Whenever I go to the gym and approach the testosterone-fuelled realm of the free-weights section, I’m often met with expressions of sheer bewilderment.
“This female must be lost” is what I tend to interpret from the look on every man’s face when I reach for a pair of dumbbells.
“Do you lift, yeah?” I’m often asked while I’m engaging in weight activities that quite obviously fall under the ‘lifting’ category.
“She sweats shit-loads she does,” I’ve also heard whispered through the weight-vine.
How baffling that I, an exercising individual, would sweat profusely while doing so.
Weight-lifting has too often been associated with the muscular, male physique.
But in an age where women are becoming more conscious of their body image and gender equality is emphasised, ‘lifting’ is no longer just for the burly blokes.
TONED: Women are much more conscious of their body image (image courtesy of Muscle Appeal via YouTube, with thanks)
Fitness athlete and personal trainer, Karolina Botkova, has been training for a decade and now takes part in fitness competitions.
“I take part in ‘Figure/Body Fitness’ which is the middle category where you need a bit of toned muscle,” Karolina told MM.
“We don’t go as far as the body-building poses but we do the heels and bikinis. With only the little bit of muscle, you still appear feminine and girly.”
According to Karolina, too many people are confused into thinking that weight lifting will give women a masculine physique.
“Loads of ladies are scared to squat or lift heavy weights because they think they’re going to get massive,” Karolina explained.
“Our bodies have not been designed to grow massive muscles because we only have a certain amount of testosterone and so even if you lift heavy and squat heavy, you would never grow massive as a female.”
Karolina trains particularly hard 12 weeks prior to a competition, doing both cardio and weight training two hours a day, six times a week.
POSE: Karolina says women often make mistakes when trying to lose weight (image courtesy of Weider Publishingl via YouTube, with thanks)
Too many women make the mistake of thinking high levels of running or cardio will turn their body fat into muscle but doing so is ‘physically impossible’.
Karolina told MM: “I see girls in front of the mirror in the gym with one or two kilogram dumbbells doing tricep extensions, or running for hours on the treadmill, and they think they’re going to get toned but they’re actually wasting their time.
“Weight training burns much more body fat and calories than cardio training, which most people don’t believe.”
Lifting does raise a woman’s testosterone levels slightly, but this creates a better hormonal balance within the body.
Rather than leading to huge muscles, the balance of hormones allows women to burn body fat and keep lean.
DEDICATION: Karolina trains two hours a day, six times a week prior to competition
“Women’s oestrogen levels are often too high and testosterone levels are very low, and that affects everything; your sleeping patterns, what you eat, what you crave,” said Karolina.
“It also helps with depression and anxiety while making you look better and feel better within yourself.
Former page three model Jodie Marsh turned to lifting after suffering with severe depression.
Yesterday, the online clothes retailer, ASOS, fell into hot water after saying Jodie Marsh was built like a man on their Twitter feed.
— YourPersonalTrainer (@GymForWomen) May 21, 2014
As well as training hard, Karolina is very strict with her diet, lowering her carbohydrate intake before competitions and sometimes adding supplements such as conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), a body-building aid.
Many women often make mistakes with their diet when trying to lose weight or build muscle, believing they can eat whatever they want as long as they work out.
LET’S GET PERSONAL: Karolina trains both men and women
“It’s all wrong,” Karolina said.“To get lean it’s about 70% diet, 30% exercise and loads of girls just cut the carbs out completely.
“But it’s about planning the carbs at the right time, so having them in the morning when you wake up because your body has been starving for hours and hours and it uses the carbs straight away for energy.”
Another mistake people often make is thinking supplements will completely alter their body.
“Loads of people base their diet on supplements; they come to the gym and say they’re drinking protein shakes and they’re therefore going to gain muscle but that’s not what it’s about,” Karolina told MM.
GIRLS CAN LIFT TO: Karolina says she gets respect off men in the gym
“It’s about finding the right balance in your diet; if you’re not achieving enough protein from chicken and eggs and dairy then in that case you can turn to protein shakes, but I would call that ‘emergency food’.”
When asked if men are ever critical of her muscular physique and dedication to training, Karolina said criticism often comes from those who don’t train.
She told MM: “It never seems to be the guys that do train; I’ve actually found that men who train think it’s quite attractive when women lift.”
Perhaps this explains the bewildered stares and baffled whispers that greet me every time I enter the gym.
Perhaps the men are gawping in admiration at the fact that I’m about to approach the squat rack.
Or perhaps a more realistic possibility is that they are trying to determine how one individual could possibly produce so much sweat.
Images courtesy of Karolina Botkova, via Facebook, with thanks.