It's the year 2018, but many women are still afraid to make lifting weights a part of their work out routine. Instead, we must circle the cardio drain forever to avoid "bulking." But strength training is an important part of any fitness regimen, and Pro Bikini World Champion Cristina Silva wants you to know that looking at pumped as her is extremely difficult - but also very awesome.
Silva spoke with Metro.uk about how she gets in shape, especially for big competitions, like the WBFF World Championships. She started competing three years ago, and won the 2015 Pro Bikini World Champion. She moved from the regular "bikini" category to "fitness," which is an entirely different level of look.
Not many women can achieve Silva's level of definition, or necessarily want to - it's basically her job. But her tips on how she gets there are helpful for folks looking to build muscle and shape at the gym instead of just burn off their after work beers.
Don't Fear the Bulk
Silva says that most of the year, she just concentrates on building muscle. She lifts, and sets aside cardio. Then, before a competition, Silva builds up her cardio again, and starts burning the fat off all the muscles she's been developing, showing that definition. Welcome to bulk-and-cut, ladies. There are a lot of ways to do this, but in general you eat more when you're bulking to support your muscle growth and cut back later to flaunt them.
Though you are likely not preparing for a competition, eating more calories while working towards building muscle is recommended. It will give you far more energy to burn. Then, when you feel like you've reached the size you want (or can't fit into your clothes), you can add back in cardio, just like Silva. But be warned: you have to do the weight-training WITH the added calories, or you're just... eating a lot.
Here's how she adds back in cardio:
'Normally, I start with 20 minutes a day of steady state such as incline walking or going on the cross trainer. I'm always trying to keep my heart rate between 130/140 RPM to stay in the fat burning zone. As the week's progress, the cardio increases depending on how my body is responding to it and how fast I'm getting lean.'
You Don't Need to Starve
When she is in the "cut" phase, Silva says she doesn't reduce her calorie intake very much, she just changes her macro nutrients around. Macro nutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. The balance you consume can really change your body composition. Your body metabolizes each of these things differently, so when it's close to competition time, she switches out carbs and fats for more protein, but consumes around the same number of calories. The fat burns off, but the muscle stays.
Cutting calories too much will also break down the muscle growth you've been working so hard on. Silva consumes a lot of supplements, because she is repped by a brand that provides her with formulations for weightlifters. The average person will likely not need so many protein shakes.
Work Both Sides of Your Body
If you want to give weight-training a try, one thing Silva thinks is really important is to work out each side of the body separately, which is very unlike most workouts for upper and lower bodies we're taught. For example, doing a burpee is a great way to work out your legs and arms (and heart) at the same time, but the side of your body that's already stronger will keep doing most of the work. When Silva gets on the leg press, she does one leg at a time, to bring them into a more symmetrical place:
'Most humans are asymmetrical,' she explains. 'Normally we tend to use one side of our body more than the other one, this creates an imbalance and that's why it's important to work our body separately. An imbalance in your body could result in an injury. By training a single side, we can fix this imbalance and avoid injuries.'
Consider Your Goals
Silva thinks people often don't train appropriately for the body they actually want. Women without high-levels of testosterone cannot easily build muscle, and many of them think cardio will give them a certain shape, when in fact it can burn away the muscle they do have. You may get thinner, but if you're trying to change your silhouette, building those muscles will help the most:
"Cardio can help a little bit to lose fat, but the bad side of this is the body adapts to it really fast, so the number of calories that you burn at the beginning will not be the same with time. Your body needs to be challenged with different routines to keep burning those calories.
"Another mistake is thinking that we need to stop eating to lose weight. It's about balancing your protein, fat and carbs during the day and choosing fresh, organic food and avoiding processed foods."
She recommends combining squat routines with shoulder presses and upper body work that will build up your back and arms. That creates the "hour-glass" figure of being wider on the top and bottom, with a narrower waist. A very specific (but popular) aesthetic - and you can extrapolate to any look you're going for.
Silva is pretty honest when asked if bikini models in any category are maintaining a "healthy" lifestyle. She says, "Extreme diets, with restricted calories and intense training for long periods can bring many side effects like losing your period, mood swings, hormonal changes etc. However, if you train properly and follow a good diet, then it's achievable."
Silva is competing in a specific field with demands far beyond what an average person should attempt, but the basis of her advice for getting into a more moderate routine is solid. You can read more of that advice here.