Health & Fitness Supplement

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Q and A with a female bodybuilder

Ali Schwabe | Fulcrum Staff

Photo provided by Julianna Tan

JULIANNA TAN IS a second-year kinesiology student at Dalhousie University. She’s also been bodybuilding since 2008 and has competed in a number of competitions since 2010. The Fulcrum got the scoop from Tan on the sport of female bodybuilding and why girls shouldn’t just stick to cardio.

The Fulcrum: When did you first get involved in female bodybuilding, and why?

Julianna Tan: I started lifting weights in 2008 when I was in Grade 9. I had always been into athletics and competed with multiple teams in a number of sports; however, the bodybuilding scene caught my eye for the first time when my older sister competed in 2008. She had always been a scrawny kid, but she decided to make a change in her life and started hitting the gym on a regular basis and focusing a lot of effort on feeding her body the right nutrients.

My sister and I are very close, so I would often tag along with her to the gym. After watching her progress and seeing how much stronger and healthier she was becoming, I quickly became interested in weightlifting as well. The strength, confidence, and pride I saw my sister gain influenced me to take on my first competition in 2010. Even today, I still find competing is my source of motivation to push myself to my fullest potential, not only physically, but mentally as well. It requires great dedication and focus that carries over into so many other aspects of life.

What are some of the benefits of strength training?

Strength training not only improves your body’s shape, but it also increases your energy [and improves] your posture, your power output, and your confidence! By adding weights to your fitness routine, you burn a surprising amount of calories, while shaping out your shoulders, your midsection, and your lower half as well. There are so many ways to incorporate strength training, so you never have to get bored with the same old workout. You can also focus on certain parts of your body, whether it’s shaping your arms with concentration curls or toning your bottom in the squat rack.

What would you say to a woman who’s afraid of bulking up too much from lifting weights and who only does cardio instead?

I wish we [women] could form nice full muscles as easily as the bulky men you see pumping iron in the gym! However, the truth is, as women, we have different physiological builds and hormones that don’t build muscle the same way as men’s bodies do. It takes an awful lot of work for a woman to get big and bulky, not to mention questionable supplements. I’ve been strength training for nearly five years, always trying to push my limits with [how much weight I lift]; however, I still struggle to gain enough muscle to be anywhere near “bulky.” Even after endless hours in the gym and very carefully monitoring what goes in my mouth, by the time competition comes around, I still look like a female! The plus side is shapely definition that doesn’t come with a regime that’s strictly cardio, and a confidence I just adore.

How do you recommend getting started?

Start slow! Ease your way into strength training by incorporating light weights a few times a week. You don’t have to go big! If you’re not sure exactly what to do, refer to workout websites—my favourite is—for a great compilation of “How to’s” and demonstration videos. There are tons of great tips in fitness magazines as well; I love Oxygen. Try going to the gym with a buddy so you can try new things together and provide encouragement. There is no time that’s a bad time to get started. Start today, love your body, and never look back!