Are you undermining your own workouts?
With all the bad advice out there, it’s easy to find yourself wasting your workout time and not seeing any changes in your body. Women are especially susceptible to poor results due to all of the ridiculous misinformation about how to train and what to eat.
This article will set the record straight with seven things that women should add to their fitness routines to accelerate results.
#1: Train the big lifts.
The big lifts are the multi-joint lifts such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, chin-ups, presses, and so on. They are by far the most worthwhile exercises for everyone to train, and women will get special advantage out of planning their workouts around them.
First, the big lifts train multiple muscle groups at once, so you work a lot of muscle with each exercise. You end up burning more energy with these lifts than with single-joint exercises like leg extensions or biceps curls, but you also make a greater amount of muscle sensitive to insulin and other hormones involved in metabolic rate so that you improve body composition more dramatically.
Second, multi-joint exercises train the body in movements that translate to both athletics and daily life. You’ll be able to run faster, jump higher, pick your kids up off the ground easier, or toss luggage into a trunk with ease.
Another benefit is that these exercises tend to load the body in ways that trigger bone building. In addition, the big lifts all optimally train the posterior chain, which are the muscles on the back side of your body, such as the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and upper and lower back muscles. This is particularly important for two reasons:
- Women are especially susceptible to strength imbalances between the hamstrings and quadriceps muscles (quads being strong and hamstrings being weak), which can lead to poor movement patterns and chronic pain.
- Studies show women are at a disadvantage when it comes to leaning out the thighs and glutes, and they tend to lose fat from the upper body first when doing an exercise program. Therefore, it’s essential women take advantage of the big lifts that favor the posterior chain because this will lead to the greatest hormonal and metabolic impact so as to produce measurable body composition changes.
#2: Lift heavy.
Studies show that most people who are lifting weights do not use loads that are heavy enough to produce any changes in body composition or strength. Women are most at risk of wasting their time because of the mainstream misconception that they must only lift super light weights or else they will get big and bulky.
Research has found that even women with training experience will sell themselves short and pick weights that are 30 percent lower than the lightest weight needed to produce any body composition benefit.
To get lean and improve your body’s shape and “tone” you’ll get much better and faster results by lifting weights that you’re not accustomed to. This can burn a lot of energy and produce a fat burning hormone response if programmed properly. It also overloads the muscles so that you get stronger and more athletic.
A general rule for choosing weights is to use weights that are between 65 and 85 percent of the maximal amount you can lift. Do between 8 and 15 reps, lifting to failure or nearly to failure. If you can squat 100 pounds one time, then you need to use a weight that is at least 65 pounds when doing squats for reps.
#3: Train with a barbell.
Most important is to train the majority of exercises with free weights because this will allow you to perform multi-joint exercises instead of machine-based lifts. It also allows you to use a full-range of motion, which is necessary to optimally train your muscles.
For instance, when you do a full squat such that you drop your hips below the level of your knees, you increase the activation of the glutes and hamstrings by as much as 150 percent, while putting less stress on the lower back than if you just go down to 90 degrees.
Training with barbells adds additional benefits. For starters, grip strength is a limiting factor in training the lower body because most women have trouble gripping dumbbells that weigh much more than 30 pounds when doing squats or deadlifts. Sixty pounds (a 30-pound dumbbell in each hand) simply isn’t enough to produce continuous body composition changes.
By training with a barbell, you place the bar on your back for squats, lunges, and step-ups, which means you can lift significantly more weight. Grip strength will still be a factor when doing barbell deadlifts, but you’ll find that because the barbell distributes the weight more evenly with your center of gravity, you’ll be able to grip significantly more weight than if the dumbbells were hanging at your sides.
#4. Count the tempo of exercises.
Counting the tempo of each weight training exercise allows you to apply the most effective stimulus to your body so that it adapts quickly.
Tempo is a term used to refer to the number of seconds you spend performing the up and down phases of a lift. Basically, it means you’re going to always use your muscles to control the weight instead of letting it fall with gravity.
For example, if you are doing a squat, you would squat down in a controlled manner, taking 4 seconds to do so. You would not pause at the bottom, but come right back up in 1 second. Then you’d pause for 1 second at the top, in the original start position, and then lower the weight counting 4 seconds to do so.
This would be written as 4011—4 seconds for the down motion, no pause, 1 second for the up, and 1 second pause at the top.
Generally, longer tempos improve body composition and lead to fat loss because they bring about more metabolic adaptations. Shorter tempos build strength and explosive tempos (squat jumps, Olympic lifts) train power.
#5: Get your cardio workouts straightened out—add intervals.
Both women and men make the mistake of turning to aerobic cardio workouts to lose fat and get in shape. Although it seems logical that cardio would lead to fat loss since it burns more calories than sitting on the couch, studies show it doesn’t measure up for women:
When women diet and do cardio they lose lean muscle mass and their metabolic rate drops so that they burn fewer calories over the course of the day. The fat doesn’t budge, and once they stop dieting or quit the cardio, they gain fat.
Another reason aerobic cardio yields disappointing results is that the purpose of aerobic exercise is to train the body to be as efficient as possible. The body adapts quickly to repetitive aerobic exercise with the goal of using the least amount of oxygen and energy to perform the greatest amount of work. This does not promote fat loss.
Fortunately, interval training with sprints is highly effective for reducing body fat and should be your priority if you have any interest in losing fat. You can do sprint interval training on a track, treadmill, bike, or with weights. It works for optimizing body composition for a bunch of reasons:
- It leads to an increase in lean muscle mass so that you boost your resting metabolic rate, which is the bulk of the energy you burn daily.
- It burns a lot of calories during your workout and elevates metabolic rate in the hours after training as you recover.
- It enhances the function of hormones, making the muscles more sensitive to insulin so that your body uses its go-to energy source, glucose, more effectively.
- It improves metabolism of estrogen for a lean body, less cancer risk, and an all-around happier life.
One reason women may shy away from intervals is they think they have to get in shape first. This is a mistake. Interval training can work for everyone, even older women, but you must adapt it to your needs:
For example, elderly women who did a 30-minute walking interval workout experienced increased leg strength, improved fitness, and fewer symptoms of lifestyle-related diseases. The workout used 3-minute brisk walking intervals followed by 3 minutes of slower walking, repeated 10 times.
If you’ve been coasting along on the elliptical for your cardio, start adding intervals in which you increase the resistance and work vigorously for 30 to 60 seconds followed by a 1 to 1 work-to-rest ratio.
Aerobically fit women (those who can run a 5k in under 30 minutes) can try intense intervals in which they go nearly all-out, or do high-intensity training with weights or strongman equipment, such as sled pushes.
#6: Dial in your nutrition.
Planning what you’re going to eat with an eye on getting the most out of workouts can be a useful way for simplifying nutrition. This might seem surprising since most people think of complicated pills and powders when “workout nutrition” is mentioned. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Rather, dialing in workout nutrition is simply about eating in a way that fuels and repairs your body. It allows you to avoid being hungry, while simultaneously raising your energy levels. Here’s how to do it:
- Organize meals around whole protein, lower carb plants, and beneficial fat because this will allow you to get the nutrition needed for recovery.
- Eat adequate protein. Whole protein is a top priority for any woman interested in effortless leanness because the amino acids it contains are preferentially used to restore tissue. Plus, protein is filling and helps you maintain metabolic rate by boosting lean body mass.
- Eat enough fat. Fat is extremely important for women because it is used to produce hormones and supply nutrients that are used in building bone and maintaining lovely skin, nails, and hair. Fat is also filling and delicious, which is key when developing and maintaining eating habits that promote leanness.
- Save higher carb whole foods for post-workout. After intense training is the best time to eat carbs because your metabolism is elevated and carbs will be used to replenish muscle glycogen instead of stored as fat. Eating carbs after training can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can improve body composition over time.
- If you have body composition goals, avoid carbs and sports drinks before or during your workout because muscle glycogen will be full and there’s no need for the extra calories.
#7: Banish phones and screens.
By approaching your workouts with focus and drive, you will at least triple your body composition and performance results. Screens on TVs, iPads, computers, and phones have no place in a purpose-driven workout.
You’ve got to leave your phone in your bag, your locker, or your car. Don’t even bring it with you into the gym because chances are, you will be tempted to mess with it.
Sure, there are times when you have to bring your phone with you to train because you have to monitor a situation out in the world or be available in an emergency, but that is not a reality 90 percent of the time.
For that 10 percent of the time that you need to be “on call,” mobile phones are a luxury that allows you to get your sweat on. The rest of the time they are like a ball and chain keeping you from being all you can be.
Same goes for all the other screens used to pass the time during cardio. Remember, you should be doing intervals, not casual cardio, and intervals require a level of intensity and focus that won’t allow for reading. Get an mp3 player and listen to audiobooks or music instead because this will free your body and brain up to give it all you’ve got.
- amino acids
- body composition
- fat loss
- free weights
- interval training
- lean body
- lift heavy
- lower back
- strength training
- workout nutrition