Women and Weights
When many women are asked about starting a weight training program oftentimes their response is something like “I don’t want to get bulky,” or “I don’t want to look manly.” Although people within the health and fitness realm understand that these are just myths and have been spreading the word for years, somehow many ladies have not received the memo. So I am going to say this loud and clear: YOU WILL NOT GET MANLY OR BULKY FROM LIFTING WEIGHTS ALONE!!!!
For some reason when they think of lifting weights they automatically think that they are going to look like Ms. Olympia or some other female bodybuilder. Many women do not understand what it takes to reach that level of muscularity or size. The food consumed, the weight lifted, the supplements taken…everything plays a part in actually bulking up. And, please know, that when I say bulking up, what I mean is adding lean muscle mass. Below are some reasons why the average woman will not get manly or bulky just because they start a weight lifting regimen.
- Women do not naturally produce enough testosterone in order to put on the mass that a man does, nor does their testosterone cause them to have man like features.
- Women do not generally lift heavy enough to create an abundance of muscle mass. You have to consistently lift heavy in order to break the muscle down for it to build up bigger, this is known as hypertrophy.
- Women do not generally eat enough in order to gain the mass that they would deem manly or bulky. In order to really bulk up a woman needs to eat roughly 1-2 grams of protein per pound of body weight, not to mention the healthy carbohydrates and fats they need to consume. On average, a normal, every day woman consumes about .3 grams per pound of body weight.
- Some women do not get that big naturally. To get as big as some women do I’ll not tiptoe around the elephant in the room. Some women do take performance enhancing drugs. Those drugs are also the chemicals that cause a woman’s face to take on masculine-like qualities.
- Most women don’t know what kind of body type they have. Do they burn fat easily? Do they build muscle easily? Do they gain weight easily? Is it hard for them to put on muscle or weight in general?
So there you have it. Lifting weights will not make you manly or bulky. As I have stated, so much more goes into it than that. But let me close with this, for all of you ladies out there that lift light weights over and over again hoping to build long lean muscle, you’re wasting your time. Going light for high reps doesn’t give you that triathlon athlete look. It only creates endurance within the muscle. So if you have big arms and just lift light to try and lean them out, you’re outta luck. You’re still going to have big arms, they’ll just be able to lift the weights several times without getting tired. Lifting weights, and lifting heavier than you’re used to, can actually burn many more calories than stead state cardio!
Give weights a try. Impress yourself with your strength. Do what you never thought you could!
Warm Ups and Cool Downs, The Importance of Getting Your Body Ready
Two very important parts of a training session are left out
by a majority of people: the warm up and the cool down. I’m not just talking
about stretching here. There are many types of warm ups and cool downs, which I
will discuss here.
I always recommend to my clients that they do a 5-10 minute warm up before engaging in their resistance training. I suggest doing steady state cardio on their favorite piece of cardio equipment or something as simple as jogging or walking. Warming up has a variety of benefits including:
- Increasing blood flow to the muscles, allowing them to loosen up
- Giving the body time to produce synovial fluid to protect the joints
- Increasing your heart rate, thereby causing any subsequent training to burn more calories than if it were not paired with a warm up. Basically you burn more calories during your resistance training if you do a warm up before.
A warm up should initiate perspiration but not fatigue. It is just an entry phase into your training. Warming up could, and should, include the following: stretching to reduce muscle stiffness, cardio to get your blood flowing, and a light set of exercises that work the targeted muscles for that particular day’s training. All of this combined will prepare your body for the demands your workout will place on it.
Now for the cool down phase of your workout. This is just as important as warming up. Cooling down reduces your body’s risk of blood pooling (which is when the blood pools in the muscles worked instead of returning back to the heart), soreness (DOMS- delayed onset muscle soreness), increases oxygen flow to the brain to reduce the risk of fainting, and gradually brings the heart rate back down. Cooling down needs to take around three to five minutes and can include walking, jogging (if you have been running), stretching, as well as other types of slow, steady cardiovascular activities.
Although they are not the popular, promoted sections of our gym visit, a warm up and cool down should have a certain amount of focus in our training session. They provide the benefits to our bodies that may not be seen with the naked eye, but are surely felt in the days to come!
Knowing Your Body Type
When I started training for athletics, I did so in order to improve my performance. When I continued training after college I did so in order to stay in shape. When I started training for figure competitions, I did so in order to mold my body into the most symmetrical, aesthetically pleasing, toned version of itself that I could. During the course of training for shows, I have had to experiment with the types of training and dietary planning because I had to discover for myself that all bodies are different and what works for some, doesn’t work for others.
Doing some research I discovered that there are three main types of body composition: the endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph. Now, understand that some of these body types can overlap, but these are the big three. When you realize which one you are, reaching your goals will become much easier.
First, the endomorph. Endomorphs are typically people who gain weight easily. Unfortunately, endomorphs have the hardest time losing weight and maintaining overall fitness. Endomorphs are usually stocky, have strong legs (especially in the upper legs, quadriceps and hamstrings), and their muscles are not as defined. They gain muscle easily, but also gain fat easily. They’re usually on the shorter side, with large arms and legs. Their metabolism isn’t as fast as the other two body types, which means they don’t lose fat as quickly. While lifting weights should remain in the workout routine, endomorphs should also add high intensity cardio to their training plans. When it comes to nutrition, watch the carbs!
Next, the ectomorph. Ectomorphs are the complete opposite of endomorphs. Ectomorphs are the long, skinny people you see walking around. You know, the ones who eat and eat and eat and never gain an ounce. While you think that would be a great way to go, you might be surprised to know that many ectomorphs get extremely frustrated by the fact that they can’t put on weight. Because they find it hard to put on weight, they also have an extremely difficult time putting on muscle. Their metabolism is fast, so they burn calories very quickly. In the gym, ectomorphs should continue to lift weights and take the cardio down to low intensity sessions. When it comes to diet, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lots of protein will be their friends!
Lastly, we have the mesomorph. Mesomorphs are typically your athletically built individuals with lean muscle mass and more rectangular shaped bodies. Mesomorphs respond best with weight training and can handle moderate carbs, high protein, and healthy fats. They typically gain fat faster than ectomorphs, so they can’t eat whatever they like. Mesomorphs need to be careful not to take their body type for granted and not put their best effort into their workouts. They need to train like athletes and maintain a healthy diet.
Now, with all of this being said, which category do you fit into? Are you an endomorph, ectomorph, mesomorph, or combination of two? Now that you know, you are one step closer to creating the best recipe for success for YOUR body.
Cardio: How Much is Too Much?
When it comes to cardiovascular exercise (AKA cardio), there is not a “one size fits all” approach. I have heard stories of people who, when preparing for a competition, did upwards of two hours of cardio a day. I, myself, at one time did two 45-minute cardio sessions a day to prepare for shows. I did lose fat, but at the same time, I also lost a lot of muscle and went into the shows a little on the skinny side. I decided to change it up for my last show. My last show, 2013 NPC Nationals, I trained with weights five days a week and did only ten minutes of cardio a day as my warm up. That is it. No HIIT, no distance, no steady state. I went into the show with more muscle and my weight was the same as it was when I went into my last three shows. So to say that everyone should do 10 minutes a day, or that everyone should do 2-45 minute sessions a day, would not be wise. There is no cookie cutter approach to what contest prep cardio should look like.
You have to figure out what works best for you. Give yourself a few weeks to test it out. Keep your diet the same so that results are not based on calorie intake. Try a week or two at 45 minutes a day, then take it down to 20 minutes a day, and then try 10 minutes a day. See how your body responds. Does it feel tighter? Does your energy levels remain at a normal level? Does your weight change? These are all things you have to look at.
You also need to compare what type of cardio exercises you do and how you respond to them. Cardio has the ability to burn muscle but, if done in excess, it also has the ability to diminish your muscle gains by burning it off as well. You want to find that happy medium where your cardio sessions lean you out without making you skinny. I am going to describe two different types of cardio (HIIT and constant/steady state).
HIIT, or high intensity interval training, is described as moderate level intensity intervals are alternated with high intensity intervals. It has been shown to speed up metabolism, burn more fat than steady state, and increase endurance in both your aerobic and anaerobic systems. Constant, or steady state, is when your activity is performed at the same pace for the entire time of the cardio session. Your body adjusts to this and tries even harder to conserve energy.
Studies have shown that HIIT burns more fat than steady state. However, you also want to make sure that fat is all you are ridding yourself of. Physique competitors spend hours in the gym building their bodies and the last thing they want to do is hop on a piece of machinery and cancel it out. Performing 20 minutes or less of HIIT during a cardio session will help you burn muscles without diminishing the gains you make during your weight lifting workouts.
I am going to give you three examples of three different types of workouts that can be used for cardio as well as two cardio machine exercises. First let’s look at how you can use resistance exercises as cardio exercises. There are some great ones that come to mind but three of my favorites that really get my heart rate up are the power clean, dumbbell snatch, and plate push. Plyometrics are also great ways to bring your cardio to the gym floor. Three that I highly recommend are lunge jumps, burpees, and bench hop-overs. Some exercises that you don’t even need weights for, but can be used for cardio, are bodyweight squats, walking lunges, and walkout pushups.
But we all know that when it comes to cardio we think of the machines. There are some really in-depth, complicated routines out there that will knock your socks off, but I’m just going to give you two relatively easy ones that you can remember. You can take either of these and apply them to other pieces of cardio equipment as well. One deals with resistance, and the other with speed adjustment. First, the resistance: the elliptical and AMT machines offer fantastic resistance options. Try alternating 30 seconds at a resistance level of 15, and 30 seconds at a resistance level of 5. Do this for 10-20 minutes to get a great cardio session in. You can also go for speed. I love doing this one of the stationary bike. Go for 45 seconds at a moderate pace and then 15 seconds all out, as hard as you can go. Complete this 20 times and your legs will feel like jelly!
Again, there’s not one specific plan that every competitor takes when they prep for a show. Each person has one that works specifically for him or her. It depends of the body type (ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph) as well as their metabolism. Try changing things up to see what your body responds to and I’m positive that you’ll find what works for you.