I am not a personal trainer, nutritionist, dietitian, professional bodybuilder or figure competitor. However, over the past four years I feel like I have taken a crash course in all of the above. At one point in time, I strongly believed in hours of cardio and that the Special K diet would actually bring me to a size 2. Until my eyes were finally opened.
My journey began right after graduating high school. Like most women, my exercising consisted solely of running. I was what they call in the bodybuilding world, a “cardio bunny”. I would lose myself on the treadmill, my iPod turned up to maximum and my Nikes crashing on the moving belt for up to 60 minutes straight. I used running as a means of escape. At first, it was to escape the fact that all my friends had gone away to college and I was stuck at home for another three weeks before I left, anxiously hearing all their exciting stories of new friends and the crazy parties they’d been attending. Once I arrived at college myself, I used running to escape from roommates. I could unwind from the stresses of classes, new spats with friends, and to forget how much I missed home. Sure, I lost a few pounds, but like most college freshman the number “fifteen” introduced itself despite my infatuation with running. Needless to say, eating a salad does not justify a slice of pizza on the side, a night of drinking keg beer cannot be erased by an elliptical machine, and (literally and figuratively) running on 3 hours of sleep does the body no good; in other words, the natural life of a college freshman is not that of a successful dieter or bodybuilder.
That lifestyle was great and fun for the time being, but my junior year of college I was over it. I was done with drinking with friends all weekend simply for the sake of saying I had a wild weekend when Monday morning came around. I was done feeling uncomfortable in my clothes and bathing suit. And it was always bathing suit season when you went to school in South Carolina. I still loved running, whether it was on the treadmill or hitting the pavement, but I felt like I was running in place (no pun intended). Eventually I found myself wishing I could convince myself to be anorexic- because I knew I was too much of a wimp to make myself binge and purge like a bulimic. In my mind I knew it was wrong and that that wasn’t really me, but I was willing to be wrong if it meant I could be skinny. I tried different fat burners without knowing what I was going into- thinking that one little diet pill could solve my issues. Don’t get me wrong- I was never obese. I never had serious health issues concerning my weight. My life was never in jeopardy due to the number that appeared on the scale or a food obsession that had gotten out of control. I was just severely unhappy with the way I looked.
I was ready for a serious change- ready to change my lifestyle for the purpose of a better body and feeling better about myself overall. As you have learned, I had somewhat of a spark of interest in fitness and exercise in the past. Looking back, I would call it a love affair with running. As most affairs end, running and I had a falling out. My satisfaction with running had diminished; I didn’t want to escape as I had before. I had a great relationship with a new boyfriend, I was happy where I was, and I was maturing into a responsible adult. In fact, it was my boyfriend who helped shape me into the fitness fanatic that I am today. He too was looking for a change- we were both outgrowing the typical college lifestyle and we both had an interest in working out. He helped me move on from running to lifting weights and we’ve helped each other evolve as goal-oriented bodybuilders.
It didn’t come to us overnight. At this time I was still a cardio bunny, but I had turned into a machine bunny too. I was doing pointless machine exercises after running for 45 minutes. My workouts had no meaning, no goal, and no precision. I was about as successful as I was when I was a freshman in college. Over time, I began to see what people refer to as “newbie gains”- or new muscle growth that has sparked due to lack of previous exercise. Newbie gains are extremely motivating and it’s the first sign of all your hard work paying off. Until three weeks later, you realize that you aren’t growing anymore. The muscles that had poked themselves through so prominently just three short weeks earlier seem small and insignificant. That’s when you know you need to change again. That’s when you know you’ve been bit by the bodybuilding bug.
And that’s when I began to fill myself with knowledge. I began to really read about bodybuilding and effective workouts, soaking up numerous articles and advice. My boyfriend was making himself more knowledgeable too, and by this point has pretty much figured out the science behind dieting and effective lifting. He taught me most of what I know and follow today. I had quickly said goodbye to my previous beliefs- relying on a cup of Special K and a side salad to get me through the day wasn’t going to cut it anymore. I learned what all the nutritional information on labels really meant, and what to look for and stay away from. I learned that going to the gym and the workout is merely 1/3 of the whole picture. I learned that the abs everyone wants cannot be achieved by doing 1000 crunches, but instead they are sculpted in the kitchen by the foods you eat. Going to the gym may take one or two hours out of your day, but every hour you are awake you have to be consciously aware of the state of your metabolism and what you put into your body as fuel. I had to let go of my obsession with the scale, and listen to the clues my body was giving me to adjust the all the factors.
The hardest thing to overcome was to let go of the pink dumbbells and pick up weight that was actually challenging. Many woman stay away from heavy weights and lift a lot of little weights for way too many repetitions. I myself had to learn that lifting like a guy would not give you the muscles a guy has- our feminine bodies do not possess the testosterone to grow bulky muscles- but instead it would help support lean muscle growth. I had to forget what the number on the scale said and tweak my diet by the way I looked in the mirror and how I felt. No longer was I to be a slave of the scale, instead I would use it as a tool for me instead of against me.
Let me clarify once again- I am not a nutritionist, dietitian, personal trainer, or professional bodybuilder. Instead, I have been transformed into a morphed version of all of these things. I am still learning more and more everyday about the sport and lifestyle of bodybuilding. In no way, shape, or form am I close to knowing it all or having my own body and diets figured out, but I’d like to think that my transformations have brought me a few steps forward. The art is ever changing and constantly evolving, just another piece to consider when trying to put the puzzle together.
Many people consider bodybuilding a man’s sport. In some respect, it is 100% a sport- you spend time training and practicing to compete in bodybuilding and figure competitions. But it does not discriminate women. Many women make careers and successfully compete in various competitions yearly. For me personally, it is more of a lifestyle. It is a full-time commitment. It is not a commitment for the weak or ill-willed. It is a commitment to seeing change in yourself, and the satisfaction and pride you feel when it’s being achieved in front of your eyes. It’s an addiction to modification, but in my opinion the most positive disease one can catch. And that is not something only a man can accomplish. Nothing is more motivating that coming back from a great workout and feeling absolutely exhausted, knowing that you worked your absolute hardest to come one step closer to your goal.
I have had to conquer many battles and overcome many speed bumps along the way, but it’s helped me come one more baby step closer to my goals. I’ve got a long journey ahead of me but you know what they say… it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.