The Female Training Conundrum

No doubt the headlined imaged grabbed your attention! Before reading on, take note that the image is for illustration purposes and this is her natural body shape. Her shape is defined by lean tissue and a low body fat percentage. Everyone is unique within his or her own shape and size and this must first be accepted. Once we have overcome this hurdle lets look at how we can enhance what we have been blessed with….

…. and fellas, the title certain didn’t make you open this post. But maybe you will learn a thing or two as well.

I have been kind of inspired writing this blog due to one of my new clients. As with all new members/clients one thing I always do is explain how the training will benefit their goal. Whether it is an athlete wanting sport performance or a full time mother looking for body composition changes, there must be logic.

Don’t get me wrong not everyone is interested in the finer details and some give a simple look of…

“I don’t give a crap, just let me train”

But some are actually interested in the processes.

Which brings me to the lady I was previously chatting with. Basically her goal, as with about 90% of the population, is body composition i.e. shed some unnecessary gained body fat and pretty much look better naked.

I revoke my 90% claim and raise you 95%, after all who doesn’t want to look better naked?

Anyway after chatting with her she said:

“if you could explain that to all the women in the world you would have a mile long queue outside your door”

Which kind if got me thinking that maybe, what I deem logic, isn’t quite as logical as I perceived.

What I explained wasn’t a big secret or a special training system or Insanity 3000…. or whatever the cool kids are calling it these days…. it was a simple explanation of our philosophy for building a good physique.

From training many women over the years there appears to be a commonality or a trend if you like that I see over and over again:

· Excessive cardio — hours of running, cycling and/or exercise classes

· Under eating — some as low as 800cals per day!

· Little to no resistance training — after all it makes you bulky!

· Chronic fatigue and sleep derivation

This will probably ring true to quite a few reading this and you may have done this over a good few years.

What doesn’t help is the media and many fitness “professionals” simply claiming people need to

“Eat less and move more”.

For the 300lbs+ fast food junkie this method wouldn’t be a bad place to start. However things aren’t always as clear-cut and for many people I would actually suggest the polar opposite

“Eat more and move less”

Eat more nutritious food and do less unnecessary cardio.

The problem with eat less move more is it categorises all in to one group and insinuates everyone is inactive and overeats. If we look at a good portion of the population especially our younger generation (sadly) we can probably agree this is true. However what this does is negates what is left of the population, the people that under eat and over train, and fails to offer them a solution. In fact it most certainly exacerbates the situation.

The issue we have is people will eat a ridiculous low calorie diet throughout the week. To then proceed to punish their bodies with excessive amounts of cardio in the hope of burning more calories. The result is no change in body composition, constant tiredness, a loathe of training/exercising and hangry (hungry & angry). This leads to a dip in mood and a weekend binge followed by a feeling of guilt…. and so the cycle continues.

A better and healthier way:

· Resistance train — use a variety of rep ranges and use big compound movements. This, coupled with an adequate protein intake, will ensure, at the very least, muscle retention.

· Work out BMR (basal metabolic rate) and at the very least consume this amount of calories per day from good food sources. — make sure protein requirements (1g per 1lb of lean body mass) are met on a daily basis.

· Reduce the cardio volume (dramatically) — allow your body to recover and regenerate.

· Sleep well and manage stress levels — keep hormones in balance and find ways to chill out and unwind.

From a training perspective most will women gravitate towards cardio as opposed to resistance. This is probably down to the misconception that lifting weights makes you bulky and cardio burns fat.

Resistance training over cardio:

Muscle is metabolic: Thus it is live tissue and requires stimulation and calories to survive. The more active tissue we have in relation to fat the higher our metabolic rate i.e. the more calories we burn at rest. We need to stimulate, develop and feed our muscles. Muscle atrophy (wastage) will cause a drop in metabolic rate. A lower metabolism will result in fat retention, or worse, accumulation.

Note: Half arsed partial range movements are not stimulating and neither is bouncing around on a treadmill. Focus on full range of movement (ROM) and engage the muscle throughout, both eccentrically and concentrically.

Fat: This is dead tissue and lies there looking ugly. This is your body’s preference over muscle for survival. It acts as protection so our body doesn’t care how much it stores. Muscle is simply used for movement so our body doesn’t care how much it uses for energy.

We need to encourage muscle activation and development. Ever heard of sleepy glutes? If you haven’t, this is basically a term used when people’s gluteal (butt muscles) becomes inhibited. This can lead to certain ailments and issues but it also causes a saggy ass due to inactivation and stimulation. Use it or lose it so to speak!

If we consider our human body shape it is defined by muscle. As we age our muscles deteriorate and lose shape and strength due to inactivity. Not many 16–21yr olds sport bingo wings and saggy butts. There is a reason for this.

So first and foremost we must consider developing lean tissue to increase our metabolic rate. After all this shapes our bodies.

Cardio: We can sit all day and argue about different forms of cardio or conditioning but for simplicity we’ll consider the most common form and probably what most people can relate to which is traditional cardio machines e.g. treadmills, bike, elliptical etc.

What cardio does:

· Burns calories

· Improves cardiac output

· Causes boredom

· Increase injury risk (long distance running)

What cardio doesn’t do:

· Develop lean tissue

· Develop strength

· Shape your butt…. Surly everyone wants a better butt?

Maybe you are thinking….

I do classes and these are strength based and we do push-ups and squats

For the purpose of example I am not talking about classes here, however….

The next time you are in your class, take a look around or monitor yourself for that matter and see how many people do full range push-ups or actually do any of the movements with half decent technique, especially by the end. Most classes are designed to cause…. well, annihilation.

Work hard but do things right = results!

Annihilation = stupid, sweaty and injured!

Please don’t think I’m crapping on classes, I’m not. We actually do quite a few at our training facility, Lift, and I am a big fan when they are done correct and with logic…. which we do. The classes I am referring to are these bootcamp style sweat fests! The ones where a single instructor is instructing/cheerleading 30+ individuals, all with different levels of ability.

The point being here is don’t make it a stand-alone tool for improving body composition. Use cardio wisely and don’t believe if you didn’t throw up you didn’t achieve…. Stupid!

Anywhoo…. Lets move on!

Resistance training: Resistance training develops lean tissue and strength. Many people perceive lifting weights will significantly cause huge arms and traps…. using your own bodyweight as resistance is resistance training, just saying! …. If gaining muscle were this easy the world would be dominant by boulder shouldered units. Things such as testosterone and genetics are huge factors with women naturally possessing much lower levels of testosterone than men.

If you want to increase muscle mass the three fundamental aspects to consider are:

· Training volume — a few sets of bicep curls isn’t going to cut it!

· Calorie surplus — it is nearly impossible to add muscle mass when in a calories deficit.

· Hard fricken work…. Ask any guy, or girl for that matter, trying to gain a few lbs of lean tissue how frustrating and difficult it really is.

What resistance training does:

· Develops strength (muscles, tendons, ligaments)

· Develops lean tissue

· Burns calories

· Burns calories at rest i.e. when you are not training (adaptation/regeneration)

· Improves cardiac output — I’ve had people squatting and hitting 80–90% hear rate max. No shit! They were wearing heart rate monitors.

· Increases bone density — reducing the risk of osteoporosis (women more susceptible)

What resistance training doesn’t do:

· Cause boredom (unless you have a mundane training plan… that just sucks!)

Lets be clear here. I am not saying everyone needs to be lifting heavy weights…. Although that would be good (wink wink….)

What I am saying is that, at the very least, we need to be offering our muscles a stimulation to which they can react.

A loss of stimulation will cause an increase of deterioration, which will result in soft and shapeless muscle. I have lost count how many women have said they used to have really good shaped butt’s, arms or legs when they were younger but have lost it over the years…. Atrophy.

“It doesn’t need to be progressive overload all of the time but be conscious of using all muscle groups and ACTIVATING these muscle. Can you sit and activate certain muscles voluntarily? If you can’t, work on developing this muscle”

Progressive overload is a planned and controlled increase of stress placed upon the body during training. From our perspective we are talking resistance so we would consider: intensity, volume and frequency.

Will I get bulky?

Probably one of the first questions I get asked and in the past my simple answer has been NO! However this has probably been a little hasty and maybe a little ignorant for the simple reason one person’s definition of bulk is completely different to another. However what we must consider is that if we start strength training and change nothing about our nutrition i.e. we are still in a calorie surplus then muscle will of course be developed. Due to the surplus of calories fat oxidization will be compromised. So in essence you have developed muscle underneath the fat, which would cause bulk.

Think of pushing cushions up your jumper

We must also consider everyone differs in terms of genetic make-up and hormone balance. Where someone will struggle to add muscle others will thrive. Certain areas of our anatomy develop faster than others. In some cases I have heard women state their legs are growing too fast but struggle to add strength and lean tissue on their arms. In this case progressive overload wouldn’t be a priority for the lower extremities whereas upper body it would.

Note: If you train for the purpose of building muscle i.e. follow a bodybuilding specific program then expect to add a good amount of muscle through volume training and a surplus of calories. If you train for fat loss then expect to maintain (may even gain a little but nothing too significant) muscle mass and drop body fat through energy demanding movements and a calorie deficit.

Another issue we have is under eating. This I believe can be worse that over eating and here’s why:

Over eating — This is not considering the extreme fast food junkies that consume 10,000+ calories on a daily basis…. a little exaggerated but it emphasises the point…. but more the people that maybe struggle with portion sizes and over snacking. At the very least these people will be taking on some essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals and won’t be malnourished. This is by far an ideal situation and a major concern for obesity if their calorie intake is significantly higher than BMR.

Under eating — Essentials vitamins and minerals for every day function of life and survival are limited. Our bodies will break muscle down into amino acid to be converted to energy and “hang on” to our fat supplies. We will be in constant state of fatigue due to lack of available energy. Our bodies will go in to “economy” mode and slow down to preserve energy. Many people don’t realise they are in a constant state of fatigue. It only becomes apparent when calories are reintroduced. At this stage sleeping patterns improve, energy levels increase and battling through the day becomes less effort. Training intensity and activity levels increase and our bodies become more efficient at oxidizing body fat.

Wrap up!

This hasn’t been written to identify black and white training and nutritional modalities. More so to (hopefully) explain better processes to improve body composition and health over the long-term.

People differ and key considerations are factors such as: gender, body type, age, and lifestyle. Because of this it is important the training stimulus and nutritional intake complements you as an individual and drives you towards your individual goal.

Consider the following:

· Stimulate muscles on a regular basis (at the very least)

· Consider progressive overload to develop lean tissues and strength (optimal results)

· Lower the cardio output and use it to supplement a good resistance training program

· Eat enough nutritious food to fuel your workout and everyday living

· Enjoy what you do both training and nutritionally — without enjoyment your life and training will suck!