If there is one thing in the world of strength, conditioning, and fitness that still makes me want to throw a Jean Claude Van Damme Dim Mak punch straight to someones junk is when a woman asks me what she must do to "get toned". Ok that and some idiot doing curls in the power rack.
That's not the part that makes me want to perform the JCVD death touch. It's the part that comes after my answer.
"You must lift heavy weights, do cardio, and cut calories."
And then here it comes...
"Oh lifting heavy weights? I don't want to look like a big weight lifting chic."
Don't tell me you can't lift heavy weights! BYAAAAAAAA!!!!
It's amazing to me, in the age we live in, that women still think they can "tone" and still think that lifting heavy weights will make them look like Conan the barbarian. Ladies, you know men who lift weights. Do they all look like Arnold in his prime? I don't think so. So what makes you think you are going to end up with barnyard shoulders and sleeve ripping biceps?
"Well I saw those bodybuilding women on TV once..."
Yeah me too. And those women are on testosterone and other a host of other things. You can't build that kind of musculature naturally. You do not have the hormonal make up for it. That's the end of that conversation.
"But heavy weights make you bulky"
No, McDonalds fries and milkshakes and pizza and ice cream make you bulky. Weights themselves don't make you bulky. You're asking about "toning" and losing weight because you're already bulky and you weren't lifting heavy weights before. That should give you a clue right there as to what the problem is. The opening below your nose seems to be the issue in that particular case.
Jessica Biel lifts heavy weights. So should you!
The truth is, there really isn't much difference in the way a woman or a man should train regarding gaining muscle. And gaining muscle is what makes you look "TONED". And the single best way to build muscle is to (you know it's coming) LIFT HEAVY WEIGHTS.
Now sure you can lose weight through cardio and diet but you won't change the shape of your body. If you're fat and have a flat butt and lose weight, you're going to be smaller....with a flat butt. If you are pear shaped or apple shaped or doughnut or whatever shaped, without building muscle your body shape does not change. You just become a smaller version of your bigger self. In other words, if you want your body to be sleek, muscular, and sexy then muscle is required.
"But my personal trainer tells me not to lift heavy because it will hurt my..."
Put your personal trainers head under these bricks!!!! BYAAAAAAA!!!!
While it's true that you can't just walk into the gym and throw hundreds of pounds on the bar if you are a newbie chic trying to figure this heavy weights thing out, you can lift heavy safely. You need a general warm up (10 minutes on the bike or treadmill is fine), then you need to pyramid up in weights until things become "difficult" to reach your target number of reps. For a novice, that's the best way I can explain it. If you are supposed to do 5 sets of 10 reps on curls, the last set should be difficult to reach that 10th rep IN GOOD FORM. This is a very basic way to explain what "heavy" is. Heavy is relative to everyone. What is heavy for you might not be heavy for someone else, and vice versa.
For beginners I find that bodyweight movements like lunges, bodyweight squats, push ups, crunches, and chin ups are more than enough to stimulate muscle growth.
"Wait, I thought you said lifting weights was the best way?"
It absolutely is. However most people don't realize they can't move their own bodyweight through space very well. So I usually start people there. Once someone can perform these movements with ease, we increase resistance, and rotate in free weight exercises. For now, let's use gravity and your bodyweight as the "heavy weights".
You can do all of these movements in the comfort of your own home. What I suggest to people however, is to join a gym or to go outside to do these. The reason is because of environment. Your home is generally a place of comfort for you, so exerting yourself inside of it may seem awkward (unless you have a workout room) or the level of effort may be low. We grew up outside playing on play grounds, playing sports, and generally doing some sort of physical activity. I believe there is a better connection in terms of physical activity, and motivation for level of effort. Obviously in a gym you know what you are there for. Unless you're at 24 hour fitness, then you're probably there for a cappuccino and some small talk.
"So what should I be doing? And how many days a week?"
Three times a week is plenty. If you want to do more, you can. However I've trained on every split imaginable including 3 times a day, 6 days a week, and I can tell you that forty-five to sixty minutes three times a week will get the job done just fine.
So what is a good cookie-cutter program for you to start on to build muscle?
Workout A - Legs and Abs
Walking Lunges - 30 total reps.
Count the number of sets that it takes you to get to 30. When you get to where you can do it in 3 sets or less, increase the number of reps to 50. When you can get to 50 in 5 sets or less, grab a dumbbell in each hand (it cannot be pink!) and go back to 30 reps. Repeat the same procedure.
Her dumbbells are NOT pink!
Bodyweight Squats - 20 total reps.
Stick your butt out first like you are going to sit down, and descend slowly. Put your hands out in front of you to keep your balance. When 20 reps are easy, go to 30 reps. When 30 reps are easy go to 40. When you can do 50 reps easily, it's time to start putting a bar on your back with some weight on it.
This is what you need to be doing after bodyweight squats aren't doing it for you anymore
Plank - as long as you can
Watch a second hand clock and hold as long as you can.
Finish up with 30 minutes of cardio. That can be walking at a crisp (I SAID CRISP!) pace, the elliptical, or stair-master.
Workout B - Upperbody pull and push with hamstrings
Lat Pulldowns or Pull-ups/Chin-ups - 5 sets of 10 reps
I don't really care what grip you use here. You can even switch it up and play around a little bit. You can go underhand (curl grip) or wide grip overhand. Just find something that feels natural for your body type. Start with a light weight then add weight each set. The last set should be difficult.
If you are at home or don't have access to a gym, buy a chin up bar and do chin ups. If you can only do one that's fine. Do one at a time until you reach 3 total. The next week do 4 total, and the next week 5 total. When you can do 10 or more try doing 2 at a time. If you can chin like there is no tomorrow then you are a beast and should find someone to fight on the street immediately.
This is a woman after my own heart!
Incline dumbbell press or push ups - 4 sets of 12 reps
Start light and increase the weight as usual until the last set is difficult. If you are training at home or outside in the mud (this makes for better training anyway!) do 4 sets of push-ups for as many reps as you can. Make sure to keep your elbows IN close to your body.
This lady knows how to do a proper push up. Notice her elbows in tight. AND she's outside! AWESOME!
Hyperextensions - 3 sets of 10 reps
Lower yourself slowly and KEEP YOUR BACK STRAIGHT. Do not round your back as you lower yourself. An easy way to remember this is to think about sticking your chest out (you know you've done this when a guy you are trying to impress is around, don't think we don't know).
If you don't have access to a hyperextension machine, do glute kickbacks. You can use a band like in the pic below if you have one. If not, bodyweight at first is fine.
Just like before, finish up with 30 minutes of cardio. That can be walking at a crisp (I SAID CRISP AGAIN!) pace, the elliptical, or stair-master.
These two workouts should be rotated. So week 1 you would do workout A twice, and workout B once.
Monday - workout A
Wednesday - workout B
Friday - workout A
The following week you would perform workout B twice, and workout A once.
Monday - workout B
Wednesday - workout A
Friday - workout B
Your Ultimate Enemy - Excuses
I don't really want to show more JCVD death touch pics but I will if I have to. We're all busy adults with kids and careers and stuff. It's a BS cop out. People sit on the couch every single night for hours in America and grind their butt groove into it. Yet they can't find the time to exercise for 45-60 minutes, three times a week? Get out of here with that crap. People find time to do the things they want to do. If you really want something in life, you go after it. Ask yourself what is the last thing you wanted more than anything? What was your level of effort to get it? Probably fairly high. Why wouldn't you approach taking care of your body the same way?
"Because it's hard"
"Because it makes me sore"
"Because I don't have time"
"Because I don't want to"
"Because my spouse won't do it with me"
I liken getting into shape like quitting smoking, when you are ready you'll do it. No one can talk you into it, no one can really make you do it. And even if they could, you'd hate every minute of it. You have to decide up front if you want it bad enough, then go after it with a fury that is unmatched by anything else you have ever done in your life. You have to set aside that time during the week for that, and that alone.
Make goals, and go after them!
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here is your ounce, freely given. Now it's up to you to decide if you want to extend the effort to reach out and take it. A program is only as good as the persons buy-in on it. If you commit yourself to doing the above program three times a week you will get stronger, you will build muscle, you will look more fit and feel better. Guaranteed or you your money...wait it's free. Even better. Now do something with it!
I will touch on basic diet do's and do-nots in a follow up article and provide some sample diets.