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Weight training - the ultimate in femininity
Story and photos by David Kashimba

Weight training is the ultimate in femininity. Once thought to be an exercise strictly for men, weight training is becoming more and more popular with women. Go into any health club or gym and you’ll find just as many women as men in the weight room.

What’s the reason for this phenomenon? A new fad? Part of the sexual revolution?

None of the above. The answer is “simple common sense.”

“I think it’s very important for women to become involved in weight training especially women over thirty-five years old,” Susan Stewart said. Stewart is the Fitness Director for Naval Air Station Alameda. It’s her job to advise and train military and civilian employees of NAS Alameda to reach and maintain their maximum physical potential. “The reason I particularly recommend weight training for women is because they’re more susceptible to osteoporosis.”

Over the years, osteoporosis quietly robs strength and density from the bones, only to reveal itself when it’s too late in the form of lower backache, curvature of the spine, tooth loss and fractured bones. Although bone density decreases in all people at about age 35, osteoporosis, or severe bone thinning, is more common in women. Men have larger, denser bones. They do not experience the hormonal changes of menopause or the increased need for calcium due to pregnancy, both of which can contribute to osteoporosis in women.

“It’s not a new disease but only recently was it discovered that it was related to a decrease in muscle strength and bone density,” Stewart said. Increased calcium intake helps up to age 35. After that the bones’ ability to absorb calcium decreases. “By making the muscles stronger you automatically make the bones that relate to them stronger.”

Many women are concerned that increased muscle strength will make them look too manly. They’ve seen pictures of some of the women that compete for Ms. Olympia and other bodybuilding contests and they’re sure they don’t want to look like that.

“What many women don’t realize is that the pictures they see of Ms. Olympia contestants are not the way these women look all the time,” said Petty Officer Second Class Gladys Areizaga. Hospital Corpsman Areizaga works at NAS Alameda’s Branch Medical Clinic and is an avid weight trainer, “Ms. Olympia contestants pump themselves up before competition.”

Pumping up simply means that these women do several series of intense weight lifting exercises to increase the size of their muscles for the competition. “They simply don’t look like that in their day to day lives,” Areizaga said. “Former Ms. Olympia, Rachel McLish, has great muscle definition during competition but her firmness turns into pure feminine beauty when she works as a model. There’s nothing feminine about a flabby arm or leg. I like the look of firm muscles and they make me feel good. Through exercise, you’re not only building muscles, you’re building self-esteem. A woman that strives to build her physical and mental potential is a complete woman.”

Areizaga would love to go into competition, but the time demands of competitive bodybuilding wouldn’t fit into her current busy schedule. In addition to her full time medical career in the Navy, she instructs an aerobics class at NAS’s gym three nights a week and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fitness physiology at California State University.

Women building their bodies for competition go through the same long intensive workouts that men do. A three to four hour daily morning workout combined with a similar workout in the evening is necessary for at least, six months prior to the competition. But the beauty of weight training is that you don’t have to pursue it to that extent. A half hour work out every other day is all you need to stem the tide of osteoporosis.

“Women can also use weight training to shape their bodies the way they want to look,” Stewart said. “You can reshape your thighs or give shape to places where it previously didn’t exist. When many women were younger, they had legs up to their hips, but as they get older they have hips down to their knees. Weight training can be used to differentiate where those panty lines are supposed to go. You can also build up areas where you are not well endowed. If you didn’t previously have cleavage, you can build muscle to give the appearance of it.”

But once you decide on the look you want to achieve it’s important to talk to someone skilled in the physiology of weight training. A skilled person can set up a program to meet your needs and show you the proper way to complete each exercise for the maximum benefit with the minimum risk of injury. Susan Stewart will gladly set up a program for you. There is no charge to military, their spouses or Department of Defense employees.

Petty Officer Second Class Vicki Khyle is the manager of Individual Material Readiness Listing in the 900 division of NAS’s Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD). The majority of her work is clerical requiring her to spend long hours sitting at a desk, but occasionally she has to help lift some maintenance equipment. She’s enjoyed jogging, swimming and racquetball playing for years but only recently started a weight-training program with Susan Stewart.

“I started weight training because I felt it would help relieve the lower back stress of a desk job plus help me with equipment lifting and PRT,” Khyle said. Physical Readiness Training (PRT) is basically the Navy’s ongoing physical fitness test to ensure the readiness of all Navy personnel. The test consists of pushups, sit-ups, running or swimming and flexibility exercises.

“A lot of women have trouble passing the pushup segment of the test because they’ve never developed any upper body strength,” Khyle said, “In my age group a minimum of 11 pushups are needed to pass. Before starting my weight training program, I could only do five. Now I’m able to do well over 29 which is considered to be outstanding.” It also improved her lower back strength and a few weeks ago she and a co-worker lifted a 200 pound piece of equipment onto the back of a pickup. “I used to be afraid to lift things, but Susan’s weight training program taught me how to use all my muscles with the right postures and body mechanics to avoid hurting myself.”

Hurting yourself is not a problem of weight training if you use common sense and follow your skilled trainer’s advice. Common sense is as simple as starting with light weights and increasing weight very gradually. Piling on the weights, to impress someone in the weight room, is not common sense and a good way to injure yourself.

In fact, weight training can be used to rehabilitate your body from an injury. “I rarely spend more than 30 minutes a day three days a week working out with weights,” said Stewart. “My goals are not to build muscle but to maintain my muscle mass and to rehabilitate my back and knees.”

Stewart sustained knee and back injuries in two separate car accidents. After these accidents her doctors told her that she’d probably never be able to run, dance or do aerobics again. She was an avid jogger and taught aerobics classes. She was also very active in Alameda’s Altarena Theater, acting in roles that required singing and dancing. “I listened to my doctors and stopped doing everything I loved for about a week or two,” Stewart said. “It just about drove me crazy so I consulted someone skilled in sports medicine.”

For many years the field of sports medicine has been treating athletic injuries with rehabilitative weight training. The results have been phenomenal, bringing professional athletes back to the playing field in record time. A good case in point was the speedy recovery of Joe Montana after a severe injury when he was the quarterback for the 49ers football team.

After several weeks of a rehabilitative weight training program, Stewart was able to continue teaching aerobics, and get back into running and dancing. “I can’t think of anyone that rehabilitative weight training wouldn’t benefit,” Stewart said. “Physical therapists even use weight training exercises for muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease patients. The exercises slow down the progress of muscular deterioration and in the case of Parkinson’s disease, helps make the patient stronger and more in control of their motor functions.”

Weight training has caused such positive results in the lives of Susan Stewart, Gladys Areizaga and Vicki Khyle that it has become a way of life for them.

“Before starting my weight training program, I just didn’t feel healthy enough,” Khyle said. “Now if I miss just one day’s exercise I feel that I’ve cheated my body.”

In Areizaga’s profession as a medical corpsman, she sees many people who depend on medication to live. “There are some medical problems that have to be treated by medication, but most people could avoid taking pills by spending a little time to become and stay physically fit,” Areizaga said. “While finding time might be difficult for some, the payoff is well worth it. Contrary to what many people think, exercise doesn’t make you tired. It revitalizes the body and provides you with more energy to do many of the things you thought you didn’t have time for.”

For Stewart, her weight training really pays off during theater rehearsals. In her last two productions, Anything Goes and Oklahoma, rehearsals were often four to five hours of nonstop dancing. “I could always tell the members of the cast that didn’t maintain some sort of muscle endurance program such as weight training. After a rehearsal, they’d be totally exhausted. I really knew that my exercise paid off when I saw people 10 to 20 years younger than myself that I could out dance. With weight training’s ability to make you feel and act younger, as well as help thwart osteoporosis, you might say that it acts as a fountain of youth.”

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