Transforming your body is never simple. We women tend to have an especially hard time of it because we’re fed so much ridiculous misinformation about how we should train and what to eat. No more.
This article will provide simple rules for women who want to change their bodies, whether to lose body fat, build muscle for a better physique, or just get STRONG.
We’ll debunk the lies and stereotypes that sabotage women’s progress, and give you ten ways to get a whole lot more out of your workouts.
#1. Prioritize Weight Training
Whether your goal is fat loss, stronger curves, or better health, lifting weights is a necessity.
Don’t get caught up in the myth that you need to do cardio or train in the “fat burning” zone to get lean. Slow, boring cardio is largely useless for fat loss and completely ineffective for increasing muscle.
Instead, lifting weights and sprinting are the only methods that trigger muscle growth so that your body burns more calories naturally.
More lean mass means you have a faster metabolism. It also provides the firm, lean look to your abs, legs, and glutes, so whether your goal is to look “toned” or athletic, lifting weights is the place to start.
#2. Learn How To Train the “Big” Lifts
One of the biggest obstacles for most women who want to get into the weight room is not knowing how to do the “big” lifts like squats, deadlifts, and rows with free weights.
Ladies, this is not your fault. Guys don’t know how to lift either when they first start—a fact that is very evident once you know what you’re doing.
Weight training is a skill that you have to learn. It’s worth the effort to learn the big lifts because they are so much more effective for producing visible body composition changes. This means you can spend less time training.
Plus, they’re way more fun than single-joint or machine lifts.
How can you learn to train properly?
First, your best option is to learn from an experienced trainer. For this reason, we’ve developed technique videos to show you basic form of some of the big lifts here.
Tip: After watching, film yourself practicing the lifts so that you can see how closely you are mimicking proper technique.
Second, here are basic points to remember when lifting:
• Always train with a tight, flat upper back, but allow the natural arch to appear in the lower back.
• Never round the back and don’t let your stomach hang out. Engage your abs to stabilize your trunk.
• Keep your chest up, shoulders back and your head in line with your body, not looking up or down.
• Focus on natural movement patterns—think about childlike movements because kids know how to squat, jump, pivot, lunge, push, and throw with ease.
#3: Prioritize Sprints to Lose Fat—Forget About Traditional “Cardio”
There are a few ginormous problems with relying on cardio for fat loss:
First, it takes at least double the training time to burn the same amount of calories with cardio as with sprint training.
Second, cardio doesn’t build lean muscle mass (and may cause you to lose muscle in the long run). It also doesn’t produce much of an after burn, whereas interval training, such as sprints and weights makes your body burn more calories in the 24 hours after you exercise.
Finally, cardio can lead to an elevation in the stress hormone cortisol, which leads to a worse body composition, whereas sprint training elevates hormones that build muscle and burn fat.
Your first training priority for changing your body should be weight training, followed by some form of interval training such as sprints, “strongman” exercises like pushing a weighted sled, or circuit weight workouts that use zero rest between sets.
This doesn’t mean you can’t go running, hiking, or biking for pleasure—just don’t make the mistake of trying to use cardio to fix your physique.
#4: Understand How Women’s Metabolism Differs from Men’s
Women tend to be at a disadvantage when it comes to fat loss and muscle building because the vast majority of the advice available is based on research done on men. This is a gigantic problem with untold consequences for women.
By digging into the research, we can find clues to how women should train.
First, working out is essential for women because it teaches the body to increase the use of fat for energy. At rest women burn more glucose (from carbs) for energy than men (who burn more fat), but during exercise they burn more fat then men.
Therefore, whether you want to lose body fat or just be healthy, you must workout to improve your body’s ability to use fat for energy—a term known as metabolic flexibility—because it will lead better blood sugar management and easier fat loss.
Third, trained women appear to get better fat loss results from sprint interval training with slightly longer work bouts than men.
Scientists think this may be due to the fact that women rely more on aerobic energy pathways and deplete ATP more slowly than men. Plus, women recover faster, possibly due to higher estrogen levels.
Therefore, women should try longer, more moderate intervals than men such as 1 to 2 minute intervals at 80 to 90 percent of maximal with a 2:1 or 3:1 work-to-rest ratio.
#5: Understand How Recovery Differs from Men’s—Use Shorter Rest Intervals
Due to the metabolic differences mentioned above, women recover faster even when strength training.
For example, a study compared the effect of 1-, 2- or 3-minute rest intervals in an upper body workout with the goal of completing 10 reps per set in men and women. The women in the study were able to complete significantly more reps than men did, regardless of the rest interval used.
Obviously, women shouldn’t rely on programs designed for men. Feel free to experiment with shorter rest intervals, especially if you’re not seeing the results you’d expect.
Also, there is some evidence that untrained women recover more slowly than men and may need longer recovery intervals until they gain base levels of strength and conditioning.
#6: Avoid Anything that Causes Excess Stress—“Diets,” Cardio & Mental Stress
Long-term stress is especially bad for women’s bodies because it can throw hormones out of whack.
We know from research that when weight loss diets are paired with aerobic exercise, men tend to lose much more body fat than women, who have markedly poor outcomes.
Anecdotal reports suggest that when women restrict calories and do intense training such as sprints, they have a hard time losing body fat, especially in the long-term.
The mega dose of physical stress from low calories and training increases cortisol. Progesterone, which is the hormonal precursor to testosterone and estrogen, is used to produce cortisol instead. The effect is hormonal imbalances that inhibit fat loss and make you feel awful.
#7: Train for Strength & Lift “Heavy”
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 there is a considerable bias against them lifting anything heavier than a Chihuahua.
Startling research found that when moderately-trained women were allowed to pick their weights, they used loads that were 30 percent lower than the lightest weight needed to produce any benefit.
Their weights were too light to build muscle, strength, or bone. Plus, they didn’t require the use of much energy, so minimal calories were burned.
A fairly simple method for figuring out which weights to use is described in the next tip. If you lift heavy, our body will respond by getting leaner and more athletic. You’ll have a self-confidence that doesn’t come to people who don’t test their physical barriers.
#8: Let The Reps Dictate the Load—The Easy Formula for Lifting Heavy
The simplest way to figure out what weight to use so that you change your body is to let the repetitions dictate the load.
This method is based off a chart in which the maximum amount you can lift is called your “1RM,” which stands for “repetition maximum.” The weight at which you can do 10 reps but no more is 75 percent of your 1RM, and 12 reps is 70 percent of your 1RM.
Here’s how it works:
If you’re training for fat loss, you’ll generally want to be working in the 8 to 12 rep range for between 4 and 8 sets. This will lead to a lot of lactic acid being produced, which is associated with a big metabolic disturbance.
So, if you are in the 10 to 12 rep range and you put 105 pounds on the squat bar, but find that you can do 13 or more reps, the weight needs to be increased. Likewise, if you can only perform 8 or 9 reps, your load is too heavy.
Say, you finish up your training cycle and decide it’s time to build strength because you have the goal of squatting your body weight. You’ll want to work in the 3 to 5 rep range with a much heavier weight than your 105 pounds, say 130 pounds.
#9: Eat Real Food—You Can’t Out-Train A Bad Diet
Many people, men and women alike, make the mistake of thinking they can eat whatever they want if they work out. But if you’ve been involved in hardcore training for any length of time you know that in the long run, you can’t out-train a bad diet.
Another common problem that plagues a lot of women who are trying to lose fat is the tendency to favor packaged, refined foods in the desire to decrease fat intake and keep track of calories. This often leads to constant hunger and a low intake of nutrients.
A better solution is to plan your nutrition around real whole food and identify the amount of each macronutrient of fat, protein, and carbohydrates that you want to eat.
With the right nutrition plan, you don’t even need to work out to reduce body fat, but training will accelerate results, make them sustainable, and simply makes everything about your life better.
#10: Always Have a Plan When You Walk Into the Gym
If you’re a trainer or have a background in exercise science, you know that strength training makes people stronger and builds muscle because it overloads the body, causing it to adapt.
Our bodies adapt amazingly quickly, which means that to keep making progress, you have to continually change some aspect of your workouts.
This is called periodization, and it’s basically just another word for having a good plan. For example, if you’re training for strength, over the course of six weeks, you’d continually increase your weights every two weeks, with small variations in the loads and rep-set schemes each workout.
The beauty of a periodized program is that it requires you to set specific goals and plan out your workouts for at least six weeks, so that every time you walk into the gym you know exactly what you need to do.
No wasted time repeating workouts that your body has already adapted to. And when you’re tired or stress, all have to do is get to the gym and work—no need to remember what you did last time because it should all be written down.
This method does wonders for keeping you honest and decreasing the chance of you skipping your workout.