Strong(her) University: The Female Psyche

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Part I:  The Female Psyche

This series of articles is devoted to the ladies. First, we are going to explore the top reasons why women aren’t strength training and why it’s beneficial. Next, I will help you put together a simple and healthy eating plan. Last, we will get you started on a simple strength program and show you how to pull it all together so you can change your body and have the self confidence you deserve. I’m not going to delve into deep scientific studies, or controversial information. I’m going to keep this as simple as possible, in an easy to read format, so that you spend less time trying to decipher what I’m saying and spend more time making changes.

The gym I trained at had hundreds of pieces of cardio equipment. Treadmills, ellipticals, and every other cardio gizmo as far as the eye could see. Every day the scene was almost identical: hundreds of women mindlessly plodding along on some machine while they stare at the mini television screen in front of them. After about an hour, they’d proclaim to their friend next to them that they got a good workout, “Look how much I sweat!”, and they would head home. Once they got home, they’d undoubtedly eat an apple and a piece of wheat toast, give themselves a pat on the back for “being so good”, and go to bed.

The next day they would rinse and repeat. This would likely go on for a few weeks or even a few months until they come to the abrupt realization that they are no closer to their physique goals than they were when they started. What do you think they will do now?

You guessed it – they will slash their calories (that were probably too low to begin with) and do even more cardio.

Sound familiar?

This is the same old story with countless women everywhere. They are doing too much cardio, not eating right, and making very little progress towards their goals, which is frustrating and confusing to them. This is typically when they come to me and ask for advice.

“I don’t understand why I’m not losing weight. I’m doing an hour of cardio, 6 days a week and I only eat fruit and salad. Why aren’t I making any progress?”

My first question is always to ask how often they are strength training, and the answer is always the same. “Oh, I don’t lift. I don’t want to get big.” Before I can launch into all of my reasons on why that is nearly impossible, they go on to tell me about their good friend So and So. “But my good friend So and So is really lean and all she does is cardio!”

I have something to tell you about your friend So and So. She is the exception to the rule. Every rule has an exception, and chances are good that you aren’t it.

Why won’t cardio alone do the job to get you lean? It all boils down to adaptation. Rather than get into a bunch of scientific mumbo jumbo, I’m going to put it into an easy analogy that anybody can understand.

I want you to imagine your body as a car. When you are cranking out a ton of cardio, you are making your body very fuel efficient. Sounds great, right? Sure. Until you realize that “fuel” is actually body fat. This means that you can do a ton of cardio while using very little fuel (body fat) because your body adapts to it so quickly. Pretty soon you can do hour upon hour of cardio and still not get the results you want. I have countless friends that have trained for marathons or triathalons and haven’t lost any body fat at all, and that is because their body has become a fuel efficient cardio machine. That is great if your goal is to participate in an endurance event, but if you are looking to get lean it’s not going to happen. We all know women that spend countless hours doing cardio or participating in group fitness classes and they look exactly the same as they did a year ago when they started. It’s perfect if you are going to have fun and get your heart pumping, but if your goal is to make changes to your physical appearance, you are wasting your time.

How can I be so sure that serious weight training, limited cardio, and proper nutrition are crucial for a nice physique? I speak from experience because I am a former Cardio Queen. I was a group fitness instructor for 5 years, and while I loved teaching and taking classes, it didn’t do anything to get me closer to my physique goals. I was doing 3 or 4 hours of cardio per day and my weight wouldn’t budge. I didn’t have any visible muscle definition, I couldn’t do a single push-up or pull-up, and I was exhausted and hungry all of the time. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was stuck in this rut for years! I kept thinking if I just worked a little harder, or if I just ate a little less…

It was my brother that opened my eyes when he said, “Jen, look around you in those fitness classes. None of those girls have the body you’re trying to get. All of the women with lean, muscular bodies are in the weight room!”

It wasn’t until I finally stopped the cardio, started strength training, and dialed my diet in that I saw the serious changes that I had always wanted.

We will get into what constitutes proper nutrition in the next article, but for now, let’s explore the common reasons why women aren’t strength training.

When it comes to women and their lack of strength training, the most common concern seems to be that they don’t want to get big and buff. I completely understand this concern because I don’t want to get big either. I’m as girlie as they come and I don’t plan on that changing. Now I’m going to tell you a secret:  it is almost impossible for you to get big and burly. As a woman, your body does not make enough of the hormone required to get big. Period. The equation for a woman to significantly increase her muscle size is to consume thousands and thousands of calories, plus extreme and unnatural supplementation, plus lift a ton of weight with a lot of volume. I’m not asking you to do any one of these things, much less all three!

I want you to pause here for a moment and think about the men you know. We all know a handful of guys that are just dying to be huge. They are scarfing massive amounts of food and lifting as heavy as possible, as often as possible. Are they huge? Probably not, and men even house the magical component to huge-ness: testosterone!

Ladies, I know what you are saying right now and it probably sounds something like this, “No really. I DO get big. My quads are humongous!”

Now for some bad news: That is not humongous muscle. I’ll bet my favorite skinny jeans that you have a thick layer of fat over your muscle, which causes your thighs to look big. I always thought my quads were huge too, until I dieted down for my first figure competition and I was shocked at how small they actually were! They were just covered in a thick layer of fat.

Out of the thousands and thousands of women I’ve met throughout my life, I’ve only encountered three who are very lean and have slightly overdeveloped quads. What are the chances that you are like these three ladies? Slim to none.

Another reason that women don’t lift weights is because they don’t know what to do, how to do it, or how often. That is understandable. There are a million different program options, all with different rep and set schemes, and it can be overwhelming. I am going to help you build a beginner program and show you the basics of the weight room. It will be simple and practical. Nothing says that if you start lifting you have to compete in a Power Lifting meet. Do it for the numerous other benefits, like a more desirable body composition, being able to pick up your child with ease, healthy bones, and the beautiful shape it gives your body.

I hope you will stay tuned for the next couple of articles in this series. We will explore your options for a healthy eating plan, and I will help you map out a simple strength program so you can walk into the weight room with confidence!

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About the Author

Jen Comas is a nationally qualified figure competitor in Salt Lake City, UT and is attempting to crossover into raw powerlifting. Michael Keck is based out of Somerset, KY and is a world record holding raw powerlifter. View Jen’s Training Log HERE