A bikini bodybuilder has assured women that they can be "feminine" and lift heavy weights.

Debra Geard, 49, from Abbots Langley, is a champion bodybuilder in the Physical Culture Association's (PCA) regional competition. She also won sixth place in the PCA British finals in October, and will compete in the World Championships in May.

She began weight training in April 2018 to help her running injuries - when she was told by her osteopath she needed to improve the muscles around her hips, knees and legs.

The leader of running group UCanJog2 started working with a personal trainer to improve her basic knowledge of fitness.

Watford Observer:

Debra after. Photo: Oskar Boral photography

After six sessions, she decided to improve with a 10-week online programme which offered a fitness photoshoot at the end.

She was then encouraged to compete and her first competition was in High Wycombe in September 2018.

She said: "I became so hooked on weight training that I researched competing after it was suggested I should give it a go.

“Women should know weight training does not turn you into a man. I know there is worry about that. Bikini competitors are very feminine."

Watford Observer:

Debra's body before weight training. Photo: Debra Geard

She continued: “I continue to compete because it is a challenge. I think being female and lifting weights is an empowering thing to do.

“Building up to lifting heavy weights can change your physique quickly and I want to keep improving.

“My injuries have recovered apart from the general wear and tear.

“I didn’t realise I lacked confidence until I started doing this, my self confidence has really come out.”

But she stressed her bikini pictures do not represent what she looks like every day.

She said: "It is very important to know it's not an sustainable body. Right now, I don’t look like how I did on stage. It's not healthy to maintain that level of leanness and it's unhealthy to consider it. You should know that you will gain weight afterwards.

"That can be very hard for people. But when you gain weight, you get more muscle and shape, you don't get fat. Your whole body changes. You are in a better position."

Watford Observer:

Photo: Oskar Boral photograhy

Mrs Geard says the discipline from training has positively impacted all aspects of her lives but admits there can be negatives with her diet limits affecting her social life.

She said: “I normally do 20-week programmes with weight training five times a week and do cardio six times a week.

“I also have calorie targets but I learnt it's about eating food that hits those targets and making good choices which will serve you well.”

She advised those wanting to start fitness or body building to not be afraid of the gym and seek groups who can help.