Wrong! So very, very wrong. How many of you spend your time in the gym doing 12-15 reps of light weights to tone up? I imagine quite a few of you. It’s understandable, as that is what most people, even uneducated fitness instructors will preach. I once did some sessions with a Personal Trainer in my gym and the first time we spoke he said to me ‘Yeah you’re the girl that lifts really heavy weights. They’re too heavy for you, you need to do lighter weights and more reps if you are looking to tone up’. Um, What? It is evidently clear to me that this trainer, whilst he had a few helpful pointers, MUST have got his PT certification out of a cereal box. Let it also be noted, that I humoured him for a month, did as he told me to do and what happened? I didn’t ‘tone up’ as I was told I would, I just lost muscle, because that is what happens when you don’t lift a weight heavy enough to make a difference to your body.
So I’m here to preach a completely different, much more effective set of rules, that will have you spending less time in the gym, yet gaining you results that you never thought possible.
I first joined a gym in 2000, learning the ropes from an ex, who was thankfully a great personal trainer. Teaching me correct technique and pushing me to lift a decent amount of weight, I quickly became a fan of weight training.
I have lost count of the number of times people have exclaimed ‘But you’ll get too bulky!’ when they discover my preference for weight training over cardio. It’s the most boring comment anyone could ever tell me, because it is so far from the truth. Lifting weights will not make a female bulky, eating that carrot cake when you’re having a mid afternoon energy dip is what will make you bulky!
Female bodies do not have enough testosterone to gain large muscle mass in the way a male body is capable of. Those pictures you see of Hulk-like women in magazines and online, are of those that are popping steroids.
So here’s the deal, if you want to be really skinny and have zero shape to your body, then get on that treadmill kid and you run like Forrest. If you want to be lean and just ‘tone up’ then be my guest if you think some long cardio sessions and some light weights are the answer to your perfect physique, in fact, why don’t you get on the treadmill next to Ms Skinny No Shape and start that hour long run of yours? Oh and another thing, DO NOT even think about eating carbs tonight, salad all the way for you lot.
Whilst Ms Skinny and Ms I Just Want to Tone Up are pounding that treadmill conveyor belt, those that would prefer to spend 30-45 minutes in the gym, burn more calories than that hour long run, create more shape in their body doing LESS reps than the average person AND eat carbs. Well you intelligent lot, stick with me….
Most often referred to as 5×5 Stronglifts, this a weight training regime that has you lifting 5 reps of a heavy weight, for 5 full sets. The benefit, whilst the reps are much lower than you are likely used to, is that overall due to the heavier weight you end up doing a much tougher workout, burning many more calories.
The recommended exercises for 5×5 are mostly compound exercises. What’s a compound exercise? This is a multi-joint movement that works several muscle groups at once. An example of a compound exercise would be a squat. Whilst a squat would essentially be used to build and strengthen the leg muscles, this movement also engages your glutes, back and core as well as a bunch of small stabilizing muscles. What does this all mean? It means that although it’s a strength training exercise for your legs, it works many parts of the body at the same time. Compound exercises therefore give you a full body workout that increases your muscle mass and strength much quicker than isolation exercises.
Isolation exercise are those which move a single joint through its range of motion. An example of an isolation exercise is a bicep curl. This movement engages a single, isolated muscle. Whilst these types of exercises have their place in the gym and are still very beneficial, they take the same amount of time to perform as a compound movement would, yet only work a singular muscle group compared to that of a compound exercise that gives you a full body workout.
So if you were to concentrate on compound exercises, you’ve already cut your potential training time down. Imagine if you were to increase the weight you lifted so that you were performing just 5 squats and not 12. That’s more time cut off the workout programme.
In 30-45 minutes I can arrive after the two skinny girls at my gym who like to do synchronised workouts together, go through my gym paces, giving my body an exhausting workout, stretch out my muscles, get back into my trackie bottoms and jacket, and leave whilst those two girls are still there working on their synchronised swill ball workout. Put us in a line up, and what’s the difference between the 3 of us? The other two, they’re much skinnier, but hey they’re leggy Europeans, I didn’t stand a chance. 1 out of 3 of us has bicep and shoulder shape, and let me give you a hint who that is: It’s not the two other girls.
So synchronised workout girls have given up maybe an hour or two of their Saturday, to potentially gain a little benefit. They seemed to be working hard, I will give them that. Miss 5×5 over here, yes that would be me, waltzes in, throws some heavy weights around (with perfect form I might add!) and leaves the gym 35 minutes later. I think it’s clear who’s maximising their workout AND their weekend!
If this sounds like something you’re interested in, then I recommend reading Nia Shanks website. Nia explains strength training really well and gives you information on all the added benefits to this type of workout.
I also recommend you watch YouTube videos on compound exercises, and practice them with low weights until you have perfect form. There is no point doing an exercise unless you do it correctly. The only thing you will gain from imperfect form, is an injury.
On that note, it’s my cheat day today, so I’m off to have some chocolate, because 5×5 girls don’t just eat salad. We eat carbs too. Oh and Miss Skinny and Miss I Just Want to Tone Up, they’re still on that treadmill working out whether rocket or iceburg lettuce has less calories. Yawn.