Go to any gym and what do you see? Women on treadmills and men pumping iron. Women shy away from weights in their workout, but the truth is that weight-training is essential to getting that lean, strong and healthy body you’ve always wanted! So why not learn from the best? My friend Jamilah is a professional bodybuilder and knows everything there is to know about building a weight training regimen. Check out her fitness story and tips below!
1. Can you tell us about your fitness/health history before you began competitive bodybuilding?
I’ve always been active and athletic since an early age. Before I got into competitive sports, I danced and dreamed of becoming a figure skater or ballerina. Then more realistically, I aspired to play sports on a collegiate level. I played field hockey, basketball, lacrosse and went out for the track team for one season. Since my parents couldn’t really afford the expense of sports camps, I spent my summers running and doing calisthenics so that I could stay in shape and be conditioned for the fall pre-season.
2. What made you decide to become a competitive bodybuilder? Did you start out with bodybuilding as goal or did you just evolve towards it?
I believe that competing was a natural progression. In college, I spent a lot of time in the gym trying to stave off the freshman 15, which was more like the freshman 20 in my case. With no sports team as an outlet for my active lifestyle, I tried to find ways to maintain my training. I began reading magazines such as Muscle and Fitness Hers, which featured female figure and fitness competitors and a variety of challenging routines that involved weights. I admired their look and envisioned myself one day having the discipline and motivation to actually build a similar physique!
3. How did you become a competitive bodybuilder? What does your regimen (diet, exercise, etc) look like?
In the summer 2004, I attended a camp for bikini, figure, fitness and bodybuilding competitors. The woman who ran the camp was a former competitor and had years of experience helping women prepare for shows. We made it a goal to start conditioning my body to diet for an actual show in the fall. So I began training like a competitor, prepping for many shows. I didn’t step on an actual stage, however, until this past fall 2011!
I typically train 4-5 days a week or 5-6 days as I approach a show. Since bodybuilding focuses on creating symmetry throughout the body, I usually train one to two body parts during each session with weights focusing on my weaker areas. I also follow weight training with 30-60 minutes of cardio. Now, since I’ve built a lot of lean mass in my upper body, I spend a lot of time, like many women, trying to balance my lower half. So a good portion of my training also involves running, running stairs, sprinting and doing plyometrics.
As for my diet, I try to eat “clean” 80% of the time; I keep a food journal to keep track of what I eat and how I feel. So every meal includes a serving of lean protein, a serving of fruit or vegetable and a complex carbohydrate such as oatmeal, sweet potato or brown rice or a healthy fat such as avocado or nuts. I have a cheat meal once or twice a week, during which I eat whatever I want (with moderation).
4. What would you say is the BIGGEST misconception people have about bodybuilders? About female bodybuilders? How do you feel about these misconceptions?
The biggest misconception that people have about bodybuilders is that they all take steroids. The biggest misconception about female bodybuilders is that they all look like men or are all overly muscular. I wish more people took the time to understand what bodybuilding is all about. There are many bodybuilders who are natural and spend countless hours upon hours eating and training to achieve a particular look. Bodybuilding in itself is both an art and a sport. It requires intense mental focus, dedication and discipline.
5. How has your experience bodybuilding changed the way you view your body?
Training and dieting has enabled me to really understand how my body works. I’ve always been somewhat critical of how I looked and spent most of my adolescent years and early twenties disliking the image that I saw. Nonetheless, I’ve come to appreciate the parts of my physique that are considered strengths in the bodybuilding world—broad shoulders, wide V-taper and a small waist.
6. Many women shy away from weights at the gym because they don’t want to look “bulky”. Given your experience, what advice would you give to a woman who is fearful of adding weight-training to her workout routine?
If you want a toned, tight physique, training with weights is the best way to achieve this goal. Building lean muscle mass will actually make you look smaller and more defined rather than bulky. It will also help stimulate your metabolism so that you burn more calories and fat when you are at rest! It also strengthens important muscles in the body that are essential for everyday use. Many runners incorporate some form of weight training into their routines and I have yet to see a “bulky” runner!
7. For those readers (male or female) who have a diet/gym regimen but feel like they’ve plateaued, what are TWO fat-blasting/muscle-building tips you’d give?
I will give you two tips—one for diet and one for training.
A high percentage of how you look is based on how you eat. If you are on a nutrition plan and you aren’t losing weight, you may want to begin writing down everything you eat and notice the foods that creep into your daily eating plan that probably shouldn’t be there. Make sure that the majority of your foods are clean foods, but don’t ruin your healthy eating during the day by chowing down on a Snickers bar every night. Schedule your cheat meal on the weekend, so that you stay motivated throughout the week.
In terms of training, most people are not working as intensely as they think they are. Whether you are training with weights or doing cardio, some of your sessions should be more intense than others. To increase weights intensity, increase the weight, decrease the amount of rest in between sets or do both! To increase cardio intensity, increase the incline or speed to a level that you can only maintain for one minute max, then decrease it back to a level where you are comfortable. Repeat this cycle for 20-25 minutes, then cool down.
8. For those readers (male or female) who are beginners and are trying to create a diet and exercise regimen, where would you suggest they start?
As I stated earlier before, nutrition is an essential part of how you look and feel. I suggest starting by addressing nutrition by making small changes at a time. A common nutritional problem is that people just don’t eat frequently enough and consume the bulk of their
calories in one or two intervals during the day. Beginners should start by trying to consume 5 smaller meals spread throughout the day—breakfast, lunch, dinner and 2-3 small snacks interspersed in between.
In terms of exercise, get moving! Since most beginners would benefit from structure, I do suggest joining a gym and taking advantage of the free personal training and/or consultation that most gyms tend to offer. If you do not know how to use weights, it would be a useful investment to purchase a session or two so that an experienced professional could show you the basics. Then from there, figure out how many days a week you can realistically commit to working out. For most people, 3-4 days a week is feasible. You don’t have to limit your regimen to just weights and cardio. Try out the kickboxing class offered Monday afternoons in place of weights and cardio or take a yoga class Thursday evening after a stressful day at work.
9. Is there anything else you’d like add?
Changing your body through diet and exercise takes time and consistency. Don’t give up if you don’t see results right away! Persist and seek out professional guidance as often as you need to.