish her arms were more toned. When I suggested weight training, they had the misconception that they'd grow intensely muscular. Now's the school holidays. Hopefully, when I go back to school and meet them again, they'll be more convinced that weight training is the way to go to have a tighter body.

#3 Know your body type.

Some people lose fats easily without cardio. Others lose fats with a little cardio. And then there are some who can lose fats only with a lot of cardio -- that's me. Before I elaborate more, here's a little technical information.

Before you embark on your journey to a better body, first determine your body type. 3 general categories:

1) Ectomorph - this first group is the lucky group who lose fats easily without much cardio. The catch is that building muscle is hard for them.

2) Endomorph - this is the group I belong to. Endomorphs gain fats easily. The boon is, they also gain muscle easily. And they are generally stronger than average because they absorb nutrients more easily.

3) Mesomorph - basically the best of both worlds. These people gain muscle easily and lose fats easily.

P.S. Note that in reality people do not fall into these 3 distinct categories. Rather, we fall along a spectrum. People can come in a combination e.g. ecto-mesomorph, or endo-mesomorph.

Knowing your body type helps a lot. Knowing your body type allows you to know which part of your regime (diet, weights, cardio) to focus on more. It helps you decide what kind of weight training (circuit or per body part, light weights with high reps or heavy weights with low reps) you should do. It also helps you decide the components of your diet (low or moderate carb).

Example: For an endomorph like me, I have curves but I tend to get fat. So, avoiding weight training and just doing cardio alone will never whip my body into shape. Circuit training will burn fat for me up to a certain point. But heavy weights with low reps build muscle without a ceiling. Plus, I have the advantage of gaining muscle easily, so weight training yields more results for me than, say, an ectomorph. Diet-wise, as I am carbohydrate-sensitive, I should go as low carbs as possible, whereas ectomorphs can take more carbs.

#4 Just try it. You'll be surprised.

Generally, when a lady goes to the gym, all she does is hop from one cardio machine to the other until she thinks she's burned off enough calories. Ok, cardio's good. But let me share with you a tip: I never really kept the fat at bay until I started training legs.

Being an endomorph, I had to make my advantages work for me. There was a period whereby I focused on cardio and neglected working out my legs because training legs means I can't do cardio until they recover. (I did work out other body parts, just not legs.) What happened was I did more than 200 minutes of cardio a week and yes, I lost 1.5kg that week. But it means embarking on another grueling week of logging in 200 minutes of cardio.

Then Wee Kiat said, "Do some legs la, ok."

Ok. So I tried another method. Legs day twice a week (with a third weight training session in between), with 20mins cardio 3x a week. That's very little cardio for an endomorph like me. But guess what? Being naturally inclined to gain muscle easily, my legs became more muscular, fast. And legs being bigger muscles (than, say, the arms), it built more muscle and burnt more fats. I got visibly more toned and less flabby in two weeks of following this regime. And I didn't even need to do as much cardio! Oh, and doing cardio alone does NOT give you a tight butt and thighs. ;D

#5 You'll love yourself more, too.

I can say weight training made my life more enriched.

It gives me a sense of control, that I have control over my body and can minimise the effects of monthly hormonal bloating. Doing cardio releases endorphins and relieves PMS. For me, going to the gym regularly actually stave off cravings. Furthermore, weight training makes me feel less helpless over the fact that pregnancies almost always wreck a woman's body. Hormonal roller coasters, stretch marks, sagging boobs, getting out of shape; no more -- weight training provides a healthy and doable channel to resist these unfavourable changes to a woman's body after pregnancy.

It gives me a sense of empowerment, that it's not only guys who can lift such-and-such weight; I can too. Remember what I said about the unspoken rule of male territory? Remember my 7:1 estimation? Well, I'm the "1". Being the only lady in the free weights area no longer daunts me, even though it does bring a lot of attention. I keep working myself to lift heavier and heavier so that guys don't get too cocky.

Finally, weight training makes me feel better about myself. One, because I love my body more, I find more options in my wardrobe, I start wearing smaller sizes and I'm mighty pleased. Two, because I have more self-respect and admiration, that I overcome the pain and the aches and the "boo-hoo I don't want to go to the gym"s. Weight training trains your mental toughness as well, so you become a stronger person on the inside, not just on the outside.

Weight training garners the same health and mental benefits for women as it does for men. I see no reason not to give it a try. Look at me and you'll see that my shape is still womanly. It may change your life just as it did mine.

P.s. All photos uploaded by Lai Wee Kiat, obviously. :D


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