There’s an abundance of information about what women should be doing at the gym and how they should be working out, in order to achieve the so called ‘perfect body’. Sadly, what I witness in the gyms it frequent tells me that most women are torn between modes of exercise they really don’t know enough about. From weight lifting mistakes to practicing yoga beyond a their capabilities, to participating in aerobics activities that may give them a shortcut to weight loss, but make weight management in the long run problematic – I’ve seen it all. Now, it’s not that men don’t make mistakes (they do), but in my experience more women are making the same mistakes. So, let’s talk about them and try to clarify some fairly common misconceptions!
First, let’s agree that everyone’s idea of the aforementioned ‘perfect body’ is different. Let’s also agree that when it comes to functionality and sustainable weight management, muscles and a healthy amount of body fat are actually beneficial. So why do so many women shy away from curves and muscle development? Frequently, women engage in exercise routines that may indeed result in weight loss, but don’t necesarily produce the overall desired physical results.
Here are six mistakes that you should avoid, in the pursuit to your ideal body.
1. Doing the Same Thing, Every Day
Monogamy has quite a few advantages, but when it comes to your exercise routine, mixing things up and change are good! Of course, timing is everything, but so many women do the same thing every day for months. Maybe it’s because they don’t know how to progress onto the next challenge, or that they believe that doing something (albeit the same thing) is better than doing nothing. Either way, you aren’t doing your body much good. The body is an adaptive machine and it does its best to use its resources (energy) efficiently. You should add variations, progressions, and new areas of focus to your workout so you continue to challenge you muscles and neural pathways. Spice it up every 6 weeks or try different activities each month. If you’re lifting, sticking to basic lifts is great, but alter the tempo, reps, sets, and volume so you maximize results. You can read about how to do all this right here on Fitness Republic.
2. Being Afraid of becoming Butch
This seems to be one of those concepts that need constant reinforcement. Muscle cannot grow just because you lift heavy weight. You need to fuel your body with proteins and carbohydrates in order to develop muscle tissue. Without the input, the muscular output will not yield in a directly proportional increase in size. Unless you are that that one women (out of a ~million) who has higher than normal testosterone levels, your muscle definition will not result from only lifting a substantial amount of weight. In fact, heavy lifting will help you develop strength and enhance athletic performance before you make (seemingly unaesthetic) gains in mass. So, go ahead and lift something heavier than your smartphone without the fear of looking like Serena Williams (who I think looks fantastic)!
3. Focusing on Abs … ALL THE TIME
Constant obsession over abs (ab-session), is something that I see almost every day. Most people still believe that they can get rid of muffin-tops and reduce the size of their waists by excessively working out their abdominals. In order to rectify this, let’s establish some facts: first, we all have a six pack under the layer of fat that surrounds the abdominal complex, and second, we cannot spot reduce fat.
Ergo, doing 100 crunches a day will not result in chiseled, washboard abs. However, strong and trained abdominal muscles give shape to the layer of fat on top and create the image of a ‘tight stomach’. So, instead of spending 60% of your workout on your abs, every day, doing a few taxing sets of exercises that incorporate resistance and stimulating angles will suffice. Another important point to note is that your abdominals are muscles just like every other muscle in your body and will respond to heavy resistance and dietary intake like every other muscle too. By growing! So if you’re trying to trim your waist, stick to weights that allow for about 15-20 reps.
4. Incorrectly Using Imbalance and Instability
I’m not averse to using the BOSU or the Swiss ball for certain exercises; they’re quite functional really. BUT, I’ve seen too many ladies use them as weight training accessories in a manner that just isn’t right! In trying to understand the logic behind this, I believe that many people think that if they lift weight on an unstable surface their muscles will have to work extra hard and this will enhance the workout. The thing is, balancing isn’t the kind of exertion that results in muscle building. Also, since balance is challenged, the load (weight) you take on will also be compromised and you will not be able to lift as heavy as you potentially can.
5. Doing Too Much Cardio
So many women are under the impression that the more cardio they engage in, the better they’ll look. However, when the body experiences caloric deficits for long periods of time, it generally sacrifices muscle instead of fat as a fuel source. This is essentially what two hours on a treadmill or stationary bike results in. If looking good implies that the body has some inclination of muscle tone, then excessive (often steady-state) cardio isn’t what you should be doing. Quite often, excessive cardio is justified by the notion that it’s a ‘fat burner’, but there are far more effective ways to exacerbate fat loss. Brisk walks, Tabata-style exercises, and short bouts of high-intensity exercise are not only more proficient at targeting fat, but also build muscle; win-win!
6. Fuel Fail
Women tend to be afraid of food, especially when they’re training to look ‘good’. If you’re training hard, you’ve got to let go of your fear of calories! A few things you should know are that immediately after a workout that involves any kind of resistance exercise, it’s very difficult (almost impossible) to gain fat. However, during this timeframe (part of the peri-workout period), muscle development is far more likely to occur if you feed your body with the right nutrients (mainly protein). Also, during this period, muscle is particularly sensitive to insulin. Many ladies hit the juice bar after a workout and indulge in smoothies and juices that are actually not as beneficial as they’d think. Fruits and vegetables contain complex carbs that take time to digest, as well as simple sugars. When we blend up the entire fruit, we make it easier to digest those previously difficult to digest carbohydrates. With the surge of sugar in the bloodstream, insulin is secreted to counteract the effects. While some sugar is provided to muscle tissue, the rest is stored as body fat, or in the liver. However, insulin levels drop quickly and you feel hungry again.
Should you indulge in that hunger you end up consuming more food than you may normally have. Also, consider that you probably wouldn’t be able to eat the same quantity of fruit or vegetables that go into one juice/smoothie. You’re better off consuming the whole piece of fruit, followed by a little bit of protein (nuts are a great option). Looking good means eating smart, not necessarily eating less.