Have you been working out regularly but aren’t seeing any changes in your body? Troubleshooting training can be hard to do on your own. That’s where this article comes in—it identifies some of the most common (but completely fixable) reasons that women have trouble changing their bodies.
Use this advice to solve training errors for efficient, visible results.
#1: Lifting Too Light
One of the most common reasons women don’t see results in the gym is that they focus only on getting toned, which leads to the side effect of lifting weights that are too light. Getting toned simply means that you want to lose excess body fat and increase the size of muscle cells to provide shape.
This process requires two things:
You need to overload the muscles in order to stimulate the cells to grow larger.
Workouts need to be metabolically taxing so that you raise metabolic rate in the recovery period and elevate fat burning hormones.
A host of studies show the best way to achieve both goals is to use weights that range between 65 and 80 percent of the maximal amount you can lift. If you can squat 100 pounds one time, then you need to use a weight that is at least 65 pounds when doing squats for reps.
Best results will come from occasionally going even heavier. The reason is that within each muscle, you have many different muscle fibers, which are recruited in an orderly fashion depending on how much weight you’re lifting. The heavier the weight, the more muscle fibers will be called into play so that more muscle gets trained. If you never squat heavier than 65 pounds (with a 100 pound max), you’re leaving a whole bunch of beautiful muscle that is literally not getting trained.
The other cool thing about occasionally going really heavy is that it helps you avoid stagnation, which occurs when you never progress and just train the same way for months on end. By focusing on getting stronger, you keep yourself excited and challenged for every workout—no more dreading your hour-long cardio fest that has you crying into your sneakers. Yes, even you can be one of those people who is excited about going to train!
#2: Your Calorie Intake Is Off
There are two common scenarios when women (or men for that matter) don’t get the results they’d expect in the gym.
First, many women make the mistake of cutting calories below the 1,200 a day. They starve themselves in a desperate attempt to make the fat come off. The problem with this approach is that when calories go this low, your body will sense the threat of lack of energy and downregulate your metabolism in order to preserve fuel stores.
You’ll burn fewer calories daily, while having to fight off hunger with willpower, which will elevate the stress hormone cortisol. Plus, you’ll lose lean muscle mass, which means you can say goodbye to beautiful curves AND you will radically lower your resting metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn every day at rest).
Instead, you need to provide your body with sufficient energy to train hard, recover quickly, and fuel daily activity. You can still create an energy deficit of between 300 and 500 calories a day so that you lose body fat, but you’re body won’t be holding on to every last calorie as if your life depended on it.
Plus, you’ll have mental relief from the serious strain of constant dieting by being able to eat regular, appetite-reducing meals. Be sure to plan every meal around high-quality protein (fish, meat, eggs, etc.) and vegetables for the greatest hunger reducing effect.
On the other hand, consuming too many calories can be a problem when you aren’t mindful of portions or end up rewarding yourself with food. The fact is, humans are not very good at estimating how much we eat. Studies show we tend to underestimate calorie intake by at least 500 a day—an amount that can easily eliminate an energy deficit and completely halt fat loss.
A related problem is “compensation” or when people think, “Yeay! I burned extra calories today from working out. A little extra cake, bread, sweet potato, chocolate, wine, or whatever won’t hurt.”
But research shows it does: People almost always eradicate the calorie deficit they created from working out and may even overshoot calories so that they actually gain fat!
Make sure this doesn’t happen to you by doing an honest food journal in which you record every thing that goes into your mouth. Be mindful of portions and make sure you aren’t exercising with the express purpose of burning calories. By training for fun, to get strong, or to look amazing, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding compensation and get better results.
#3: You Quit When The Going Gets Tough
We’ve all seen the people who take a very casual approach to the gym:
They never break a sweat.
They use the gym as prime Facebook and Instagram time.
They grab a weight, do three reps, re-rack it and hit the locker room or go hide on the cardio machines.
If you want to change your body, you’ve got to get comfortable with the fact that there will be some painful moments. Your muscles are going to burn. You’re going to suck a little wind. You may even briefly wonder if you’re going to die. Just know that those hard moments are the ones that make all the difference.
In fact, exercise science tells us that there are three factors that make the magic happen in terms of fat loss and getting lean, gaze-worthy muscles, and unfortunately, they all feel a little rough.
First, there’s metabolic stress, which is the result of intense efforts that lead the body to produce lactate and hydrogen ions. Lactate accumulation tells the brain to release growth hormone and other fat burning hormones such as epinephrine, which also increase metabolic rate. The problem is that metabolic stress causes your muscles to burn like crazy, but the pain is worth it because it’s a killer combination that triggers fat loss and an increase in muscle.
Second, muscle damage occurs when you train to failure or do eccentric-enhanced training, such as a slow controlled downward motion on the squat. Muscle damage leads to post-workout muscle soreness, which can be a bit unpleasant, but it’s worth it because the repair process increases muscle size and shape.
Finally, mechanical tension, which is what is created when your muscles contract, activates genetic pathways that trigger body composition changes for optimal leanness.
When the going gets tough, just remember that the sweat and tears have a purpose: Pushing through them will make you better everyday—and give you that bangin’ body that has all your less-than-motivated friends eating their hearts out.
#4: Too Much Or The Wrong Kind Of Cardio
A common misconception is that aerobic-style cardio is the best way to lose fat. Using this kind of cardio for fat loss can easily backfire for a few reasons.
First, the goal tends to be focused solely on calorie burning and we know that when people are motivated to exercise in order to burn calories, they usually aren’t successful because they end up compensating by eating more calories afterwards.
Second, the body adapts quickly to aerobic-style cardio by getting more efficient so that it burns the fewest calories for the least amount of work. This means that as your body adapts, you have to continuously increase your training time, while getting diminishing returns.
Finally, aerobic exercise interferes with weight training adaptations because it triggers different pathways in the body. Simply, you won’t get the increase in muscle for better definition and shape that you’d expect.
Instead of spending hours on aerobic-style cardio, try short and sweet sprint or strongman workouts. This type of training uses the same energy system pathway as weight training, so it’s perfect for fat loss. For example, one study found that when women did 20 minutes of cycle sprints 3 days a week, they lost 2.5 kg of body fat and increased lean muscle by 0.6 kg, whereas a group that did 40 minutes of aerobic exercise for their workouts lost zero body fat.
Sprint training is so much more effective than long, aerobic-style cardio for the following reasons:
First, sprint-style cardio improves the activity of enzymes that enable the body to burn fat. Second, levels of the catecholamine hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine, increase during sprint training. These hormones enhance the use of fat for fuel and may increase metabolic rate. Finally, interval style training increases insulin sensitivity, which means the body has an easier time burning fat for energy.
Naturally, if you are training for an endurance event or you like aerobic-style cardio and your primary reason for exercise is enjoyment, have at it. But if your reason for getting sweaty is that you want to improve your body, try a quick, but intense sprint interval workout: Workouts should be less than 25 minutes long and metabolically taxing with short rest and intense work bouts. Do them separately from weight training workouts so you can apply the greatest effort and get full recovery.
Final Words: Fitness shouldn’t be complicated but it should be unique to your own interests and goals. Put in the effort to learn the basics. Figure out what works for your unique genes. This will make fitness and health a fun part of your life rather than a struggle.