It’s funny how my ideas about the ideal figure were very different then, 13 years ago. The reference point for me was the photos that I saw on the Internet and on the covers of magazines. I wanted to look emaciated. I wanted to be petite and fragile. I wanted to be “less”.
My first visit to the gym was so unproductive that you can’t imagine it on purpose. The “intense” workout consisted of an abdominal exercise, a couple of crunches and … you never know … sleeping on a gymnastic mat. Yes, yes, I fell asleep on the mat about 15 minutes after crossing the threshold of the gym for the first time in my life.
Despite the discouraging first experience, I started going to the gym all the time, and this has been going on for 13 years. Since then, I’ve done countless strength training sessions. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with strength training and the sensations it gave me. Very soon I became a passionate, convinced and devoted fan of sports that strengthens the body and strengthens the spirit.
Today, I want to share with you 13 important lessons I learned on the path to a stronger, more attractive and more confident version of myself.
Lesson 1. Girls, you will never be like guys
No matter how hard you work out in the gym, you will never – I repeat, never – look like guys. There is simply too little testosterone in the female body to build muscle mass to the point where you start to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Women who pose for cameras with huge muscles use steroids.
You can achieve stunning changes in your physique and figure without dangerous drugs. To do this, it is enough to adhere to a healthy diet and lift weights – real weights. Don’t be afraid to go beyond the colored 2kg dumbbells and grab some real iron. You will not turn into a mountain of muscles, but you will definitely become stronger and slimmer.
Lesson 2. Strength training is much healthier for your figure than cardio
Body aesthetics depends on two components: muscles and their visualization. During strength training, we build muscle mass and shape the contours of the figure. Reducing the percentage of body fat helps us to polish these contours. To create attractive forms, you must do strength exercises. In other words, in order to manifest forms, you must first create them! When it comes to cardio, it’s good for your heart and health, but doesn’t affect your muscles in any way.
Lesson 3. Train all major muscle groups
What happens when a person decides to change their body and improve their health? In most cases, he begins to focus on the parts of the body that he cares about the most. Women are usually obsessed with the lower body and abdomen. Guys focus on biceps and pectoral muscles.
Muscles must be developed evenly and proportionally. This approach prevents injury, improves appearance, develops strength, and increases calorie expenditure. You must train all major muscle groups – both those that you see in the mirror and the muscles that are not visible in the mirror.
Focus on basic exercises that use large muscle mass – squats, deadlifts, overhead barbell or dumbbell presses, deadlifts. Then add supportive isolation exercises that target smaller muscle groups. These include bending the legs in the simulator, extending the triceps, extending the arms to the sides to the rear deltas.
Lesson 4. Local fat burning is a myth!
Emergency message: there is no such thing as local fat burning, that is, no exercise can cause fat burning in any specific area. The areas where subcutaneous fat predominantly accumulate are determined by your genetics, not by your training. Proper nutrition combined with intense strength training is what creates an aesthetically pleasing figure.
Lesson 5. Continuous growth requires progressive overload
The principle of specificity (specific adaptation to external requirements, or the SAID principle) is simple: your body adapts to stressors (in the form of exercise) by developing muscle strength and mass. In order to continue to improve your figure, you must constantly change the requirements for your body. This concept is called “progressive overload”.
One of the ways to solve the problem is to increase the working weight on the barbell, but for overloading you can use other techniques and different combinations of them. You can increase the number of repetitions in the set, expand the range of motion in certain exercises, improve the execution technique, and shorten the rest between sets. All of these techniques give almost unlimited freedom of action to change, monitor and adjust the training program. Make use of all the options and don’t stop challenging yourself.
Lesson 6. Forget dieting – count calories!
I have tried a wide variety of diets – low fat, fat, sugar-free, “specific foods” diets, and so on and so forth. None of them worked. About three years after starting strength training, I decided to dig deeper and figure out what the science says about changing body composition. I hoped to receive answers to the following questions: Why are we getting better? How do we lose weight? Are there foods that cause obesity? Are there foods that burn calories by themselves?
As a result, I realized that when it comes to calorie intake and body weight, there are only three options for the development of events:
- The energy value of a daily diet corresponds to the number of calories your body burns per day. In this case, your body weight does not change.
- The calorie content of your daily diet exceeds the number of calories you burn in a day. In such a situation, you gain weight.
- Every day you get fewer calories than you burn. In this scenario, you lose weight.
Simply put, we gain weight when we have an excess of calories, and not because of the fact that we eat or do not eat any special foods. I’m a big fan of the 80 to 20 ratio, where 80 percent of your diet is nutritious, natural foods and the remaining 20 percent can be obtained from processed foods like convenience foods or sweets.
The good news is, you can still enjoy your favorite treats. You just need to reduce the serving size. Or reduce it very much.
Lesson 7. There are no good and bad products
Have you ever had such thoughts? Cookies are bad, but vegetable salad is good. I was a bad girl because I ate a chocolate cake, but I’ll be good if I eat broccoli or chicken breast.
The mental division of foods into “good” and “bad” is a sign of orthorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that manifests itself “an obsession with eating foods that are considered healthy.” Orthorexia is a beautiful term, but it is physically and emotionally draining, and in the long term, greatly reduces your chances of success.
By labeling products as good or bad, you create negative associations. In fact, all food is neutral, it must be used as fuel for the body and for pleasure! A healthy diet is not all black or all white – it has many shades of gray. Yes, it is rich in nutrients, but if you want to eat well over the long haul, be sure to include foods you enjoy on your menu.
Lesson 8. Be realistic about expectations
You have finally decided to start your fitness journey. You are excited. You are motivated. You think, “I will have my dream figure in 3-6 months!”
All this is good – but do not rush things. Most mortals will need more than three months to get their dream figure. With consistent training and nutrition, you will see noticeable and measurable gains after three months, but the results may be far from the “before and after” changes you often see on social media. (Okay, some gifted individuals will make dramatic changes in just a few months. Others will take a lot longer.)
It takes years to create a beautiful body and gain quality muscle mass. Tune in for the long haul. Prepare for ups and downs, for times when you see a change for the better, and for inevitable stagnation with no results. Progress is never linear. You move forward, then take a step back, stop, and start progressing again. Find a program that works for you, stick to the plan, and the changes you dream of will surely come.
Lesson 9. Consistency and patience are the keys to success
Motivation helps to get started, and habit makes you keep going. It’s not always a rainbow in the sky and the sun is shining, but in any situation it is better to do a mediocre training than not to train at all. Stick to the plan and don’t give up. Consistency will bring you closer to your goals and will help you develop the discipline and hard work needed to keep going no matter what. View every day as an opportunity to grow and develop, and rely on your discipline – not your motivation – to get to the gym. If you miss a workout, don’t berate yourself. Just fix the situation right away!
Lesson 10. Don’t get hung up on the numbers on the scales
For many years I have been attached to the magic number on the scales. The number that made my life much easier, more meaningful and happier. In reality, this figure does not even exist. Your body weight is made up of fat and lean mass (bone, muscle, connective tissue, organs, water). It is a dynamic metric that changes in response to stress, hydration, carbohydrate food, and fiber intake. Weight is influenced by food types, time of day, and even sleep.
Within a week, your weight can vary by 2-4 kg due to these variables. Plus, when you start strength training, body weight may even increase as you lose fat and build tight muscles. It’s good! The number on the scale is an imprecise indicator of progress. Measure your progress by how your clothes fit, how you feel, how you look in the mirror.
Lesson 11. You strengthen the body and build character
Just as muscles grow in response to new challenges, we also grow above ourselves. Sometimes life itself feels like strength training to us that we never signed up for. If you’re lucky, strength training will teach you how to harness your will and cope with any challenge.
I fell in love with strength training because it made me more effective in everyday life. Strength training tests your willpower. It tests your patience and dedication during times of success, regression, stagnation, and return to progress. There is something about this that inspires confidence, especially for women.
Lesson 12. Friends and family may not always support you
Even your closest friends and family may not understand your new lifestyle. It’s okay, they don’t have to agree with you. The main thing is that the most important person in your life – you yourself – understands why you do what you do. First and foremost, take care of your health and well-being. Focus on getting stronger, healthier, more successful. The rest will follow.
Lesson 13. Appearance is not everything
Strength training does not guarantee that you will become slim and find happiness in the same moment. Or that there will be more meaning in your life than before. Or that your friends and family will love you more. It does not guarantee that you will enjoy success or become a better person. All your problems and troubles will not disappear into thin air, but you will feel stronger, healthier and, hopefully, more confident. This is great!
Over the years, I have seen many people (mostly women) linking their self-esteem to the number on the scales or the size of their clothes. Remember, all this is the tenth thing. It doesn’t matter how you look on any given day, learn to love yourself for who you are and take good care of yourself. After 13 years of strength training, today I am healthy, energetic and full of energy. I am a confident person, and it is not at all how I look. This applies to you too.