If you’re a trans woman and desire a more feminine figure, can an exercise regimen help you achieve that goal? Could following a transition-oriented workout regimen add volume to your lower body for a fuller, shapelier rear end?
The answer is yes, within limits, experts say. Everyone’s body shape and size is different, says JJ Flizanes, a personal trainer based in Los Angeles and director of Invisible Fitness. There are aspects of your body that you can’t change, such as the length of your legs and the width of your hips and shoulders, she says. Another important factor is genetics. “There are certain genetic factors that will determine one’s ability to gain girth or mass in the lower body,” Flizanes says.
Similarly, taking the female hormones estrogen and progesterone won’t change whether your body is long and slender (ectomorph) or compact and thick (endomorph). Someone who is born male, biologically, will have more testosterone than someone who was born female, Flizanes says. “Taking female hormones won’t change your genetic body type. Whether your body type is long and thin or compact and thick won’t be changed by hormones,” Flizanes says. “With specific exercise, you can change the appearance of your body based on building muscle in certain areas to enchance a shape.” When it comes to working out, many trans women share common concerns with a large percentage of cisgendered women (who were born female and identify that way), says Jonathan Jordan, a personal trainer and group fitness instructor for an Equinox health club in San Francisco. “Both populations tend to be nervous or uncomfortable in the weight room, surrounded by men,” Jordan says. “Both tend to have concerns about appearing too ‘bulky’ in their upper bodies. Many want big booties but definitely fear having ‘man shoulders’ and bulky arms.”
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Jordan has worked with some trans women who wanted to be body builders and others who wanted a more feminine shape. “There’s no ‘one size fits all’ program or approach for dealing with trans clients,” Jordan says. “More often than not, trans women tend to request tone but not bulky arms, higher and firmer pecs and firm and shapely glutes without big or bulky thighs.”
Whatever type of changes they hope to achieve, working out can help trans women reach their fitness goals, Flizanes says. That includes developing a more traditionally feminine shape, if that’s their goal, Flizanes says. “You can build muscle in your hips and glutes to have a more well-rounded look,” she says. “The best way to achieve that is through proper resistance training.” That means devising a workout regimen of exercises like squats and lunges that will help develop the lower half of your body. Dani Singer, a certified personal trainer in Baltimore and chief executive officer and director of Fit2Go Personal Training, agrees. Exercises like glute bridges — in which you lay on your back on the floor and push off your heels to raise your hips so your body is in a straight plane from your shoulders to your knees — can help you build muscle mass in your glutes, Singer says.
In an essay posted on the online magazine Wussy, a trans woman wrote that almost five months of “disciplined, rigorous, transition-oriented workouts have changed my body so much more than I thought was possible.” The woman, who wrote under the byline Farrah Lirises, posted photos of her lower body three weeks into her workout regimen and after 18 weeks, showcasing a notable difference.
If you’re a trans woman who wants to follow a workout regimen to change parts of your body’s shape, experts recommend these five strategies:
1. Identify your specific goal. Any workout regimen should be individualized, tailored to what the person wants to achieve, Flizanes says. “It’s all goal-driven,” she says. “The most important thing is that the program fits her situation and goals.” For instance, many trans women want to work on their leg muscles for a more feminine look, but not everyone will have the same goal. “The program should be personalized, based on good science to provide a regimen that’s effective and safe for the individual,” Flizanes says. The more specific the goal, the better, Singer says. Some people say they want to get more fit, which can mean many things. “If you want to get fit to run a marathon, that’s much different from wanting to compete in a swimsuit competition,” Singer says.
2. Work with a trainer. A personal trainer can develop an individualized workout regimen based on your goals, show you how to follow through on the program and monitor your progress, Flizanes says. “A trainer can provide structure and a specific program design,” she says. In addition to devising the right workout regimen for your goals, personal trainers can demonstrate the proper form for each exercise. “Most people don’t know how to exercise,” she says. “That can lead to frustration.” You don’t have to join or go to a gym to work with a trainer, Flizanes says. Many trainers, like herself, provide training online; Flizanes works with some clients on Skype and FaceTime. Singer goes to the homes of many clients.
3. Adhere to your plan. Follow your workout regimen consistently, Flizanes says. That doesn’t mean you have to work out to the point of exhaustion every day. In fact, it’s important to take at least two days off from your workout routine every week, to allow your body to heal, rest and rejuvenate, she says.
4. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get quick results. You should start to see and feel results from working out within three weeks, Jordan says. But keep in mind, no two people will see the same results in the same amount of time. “Don’t feel bad if you don’t see drastic results in three to four months,” Jordan says. “It can take some bodies longer to change in composition depending on one’s genetics, injuries, lifestyle and other factors.”
5. Be ready and willing to adapt your workout routine. At a certain point, you’ll reach a fitness plateau in which you won’t get the same results from your usual workout routine, Singer says. That’s a good time to adjust your regimen, maybe by doing a different number of repetitions of squats or lunges or trying new exercises. And always keep in mind the importance of the right form. “If you can’t do a specific exercise with good form, decrease the reps’ intensity so that (you) can perform each rep with great form and slowly build up strength,” Singer says. “The whole point is to do it with good form.”
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