Tag Archive | strength training

What Women Need to Know To Lose Fat, Build Muscle, and Improve Performance (this one’s for you, ladies!)

With summertime and days at the beach right around the corner, this may be a time when many of you are feeling like you’re not quite bikini-ready. Some of you may have even been trying to get into shape over the winter and aren’t seeing the changes you had hoped for. I know for me, I see lots of men in the gym with toned bodies, great muscle definition and six-pack abs…and they don’t exactly seem to be going HAM to get it. I feel like I eat pretty clean and push myself, yet the results (while they are happening) are sloowwwwww. What gives?!

The thing is, women’s bodies differ significantly from men’s in terms of metabolism and somewhat in terms of exercise response. On top of that, there are considerable gender stereotypes and misconceptions that limit women’s ability to get useful advice about how to improve their physiques (i.e. the myth that lifting heavy will make you bulky and/or manly).

I found an article online by the Poliquin Group™ Editorial Staff on How Women’s Metabolism Differs From Men’s & What To Do About It that was so well written that I decided to share it with you all 🙂  They mention 5 key pieces of information that will empower you to meet your goals:

#1: At rest, women burn more glucose (carbs) than men and less fat. In addition, women tend to have greater fat storage after eating, which also contributes to their higher body fat percentage.

From an evolutionary perspective, it’s favorable for women to have more body fat because these fat stores will be used during pregnancy and lactation. Once young women become able to reproduce, their bodies will begin storing fat around the hips and thighs “locking it away” in preparation for having a baby.

The fat around the hips and thighs (called gluteofemoral fat) has a particularly high concentration of DHA, one of the three omega-3 fats. The theory is that gluteofemoral DHA fat is used to make breast milk, and that it is for the development of a baby’s brain.

Research suggests that U.S. women tend to have a low percentage of DHA in their gluteofemoral fat due to low intake of omega-3s. This typically leads to significant weight gain during pregnancy, because the woman’s brain is thought to monitor nutrient status throughout the body, sensing the low DHA stores.

This leads to excessive hunger cues, causing women to eat more, in the quest to store as much DHA as possible for nurturing an infant brain. In contrast, Japanese women have a much higher percentage of DHA in their fat due to high fish intake and are correspondingly leaner.

-!Heart Health trade Essential Omega III Fish Oil with Vitamin E--561800368

I personally like this brand…high quality, low toxins, and meets recommended doses of EPA and DHA. Click photo for more info.

What To Do About It: Regardless of whether you’re planning on having a baby, get adequate DHA in your diet. Shoot for a balanced ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats by limiting your intake of vegetable fats and oils.

Make your body metabolically flexible so that it is capable of burning fat for energy. Do this by limiting carbohydrates in your diet at certain times so that your body is forced to learn to burn fat. For example, try eating lower carb on a day when you aren’t training but higher carb on workout days. Doing anaerobic-style exercise such as weight lifting and sprints also improves the body’s metabolic flexibility.

 

 

#2: Women and men burn (and store) body fat differently. Women rely on fat for fuel during exercise to a much greater degree than men. This makes exercise absolutely essential for women to lose fat because of the unfortunate fact that women burn much less fat at rest.

In addition, women store fat right below the skin (subcutaneously), whereas men have more visceral fat. Visceral fat is metabolically active and a risk for cardiovascular health and insulin resistance. Meanwhile, for women, having a reasonable amount of lower body fat indicates better health and less heart disease risk!

Women tend to lose fat from the upper body first, but have a harder time losing lower body fat. As mentioned in #1, women’s bodies preferentially store fat for pregnancy, but they also have a greater number of alpha receptors in this region than men. The combination of alpha receptors and estrogen inhibits the loss of fat. Men have a higher total proportion of beta receptors, which makes it easier for them to mobilize fat to burn it off.

To get rid of stubborn lower body fat, research shows women must perform anaerobic training. For example, a recent study found that by adding a strength program to an aerobic exercise protocol produced superior fat loss. Women who did concurrent training lost 12.2 percent of fat mass from the legs, decreased hip circumference by 4 percent, and lost 9.7 percent of the original body fat. In contrast, the women who did aerobic training lost 5.7 percent fat mass from the legs, decreased hip circumference by 4 percent, and lost 5 percent of their original body fat.

Scientists suggest that the higher intensity of resistance exercise helps to stimulate the release of body fat from fat cells so that it can be burned for energy. In addition, it’s possible (though not definitive) that estrogen has a positive effect on fat burning during exercise via a few mechanisms:

• Estrogen appears to limit the breakdown of triglycerides in the blood stream for storage.

• Estrogen enhances epinephrine production for greater fat burning.

• Estrogen stimulates growth hormone, which plays a role in fat metabolism and stimulates blood flow.

What To Do About It: Perform strength training, favoring multi-joint exercises, with a focus on lower body and total body lifts such as squats, deadlifts, step ups, and lunges. Do high-intensity interval training on a track, bike, or by pushing a sled to target the alpha receptors and enhance fat loss from the lower body.

 

#3: Stress affects women’s metabolism, inhibiting fat loss. Of course, stress affects fat loss for everyone, but it’s possible certain kinds of stress are more harmful to women than men.

Stress leads to persistent cortisol secretion, and cortisol’s primary function is to increase blood sugar (bringing with it an insulin spike) so you have enough energy to get through a stressful situation.

When this becomes chronic, the body turns the hormone pregnenolone, which is a precursor to estrogen and testosterone, into progesterone, which is then used to make cortisol and aldosterone. Together these hormones lead to greater fat storage and more fluid retention. Not only will you have more cortisol, but you’ll have less estrogen and testosterone.

Women with lower testosterone than normal have a disadvantage when it comes to fat loss. Although elevated estrogen is not beneficial for loss, low estrogen isn’t either as we saw in #2, because it inhibits the greater fat oxidation that women experience during exercise. The body’s just not working right any more. Everything is out of whack and fat loss simply won’t happen.

What To Do About It:Find stress management strategies that work for you, whether it’s meditation, yoga, psychological therapy, or something else. (In addition, you might want to take an adaptogenic supplement if you think your adrenals are really out of whack)

Focus on optimizing your circadian rhythms. Consider that the body operates around a 24-hour circadian clock. Each person’s clock is slightly different, a trait known as chronotype or tendency toward being a morning or evening person. Chronotype reflects the time of the day that someone’s physical functions (hormone level, body temperature, cognitive faculties, eating and sleeping) are active.

When you adhere to your chronotype, you can promote balance and optimal health. When you go against the clock, the innate rhythms are disrupted. This will increase stress and make fat loss much more difficult.

 

#4: Intermittent fasting and calorie restriction tends to be detrimental for women but beneficial for men.

Intermittent fasting (IF) and calorie restriction is a glaring example of how stress negatively affects women’s metabolism compared to men. Both are metabolically beneficial for most men, allowing them to lose fat, lower inflammation, and improve disease risk factors.

However, research shows fasting is harmful for female reproductive health. Anecdotally, many women have reported that fasting has caused weight gain, blood sugar imbalance, sleeplessness, missed periods, and infertility.

Where men tend to lose fat with fasting, a large portion of women gain it. The mechanism behind this discrepancy likely has to do with how the female body responds to lack of calories. Scientists believe that calorie restriction, even sporadic restriction, causes hormonal dysregulation, and excess cortisol secretion with the body holding onto its fat stores. It’s a “protective response” as the body stores the fat for future survival when calories will be scarce.

What To Do About It: Avoid calorie restriction if you’re exercising at a high intensity or for long duration. Be very cautious with fasting. It sounds counter intuitive but if you give your body enough energy, with balanced fat, carbs and protein, your hormones will be in happy balance, stress will be lower, and your body will be more willing to give up your fat stores.

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#5: Young women have the same ability to build muscle as men. Older women appear to be at a disadvantage when it comes to building muscle.

A common belief is that women can’t build as much muscle as men because they don’t have as much testosterone. Technically this isn’t true. Recent studies show that protein synthesis and gene signaling that leads to muscle gains are nearly equal between young men and women.

However, women start out with less muscle and their bodies tend to be lighter and smaller than men’s, so increases a 10 percent increase in muscle for a woman will be smaller than a man’s in absolute terms.

In addition, very large increases in testosterone such as when a male goes through puberty or when one takes testosterone in the form of steroids do increase muscle mass. The small, transient post-workout increase doesn’t. Rather, the exercise-induced increase is thought to be linked to athletic performance.

A recent study illustrates this: Women and men performed a resistance training workout and then took a protein drink. Muscle protein synthesis was 2.3 times higher in men and 2.7 times higher in women than at rest. Men experienced a 45-fold higher increase in testosterone post-workout than the women, however this had no effect on protein synthesis or gene signaling, which are the primary factors for building muscle.

The exception is older women who have a reduced muscle building response to resistance exercise. They have lower protein synthesis than men of the same age in response to training, which appears to be maintained even when they take supplemental protein, however more research needs to be done regarding dosing.

It’s possible older women require a larger dose of protein or more of the amino acid leucine (which has been found to equalize protein synthesis in older and younger men).

What To Do About It: If you’re a woman who wants to put on muscle, you’re in luck! You won’t look like a man, but you will be able to build muscle in the same way men can. Consider this a good thing!

Do a periodized hypertrophy-style training program that favors moderate reps (8 to 12) and moderate load (65 to 85 percent of the 1RM) for a high volume.

If you just want to get lean, building muscle will help. A small increase in muscle mass will boost your metabolism significantly so you burn exponentially more calories at rest, enabling fat loss.

Use a training program that changes every 3 to 6 weeks to continually shock your body into adapting. Make sure to use heavy enough weights—one of the most common reason women don’t get results from training is that they use weights that are too light.

 

The takeaways:

  • Don’t starve yourself
  • Eat enough protein
  • Include healthy fats in your diet
  • Don’t be afraid of weights/lifting heavy
  • High Intensity Interval training is better than steady state cardio for fat loss
  • Keep stress levels under control

 

Ciao for now!

 

-E

 

 

Hittin’ Records Baby, Yeah!

As I write this I’m on a massive adrenaline rush from 1. Not enough sleep 2. The Grande Starbucks coffee I had before the gym and 3. Hitting some sweet personal records at the gym today.

I took a rest day yesterday and ended up staying up way too late talking and texting some friends while drinking some red wine (some well-deserved red wine I might add), so when my alarm went off at 5:15 this morning, I wanted to cry. I must confess that I shut my alarm off and set a new one for 7:15 when I’d have to start getting ready for work…and then I laid in bed. At this point I began a mental battle with myself that went something like this:

Emily, you didn’t go to the gym yesterday, so get your butt in gear. But maybe I could squeeze in a gym sesh after work and before my 7:30 meeting tonight with a client. Yeah right, you’re not going to have time, plus by then you’re not gonna feel like going, so get your booty out of this bed right now missy! Uhhh but I don’t waaaannnnna…my bed is warm and I’m tiiiiirrrreeeedddd. Oh stop it you little nancy…you can go to bed early tonight, and you know you’ll feel better after you go. You have a point there…but I’m still tireddddd. If you get up right this minute you can stop at Starbucks on the way and grab a coffee. Okay, deal. I’m getting up!

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Haha this little convo lasted about 15 minutes, so I was out the door at 5:40 and at the gym by 5:50, coffee in hand. When I saw all the other diehards that got their butts out of bed early too, I was glad I’d done the same.

After 30 minutes on the elliptical (incline 9/ resistance 9), I went over do a circuit of seated leg extensions and curls. I alternate sets on the two machines, going back and forth on them until I do 3 or 4 sets of each. It’s kind of being a machine hog, but at 6:30am I can get away with it.

In the past, the most I’d ever attempted was 70 lbs on both, so today, my sets went:

15 reps @ 55 lbs
15 reps @ 70 lbs
15 reps @ 80 lbs
5 reps @ 90 lbs

Awesomeness!

From there I went over to the standing glute kickback machine. On Saturday I was able to do clear 2 reps on each leg at 120 lbs, so today I was aiming for a little more. I alternate legs so each set includes x number of reps on the right leg followed by the same number of reps on the left leg. My sets went:

15 reps @ 75 lbs
15 reps @ 90 lbs
10 reps @ 115 lbs
5 reps @ 130 lbs

Wheeeeee!

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Next, I marched upstairs to do some deadlifts (which sometimes I do with back, but sometimes with legs, depending on how I feel). In the past, I’d always done them with dumbbells and the most weight I’ve ever used is 50 lbs, but I wanted to graduate to using a bar. Since I was on a friggin’ endorphin and caffeine rush at this point, I decided to start with a weight that would be challenging but realistic (I didn’t want to start lifting like a nut and hurt myself of course)…so here’s how the sets went:

15 reps @ 70 lbs
15 reps @ 80 lbs
15 reps @ 90 lbs

At this point I was coming out of my skin with excitement because I found these challenging, but not as much as I thought. There were a couple of guys doing biceps and shoulders near me and as I was basking in my glory one of them says to me: “Wow, you’re pretty strong! Not like ‘for a girl’ either…like just STRONG!” That felt awesome to hear! And I told them both that before today, I’d only used 50 lb dumbbells and wanted to see what I could lift if I actually pushed myself. I told them I just wanted to see if I could do at least 1 rep at 100 lbs (cuz at this point I was feeling a little fatigued and didn’t want to overdo it) and they were cheering me on like “Yeah, you can do it!!” So I picked up the 100 lb bar and to my surprise, I knocked out:

5 reps @ 100 lbs!

This isn’t actually THAT much, in terms of weight lifting strength standards (according to ExRx.net, an untrained woman of my weight should be able to do 70 lbs, a novice – 130 lbs, and intermediate – 150 lbs)…And by definition: Untrained = An individual who has not trained on the exercises before but can perform them correctly.  Novice= An individual who has trained regularly for up to several monthsIntermediate = An individual who has trained regularly for up to a couple years.  But considering that I’m relatively new to strength training (about a month), I’m happy to be halfway to novice…plus now I have some higher goals for the next month!

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I  practically skipped over to the mat to finish up with some kettlebell swings (which I’ve only recently started doing, but love them for the combo cardio/strength training they provide):

15 reps @ 20 lbs
15 reps @ 20 lbs
15 reps @ 25 lbs

At this point I was both high on endorphins and fatigued like I’d just been in a competition (which I was, with myself! And I think I won! Haha). Before I left the gym I scribbled down my numbers on the back of a class schedule sheet because I knew I wanted to write a post about it and share it with you all!

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I’m amazed at how much more I can do and how much better I feel when I focus on strength and setting goals around health and getting stronger rather than on losing or maintaining weight. And if these posts and inspire even a single one of you to push yourself just a little harder, get out of bed a little earlier to make your health a priority, or to just set some new goals for yourself (in or out of the gym), then that makes me feel awesome 🙂

Time for a second cup of coffee 😉

When I need to push myself, I think of all those nicely polished trophies waiting to be lifted up by the winner – and how that winner might be me. -Maria Sharapova

Ciao for now!

-E

Squat Rack City, Chick

Ok, yes, this title is a play on the Tyga song “Rack City,” but I thought it was clever and I’m going with it.  As you may have read in my birthday workout post, I have recently graduated from doing squats with the Smith Machine (which is nothing to scoff at, but in the workout world I hear they aren’t considered the “real deal”) and put my big girl pants on to mosey over to the power rack (which is like, legit squatting).

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So Monday (my birthday) I did a few sets of squats at the power rack, using (2)10lb plates on each side…so altogether, about 80lbs with the bar. I was mainly trying to focus on good form since, without the gliding track that the Smith Machine provides, you can really hurt yourself if you don’t have everything in the right place.

Tuesday I did back and biceps, and Wednesday I did triceps, cardio and abs, so when I woke up this morning I was itching to do some more leg workouts (I love working legs, in case you can’t tell). I woke up nice and early this morning, stopped by Starbucks for a grande blonde roast with cream and sugar (no fake stuff for me…if I’m gonna drink coffee, I want the real deal), and I headed to the gym.

I like to start with cardio (today I did 30 mins on the elliptical at a 10 incline with a level 8 resistance). I know some people say you should do cardio after weights, but I’ve tried it and it doesn’t really do it for me. Something about starting with a burst of cardio gets my blood pumping and puts me in “gym mode.”

Alright so now for the highlight of the gym session…

After cardio I was itching to get back to the power rack. I marched upstairs and went straight to setting up the bar with the same weight I squatted Monday. Then I stretched my chest a bit and I did a few squats sans bar/weight just to get my muscles fired up and make sure my form felt good. At this point I noticed a few of the guys upstairs watching (probably to see what I was going to do next), and then I did something a bit out of character…

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Before starting my first set, I walked over to one of the guys that was watching me set up. I’d seen him squatting in the gym before and noticed he had good form. And I told him that I recently “graduated” from the Smith Machine and am focusing on getting my form right on the power rack before increasing weight and wondered if he would mind coming over for my first set to give me feedback on my form.

Of course, he said yes, and he came over and watched me do my first set of 10 reps. His only critique was that I could lift my head up just a tad to keep it in line with my spine. I was being extra cautious not to hyper-extend my neck, as I’ve read that’s a big no-no, so I think I was overestimating how much to keep my head down for it to be in neutral position.  For positive feedback, he said he was very impressed that I kept didn’t let my knees bow in, that I didn’t let my knees go past my toes, and that I was able to get great squat depth. He also commended the nice shelf I created for the bar with my traps and that I didn’t use the sissy pad (woo-hoo Tara would be proud ;)).

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After I finished the rest of my workout, I stopped back over to my “squat supervisor” and thanked him for taking time to come make sure I was doing things right. He said that he was impressed to see a girl using the power rack, and even more impressed that I could put my ego aside and actually request criticism. He told me that while I was doing some ab work in the back of the room, another guy who had been watching me ask for feedback came over to him and asked him to give him feedback too. It was great to see even the manliest men put aside their egos and make sure their form is proper. It makes all the difference in being able to gain strength without injuring yourself, and if I was able to inspire someone to ask for help, then that’s great!

Needless to say, I felt awesome. It was one of the best workouts I had in a while, and really boosted my confidence about trying new workouts. And to top it all off, I felt like I earned some gym cred with the boys 😉  Next leg day I plan on bumping up the weight…Stay tuned 🙂

“The strong individual is the one who asks for help when [s]he needs it.” – Rona Barrett, columnist and businesswoman.

Ciao for now!

-E

Fitness Motivations

I was at the grocery store last night stocking up on fresh produce, and in casual conversation, I mentioned to checkout clerk that I was heading for a run after I went home. His reply? “Well you don’t need it!” Which I guess was supposed to be a compliment (because I suppose I appear in good shape/fit), but what it did was get me thinking about the motivation behind my workouts…

I’ll preface my own explanation for why I work out by saying that many people I know view exercise as punitive…as a means to an end (losing weight, usually). But in truth, just like with nutrition, it is small changes/improvements over time that yield lasting results. It means doing a little bit when you can, and not having an all-or-nothing mentality. It’s making it a priority but also fitting it into your busy schedule/lifestyle.

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Okay, so back to the point of this post…What motivates me to exercise:

  • Cardio is good for heart health, and I want my heart to tick as many days as possible!
  • Weight training increases muscle mass, which increases resting metabolism (how many calories you’re burning when you’re not doing any activities)…and this helps me not have to count calories to stay at a healthy weight.
  • Strength training/weight bearing exercise is good for bone health, and I don’t want osteoporosis when I get older.
  • Working out gives me a natural serotonin (happiness hormones) boost so I have a more positive mood/outlook on life.
  • Exercise is great for reducing/coping with stress!
  • I feel more toned and strong when I work out. It’s a definite confidence booster.
  • I sleep better when I workout regularly.
  • It’s my “me” time, where I can either zone out or reflect on things I’m too busy to think about during the day.

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Those are some of the concrete reasons that I have made working out a regular part of my life. It’s become as important to me as brushing my teeth. Working out just to lose weight or purely for vanity reasons never had much staying power for me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have my days when I don’t feel like working out, or when I don’t have the energy for a full-blown session…but when I’m out for a run and I see someone being pushed in a wheelchair, I think to myself about how lucky I am that my body is strong enough to be able to do physically challenging activities. It’s that type of thinking…being grateful and respectful of my body’s capabilities…that keeps me going and drives me from within.

If you want my advice, work out because you deserve to feel good in your body…after all, it’s the only one you’ve got while you’re on this earth…and hopefully you’ll be around for a good long while!

Ciao for now!
-E