It wasn't so long ago that the ideal woman was seen as some sort of life-sized Barbie doll. To be considered sexy, a woman had to be super thin, have large breasts, a tiny waist and or course, absolutely no muscles (they're yucky...!).

Fortunately this ideal has slowly begun to shift toward the strong, shapely athletic type. A well-proportioned body that is both feminine, strong and firm seems to score more points in today's society, and rightfully so! You're born (well, sometimes) with big breasts, but you have to earn that athletic body. A firm and muscular body tell you that a woman is hard-working, structured, disciplined and confident. And believe me, that is sexy.

Sure, some men can't handle a woman with a muscular, yet feminine physique. More often than not I find that this is due to a lack of confidence on the part of the male: he feels threatened by a woman who's able to stand her own ground and who's not dependant on her man. Sadly, some women who'd love to become strong and athletic are afraid to do so because of what others may think. To them I say: Fear not, the rewards are more than worth the risks!

"Ms. Beast"

The goal of this article is to detail my own training experience as it relates to strength training and energy system work. I'll also give you some nutritional guidelines as well as some of my own supplement strategies.

Strength training

I remember being a 14 year old girl buying her first muscle magazine (yeah, there are few of us around!) and being very impressed by women such as Cory Everson, Tonya Knight, Bev Francis and other such athletic women. I vividly remember wanting to have a body just like them. It wasn't long after that I became addicted to strength training.

Initially, all I wanted was to gain as much muscle as I could. While other gals would do light exercises with the pink, fuchsia and mauve weights, I focused on big lifts such as the military press, bench press, back squat, heavy leg press, barbell and T-bar rowing. And to this day I still do. I'm more limited in the weights I use because of a work related injury, but I still try to lift as heavy as I can with good technique.

At one point, lifting weights was a true obsession; I would even miss work just so that I could train more! As time passed I learned the value of rest and recovery and began training more intelligently. I did a lot of things wrong in my days (mega caloric intake and excessive training at the expense of my social life, among others), but I also did a lot of things right. Most of all, lifting heavy weights on basic movements was surely the key to my success.

I started competing in bodybuilding at 16 years of age, after only two years of training. I did fairly well, progressing from small local competitions to more important ones, until I won the provincial championships [Canada] in 2000 and qualified for the national championships. Unfortunately, I couldn't compete in them because of work and lack of support.

To encapsulate my training philosophy, I say this to the aspiring woman trainee:

As I mentioned, I like to use compound movements, but I also like to use some isolation exercises and even machines (much to the dismay of my Neanderthal weight-lifting significant other). I feel that diversity is one of the keys to motivation, which is necessary for long term success.

Here's a sample training program from my own schedule. I'll normally train chest/back twice per week. I work legs only once per week because they're already taxed by my energy system work (which I'll discuss further on in this article). Plus, women tend to gain lower body strength and size much faster than in their upper body, hence the lowered amount of work. Biceps and triceps are also done once per week as they're being trained indirectly when doing chest and back. Shoulders are done once per week along with the lower body (since they're already receiving much stimulation, they don't need too much extra work).

My schedule will look something like this:

I'll use various rep ranges, 6 to 8, 8 to 10, 10 to 12 and even 12 to 15 occasionally. You should try to lift heavy weights, but I would not go below 6 reps unless training specifically for maximum strength.

I like to keep the rest between sets very short as I find that this helps me stay leaner while gaining muscle mass and gives me a better overall workout. You should see my "Beastly" boyfriend gasp for air when he tries to train with me! Sure he looks tough, but he sometimes has a lot of trouble keeping up with me. (note from Christian: not in all circumstances... if you catch my drift.) I'll generally use 2 to 4 exercises per muscle group and 3 or 4 sets per exercise.

A week of training might look something like this:


Monday and Saturday: Chest/Back

A1. Incline machine press

A2. Pec Dec machine

B1. Bench press

B2. Dumbbell Fly Aways

C1. Barbell rowing

C2. Seated rowing with a parallel grip

D. Lat pulldown

NOTE: Women will often be better off with a lat pulldown than with chin-ups. But if you can complete 10 chins with good form, you should do them.

Wednesday: Lower body and shoulders

A1. Back squat

A2. Leg extensions

B1. Straight leg deadlifts

B2. Leg curls

C1. Dumbbell shoulder press

C2. Lateral raises

Thursday: Biceps/Triceps

A1. Standing barbell curl

A2. Reverse grip preacher curl

B1. Seated dumbbell curls

B2. Low pulley cable curl

C. L-seat (or dips if you are strong enough and have healthy shoulders)

D. Close-grip bench press

E1. Cable pressdown

E2. Dumbbell kickback

Nutrition and Supplementation

As a post-workout drink I like to use a very simple mix of protein and pineapple juice. I'm personally very fond of pineapple juice, mostly because of the bromelain it contains. This substance is a powerful protein-digesting enzyme, so when used in a post-workout meal it can facilitate protein breakdown to amino acids and probably facilitate the uptake of those aminos by the muscles. Bromelain also has some anti-inflammatory properties. (Some people may have an allergic reaction to pineapples. If that?s your case, you better stick with another source of carbohydrates.)

My boyfriend supplies me with Low-Carb Grow! (one of the reasons I'm still with him, that and HOT-ROX) and I love it! I'll use a Grow! and pineapple mix three times per day, in the morning, post-workout and during the evening. I generally use one scoop of Grow! along with 500ml of juice.

Energy system work

Should you or shouldn't you do cardio, that's the question! Personally I find that I really need to perform energy system work at least three times per week to get super lean.

Women normally carry more body fat than men, and while men might lose muscle mass if they do too much cardio (and they often don't need too much cardio to lose fat), women may need it to get that well-defined look.

I structure three energy system sessions per week. Two of them are High Intensity Interval Training sessions lasting 15-30 minutes (30 minutes being for those who are already in great cardiovascular shape). I use a 1:2 ratio of high intensity and low intensity work (for example 20 seconds fast, 40 seconds slow). The third session is a steady pace cardio session lasting 15-30 minutes.

I normally perform my energy system work before my strength workout while I wait for my busy boyfriend to get his butt in the gym, but for most people I recommend performing these sessions either on separate days or after their strength workouts. Obviously I'd love to be able to do everything perfectly, but with my busy schedule I have to make due with what free time I have. I'm sure that you can relate.

I like to switch training equipment midway through my energy system workout, for example 15 minutes on the stairmaster and 15 minutes on the elliptical trainer. I don't think these machines have any special qualities and you can use any method or machine you want. I like to change it around to avoid boredom.

Conclusion

Hopefully my training experience will empower you to start training hard to get the body you want. Becoming a strong and shapely woman has always been a dream of mine. Now that I'm there (although I'll never be totally satisfied), I hope that I can help those with similar goals. After all, we're much stronger when we work at it together!