It’s been a long time coming but it’s official, strong is the new skinny. Phew. It’s about time we started celebrating our bodies and stopped comparing ourselves to whatever “ideal” it is that people helplessly compare themselves to. No longer do we need to survive on as little food as possible or spend hours doing cardio, it’s all about getting lean and most importantly getting healthy.
So why have I found that there’s still an alarming number of women who come to me at Salecca with the fear of gaining muscle? So many women are afraid of doing certain exercises in the fear of gaining big muscles and break out in a sweat just hearing the word “bulky.” What’s important to remember is that some women do just put on muscle easily and naturally have low body fat. It doesn’t make you manly and there’s absolutely no chance you will ever look like a female bodybuilder from simply doing weight training. That's like taking up recreational jogging and suddenly finding yourself with an Olympic qualifying time. Weight training is good for lots of reasons and believe me, its not just about building bigger muscles, the benefits go way beyond that.
The first thing to remember is that weight lifting builds muscle AND burns fat. And what does this equate to? A lean body, something we all aim to achieve right? If your main goal is to loose some body fat then gaining muscle must be a priority. To put it simply you must gain more muscle to loose more fat. Losing weight without putting on, or at least retaining muscle mass, will make you simply look a deflated version of yourself, still with the areas you hate - rather than smaller, tighter and fuller. Weight training increases the body’s metabolism way after you finish training and if you train hard enough it will elevate the growth hormone, which helps burn fat in the body. A higher metabolism through muscle means you can keep little teats in your diet that would previously make you fat. Did you know that 10lbs of muscle burns 50 calories at rest? So weekly you'd burn 350 calories without doing anything. Which, over an extended period of time, can be really significant. Fat burns in the muscle cell, and more muscle equals higher metabolism.
Also, with regular weight training comes strengthening of the bones. How? Well it increases bone density and therefore reduces the risk of things like fractures. It can also improve your posture, balance and co-ordination and lower your blood pressure. The list goes on.
So don’t feel daunted by the weights area at the gym and the alpha males that swarm it. You will be setting an example for the other women out there by seeking out the right way to train. But are you training right? The answer could very well be no. If, like many women I see, you are undertraining, you will not see any results. Put it this way, if you can press 20kg but decide to do only 10kg in the fear of getting “bulky” then you really should just grab your gym bag and go straight home. You’re wasting your time. You need to overload your muscles in order for them to grow and get stronger. Don’t be afraid to lift heavy and break a sweat. Strength is all about testing your limits. Just remember that toning only comes with the more muscle you have. However it’s important to mention here that if you’re new to weight training, you must have a trained professional evaluate your form. Lifting heavy weights can be hazardous if not done the right way, so make sure you consult your personal trainer.
The saying ‘strong is the new skinny’ isn’t there to suggest a certain level of attractiveness, it’s there to make you feel empowered, and give you confidence in your own skin. It’s emphasis isn’t on a certain body image, like being skinny, thin or fat, because “strong” comes in all different shapes and sizes. See it as a guideline for a healthy way of life and as research suggests, a way for women to take control of their body image. Make it your quest to get strong, not skinny.
About the Author: Becs Cronshaw co-founded Salecca, a London based personal training company. She is a fitness professional and a transformation specialist. You can find out more about her on her personal bio page.