I am excited to say that parts of the following article have been featured in the February edition of Cleo Magazine. Wow. I am so chuffed about that. If you want to read the Cleo article, it's in the media section.
Is strong really the new skinny?
The ‘strong is the new skinny’ mantra is growing in popularity as women look for inspiration to keep fit and healthy. Every day, social media sites like facebook, instagram and pinterest are plastered with images of muscular, athletic physiques promoting the benefits of strength training and clean eating.
As a personal trainer, I’m noticing that there is a growing number of women aspiring to be stronger and fitter, and less focused on being skinny. This is particularly the case at Function Well where the majority of females training in the gym are training with weights on a regular basis.
Ultimately women want to look good and part of that is having confidence in their body shape. Being skinny doesn’t necessarily result in body confidence, but I believe being strong and capable does.
I don’t think women are specifically choosing strength goals ‘over’ dropping a dress size as such. Most of the women I work with are looking for body shape changes - the difference I see is that they’ve chosen to focus on strength goals as a positive means of achieving their goal of being slimmer and in better shape. They are more interested in how much they can lift or how fast they can run as opposed to how much they weigh.
I believe one of the reasons we’re seeing a focus on strength goals is that we are strongly influenced by the media, and over the past 12-18 months, there has been a notable focus on celebrating healthy, athletic women. More and more, women are being celebrated for their strength and athleticism, and this year’s Olympic Games is a perfect example. Coverage of the Games led to a lot of discussion amongst personal training clients, not only about the awesome physiques of the female athletes but their incredible strength and power. Also, the popularity of events like Tough Mudder and the Stampede, as well as the ever-growing Crossfit movement has given women something to aspire to, and has given them an arena to excel in.
Striving for thinness is not empowering
Smart women are realising that being skinny doesn’t necessarily equate to being healthy. When you see a strong, lean, athletic woman, you know she takes pride in herself. You can tell that she exercises and eats well, and that is appealing to women (and men). A strong physique has shape – in and out of clothing.
From my experience, women are also striving towards overall health and being empowered. Striving for thinness is not empowering, and can lead to negative self-talk and anxiety. For the women I work with, being strong and capable is what motivates them as opposed to feeling weak and anxious about how many calories they can eat or how much cardio they believe they should be doing.
Many women still have the mindset that to change their body shape, they need to ‘lose weight’ (on the scales), but being skinny or waif-like is not a goal of any of the women I’ve been working with over the past three years. More often than not, when women say they want to lose 5kg they are really aspiring to a more shapely, toned and athletic body. They want to get back into a dress that fitted last year or have a flatter tummy before buying a new bikini. The smart ones quickly realise that you need to lift weights and focus on strength training to achieve these goals.
It’s a myth that you’ll look like a bodybuilder just because you lift weights
One of the first things new clients say when I run them through their weight training program is that they ‘don’t want to bulk up’. It’s a myth that women will bulk up if they lift weights. Female figure competitors and body builders work extremely hard with very specific exercise programs to obtain the muscle needed to compete. Even so, women just don’t have the level of testosterone that men do, and that prevents women from gaining the kind of muscle mass that men can gain.
It is incredible to watch a woman’s physique change over time from lifting weights. With consistent weight training following an effective program, a woman’s body can change quite dramatically. They develop a leaner mid-section, more shapely legs, a higher and more toned butt, more defined arms and shoulders which can balance out a woman’s hips, and improved posture. Long-steady cardio on the other hand gives you none of that.
Benefits of weight training
It seems counter-intuitive to most women, but training with heavy weights is the key to fat loss and body transformation. A lot of women talk about wanting to ‘tone up’. What they’re really looking to achieve is more muscle and less fat. To achieve that, you need to lift weights. Weight training shapes your body, strengthens your bones, improves posture, helps prevent injury, increases your resting metabolic rate, and improves your body’s fat burning capacity. You won’t get any of those benefits from steady-state cardio. You only need to compare the physiques of female sprinters and female marathon runners to understand what lifting weights and doing intense interval training can achieve as opposed to steady-state cardio.
Not everyone is built to be skinny
Focusing on being skinny is not sustainable, nor is it healthy. Smart women realise that.
Not everyone is built to be ‘skinny’. There’s a difference between being ‘skinny’ and being lean. Being leaner (less body fat / more muscle) is certainly something that women can achieve, but achieving a skinny body is not necessarily possible depending on your body shape.
Getting stronger is definitely an achievable goal for all women. No matter what your starting point is, there’s always room for improvement and achievement.
Focus on what you can do, not how much you weigh
Everyone is different when it comes to motivation, but I’ve found that most of the clients I'm working with now have shifted their focus from what they weigh to what they can do. Focusing on strength goals instead of weight loss can change the way a woman thinks about her training and her nutrition. It can lead to a more positive attitude towards her body and higher motivation. My clients get excited when they realise they’re lifting more weight or doing more reps than they did the week before. When they achieve their first chin-up or pushup on their toes, it motivates them to work even harder for an extra chin-up or pushup next time.
I believe women are more likely to get a sense of achievement and empowerment if they focus on strength goals because they experience results weekly, providing recognition of the effort they’re putting in and reinforcing to them that they’re hard work is paying off.
Women who focus solely on their weight and on weighing themselves as an indicator of success don’t get frequent positive reinforcement and are often disappointed by the results, which can lead to negative self-talk, depression, emotional eating, and a loss of enthusiasm and commitment to the goal. Negative results can also lead to sabotaging behaviours - more restrictive dieting and engaging in excessive cardio – things that will have a detrimental effect on your ability to build and maintain muscle and reduce body fat.
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