This series is collaboration between JC Deen and Joy Victoria. Joy wrote 90% of the content.
Joy’s a wealth of fitness knowledge, and has already been published in the likes of T-Nation and contributes to WomanScope News Magazine. Make sure you check out her site, and sign up for updates. This is part 1 of a 3 part series. Be sure and subscribe at the bottom of the article to get Parts 2 and 3.
For so long, the words ‘women’ and ‘muscle’ were rarely seen in the same sentence. But it’s no surprise. With all the words like bulky, tone, lengthen, sculpt, ripped, shape, etc (the list is endless), it’s easy to get confused, or even turned off to what someone’s trying to sell you these days.
Because of the overwhelming load of information available (thank you, Internet!) we want to offer a very practical approach to helping you build a beautiful body. There won’t be any smoke and mirrors with this post, as per usual here. In fact, it’s pretty lengthy, so you might want to grab a cup of coffee (or tea, or whatever), sit back and take some notes.
Note: This is not a fad diet coupled with an impossible training program. We’re giving you something better; something that actually works. The principles that create success, and the ones you can use over and over again, even when the methods change (and yes, they’ll need to change eventually as you progress).
Today, we’re giving you the so-called secrets behind how and why these principles work.
And that’s what a lot of diet and training plans fail to explain. It’s more of just asking you to do something without explaining the method behind the madness.
How would you like to be given the freedom to manipulate the common “rules” of popular diet and training methods that have you spinning your wheels, and actually get results because you know why they work?
You know, the kind of results you see in all those before and after pictures.
And we’re not talking about just losing weight, but losing fat and getting toned, tight, and hot!
Would you like to be eating enjoyably, and have a strong, attractive body without becoming a slave to a rigid routine (and actually have a life as well)?
Does this sound too good to be true?
It might at first, but it’s not, and doesn’t have to be.
It’s about finding a diet you can adhere to, building muscle, and losing fat in a way that fits with your personal goals and lifestyle. Yes, we’re suggesting you use weights that are challenging for your current fitness levels, and to continue pushing to improve those numbers.
This might not sound very sexy, much like an infomercial ad would for the newest fruit extract promising to melt away body fat. But this approach is sexier in a quiet, confident way.
This method is sexy because it works, and it continues to serve you.
It’s the tall, dark, handsome stranger of few words versus the flashy, smooth-talking, playboy who tells you what you want to hear.
Again, all this is completely FREE, and there are even some training programs you can download via PDF with Excel files for tracking progress.
One Caveat: This series is long and divided into 3 parts. But it’s only because we want to address the questions you care about the most in a thorough manner. Take your time; bookmark these articles if you need to, and return when necessary.
It’s common knowledge to the coach or fitness junkie that many women have missed out in creating the bodies they desire, due to various levels of information suggesting they should or shouldn’t lift weights for [insert whatever reason here].
Lots of money has been spent, and frustration often ensues for those who want to make a positive change to their body
We’re here to help change that. Women are realizing that training for strength is not only completely fine, but also delivers the results they wanted all along while doing all “everything else.”
You won’t get unshapely, massive muscles from lifting weights, but you might get a tighter butt, sculpted arms and flat abs. The only problem in making this switch in training is going about it correctly.
Where do you find great fitness information? What routine should you follow? What exercises should you do? What about your diet?
We’ll answer all those questions for you.
You don’t need to have a background in athletics, and you don’t even need to be familiar with the terminology.
Below are some real life inquiries sent to us by women who think weight training may be what they need, but don’t know how to start.
You’ve Got Questions. We’ve Got Answers:
Q: “I just want to add some shape and get more toned.”
A: Who doesn’t? And why are muscles important to this goal? Weight training is a means to changing the size/look of your muscles, thus affecting your shape and appearance.
When we mention toning or sculpting, these are just fancy terms for changing the shape.
Let’s take your gluteus maximus (big butt muscle) for example. Most girls would like a round, firm butt. Perhaps yours sags, or has no shape?
Maybe it’s fat and big, but not shapely?
Or maybe you are thin, but with nothing to be seen on your backside? From the side angle, maybe there’s a bit of a slope, but shaped more like a thick pancake than a firm peach.
There are three ways you could actively change the shape of your butt. You can:
- Gain lots of fat. Some will go to your butt for sure, but that is determined by how your body stores fat (genetics). This is usually not the method anyone is hoping for. However, after the fat gain, your butt’s shape is out of your control.
- You can train the glutes to help increase it’s size or to tighten it up. You can force the muscle to adapt using various training movements. As the muscle strengthens, it becomes tight and firm (this is what toned means).
- You can diet to lose fat, but due to genetics you can’t decide what your butt looks like after the fat loss.
So which option seems the best? It’s the one you can control through training.
This is why some form of resistance training is very important when the goal is to become more toned or defined.
Q: “I do a lot of circuit training, spin classes, jogging or biking. Isn’t that using my muscles? Why am I not getting more toned? What is the difference?”
A: Different ways of training produce different results.
Yet it’s a connection many don’t make when comparing the results they are looking for, to the type of exercise they are doing.
Let’s look at various training modalities.
What happens when you go for a long jog or bike ride? You’re training your muscles to work at low intensities, and in many cases, using fat for energy, as opposed to glucose that’s required for intense exercises.
The same applies to activities like hour-long boot camps, or Zumba class.
Please know these activities are not bad in nature, they’re just not that effective when you want to change your muscular shape beyond initial “newbie gains” that occur in most untrained individuals beginning any exercise program.
While you’re training for a long bouts (30 minutes or longer), the high intensity just isn’t there. Muscle contractions during these exercises are dissimilar from those of lifting weights.
These signals sent by the “demand” of running, for instance, determine which energy system will be used, how your body will fuel the movement, and therefore adapt. For a quick analogy of the physiology and why strength training is needed as a base, check out my article Why Weights? An Analogy.
To build muscle, you need to create the tension responsible for making the body adapt. Initially, this is what scares most girls off. Don’t be afraid. The only way to get more “toned”, “defined” or “tight” is through resistance training.
Resistance Training (using weights or body weight)
Weight training is what changes your appearance. Fat loss reveals your hard work. Therefore, your newfound muscles are what give you sexy legs and nice shoulders.
To help your muscles respond the way we want them to, there are two variables we need to consider.
1. Your Diet
2. Your Exercise Program
For a long time women have been told to work out a certain way. Jane Fonda workouts and cardio circuits were popular, while lifting weights was considered a manly activity.
However, smart, effective weight training will give you the look you’re aiming for.
“Ok, but won’t lifting relatively heavy weights make me too bulky? I thought women should only lift light weights, like 5-10lb dumbbells and do lots of reps. Isn’t that the secret to toning, but not getting huge?”
JC answered this question perfectly in his original article about women and muscle building, so I quote: “The maximum rate of muscle gain for men is roughly 35-50lbs of lean body mass, over their lifetime from beginner to advanced, according to Lyle’s brilliant article aptly titled What’s My Genetic Muscular Potential?
So while men and women barely differ in terms of anatomy (muscles, bone, etc) our hormonal profiles differ tremendously (mainly testosterone and estrogen levels). As a result of such differences, a woman’s genetic potential will be roughly half that of a man.”
There are certain differences to take into consideration when training men and women, as much as there are differences between any individuals. But the basic movements and ideals are the same for both genders.
Given that fact, women cannot reach the muscular potential of a man unless given generous help by drugs and genetics. So unless that is your goal, the chances of you turning into a muscular monster are nil.
Also, take note that fat and muscle are not the same in terms of appearance on the body. Muscle can be shaped, and sculpted through training and diet. Fat can only be added or lost.
Fat loss is really the simplest part of the equation, and a good diet that doesn’t drive you insane takes care of that.
Pumping out hundreds of reps with 5-8lb dumbbells doesn’t do much for your body beyond initial adaptation. Your body requires some form of progressive overload (covered in part 2) to change in a positive manner.
There are certain principles we can rely on when approaching exercise for any individual. Strength progressions, appropriately heavy weight, and proper intensity (how hard the activity is) along with the diet factors (which are covered in part 3) will change your body, and keep you progressing.
“But don’t I need cardio to burn fat? If I build muscle, but don’t lose fat too, then I will just look bulky. My girlfriend started doing squats and couldn’t fit into her jeans anymore.”
Let’s not ignore this point. Looking bulky is a legit concern, even though women can’t gain as much muscle as men naturally.
Want to know the secret to being tight, lean, athletic looking AND not “bulky?”
Make sure your diet is in check first. Only use cardio appropriately to further your goals and not hinder them. As explained above about energy systems, cardio will not affect your muscles in the same way as weight training (and muscle mass is very important to aid fat loss, remember when we say “muscles,” it doesn’t mean you will explode with them) and excessive cardio is really not a good idea (unless you enjoy endurance activities, which in that case strength training will also benefit).
Cardio, in some form, such as short intense sessions (10-15 mins of sprints for instance) or leisurely longer sessions (waking the dog for 45 mins) a couple times a week can aid in fat loss for sure, but the primary way to change your body for real is through diet and weight training.
Remember that MORE is not always better, and hours of cardio are NOT the best way for women to get in shape. Cardio is also often used as a compensation for bad eating habits, which is a cycle you don’t want to encourage.
Diet is what determines fat loss or gain much more than training. And fat retention/gain is what will contribute to looking bulky more than weights.
If you’re a working woman, mother, or maybe a busy college student, your max gym time is likely 3-5 times a week for an average of 1.5 hours per session.
During that time, training with proper intensity will provide the stimulus responsible for creating the changes you want. During the rest of your week, you’ll be eating, sleeping, and working.
This is the period of time your body is rebuilding and growing. How much you eat, what you eat, sleep quality, and stress management are all contributing factors to fat loss and muscle gain. Exercise is only the stimulus.
“What about some extra cardio?”
There is a time and place depending on your goals, but if you want to look tight and toned in a reasonable time frame, your best bet is to adjust your diet and start weight training.
“Ok, so I want to start lifting weights, but I have never done any of these exercises, and I see people doing all kinds of things in the gym. Where do I start?”
Right here. As a woman who trains and has done so on her own for many years, I know the learning curve can seem overwhelming for beginners. Not only does weight training require learning new lifts and moves, it commands more concentration and dedication than just switching on the treadmill.
But the extra attention is justified because this stuff works. We put this guide together precisely for you as a legit starting point – so can get the basics and start the right way.
How To Get Expert Help If You’re Brand New
If you are brand spanking new to lifting, please consider hiring a personal trainer who understands your goals and can teach you proper form. If not, do your homework here, watching the videos, links, and exercise descriptions, then go out and get started.
There are also some excellent published programs and books by colleagues of ours that we are happy to recommend. If you are familiar with the basic lifts, consider hiring an online coach. Both JC and I work with clients all the time, and know many others that we can refer you to if we’re not the best fit.
“I don’t want to get injured. I heard that squatting and deadlifting are dangerous. Won’t I hurt my back? Lifting over 100 pounds seems way too much. What if I get hurt?”
The human body is fairly robust. It’s capable of great strength, mobility and grace.
But if you’re sitting in front of this computer hoping to lose some weight and tighten up, perhaps scouring YouTube videos of gymnasts and powerlifters isn’t striking a chord? If not, here are a few ideas:
1. Find a good coach. There are great, conscientious, and well-educated personal trainers out there who have the knowledge and passion to help people learn how to move and exercise safely and productively.
Remember, if you’re brand new to training, in-person coaching is probably a better idea for safety, and the best use of your time learning the movements. Treat your search for a coach or trainer just like you would any other major purchase. Take your time, test them out, look at their qualifications and clients and look at the information they share on their blogs and newsletters (if they have a web presence). A good coach can set you on the right path in as little as a couple months, and a shitty one can set you up for injury and frustration for years. Pick wisely.
[JC note: please do not make a decision to buy training in a high-pressure sales environment. If you feel pressured to act now, they’re probably not the best trainers to be working with.]
2. Get online and interact! Trainers like JC and I build a presence online because we are passionate about sharing our knowledge, expertise and experience with you. Blogs, videos, Facebook groups and forums are all online to help you get started.
There’s a wealth of free information out there, and with this guide we have drastically cut down the time spent trying to find the answers. Take advantage and start as soon as you can!
If you’re starting as a beginner, paying attention to good form and a developing a respect for the learning process will pay off tremendously. After all, weight training is a skill, and we’re all a bit shaky when learning anything new. Don’t’ be intimidated, and take it slow.
In part 2, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about weight training – the lifts, how to get started, and even examples of great technique from all around the web.
Make sure you subscribe below to get updated on parts 2 and 3 when they’re released.