Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Women & Strength Training: don't fear your muscles

I'd rather be strong than skinny! :)
When I first started lifting weights in high school, I remember my sheer fears of bulking up like a man… I wanted slender, sexy arms and legs that could slip into my jeans with grace.

So I would avoid lifting anything “too heavy” and focus on lots of reps… after all, that’s what you always hear, right? You always hear that women should lift low weight and do high reps if we want our muscles to appear slenderized, but this didn’t work for me for several reasons… (1) I got so bored! I felt like I wasn’t challenging myself because of the low resistance and since I was doing so many reps, I never knew how many were enough. And (2), I just was not seeing the results as quickly as I was hoping for.

In the recent months, I’ve changed my body drastically because I dropped this fear of heavy weight and learned that when you combine a proper diet with intense strength training, there’s no need to be afraid of lifting weights that actually feel challenging.

I’m going to start this blog post by giving some tips for ladies for lifting weights in the gym. Then towards the bottom, read about what I eat to make sure that my muscles don’t bulk.

Building muscle the right way

As a women who loves being strong, let’s stop going into the gym and only using the wimpy 5 lb hand weights and head for the barbells! But we have to do it the right way…

  • Without intensity, you won’t see results: According to an article by Nia Shanks, leader of the Beautiful Badass revolution and co-founder of Girls Gone Strong - The Women's Fitness Authority, “You need to finish your sets knowing you could have done one or absolutely no more than two more reps. It is that intensity that will actually challenge your muscles and help you build a lean and fit body.” 
  • Work several muscle groups at once: Doing this, you blast calories much faster. For example, as suggested by Alwyn Cosgrove, owner of Results Fitness in Santa Clarity, California, try adding triceps presses to squats or front shoulder raises to lunges. 
  • Be sure to split your training: Doing splits will allow you to train your muscles with enough frequency so that they sculpt more quickly. For example, on Day 1, you focus on training your upper body and then on Day 2, you focus on lower body. That’s a split… 
    • I just love this article from It explains splits and also offers examples that you can try at home. 
  • Alternate your movements into “super sets”: Alternating is different than splitting. I find that I get an even more intense workout that goes by faster when I group 2 – 3 exercises into “super sets” and then do them 2 or 3 times in succession. 
    • For example, take these three moves: bicep curls, burpee with a pushup, jump squats. I will do 12 reps of the bicep curls on each arm, then I do 15 burpee pushups immediately after that. Then, without resting more than a minute, I do 15 jump squats. I rest for a minute, and then I do the whole “super set” again. And voila! Your strength training and torching even more calories! 
  • Do the right exercises: As women, it’s vital that we do the correct exercises to achieve the results we want: long and lean muscle that can still kick butt. According to Nia Shanks, “the best exercises to use are big, compound movements that recruit a lot of muscle mass.” Again, check out her article for a full list of movements that target different areas of the body. These range from the barbell squat to handstand pushups! Intense! :)

Carbs are a culprit for big, bulky muscles

According to my trainer, Kay Yasin, her biggest thing is carbs… eat them sparingly! She once explained to me that body builders load up on carbs after an intense weight-training session because they fill up the tears in your muscles that lifting causes, thus making them grow quickly.

Even you eat carbs, of course, be sure to stick to whole grains and healthy options and it’s ok to still incorporate them into your diet. But do your best not to eat them for at least an hour after you work out.

Protein up!

When our muscles tear, we need to promote their reparation so that they heal and continue to strengthen. Proteins with a full amino acid profile helps your muscles rebuild themselves at a quicker rate so we come back stronger. 

Protein is vital, because it provides us with the energy to do those high-intensity workouts and get stronger so that we naturally burn more calories throughout the day than we would have if we had a lower overall muscle mass. 

On, Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, founder of Nu-Train, "Protein levels are depleted when you exercise, and eating protein after exercising helps prevent muscle deterioration... [And] in general, women don't have the hormones that men have to get really bulky muscles, so there's no reason for women to be afraid of [protein]." 

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