Her body gleams in the blazing lights, the muscles so clearly defined that they could be an anatomical chart for students of medicine. Her figure is taut as she turns and bends her arm, hunching her shoulders to make her muscles bulge and ripple on command.
You’ve seen them on TV, at bodybuilding challenges around the world. But female body builders tend to be mostly from the West. That could soon change though, as awareness in India about this sport grows. Chetan Pathare, secretary of the Indian Body Building Federation, says that there are already seven or eight international-level female body builders in India. If more women take it up, then this sport too can be an option for them.
"While women in several countries are encouraged to take up sports that require physical strength and endurance, there is no such encouragement in our country," says 35-year-old Mamota Devi Yumnam, the first, and so far the only female body builder from India to win medals at international competitions. "That’s why I decided to take up bodybuilding, to break all stereotypes associated with gender issues."
The mother of three children, Imphal-born Mamota moved to Delhi in 2003 to work with her husband Borun, a professional body builder with several Mr India and Mr Asia titles to his name.
The couple opened a gym, but when Mamota first began working out, her motivation had less to do with bodybuilding and more to do with self-defence. "I wanted to be strong enough to handle untoward incidents," says Mamota. "Then, one day, I saw a 52-year-old international female body builder on TV and I was fascinated with the way she looked."
So from November 2011, with the help of her husband, Mamota began training seriously. Aside from bodybuilding exercises, Borun made sure Mamota had the correct diet. "To build muscle, Mamota increased her intake of proteins and had lots of eggs, chicken, milk and even dal – but boiled dal only," says Borun.
Slowly, Mamota’s petite feminine form became much more muscular. And her facial features turned more masculine too. "Before I started my training, I was fond of using makeup, but today I don’t even feel like applying kajal. I also enjoyed going to malls and to Sarojni Nagar to shop, but gradually I stopped that too, because people stare at me," says Mamota.
But in exchange for these changes in her life, Mamota has the distinction of being the only Indian female body builder to win bronze medals at the World Women Bodybuilding Championship at Bangkok in December 2012 and Asian Bodybuilding Championship at Vietnam in 2013. She also won the gold medal at the Women’s Bodybuilding Championship in Pune in February 2014. The power and the glory
Mamota has competition. In Mumbai, 31-year-old Natasha Pradhan is a keen body builder, determined to do well at the sport so she can support her 13-year-old daughter. A single mother, Natasha tried to earn a living by babysitting, before a friend suggested that she try bodybuilding instead.
"Since I had been kickboxing earlier, I decided to start working out to build my body," says Natasha. "I joined a friend’s gym and it wasn’t easy. Initially, every squat I did was very painful, and it wasn’t easy to comprehend the changes happening to my body, but I just wanted to prove myself." Now Natasha and a friend run a gym in Santa Cruz.
Unlike Mamota and Natasha, 31-year-old Leena Phad has hidden her bodybuilding ambitions from her parents. A fitness freak who played kabaddi in college and then participated for six years in state and national-level powerlifting competitions, Leena is a gym trainer whose only goal in 2015 is bodybuilding.
"I even turned down a job as sales tax inspector after passing my Maharashtra Public Service Commission exam," says Leena. "But my parents are conservative and though they know I am a trainer, they don’t know I want to be a body builder. They are angry that I have not taken up a secure job." Bodies beautiful
Leena’s parents can’t be blamed for being angry. It isn’t easy for a woman to bulk up. The deterrents aren’t restricted to the usual ones, such as money for training. The problem, mainly, is hormonal.
"Women need to work out harder than men if they want to be body builders," says Sagar Pednekar, fitness expert, Gold’s Gym India. "This is because of their physical structure and hormones. Their testosterone levels are lower. Also, unlike men, women are built to store fat, so their diet needs to be strict."
There are social issues at work as well. For one thing, points out Pathare, bodybuilding as a sport means displaying that body in a bikini and most Indian women (and lots of Indian spectators) don’t think that’s acceptable. And for another, the world is not used to bulked-up women. Fit is one thing, muscular is another, which is why the World Bodybuilding & Physique Sports Competition has a physique sports category as well.
"This category is not only about bodybuilding, but also about fitness and modelling, something which is new in India," says Mumbai-based Steffi D’Souza who participated in this category when the championship was held in Mumbai in December last year. "Women here don’t really want a bulked-up physique, but this kind of fitness looks beautiful and also feminine."
Steffi is the granddaughter of body builder Tony D’Souza, a former Mr Bombay. Now 25 years old, she has been training for the last eight years. She began training simply to keep fit, but later realised she could go professional.
"You have to build up muscles, but with a lean look," says Steffi. "So the diet is not only heavy on protein, but also on good fats and food rich in Omega 3."
Like Steffi, 38-year-old Jinnie Gogia Chugh from Delhi believes weight-training can make women more beautiful. Author of 21 books, including one on fitness, Jinnie was encouraged by her business partner, Gaurav Kumar, a former Mr India participant and fitness expert.
"Aside from diet and training for three to four hours a day, participating in the physique category means paying special attention to posture as well, because stage presence and posing abilities are required," says Jinnie.
Married for more than eight years, Jinnie has a daughter who loves the way her mother looks. Mamota’s three children are proud of her too. "The only thing my seven-year-old son is worried about is that one day I may change into a man completely, considering the way my face has changed over the years," she laughs.
Build It Up
Lean mass building or bodybuilding is a sport of discipline, courage and dedication,” says Sagar Pednekar, fitness expert at Gold’s Gym India.
Men generally find bodybuilding easier than women do, because they have higher levels of testosterone than women. Women, on the other hand, have more of estrogen and progesterone, the hormones which tend to promote fat.
But it isn’t impossible for women to build their bodies. When a woman wants to build muscles, she needs to combine a good workout under a trainer’s guidance with a balanced and protein-rich diet that includes lots of green leafy vegetables too. Non-vegetarians should eat meat three times a week.
Load-bearing exercises are vital for the first three or four months of training, but then you need to stop as they affect the abdomen and back. Then the focus has to be on stretching exercises to keep the body mobile and maintain the flexibility of the inner thighs and muscles.
Lower back strengthening exercises are important, because as the stomach starts stretching, there is pressure on the lower back too.
To train in bodybuilding after childbirth, extra precaution needs to be taken. In normal delivery, workouts begin after two weeks.
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From HT Brunch, February 1
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Build It Up