Let’s face it…the amount of information on proper exercise is ridiculous. When I did a Google search for “female fitness,” it yielded 176 billion results! And most of this information is completely wrong, steering women toward cardio and ab exercises. So, what is right? Here are five mistakes women make in the gym and how you can exercise right for real results.
1. Too much cardio. I see it every day. Women walk right past the weights and hop on a treadmill or elliptical machine. They exhaust themselves for 30 minutes to an hour, drenched in sweat. What’s wrong with this picture? Several things: #1. Only performing cardio every day will not get you stronger. Yes, you may lose a little weight at first, but you will soon plateau and still be squishy and soft, not lean. #2. You are probably already stressed out and not getting enough sleep, which causes your body to release the hormone Cortisol. When our body produces too much of it, it stores fat on our stomach and hips. Guess what? Cardio induces Cortisol release, which your body probably already has too much to begin with! #3. Cardio does not produce muscle. Endurance exercise, anything more than 3 minutes, only works your Type 1 muscle fibers, which are the tiny ones that don’t get large enough to show a lean body or help you burn fat at rest. They can handle repetition for a long time, but hardly grow. The Type 2 muscle fibers need to be challenged or you not only lose them, but also they are the muscles make you look lean, become stronger and burn fat at rest.
2. Not lifting weights. Some women combine cardio with ab exercises and claim they are strength training! Bzzzzz! Wrong answer again! Strength training involves picking up a dumbbell, barbell, weight plate, kettlebell or your own body and using it to work your muscle. And ab exercises are not going to help you burn fat or get you a flat belly. What does? Lifting weights! Strength training is the best form of exercise to lose body fat, become lean and muscular, as well as improve mood, sleep and sex!
3. Not lifting heavy enough. So you already do strength training? Awesome! Wait, what? You only lift 8lb. dumbbells? Puh-lease. You need more. Lots more. If you can perform 20 squats with a 10 lb. curl bar, you are performing about 50% of what your muscle is capable of doing. That means if your muscles were taking an exam for strength, they just failed. Optimal results for a lean body is to perform at least 75% of your muscle’s capability, so lift heavy and do it often! Try a weight that you can do 12 times, then 10 times and then down to 8 times. Vertical loading on your spine at 75% is the best way to stimulate bone growth and prevent osteoporosis. Push beyond your limits, get out of your comfort zone and make it happen! Of course, do this safely and professional help is always advised.
4. Performing too many spot reducing or single jointed exercises. Too many of us, men and women, are spending time on calf raises, bicep curls, tricep dips and ab crunches. If your goal is fat loss, these exercises aren’t going to get you there. Single-jointed and spot-reducing exercises are not optimal for fat loss and you are wasting your time. Try doing multi-jointed, multi-muscle exercises, like a squat, deadlift, pull up, step up, bent over row, bench press, etc. Now, I’m not saying you can’t ever do bicep curls. I’m saying there’s a time and place for it, and it’s usually for people looking to build that specific muscle for aesthetic reasons. But every time you perform a back exercise, your bicep is working. Every time you work your chest, you are working your tricep. Regarding that belly…everyone has a six-pack under that layer of fat. To show it off, you need to focus on better nutrition, sleep and less stress; not a ton of crunches. And for a better butt? Build that muscle with hip thrusts, deadlifts, squats and lunges.
5. Focusing too much on the scale. Lastly, us ladies love to get hung up on one number: our weight. As if it’s the single measure of success when it comes to fitness. There are so many other factors to consider when judging your success! Body fat percentage is a more accurate and superior form of measurement, as well as inches lost on certain areas of the body, how your clothes fit, how your body feels (firm or soft), and how you have improved in confidence, mood, sleep, stress, energy and overall well being. So, throw out the scale, forget your weight and start getting in tune with how your body looks and feels overall!
So, you may be wondering how to get started. Here’s a quick and simple strength training routine you can try next time you’re at the gym. Check out the video to see how to perform each exercise. When the weight starts feeling easy, increase it and work your way down to 10 reps and eventually 8 reps of every exercise.
Perform 3 sets of each exercise, 12 reps. Rest 30-60 seconds between sets.
1. Step up with bicep curl (make sure to perform on each leg!)
2. Dumbbell chest press
3. Bent over row
4. Hip thruster
5. Push ups (regular and modified shown in the video)
6. Inverted body row
Looking for a more advanced routine or step-by-step guidance? Try working with one of our master trainers! Fill out an inquiry form now.
Written by: Master trainer Leah Hardesty