Bodybuilding has burgeoned into a legitimate career field that is attracting those women as well as men who are willing to make the necessary personal sacrifices to achieve success.
However, no longer is the weight room the exclusive domain of contest-oriented bodybuilders and big-time pro athletes (e.g., football, basketball, baseball and hockey players). It would appear that on the whole, Americans have finally come to a point of intelligent awareness about weight training and an appreciative acceptance of bodybuilding and bodybuilders.
Within the past ten or so years the number of "everyday people" working out with the diverse types of weight-training equipment - Camm II, Cybex, Nautilus, Universal, Weight Master, or "free weights" (barbells and dumbbells) - has risen markedly.
There has also been a noticeable increase in the number of amateur and professional physique contests along with an increase in competitors and audience size. Even a casual observer of this sport would be hard pressed to fail to notice that not only is the number of competitors getting deeper but the quality is getting better with each new contest.
Bodybuilding is now big business, a multimillion dollar a year industry, that has attracted a host of assorted entrepreneurial types. Gym owners, magazine publishers, sports-apparel clothiers, promoters, agents, producers of weight-lifting videos, all are currently earning enough money from the realm of "glistening bodies and tingling muscles" to afford themselves a relatively comfortable lifestyle. And their cumulative input has helped to make professional bodybuilding more sophisticated, more complex, and much more profitable than it was in previous years.
Of course, innovative and sunny California is the mecca for bodybuilders, with Florida and New York tying for second. Nonetheless, statistics show that more muscle books and magazines, exercising equipment and attire, in addition to numerous other health and fitness items, are being sold at the present time than ever before.
Now to the uninitiated, the world of competitive bodybuilding might appear to be a strange world. And, in truth, it is undeniably different from the world most people are used to. It is somewhat of an esoteric world -- a world with its own unique language, norms, culture, and particular geographic locations, both in the states and in foreign countries, where accomplished practitioners of this subculture are looked upon as being demigods and are rewarded with huge sums of money.
It is a world where the human body is molded and shaped by "pumping iron," lifting heavy poundage weights a few reps to build "bulk" and "mass," and lifting light poundage weights multiple reps to acquire "definition" and "cuts." It is a world where the body is divided into seven-muscle groups: the abdomen, the back, the buttocks, the chest, the arms, the legs and the shoulders, with no single group of these muscles being more important than any one of the others.
It is a world where the bodybuilder, in an effort to fashion the perfect physique, experiences strain, soreness and pain. It is a world of special foods, protein drinks, supplemental vitamins and strict pre-contest dieting. It is a world where both male and female bodybuilders pray daily for maximum muscle growth gains. It is a world where some of these bodybuilders inject male hormones into their systems to assure an increase in their muscle size and strength.
It is a world where bodybuilders - other than fulfilling the fundamental requirements of being genetically endowed, training hard and having a well-choreographed stage presentation - must be good-looking, articulate, personable and well-versed on the topics of anatomy, physiology, nutrition, weight management and the historical evolution of bodybuilding in order to be considered true world-class competitors.
At one time, women, in their traditionally more sedentary life role, were not as athletically inclined as men. They were neither encouraged to evolve physically nor to engage in strenuous physical activities. They were encouraged, however, to put on skimpy bathing suits and appear onstage at male physique contests to hand out trophies to the winners and to provide a pleasurable diversion for the predominantly male audience. Well, today, another citadel of the noble male animal has stubbornly but emphatically bitten the dust, as women have muscled their way into muscledom.
The majority of modern-day women who weight train do so because they have realized that it can improve their health, enhance their overall physical fitness and appearance and better their athletic performance. But in addition to the aforementioned, other women have realized that magazine exposure, television coverage, acting and modeling assignments, plus physique contests, seminars, mail-order businesses, the endorsement of weight-training equipment, gym shoes, workout attire, besides sundry additional health-related products have brought worldwide attention and financial gain to a sizable number of professional women bodybuilders. And some of these women generate incomes that range in the six-figure-a-year earnings bracket.
Consequently, competitive women's bodybuilding has become a fast growing sport, adding a fresh and exciting dimension to the bodybuilding scene. And the woman bodybuilder has come to be a positive symbol for her badgered sex caught up in exploitative propaganda of gimmicky ways to obtain instant beauty and good health.
Nevertheless, despite all that's been said, far too many women still labor under gross physical and physiological misconceptions about weight training that can impede their physical progress. As an example, scores of women continue to believe that weight training will cause them to become "muscle-bound" and look like a man. This is a fallacy. Women don't have the male hormone testosterone in abundant enough quantity to produce the herculean-sized muscles of competitive male bodybuilders. And there is simply no way for women to bring these muscles into being without making a conscious decision to do so by taking harmful drugs.
Furthermore, reshaping the body and improving stamina and strength to endure as well as bounce back from the daily grind of life are one thing, whereas competitive bodybuilding is another thing. In competitive bodybuilding, the athlete works very hard on his or her muscles with the singular aim of forging a rock-solid, power-packed, well-defined physique for competition that a conventional thinker might consider to be an unsightly physique. Therefore, those women who are naturally prone to gain weight, and those who are turned off at the thought of even possibly developing gigantic muscles can prevent these things from occurring by eating moderately, by working out with light poundage weights at a high number of repetitions and by not injecting male hormones into their systems.
Due to the voluminous amount of information currently available on health and exercise, many women know about the gains they can derive from cardiovascular and flexibility training. They know such aerobic activities as bicycling, dancing, jogging, walking and swimming will burn fat, lower blood pressure, heighten metabolism, make the cardiovascular system operate more efficiently, and strengthen and tighten the legs and buttocks.
Yet many of these women don't know what to do about making the other muscles of the body firmer and stronger. They initially come to a gym with high hopes of getting rid of expanded hips and thick thighs, as well as making their bodies tone, which to them usually means losing fat without developing gigantic muscles.
Having primarily relied on dieting for weight control or reduction, they see gym training as a method of speeding up the calorie burning, streamlining process. Unfortunately, these women don't understand the relationship between muscle and shape. Dieting and aerobics alone will leave them with unappealing, unshaped muscles unless they do some kind of resistance training to better their bodies overall muscular condition. Muscle, unlike fat, can be shaped and contoured. And most women would benefit by losing an inch of adipose tissue and replacing it with a half-inch of muscle tissue.
Women have the same skeletal muscles as men, and, as with men, their muscles need to be properly exercised to form a truly well-conditioned, well-proportioned physique. Women also need to be aware that strength and femininity are not mutually exclusive. A woman can be strong with a "hard body" and be sexually desirable and feminine as well. Moreover, the double standard that permits men to grow old, but not women, should be abolished. Still, training the body becomes even more necessary with advancing age. Without some kind of resistance training the muscles begin to sag and atrophy while a woman is in her early 20s. And by the time she reaches her 30s or 40s, it's quite possible for her to lose all the sex appeal she was so proud of when she was young.
Obviously, weight training cannot stop the aging process. But it can stave off the limitations of old age by keeping the body healthy and strong. Weight training slows down, and in some cases reverses, what time and gravity inflict on the body. As a consequence, a woman can have an eye-catching, physically fit body regardless of what her chronological age may be.
Thus, weight-trained women are revealing to women around the globe that through weight training, aerobic exercise and proper diet, women can have the type of body that is athletically and aesthetically ideal for them: lean, firm, well-balanced, vigorous and youthful. And by way of media exposure, women bodybuilders have been able to demonstrate to the public at large the beauty, grace, power, and sinewy muscularity that can be attained by women.
Outlined below is a basic list of anatomical and exercise principles that women should keep in mind so as to assist them in reaping the most realistic results from their weight-training workouts:
1. Women's muscles do get bigger from working out with weights, but not that much bigger.
2. Muscle mass in women usually brings about improvement in muscle shape, which is revealed by way of a more appealing, well-formed physique.
3. Through exercise you burn fat stored in the body to uncover the muscle beneath the skin. Fat never changes into muscle.
4. If you finish your set of repetitions too easily (for instance, you could have done 3 or 4 more reps), you should think about using a heavier weight.
5. Free weights and machines perform the same function: they provide resistance against which your muscles can contract. One type of equipment does not necessarily make you thicker and the other type slimmer.
6. Working out with free weights has a different feel from working out with machines. So you will have to experiment with both to find out which one is appropriate to use for the exercise you're doing.
7. In most cases, a woman's upper body is much smaller and weaker than her lower body. For this reason, the upper body must be worked a lot more to make it bigger and stronger.
8. The more notable physical changes require the greatest amount of time and work; exercise helps in controlling body weight but not to the exclusion of diet. You shouldn't look for, nor expect, a dramatic overnight change in your weight and physique.
9. Progressive-resistance training is not enough, you need aerobic and flexibility training, too. In fact, you should get involved with various kinds of exercise to keep your workout interesting as well as to produce total-body fitness.
Short note about the author
© La Rue Briggs - All Rights Reserved.
As a nationally certified fitness instructor, La Rue conducted exercise and bodybuilding classes for the YMCA and other organizations. La Rue also was an instructor/trainer for the Michigan Heart Association, a board member of the Metropolitan Detroit Health
Education Council, and a member of the YMCA Physical Education Committee. La Rue is a Detroit native with a BA in English from Wayne State University.
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