Many women want to avoid lifting weights because they’re generally afraid of them or don’t understand how they are going to benefit from them.
Simply: If you don’t lift weights you cannot sculpt your body in to the shape that you want it to be. This is because lifting weights promotes a type of muscle growth known as “myogenic” muscle growth. This type of muscle growth increases the mass and density of a muscle which gives it its shape, which it will retain even after you’ve left the gym.
Cardio has its place in training - the benefits are that it burns calories, which helps to create a calorie deficit, which stops the conversion of calories in to bodyfat.
It also promotes excellent cardio-vascular fitness, which keeps your heart healthy.
What cardio cannot do however is build muscle or tone you. This is because cardio training is known as “neurogenic” training. This means that it does not promote muscular density; it does not promote thickness or fullness of muscle, so when you leave the gym you will not retain the fullness or curves created by the existence of fuller, thicker muscles.
This type of constant neurogenic training can be particularly negative for women who have lost a lot of weight as it can leave them looking “skinny fat” where they have lost weight but their skin and muscle tone looks flat and loose.
The most successful bodybuilders in the world will tell you that they haven’t become number one by necessarily lifting the biggest weights – they have got there by being able to contract their muscles harder than anyone else in their field and by increasing the duration of time that their muscles are under load / tension.
What this means is that simply moving a big weight from point A to point B is not necessarily going to equate to muscle tone, development and creating the shape that you want. Often a certain amount of momentum can move a weight, along with offsetting using your own bodyweight to move it. The trick is to think about the muscle you are using to move that weight and focus on squeezing it all the way through the movement, holding the tension at the contraction point, and then releasing again under control.
The more time you spend contracting, stressing and working the muscle the more micro-tears you are going to create in the muscle and it is these tiny tears that stimulate repair, new tissue production and ultimately: growth.
Stop right there! I don’t want to see anyone saying, “I’m going to do fifty reps on a light weight as I don’t want to bulk”. From reading the above you should now know that you need to contract and stress the muscle. Aim for repetitions of either 6 or 12 and the movement should be difficult. If you are finding it too easy increase your weight or if you are getting too big for your class or for the look you want to achieve increase your reps or add a half-rep after each full rep to make it harder for yourself.
Sets should range from anything from 3 sets to 9 or 10.
Personally I usually favor around 6 or 7 sets and 12 reps – that’s just my personal choice.
Compound movements are big, heavy power movements like squats, deadlifts and clean and press. These sorts of big movements stimulate testosterone production due to the sheer volume of muscles involved in the movement and this helps to build stronger, harder muscles. But don’t worry girls; it’s still a tiny amount, which your body is able to produce naturally.
These compound movements also tend to work the entire body and fire up your core as well. Ideally compounds should only be used by bikini competitors once a week to 10 days as they can result in a thicker waist due to the core engagement. One way of getting around this is to wear a lifting belt to disengage your core area.
Isolation is the practice of isolating specific muscle groups. It allows you to focus very specifically on certain muscles, groups of muscles or one area of one muscle. You can isolate an area using both free weights and machines, and it’s very important to keep mixing things up to ensure that you hit a muscle area on its full circumference to avoid either over developed or flat areas.
Do not underestimate the importance of fuelling your body correctly when it comes to building muscle. If you are not using appropriate supplementation you will take a lot longer to repair and it will take longer for your body to build new muscle tissue.
Fuelling with a good amino-acid blend is key both during and post-workout. This is because Amino acids are the compounds that make up proteins. In order for our bodies to utilize the proteins we are consuming then our bodies must contain all 8 of the essential amino-acids required for protein synthesis (essentially the creation of tissue).
A couple of excellent products that I actually use myself here are Gaspari Nutrition Aminolast as an intra-workout shake and Gaspari AminoMax 8000 as a pre and post workout supplement.
A lot of women are also scared to experiment with supplements, as it’s still an area that is dominated predominantly by men and there is a lack of good information out there about what products women can use.
For example creatine supplements are still woefully underused by women as they either believe (totally incorrectly!) that it is a steroid or that it includes male hormone. It is neither of these things. Creatine helps muscular growth, endurance and strength, thus allowing an increase in size as the muscle can go harder and be worked for longer.
If you want tight tone with visible muscle striation and shape, diet is also key. Cutting out processed foods and starting to eat and prepare your food from fresh changes your body and everything becomes firmer and harder.
Diet is also the key factor behind weight loss and reducing body fat, and body fat reduction is the key in tight, toned, visible muscle.
Proteins such as turkey, chicken, white fish, salmon, mackerel and lean beef are all excellent staple proteins for your diet and should be paired with clean carbohydrates, essential fats and large amounts of green and leafy vegetables.
Weight training can lead to a shortening of the muscle as the constant contraction and thickening can also cause shortening and a “peaked” effect. As a woman you do not want to look too thick or lumpy, so it is key to ensure that you spend a portion of your time each week stretching and elongating the muscles.
This helps to lengthen and stretch them, giving a smoother contoured appearance. This also helps to reduce waist thickness, which can happen from compound movements, and also helps to reduce lactic acid build up so improves recovery and stops you being so sore afterwards!
Written by Georgia Simmons UKBFF
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