Your Guide to Get Lean
Clients often hire me because they’re fed up with working hard without getting the results they want. When I ask my female clients what their current workouts entail, the answer I most commonly get is “cardio” – usually a combination of running, the elliptical machine, group exercise classes and spinning. What they don’t do is weight train. When I ask why, the most common response is, “I don’t want to bulk up.”
Unfortunately, the very thing they’ve been avoiding – weights – may be the missing piece of their fitness puzzle. Why? To lose fat and change your body composition, you first need to overhaul your diet and improve your metabolism. Cardio only really burns calories during your workout. If you want to change the shape of your body, you have to gradually increase your resting metabolic rate. The higher your metabolism is overall, the more calories you’ll burn at rest. One way to increase your metabolism is to lift weights. Weight training will increase the amount of lean muscle you have – and the more lean muscle you have, the higher your metabolism.
Don’t worry – lifting weights won’t necessarily make you “big”. To increase muscle mass you need three things to happen concurrently:
- You need to consume a large amount of calories. Most women don’t consume enough calories to put on size.
- You need to possess the genetics to allow your muscles to hypertrophy (gain size). Most women simply don’t have the genetics to increase the size of their muscles without supplementation.
- You need to do a high volume of training using heavy weights. Most female clients, even when they do start lifting, would never push themselves to lift heavy enough weights to significantly effect muscle hypertrophy.
Even if you do fulfill one component of the equation, you won’t bulk up unless you fulfill all three. You have to eat enough, have the appropriate genetics and lift heavy enough weights to put on significant muscle hypertrophy (size).
The main takeaways are:
- Strength training is important. It will help increase your lean muscle mass, and therefore improve your metabolism.
- There’s a world of difference between fat loss and weight loss. Losing weight on the scale doesn’t mean you’ve lost fat. You could have lost muscle or water weight.
- Strength training will help you re-shape your body and lose fat, not just lose weight.
Have I convinced you to weight train? If so, follow these easy steps to integrate weight training into your workout regime.
Do exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once such as squats, lunges, push-ups and pull-ups (or modified pull-ups or lat-pull downs).
Note: if you’ve been lifting weights regularly for six months or more, feel free to skip to stage three.
Stage 1 (2 – 4 weeks): If you’ve never lifted weights before, start by lifting twice a week. Train your entire body each time. Do two sets of 15 reps.
Stage 2 (2 – 4 weeks): Continue to lift twice a week, but increase your sets. Train your entire body each time. Do three sets of 15 reps.
Stage 3 (4 – 8 weeks): Split your workouts into upper- and lower-body training days. Train your lower body twice a week. In addition, train your upper body twice a week.
Do three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps. Start to challenge yourself. Lift a weight that’s appropriate for that rep range. Many women lift weights for 12 to 15 reps, but they use a weight that is actually appropriate for 20 to 25 reps. The final repetition of your final set should be the last repetition you can do with good form.
Stage 4 (2 weeks): Challenge your nervous system and increase your power. On non-consecutive days, do a full-body weight training routine two to three times per week. Pick exercises that use lots of muscle groups. Try squats, deadlifts, lunges and the clean and press. After a warm-up set, do three to four sets of four to six reps of each exercise.
Stage 5: Alternate four to eight weeks of Stage 3, with two weeks of Stage 4. The two weeks of lifting heavier weights will challenge your nervous system. This way, when you return to Stage 3 you’ll be able to handle heavier weights.
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention lifting weights for 8 to 12 reps. That’s because 8 to 12 reps is actually within the “hypertrophy range”. What does that mean? Lifting heavy weights for 8 to 12 reps is really the one range that could potentially increase your muscle size. Now, as stated above, most women don’t eat enough, lift heavy enough weights or have the genetics to put on size.
However, if you do think you’re one of the rare women who can, feel free to stick with the above plan. If you don’t have a fear of bulking up, add in a four-week phase between Stage 3 and 4 where you do two full-body weight training workouts a week, lifting between 8 to 12 reps.
I know what you’re probably thinking. Won’t lifting for four to six reps put on more muscle then lifting for 8-12 reps? No, that’s just a commonly believed myth.
Final note. Replace at least two of your current cardio workouts with intervals. For example, if you currently do a cardio workout for 30 minutes at a constant speed, try the following workout: 10-minute warm-up. Alternate one minute fast with two minutes at regular speed for 15 minutes. Cool-down for five minutes.