Muscle is Loving Your Body

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“Since I was once the opposite of a healthy and strong body, I am motivated to always get stronger and take care of myself. All we have at the end of the day is our body… it really comes down to nutrition and exercise.”

Kat Best

Activities: Weight training, group exercise

Website: http://www.kiwisweat.com

Follow kiwisweat on Instagram: @kiwisweat

Q: Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

Q: Were you active as a child?

I spent a lot of time playing outside when I was a little kid because I had a big backyard and a pool. I grew up in suburbia, there were tons of parks and outdoor activities. I played soccer through 8th grade.

Q: Did you play sports in high school?

I didn’t. Once I got to high school, I pretty much stopped doing anything physical except the occasional jump on the elliptical.  I was never really athletic. I was always the one hiding in gym class and had no interest in playing a sport back then.

Q: When do you believe your fitness journey began?

My fitness journey truly began in the Summer of 2012 when I started doing some online Pilates videos featuring Cassey Ho, an internet Pilates star. It was my first summer home from college and I had a lot of spare time, so that’s when I really started experimenting with working out. I did not have a gym membership so I used the light dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance bands I bought for home and did YouTube workouts, but ultimately I became a cardio bunny.

My shift towards weightlifting was gradual and took a lot of trial and error. I went to FIT, so there was absolutely no one in the school gym lifting weights, no one to mirror. I would do a lot of cardio and some light resistance training. Over time fitness became more of a hobby/passion and less of a chore. I was hooked and finally found something that fulfilled me and distracted me from the large amount of stress I had due to school, work, relationships etc. I began studying correct form, learning muscle anatomy, getting familiar with different workout splits and reading tons of bodybuilding forums. I could not get enough of researching and I was fascinated by the science of it all. The more I learned the more I was able to tweak my workouts, have a sense direction in the gym and start setting attainable goals because I knew how to approach them.

Q: What do your workouts consist of?

Currently, I am focusing more on building strength and less on aesthetics. I make sure to hit the big compound lifts like dead lifts, squats, chest press, pull ups, rows etc.  To create the figure I’m looking to have, I also have days where I train smaller muscles individually to build them as well. I started making good progress with my strength once I started lifting really heavy and quit volume training all the time. I am lifting 6 days a week so I have a specific program I follow. I am always making adjustments to it, but I prefer slow and steady progress over drastic changes to my body. I’m looking to have a figure that I can maintain year round and not go through the drastic bulking/cutting cycles that are common in bodybuilding. For cardio, I will spin once a week and other days I will take conditioning or plyometric style group fitness classes (mostly because it is part of my job to try out fitness studios and their workouts). I used to be a cardio queen and I have really tapered that back so I can get some muscle growth.

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Q: So many women today struggle with maintaining a healthy body image. Why do you think that is?

We are surrounded by media that tells us the way we are supposed to look. From rail thin models to thicker thighs to lean muscular bodies, these “ideal” looks are in everyone’s face all the time, especially on social media like Instagram. It is really hard to have a healthy body image when you are always comparing yourself to someone else, no matter how unrealistic it can be for you to look like that. It is only getting worse because so many products capitalize on insecure women who are desperate for a quick fix. These products promise very unrealistic results, only make women feel more insecure about themselves in the end. Waist trainers are a perfect example of what I am talking about.

Q: Have you ever struggled with that and if so, how has training helped you?

I had a poor body image from as young as I can remember and battled an eating disorder during early adolescence through my senior year of high school. My life centered around insecurities and it was pretty unbearable through my teenage years bringing me to a really dark place. Eating disorders are far more complex than just body image issues, but the way I saw my body was so distorted from reality it was very difficult for me to recover and appreciate it.

I did not get into training until about 2 years after my recovery. I purposely avoided the gym because I was very protective of my recovery and I was nervous that exercising would make me too concerned with my appearance. Even without an eating disorder I still had zero confidence, was incredibly shy and had no real interests or hobbies. Since then, weight training completely changed my life. Getting physically stronger along with learning proper nutrition so I could fuel my body with the right food instead of junk totally changed my outlook on life and the way I viewed myself. I finally had something that was mine, no one could get in the way of my training and it was on me if I was successful or not. Learning my way around the weight room gave me confidence and knowing that I could alter my body to look how I wanted it to, in a healthy way, by building up certain muscles was, and still is, really empowering. My journey through training has helped me love my body and care about keeping it strong and healthy so that it can carry me through the rest of my life.

Q: Give a brief explanation of a couple of things you believe women need to know and understand about their bodies.

Genetics: You are fortunate enough to have one of a kind DNA and no other person will have the same body as you. Therefore, you cannot expect to look the same as anyone else. We all carry fat in different places, gain muscle quicker in certain areas than others and respond to different diets so you need to figure out YOU and work from there.

Body fat: Fat is essential for our bodies to function. We need to have a higher percentage than men and it is very unhealthy to stay at a low percentage for long periods of time. You will look good when you are really lean, but you can also be doing tons of damage under the surface that you are not aware of and in the long run that is not worth having shredded abs.

Q: Has your career choice helped your fitness journey? If so, is what way?

I work for a fitness/tech start-up called KiwiSweat. Since we focus on group fitness and the instructors that teach, it has opened my eyes to group fitness and all the workouts taught in that format. I typically shy away from group exercise because I love lifting and working out alone with a structured plan. However, my job has allowed me to explore more of the conditioning and cardiovascular sides to fitness in very niche areas, which are very important in creating a  more well-rounded athlete. It has also helped my fitness journey because I have met so many amazing and inspiring people.

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Q: Statistics show women with a higher income seem to struggle less with obesity than women with lower incomes; yet, it’s the opposite for men. Why do you think that is?

This is really interesting. I don’t think there’s any clear reason. Maybe because lower-income jobs for men are typically more physically demanding while higher paying jobs are typically office jobs that involve sitting at a computer for hours and hours. Lower-income women are commonly single moms busy raising a family, with little time to focus on good nutrition and trying to get the most bang for their buck. The correlation between low-income and obesity has to be directly related to the abundance of cheap high-calorie food, such as fast food or heavily processed options at the grocery store.

Q: How strict is your diet and what are your guilty pleasures?

Learning sport-focused nutrition has been one of my favorite things of this whole process. I have a certain macronutrient breakdown (proteins, carbs, fats) that I try to reach and whatever food I eat that fits within those numbers, is what it eat. I eat according to my goals and I understand what things would need to change accordingly to coincide with training. I wholeheartedly believe in avoiding processed food as much as possible. We should be eating food as closely to its original form as possible. I eat mostly lean proteins, complex starchy carbs and fibrous veggies at every meal. I am one of those people who tracks their food, but for me it is the only way to know I am eating adequately for my goals and its very economical as well. Intuitive eating doesn’t really work for me and since I eat 6-7 meals a day, I need to make sure its evened out. You can’t possibly learn portions unless you measure things once to get the visual of what it looks like. Internal health is very important to me so I make sure I eat minimal greasy/fatty foods, get my micronutrients in and give my body the food that it needs to function best.

But of course I indulge, because I am human and I want some pizza every now and then. I really do enjoy the food I cook for myself to eat on a daily basis and save the less healthy stuff for when I go out to restaurants, because I know it will be delicious and totally worth it. I have an intolerance to dairy and gluten so I do avoid those the majority of the time, which comes in handy because my biggest guilty pleasures are anything involving cheese and bread and more cheese and more bread.

Q: What do you believe the biggest misconception is among women pertaining to weight training?

That women who lift weights will become super muscular and manly looking. Although I think this misconception is decreasing as the popularity of bikini competitions rise. For a female to put on muscle it takes tons of time and a caloric surplus. We do not have the levels of testosterone that men do, making it impossible to put on muscle like a man does.  Many of the women who do look very masculine are taking steroids. I tell girls all the time that the only way they can change the shape of their body is by building up certain muscles to create the curves they want, versus doing tons of cardio which will make you lose fat, but will only make you a smaller version of your natural shape. I once saw a quote that really puts it in perspective, “Girls avoiding weight training in case they “get too big” is like someone refusing to go jogging in case they become an Olympic sprinter.”

Q: Why do you think the group training (crossfit, boot camp, soul cycle) and sport specific facilities (pole studios) have become so popular?

People like working out in groups because it is motivating and you are less likely to quit when you are in a class environment. It allows people to get a different type of workout that they cannot get in a standard gym with basic equipment. A lot of people are interested in getting a workout in because they know it is physically healthy and something they are supposed to do. Group fitness is great for this aspect because you don’t need to research any workout or come up with a program, you just show up and do what they tell you to do, sweat and then your done for the day. Since my job is focused on group fitness, I see tons of people really connecting with their instructors and the other people in the class, which keeps them coming back and finding social enjoyment in fitness.

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Q: These facilities have changed the face of fitness to a degree, because most of the population in attendance are in their 20’s and 30’s. Why do you think if appeals to a younger clientele?

Boutique fitness has taken over. The NYC market is very over-saturated and there are the “cool” studios such as SoulCycle or Barry’s that everyone wants to go to and make it known that they went there, something the younger generations are more concerned with than the older. However, lots of studios offer quality workouts in a short amount of time, which is perfect for the young and busy who can’t afford to spend time figuring out what workouts will or won’t work for them. Studios are little communities and it is a good way to find new friends or something to do with your current friends and feel connected to a brand.

Q: What motivates you to consistently get to the gym?

I am a very independent person and I don’t like doing anything that makes me rely on others for success. Training is one of the few things that is totally my own. The only thing getting me to reach my fitness goals is me because ultimately, I lift all that weight myself and control the food I put in my body. It is in my nature to need routine in my life, so waking up early every day and running to the gym is as obvious to me as brushing my teeth is. I know most people cannot relate to that, but lifting is such an integral part of me and I need it to put me in the right frame of mind for the day. Since I was once the opposite of a healthy and strong body, I am motivated to always get stronger and take care of myself. All we have at the end of the day is our body. Material things will come and go, but having a functioning body for the majority of your life is so important and it really comes down to nutrition and exercise.

Q: People always talk about the benefits of working out, are there any negative aspects that go along with it?

Yes, if it becomes too obsessive or too extreme. It doesn’t apply to most people working out, but for some, it does. Especially those concerned with aesthetics and competing and tracking their food down to the gram. To be honest, I do find myself slipping into that territory from time to time, but I snap out of it. Living a healthy and fitness-centered lifestyle is what I really love, I do not feel deprived of anything because I have found balance, but I can see how some people end up avoiding all social outings or the spontaneity of life in order to make sure they don’t skip a workout or cheat on their diet. This obsession with fitness can lead to development of an eating disorder rather quickly and it is a really hard place to get out of once you are mentally stuck.

Q: What long term goals do you hope to accomplish in fitness?

Long term, I really want to be a well-rounded athlete. It is great to be strong and lift heavy weight, but I want to be able to jump high, sprint fast, have better agility and be able to do tons of push ups and pull ups as well. Of course I want to physically look a certain way and it is fun to shape my body how I want it, but I am starting to care more about improving my performance over appearance.

Q: Why did you agree to be part of the MCBMI blog?

I love that MCBMI encourages women to live healthier and more active lifestyles. The interviews are inspiring and I have always loved reading other people’s stories on how they incorporate fitness into their lives. I love the message of MCBMI, mixing factual based articles along with inspirational ones geared toward women and the challenges we face. It’s comforting when you reading something and you can think to yourself “Oh, finally someone gets it,” and I think that applies to a lot of the women reading MBCMI.