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Train Like a Woman!
By Kristin Reisinger, MS RD
I recently attended a bridal shower for a girlfriend I haven't seen in eight years. There were other friends there that I hadn't seen in even longer. "OH MY GOD, what happened to you?!" and "Where did you go!?" were some of the responses I got. Some of them had put on a few pounds, some even more than that. I, on the other hand, had shed as much weight as it takes to make a small child and was looking fit as a fiddle. "I knew you worked out a lot, I could tell by your arms," was another remark I had gotten. Nearly thirty pounds had come and gone since I had seen these people and as they tried to force feed me cookies and other sweets, I was simultaneously barraged with questions about how I lost the weight.
Pushing thirty is a rough time for us women. Our metabolisms start to slow down but not our love of yummy foods and bar hopping. Yikes! Not a good combination. We get trapped into sedentary jobs and lifestyles and exercise begins to seem like a thing of the past. Was gym class in the 11th grade the last time you ran a quarter mile??? I get asked CONSTANTLY what I eat, how often I work out, do I lift weights and how do I find the time. Ladies, there is no simple solution. There is no magic bullet. I work HARD to stay like this and I sacrifice a lot. But it is do-able if you're willing to follow some, I mean ALL, of the ten tips I provide for you in this simple beginner's guide for fitness and body reshaping. This is where I began.
1) Take charge of your caloric intake!
This is the hardest of all of the guidelines I am going to present to you. When I got started I didn't really even know what this meant. I used a basic formula to create a caloric deficit that worked like a charm. This is where you should start, too.
Bodyweight * 10 = total calories per day Ex: 125lbs *10 = 1250 kcal/day Then I broke this caloric allotment down into a 40/40/20 split. This means that I broke the 1250 calories down into 40% from carbohydrates (CHO), 40% from protein sources (PRO) and the rest from fat (FAT).
40% CHO/1250 = 500 calories
40%PRO/1250 = 500 calories
20%FAT/1250 = 250 calories
And since there are 4 calories per gram of CHO and PRO and 9 calories per gram of FAT:
CHO 500 kcal/4 = 125g
PRO 500 kcal/4 = 125g
FAT 250 kcal/9 = 28g (or <28g)
I realize that this all seems simple when reading but how do you really know how many calories you're consuming and how many grams of each are in the foods you're eating? Initially this can be difficult. I chose to consume foods that provided nutrition facts labels that enabled me to calculate how much of each was in what. You'll be amazed at how easy this becomes to eyeball after awhile and how much you learn about nutrition in doing so.
2) Exercise portion control!
Another tactic I used, and still use, is measuring a portion to be equivalent to the size of your fist. I believe portion control to be the biggest obstacle to overcome and the biggest threat to a sound nutrition and exercise program. How many of us really eat just one serving of pasta?! C'mon...
3) Break it up into 5 small meals throughout the day.
Therefore, if our daily caloric intake is 1250kcal with 125g CHO, 125g PRO and minimal FAT, by breaking up this daily allotment into 5 meals spaced out throughout the day, each meal should consist of no more than 250kcal with approximately 25g CHO and 25g PRO. By doing so you'll be providing your body with consistent energy throughout the day without overloading your system. This will keep your metabolism burning smoothly without allowing your body to go into starvation mode.
4) Drink tons of water.
Eliminate all sugary drinks from your diet. They are useless! Sugars, especially refined, simple sugars elevate insulin levels profusely (a storage hormone) and turn into fat when not used as energy. This is what we are trying to prevent. I believe sugar to be just as much an enemy in the war against body fat as fat itself. Try to keep your intake down. Use sugar substitutes in coffee and tea instead such as Splenda‚ and Equal‚, drink diet drinks (keep it to a minimum -- they rot your GI tract) or just drink water. It cleans out the system of toxins and hydrates cells which is especially important. Besides, it's good for the skin, too!
5) Concentrate on nutrient dense foods as opposed to empty calories.
Okay, so we're restricting calories, right? Therefore it's important for us to get the most out of what we do eat. So would it make more sense to consume a 150kcal sugary soda chock full of nothing except simple, refined sugar just waiting to turn into fat or 150kcal can of tuna fish containing ample protein ready to provide the body with the appropriate materials for building muscle tissue? Hhhmmm… My belief is that the cleaner and the closer your foods are to their natural state, the better they are for you. Therefore, I recommend foods such as brown rice, plain oatmeal, potatoes (not mashed!), tuna fish, chicken breast, turkey, steamed vegetables and fruit. I realize this sounds boring but you'll be surprised how much better you feel eating this type of diet and how much more sustained energy you'll have throughout the day.
6) Do cardio. Lots of it.
Doing cardio is essential but need not be as tedious as you think. First of all, you do NOT need to perform hours of cardio each and every day like a lot of the girls I see at my gym. 30-40 minutes, 4-5 days/week will do the trick. It can also be maximized by performing it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach or later in the evening after not eating for a few hours. 30 minutes of moderate cardio burns approximately 300 kcal in the average sized female, therefore, doing this 5 days/week will increase your caloric deficit by an additional 1500kcal (a little shy of 1/2 lb.). This will also boost your metabolism post-exercise (increasing calorie expenditure significantly) and turn your body into a fat burning machine!
7) Lift weights!
I find this to be the hardest part for most women which baffles me. This is the easiest and most fun part of my program, in my opinion. You will NOT bulk up. You will NOT get big. By lifting weights, by really lifting weights, you will sculpt the muscles underneath the fat, build new muscle tissue (which is what burns fat -- therefore, the more muscle you have, the faster and more efficiently you will burn the fat) and develop the body you really want. Here is an easy to follow beginner's program that I used when I first got started. Consult a trainer in your gym if you are unsure of proper form of any of the following exercises.
DAY 1: Legs
Leg extensions - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Leg Curls - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Lunges - 3 sets of as many reps a side as you can do! If you can do up to 20 reps then increase the resistance by holding dumbbells -- start with 10 lbs. in each hand and progressively add more as this exercise becomes easier. Decline Leg Press - 3 sets of 20 reps (Try different foot positions of this exercise to target different areas -- toes pointed in, pointed out and straight forward).
Glute Kickbacks - 3 sets of 15-20 reps -- really concentrate on getting a good squeeze at peak contraction by maintaining a moderate speed through the whole range of motion and holding at the top for a second or two.
DAY 2: Back, Biceps and Abdominals
Seated Row - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Lat Pulldown - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Back Extensions - 3 sets of as many as you can do (extend through the whole range of motion and squeeze the glutes and hams together to kill two birds with one stone!)
Seated Bicep Curls - 3 set of 12-15 reps
Hammer Curls - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Crunches - 3 sets of 25 reps
Decline Reverse Crunches – 3 sets of 25
DAY 3: Shoulders, Chest and Triceps
Push Ups - 3 sets of as many as you can do -- and not the knee on the floor style!
Shoulder Press (Dumbbells or machine) - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Lateral Raises - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Front Raises - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Single Bench Dips - 3 sets of as many as you can do!
Rope Pulldowns (or with a straight bar) - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
8) Challenge yourself!
There's nothing I hate more than seeing women in the gym using weights that are a fraction of what I know they can really lift. Give me a break! You're doing yourself a great disservice. Challenge yourself! If you don't, you're never going to see the kind of results you want and you're wasting your time. You might as well go home. My general rule of thumb is when you feel like you can't do any more reps, do two more.
9) Stop making excuses and find the time.
Everyone loves to make excuses about why they can't do this and why they can't do that. Give me a break. If someone asks me for help and in the same sentence tells me they don't have the time, I stop right there. I value my time in the gym – it's the one time during the day that I give solely to me. It's MY one or two hours. It is as much of a priority to me as going to work or to school. There are so many other benefits from getting into shape that depriving yourself of this would be a shame so stop making excuses.
10) Mind over matter.
And finally, this is where I truly get on my soapbox. There are so many obstacles to overcome when trying to adhere to this program. I'm not going to lie. It isn't easy. You must be strong and stay focused on your goals. As my mother always likes to say, "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels." Well, I don't know about that, but surely, there is a powerful message in this. Sticking to your goals and following through has its merits and the benefits far outweigh all the little cheats along the way. I know when I succeeded with my program and I was standing out on stage at my first fitness show, there was no better feeling in the world. When I see friends I haven't seen in eight years and they're amazed at how different I look, I feel good. And when I can help others attain the same goals I did, feel as good as I do and make the changes for the better in their lives that I have, I know I did the right thing.
Kristin Reisinger, MS RD, is a New York City-based nutritional consultant, fitness trainer, freelance health + fitness writer and musician. She holds a Master's Degree in Exercise Physiology + Nutrition from Columbia University and is a Registered Dietitian through American Dietetic Association. She is also a competitive figure athlete, former Galaxy competitor, avid snowboarder, rock climber and surfer. She has been competing for over five years and will continue to do so until she is 80. She can be contacted at email@example.com.