One of the many good things to come out of the body positivity movement is the complete rejection of any boundaries or fixed ideas about what defines a beautiful body.
As moulds that tried forcing women into being curvy or skinny were shattered, we also saw a blurring of traditional, gendered ideas pertaining to physical appearance.
Muscle, be it lean or bulky, is no longer confined to only men as more and more women turn to building mass, along with strength. However, the path to muscle building for women is paved with more obstacles than their male counterparts.
The exact same diet and workout regime would lead to far more noticeable results for a man as compared to the former, proportionality and other factors taken into account.
Hormones at Play
One of the primary reasons why women find it harder to build muscle is hormones.
"Less amount of testosterone in women affects muscle building, and their muscles do not become bulky or big as easily as for men who have more of the hormone. Especially after puberty, men have almost 15 to 20 times more testosterone than females, so their muscles become bulkier. Before puberty men and women both have equal amounts of testosterone.Dr Rajeev Verma, HOD, Joint Replacement & Orthopedician, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, New Delhi
Mumbai-based celebrity nutritionist Smitha Shetty breaks it down further.
Women may not be able to beef up like men because their hormonal composition is different. They will look toned and fit, but, the chances that they would bulk up is very low, unless they have some external hormonal support, which again is a very dangerous practice.Smitha Shetty, Celebrity Nutritionist
This brings us to the next aspect of fitness for women which, unfortunately, can sometimes become an unhealthy fixation for some - the rising number on the weighing scale.
Loose Clothes, But Rising Numbers on the Scale?
Muscle is denser than fat. This means that even though it will be more compact and take less space, it will weigh more.
This explains why even though you might feel and appear leaner once you start strength training, with your clothes getting looser, the number on the weighing scale might either remain the same, or rise, if you continue with the regime.
This is precisely how a female body builds muscle.
While you may not look as ripped as your male counterpart, your body has already started achieving the goal of building muscle mass you had set out with.
Ms Shetty reiterates, "When one starts weight training, the muscle mass goes up. If you do strength training regularly, with time your body fat percentage will go down. However, the weight on the scale might go up. This is simply because muscle is denser than fat, and hence it weighs more."
Count Only the Right Numbers
While it is important to track your progress, simply to make an informed judgment, if nothing else, about your body and fitness routine, you should stop if it becomes a fixation.
The numbers are not a measure of your fitness.
Instead, focus on strength, how the body feels and how you fare in your workouts as compared to when you had started.
A weighing scale can never tell you how fit you are. It is just a scale. Your skin, hair, nails, tongue are in a much better position to tell how healthy you are.Smitha Shetty, Mumbai-based Celebrity Nutritionist
Dr Verma adds to it in the following manner:
"In men as well as women, the weighing scale is not a measure of fitness or your progress. (Along with the aspects mentioned above) Your aerobic capacity is a much better marker instead."Dr Rajeev Verma
Basically, Dr Verma and Ms Shetty conclude that numbers don’t matter, and the only end goal of fitness is to feel your best.
Anything that gets in the way of deriving joy out of it, be it an imagined number or an idea of how the body should look should simply be tossed out of the window.
Don’t take my word for it, listen to the experts.