Today I want to talk a bit about fitness, more specifically, weight training. It is something that is still perceived as male dominated. Times are a´changing and we need to open up the conversation.
The main goal of this interview for me is to focus on a lot of female-specific questions.The reason for this is that in an area like weight lifting or weight training, people seem to think that men and women need to be interviewed equally to be taken seriously. This is not going to work for me. There are some things women experience while exercising, that men simply don´t. Asking a woman who does weight training the same questions as a man who does weight training will limit the conversation. It has been done before. I want to be part of a conversation that highlights women.
Moving on, the lovely and intimidating Laraleigh Ruzicka has agreed to an interview with me regarding her weight training journey. I have been stanning this woman for longer than I think she knows. I love reading her posts on Instagram and looking at her transformation pictures. She has been an inspiration to me, a person I can go to at any time to ask questions and advice.
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did!
Lara, can you tell me about more about how you got into weight training? Did you start in school, college? Did you immediately get into weight training, or did you start out by doing a sport, or even doing cardio?
My father was a German man grounded in the discipline of: ‘Strong body, Strong mind.’ Which very quickly became one of my core values at a young age, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. I started weightlifting with him at gym around the age of 12/13 and then went on to play Rugby in High School. Sadly, changing schools meant that I could not continue with Rugby as a sport and so going to gym after school every day became my haven and my sanity.
What did weight training offer you that other forms of exercise could not?
Weight training demands a very specific form of mental strength, beyond what the body is capable of. As cliché as it has become to say: ‘The body is capable of almost anything, it is your mind you must convince.’ Weight training comes in many forms – Resistance/Strength/Power Lifting/Olympic Lifting – each of these requires a certain discipline and skill set which means that you are constantly working at perfecting your craft. The ceiling for what is possible when it comes to weight training is forever shifting based on your achievements and so the sky is the limit. Nothing beats seeing your body transform right before your eyes as you get stronger both physically and mentally in ways you could not have imagined possible.
Is weight training still a male-dominated area of training, or is this a misconception we need to unlearn?
Weight training is most definitely still a male-dominated discipline although there has been a definite shift when it comes to more woman taking on this form of training, not just Nationally but world-wide. As more women become more educated with regards to weight training, it’s applications and its immense health benefits, I believe we will continue to see an upward trend. One major misconception I tackle often is that women are scared to ‘look like a man’ or become too muscular if they start lifting weights as opposed to just focusing on aerobics/cardio. I have had many women look at me and say that they want to lift weights but do not want to end up looking like me, which always makes me giggle because the reality is that muscle mass is not gained easily (certainly not without weight on the heavier side of the scale). Weight training is not all or nothing. It is not just body building, dry chicken and broccoli for months on end or obesity forever – it is about sculpting your body according to your goals, regardless of where on the spectrum you lie.
Did any specific person or persons influence you in taking up weight training?
My father, without a doubt.
What are some differences that you have noticed between how men and women train? Does the difference in training yield different results?
There is quite a notable difference between how men and women train which certainly leads to varied results, generally speaking. Typically, women will take part in group exercise activities such a Zumba, Aerobics and Step based classes or can be found in the cardio section of a gym, with some venturing into the circuit sections and even fewer then into the free weight section. I have had many women tell me that they find the free weight section of their gym intimidating because they are unsure of where to start/are not ready to lift anything too heavy/see it as the men’s section of the gym more than it being open to all. The reverse can be said for men, although more men are realising the importance of heart health in tandem with chasing muscle mass and are found in the cardio section from time to time more frequently as mindsets change. There are of course your exceptions to the rule, which I am happy to say have become a more regular occurrence.
Can all training techniques be applied equally to men and women?
Absolutely. Both men and women can perform within all facets of training, with adaptations available within each based on overall fitness levels. Of course, results are likely to differ between the sexes if you take a closer look at the numbers with reference to body composition/performance with reference to weight lifted/times etc. However, the numbers only tend to become of greater importance for those looking to compete and even then, women and men compete against their own sex. For the general population it comes down to body composition/weight which can be changed throughout the spectrum based on the goals of the individual, regardless of sex.
How has your diet changed since you started training?
I am a firm believer in practicing what you preach if you plan to be a Thought Leader or Master of Your Craft in any industry. Having said this, I have deliberately sought out certain diets in order to properly evaluate their application to weight training and CrossFit as a discipline overall. This comes from the need to transform myself as an Athlete going forward but more so, the need to transfer viable, firsthand knowledge and experience to the lives of those I am given the opportunity to transform in the process. The evolution of my diet since I started homing in on what I eat for the sake of performance/changing my body composition/improving my quality of life is as follows: LCHF, a strict Ketogenic diet, HCHP and more recently, migrating to a Vegetarian and now Vegan diet. The Vegan diet I am currently developing for myself follows the principles of HCHP.
You have recently embarked on a journey to become a vegan; this in itself is already a unique challenge. What do you, as a woman who trains as much as you do, need to look out for and take into consideration?
As a woman well known for her capacity for vast quantities of food, one of the most important things for me to note in becoming Vegan was that the volume of food I consume daily would need to increase. For the sake of keeping it simple: Animal proteins take much longer to digest than plant proteins do. Another important aspect common for both men and women alike, is ensuring that your iron levels do not drop too significantly. To counter this, I have been cognizant of plant-based foods higher in iron than the rest and now take an iron supplement. Other than that, I tend to keep ‘high protein’ in mind for anything Vegan I consider preparing for my meals each week, which has been surprisingly easy to do.
Can you tell me about a typical day of training? (feel free to get as technical as you want)
I aim to train 5-6 days a week based on my recovery. During weeks where the balance between work and my personal life is slightly skewed or perhaps my recovery is not where it should be, I aim for 4, with a day of active recovery in between my sessions. Bearing in mind that my greatest health and fitness related goals are to become an Elite Level CrossFit Athlete and gain muscle mass, my sessions follow a format similar to the following:
- Warm Up WOD (Workout of the Day)
- Lifting technique (Here I focus primarily on Olympic Lifting i.e. Snatches, Cleans, Clean and Jerk)
- Main WOD (Workout of the Day)
- Progression (Here I focus on CrossFit specific movements such as handstand walking, handstand push ups, ring and bar muscle ups etc.)
- Cool Down/Mobility
On days where you cannot motivate yourself to exercise, how do you cope?
Another common concept but one that rings incredibly true is that you simply will not be motivated to train every single day that your program dictates you should. What it comes down to is discipline. That is rarely what people want to hear but on the days that I have worked for over 12 hours and haven’t slept as well as I would have liked, particularly in winter, it comes down to me getting my ass up, getting dressed and choosing to show up for myself and my goals regardless of how I feel. Keeping my goals close to my heart and in my line of sight with reference to my vision board, those I follow on social media and even the background image on my phone, adds an element of accountability that reminds me that my will to succeed and grow is far bigger than any of the half-hearted excuses available to make on the day.
Does your period affect your training in any way?
This is something I have not been very focused on tracking to date, but I will say that there are definite changes I experience during the different phases of my cycle on a monthly basis. These changes include variances in the amount of weight I am able to lift compared to some of my Personal Bests as well as the common fluctuations in energy levels we all experience regardless of whether or not we train. Emma Rogers (@emfitrx on Instagram) is vocal and detailed about her period and how each phase affects her training as an Elite Athlete which has inspired me to pay closer attention to the same.
Are there any other challenges that only women face when doing weight training?
Women determined to lose fat and gain muscle mass often get frustrated with how quickly men seem to be able to do the same. Naturally, testosterone plays a big role in strength and gaining muscle mass which we ladies tend to have in much smaller quantities. Beyond this and the aforementioned, I don’t see any major challenges that are specific to women when it comes to weight training. We are well equipped to train alongside men otherwise.
Have you faced any stereotyping, misjudgements or even just plain ignorance since you have started this journey?
Ignorance in this industry is everywhere. Even among some of those qualified and working as Personal Trainers/Coaches, which can be incredibly dangerous for potential clients too lazy to do their homework. As a woman in CrossFit, I have to say that the community has been incredible. The community, by nature, in my opinion is supportive regardless of the competition, whereas the body building industry, I feel, can be much more cut-throat/political. There have been times where I have either been labelled as taking steroids or on the flipside, have been offered them, both of which are massive misjudgements when it comes to who I am and what I stand for but it has been an interesting journey nevertheless. One that will only continue to get more interesting, I have no doubt.
If you needed advice or motivation regarding your training, do you have a go-to person?
When it comes to advice, I have never put my eggs in one basket with regards to those I seek counsel from. Every coach has his/her own perspective to bring to the table and because of this I have learned so much from so many amazing people who are incredible at what they do. As for motivation, I consider myself to be intrinsically motivated, which is a gift I have come to realise not many have with respect to training. I most definitely use the athletes I aspire to be most like to motivate me consistently, however. Brooke Ence, Dani Speegle, Katrin Davidsdottir, Tia Claire Toomey… Keeping yourself motivated as I mentioned is about surrounding yourself with all you are determined to be. When you cannot escape it, it becomes your reality, which can easily be said for negativity. This is why it is so important to remain aware of and constantly fine tune your mindset.
How has lockdown affected your training?
I am fortunate enough to have converted my garage to my own (scaled) version of a CrossFit box since we first went into Lockdown so haven’t had to struggle with the concept of creating a program purely based on body weight as many have. While workouts certainly require a new level of creativity when it comes to adaptation and not being able to attend a generic box/gym, I would have to say that I miss the group setting and dynamic given by being coached and having your community with you while you train more than anything.
Apart from physical changes, what other changes have you noticed, whether it be positive or negative?
Ironically enough, my mindset towards food shifted because of training and not the other way around. Many start with food and progress with exercise but the journey I am on both as a CrossFit Athlete and now, a Vegan, has shown me after years of exercise that I need to and (want to) eat for performance beyond muscle gain. Overall, my energy levels have hit an all-time high. My immunity is stronger than it has ever been (I cannot recall the last time I was sick, easily 2+ years ago) and my resilience when it comes to negativity, procrastination and coping with the ever-expanding stresses in life that many are currently struggling with is almost infallible.
Has weight training led to you learning any other skills, has it led to new interests?
Without a doubt. I started off with an interest in gaining muscle mass as what I suppose you could call a non-competitive body builder and quickly progressed to discovering a whole new world when it comes to Power Lifting, Olympic Lifting and CrossFit as a blend of several disciplines rather than just one. CrossFit, in particular, has opened doors to learning movements I never imagined I would be doing when I first started training. Learning gymnastics movements such as the ring and bar muscle ups, handstand push ups and handstand walking I mentioned earlier has been challenging and physically demanding in ways that simple weight training is not, but without weight training as a foundation I wouldn’t be nearly as successful as I have been to date. The journey certainly makes sense when I stop to look at the bigger picture.
Have men had any influence on you starting weight training?
Still going back to my Father on this one. The landscape of those I am influence by has since changed to be predominantly female, purely because it gives me a good benchmark for what is achievable for me as a woman, naturally speaking that is.
Lastly, as someone who has only recently started doing weight training as opposed to only cardio, what does this journey have in store for me, be it, mentally, physically, or socially?
Every journey is different in the same way that we as people have different values, ethics, goals and experiences when it comes to health and fitness. Mentally speaking, I think you will find that as time progresses, training sets the foundation for your day as a habit and a discipline you feel lost without. You will see yourself grow from strength to strength not just physically but mentally as you tackle the barriers, plateaus and frustrations of setting, achieving or perhaps failing at the goals you develop. You might find that with time, based on the direction your journey takes you in, your social circle will change to include those more aligned with your training goals. Weight training teaches you a great deal about where your strengths and weaknesses lie. It will expose weaknesses; make you feel like a failure and in the very same breath teach you how to overcome it all.