I started weight lifting because I wanted to smash the stereotypes and defy convention. Each to their own, but the lean look definitely wasn’t for me. However, in a society obsessed with being less, intense cardio and attaining the body fat percentage of a small child, the concept of increasing your mass is often met with open-jawed incredulity. No one bats an eyelid when a bloke says he wants to build muscle, a woman on the other hand.
Looks can be deceiving.
Fashion trends dictate the style and particular looks and the fitness industry is no different. The current trend is the fitness model look and the almost total elimination of body fat. With many personal trainers and coaches promoting the lean look. Ironically, this look is actually a contradiction in terms. Chances are these people are not as athletically fit as you think. The simple fact is many will have reduced their body fat to such low levels that the muscle is more visible under the skin. Looking fit and healthy and being fit and healthy are vastly different.
Women are genetically predisposed to carry more body fat than men, we are the life-givers after all. There are differences in how male and female bodies metabolise fat. Women need an essential body fat of between 10-12% as opposed to men who only need 2-4%. Essential means absolutely necessary not optional.
Here are just a few reasons we need body fat; Biological function (body) and cognitive function (brain). Efficient vitamin and mineral absorption. Shock absorption (cushioning of the internal organs and joints). Cell Structure (fat is also contained within the cells) aiding healthy skin, hair and nails. Fertility and Pregnancy. Energy levels and a strong immune system.
The grass always looks greener when it’s astroturf.
Personal trainers and coaches have a duty of care to their clients and a responsibility to offer educated professional instruction. I have listened to accounts of trainers who practice demoralising weigh-ins, breach confidentiality by disclosing the weight and body fat of their clients to others and intentionally create a rivalry between clientele. To make money by preying on the insecurities of others under the pretence they have the client’s best interests at heart is unethical.
Social media is saturated with before and after’s and many trainers use them as a marketing tool. I was angered after seeing a particularly troubling before and after image. The before image was a full-term pregnancy, the after image, a flat stomach. For me, the most worrying aspect of this was that the woman had equated the beauty and magnificence of pregnancy to being fat. Sometimes I think we don’t deserve our bodies. We are amazingly complex machines, true masterpieces of evolution yet we treat our gifts with contempt.
The lean look is not easily maintained, life on a restricted-calorie diet is punishing and brutal. It is a regime, one which is both psychologically and physically damaging. Body dysmorphia and eating disorders wrapped up in the guise of fitness and a healthy lifestyle. All one needs is a sensible approach and a bit of savvy. Learn some basic biology, the workings of anatomy and physiology, read up on food and nutrition. Discover how the mechanism actually works. Countless times I have observed people like lemmings blindly follow bad advice. People transfixed, hanging on their mentor’s every word. Meanwhile, the guru soaks up the adulation, makes a packet whilst fucking up your metabolism and mental health forever.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
They say fitness is for all but the fitness industry is not all-inclusive. An industry worth billions that in recent years has become less and less about health and all about looks. Selling the dream of physical perfection via Instagram models and fitness magazines. There is still far too much stigma attached to body shape and exercise. Fat and body-shaming is rife. I believe this is a huge contributing factor in deterring women from sport and exercise. Many women hold off, waiting until they have lost the weight before they start exercising.
Regardless of size and shape, it is the right of every woman to realise their athletic potential and unleash the beast. Everyone should experience the heady buzz that comes from a rush of adrenaline or endorphins. It is a potent brew.
Sporting prowess is not the exclusivity of thin women. Looks can be deceiving, on the rugby pitch, I have seen small petite women tackle an opponent twice their size. Or a big woman power sprint like an Olympian. Rugby teaches one to never judge a book by it’s cover (it could be your undoing!). If you put your mind to it, you are capable of anything and NEVER let anyone tell you any different.
I started playing rugby aged forty-five and have never looked back. We recently set up a new local ladies team with the majority of the members never having played before. We have all shapes, sizes and ages, our fitness improving with every training session. Interestingly, I noticed at the outset the ladies mostly commented on their weight loss. However few months in and with a greater knowledge of the game, the topic of weight loss has gone right out the window, now it’s all about getting stronger and faster.
What is chaos for the fly, is normal for the spider.
There is a myriad of misconceptions surrounding body type and fitness. Sometimes when I discuss my fitness with people, I can see a look of disbelief. This does not offend me as I know they have a preconceived idea of what a fit person looks like. I take confidence in the fact that I know I am fit as fuck and love being a contradiction.
For starters, I lift heavy. Rep a 350 kg Leg Press, Bench 80 kg, Dead Lift 160 kg and Squat 170 kg. I play Rugby (Forward) and can still sprint a decent 100 m. Completed five triathlons and one Tough Mudder, all in respectable times. Cycle and run when my forty-six-year-old knees oblige. Bag Munro’s (a Scottish mountain over 3000 feet) having climbed 30 odd in the last two years.
Be the best version of yourself.
Because I weight lift, I reward my body and give something back. Having reduced my chances of osteoporosis by 70% and increased my bone mass. Strong, healthy bones and greater muscle mass improves core stability and balance, crucial as we get older. Weightlifting improves joint stability and builds stronger ligaments and tendons thus reducing the chances of arthritis and sporting injuries. Lifting lessens your chances of cardiovascular disease and lowers blood pressure. Increases HDL (good) cholesterol and reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol. Improves glucose metabolism and defends against type two diabetes. It alleviates depression and controls mood swings through the release of endorphins. For me, exercise is much more than the physical, it’s therapy.
Both weightlifting and rugby have given me the opportunity to look at life from a different angle. The benefits have had such a positive impact in all areas of my life. To be healthy and strong is empowering. So if you have considered exercising, joining a club or even just walking out your door, but fear holds you back. Here is what I say…FUCK THEM. GO DO IT NOW. DO NOT WASTE ANOTHER MOMENT. Exercise whatever your size and remember when you judge a someone by their appearance, it doesn’t define them, it defines you.
Apply the ethos of Rugby:
Knocked down; get right back up; can’t get around it; go through it.
Only look back when you have to pass.
Always keep moving forward.