Chances are, you’ve thought about working out at some point in your life. If you’re a woman, chances are that you’ve worried that working out would bulk you up and make you look like a man. Why do we worry about this? Why do women think that any little bit of muscle is manly? Why don’t we embrace a strong, healthy woman and instead insist that curvy and soft are the only womanly features we can have? Well, to start off with, let’s look at a little history. Back in the middle ages/Renaissance Era, women with very voluptuous figures were regarded as “sexy” and were the subjects of numerous paintings. This was based on the fact that your status was represented in your body type: if you had money, you obviously weren’t hurting for food. On top of that, women of the upper class likely had maids to clean, cook, and watch the children, so she had little physical activity to do leading to the celebration of body types such as those seen below:
The idea of women as a curvy, soft specimen were continued up through the Victorian Era until the 1900’s. The pendulum seemed to swing to the opposite end of the spectrum during this time, with fashion highlighting models who were not only thin, but in some cases dangerously underweight. So where are we now? Thankfully, with the increased fame and celebration of female athletes, an athletic body type seems to be rising to the forefront of what “sexy” embodies. Even many Hollywood celebrities have traded their uber skinny bodies for a more toned look: think Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Biel, and even Jennifer Aniston.
So back to the original point: why should you work out and how can you make sure you won’t look manly doing it? The perception that lifting weights will make you bulk up is utterly false and is based on the images of female bodybuilders who likely are using “questionable” supplements and countless hours of lifting in order to achieve their size:
Such body types are unhealthy in a variety of ways, however maintaining muscle mass in general is just the opposite. A good mix of strength training, cardio, and a proper diet will keep you at weight that is healthy. In fact, muscle burns calories even when you’re not working out which will promote a leaner body type!
To avoid undesirable mass, you have to first pick where exactly you want to fall on the spectrum. If you just want to be toned, then an exercise routine consisting of 3+ days of cardio and 2-3 days of lifting is the way to go. On those lifting days, think lower weights and higher reps, and incorporate a whey protein supplement or my favorite, Orgain. Yoga and pilates are also good options for either cardio or strength days. For someone who wants to maintain a slightly more athletic build, moderate weights 3-4 days a week will help you target muscle groups more specifically, for example one day will be biceps and triceps, another abs, shoulders, and back, another quads and glutes, and yet another of hamstrings and calves. Protein supplements can either be whey or a more “build” oriented protein such as Muscle Milk. Keeping consistent cardio in your workout schedule will keep you from building too much muscle. Remember that cardio for most bodybuilders is going to consist of low intensity cardio, like walking or doing the stair climber, to allow calorie burning to target fat instead of muscle. Running, Crossfit, biking, and other high intensity cardio activities will break down muscle in addition to burning fat, so keep that in mind once you start incorporating some strength training into your workout plan.
In summary, just know that you will get the body that you train for. Realize that going to the gym and lifting weights is not going to make you look like a female Arnold. Even my 55-year-old mother lifts weights and trust me, she is nowhere near “bulked up”. Just because we’re female doesn’t mean we should be soft, fleshy, and plump. Let’s advance past that 18th century, housebound female stereotype and show the world what a strong woman looks like. We’ve been strong on the inside all along; it’s time to let it out!
And on a final note, here’s some humor for the road: