5 Fitness Tips To Help You Get Strong, Not Skinny

Because it’s better to be strong, rather than skinny.

Fitness Model and Mom, Maria Kang; Photo Credit: Larry Wong

I’ve always been passionate about health and fitness. I started working out when I was thirteen-years-old and have continued going to the gym on a regular basis ever since.

My weight has fluctuated over the years, but has remained consistent for the most part. In addition to working out 5 times a week, I maintain a healthy diet and avoid alcohol.

However, about 5 years ago, I reached a very unhealthy weight for my height. I am five-foot-seven inches tall and weighed less than 100 pounds in my early twenties. Back then, my exercise regime was intense with cardio and I simply wasn’t taking in enough calories to keep up with it all.

In order to put on weight, I started strength training and consuming more calories throughout the day. The combination of cardio and weights has helped me build muscle, yet stay lean.

I recently started working with a personal trainer at Equinox in San Francisco to help me build strength and accomplish new workout goals. I’ve worked with Alisa Grant, a certified Equinox Tier 3+ trainer, for almost half a year and have already seen results.

Alisa Grant, Tier 3+ Trainer at Equinox in San Francisco; Photo Credit: Steven Gregory Photography

Alisa shares 5 fitness tips that have helped me become stronger, happier and healthier.

#1) Remember To Always Breathe

​Breathing properly during both exercise and rest is key for maximizing your performance, recovery and your overall mental and physical well-being.

When you exercise, try to both inhale and exhale. During the harder parts of your workout, ​exhale through your diaphragm, belly and lungs. Try drawing the front of your ribs down towards your pelvis. This helps with timing needed for your core musculature to contract initially during exercise.

#2) Always Engage Your Core

​As you exhale during your bouts of exercise, think about drawing your ribs down and belly button in to engage your deep core musculature. Once you’re able to understand and practice this concept, the next level will be to engage a little lower towards your pelvic floor, while drawing in your belly below the navel at the same time. You should feel a solid contraction through your core during all exercise, especially while lifting heavier weights.

#3) Do Intervals During Cardio

​It’s important to ​tap into all of your heart rate zones so that you can work on both your anaerobic and aerobic capacity. Doing intervals such as a 1:1 ratio work to rest or 1:2 will help you increase your overall work capacity. This will make your aerobic workouts feel more manageable and will hopefully help you work at faster speeds.

The working phase of intervals should feel like 85% of your maximum and the rest should feel like you’re at a 5–6 out of 10. The harder you push, the longer your intervals can be so that you’re ready to go again for the next hard interval.

Try to shoot for 1–3 days of HIIT training (High intensity interval training) to supplement your strength and endurance exercises. Start with only 5 minutes and work towards 30-minute bouts of intervals.

#4) Maintain Mental Focus

​Create a pre-workout routine consisting of breathing practice, ​visualization and mental imagery. This will help you create a platform for success during your workout.

Before you start your workout, focus on what you’re going to do. This could be weight lifting, running, stretching, testing out new skills or going for a PR (personal record). Remember that you have to visualize yourself accomplishing the task at hand.

Sports psychologists believe this type of mental imagery will help ramp up your central nervous system so that you’re more prepared, which can also help maximize your performance. Once you’re feeling tired in your workout, it’s easy to get distracted by the reps, speed, distance, weight, etc. However, this is the time to keep in touch with your mind and body. Remember to breathe and stay focused on your form and technique, and of course have fun!

#5) Fuel Up For Best Results

​​Don’t go into your hard workouts hungry. Everyone metabolizes food at slightly different rates and it depends on your goals of either weight gain or loss. A good rule of thumb is to eat something with carbs, protein and good fats about one and a half hours prior to exercise.

To maximize recovery, eat a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio post-workout within about 30 minutes of ending your workout. Experiment with the types of foods that feel best for you. You should feel energized and light from the pre workout food you consume.

If you have a really intense workout, but don’t feel hungry right after, have a protein shake since it’s easy to digest and will start the recovery process. Of course, remember to always drink water during your workouts!

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