How often do you find me saying something related to “Girls should lift.” Exactly, probably about every other post. In my last post I commented that any exercise is better than no exercise, and that’s definitely true. However, it’s pretty obvious that some methods are better than others. While I’d love to inspire you to perspire, I want you what is best for you. If you’ve guessed that I’m about to say “Girls should lift”, then you’re completely correct!
However, I think I need to go back and define what I mean by ‘lift’. I don’t mean use a machine circuit or going to a group fitness class that calls for the use of little color coded dumbbells. For some reason, these classes like to use the same weight for every exercise. Oh, so you’re telling me that you just went from tricep kickbacks to rows with the same weight? I’m telling you that you’re wasting your time. Is that harsh? Of course it is. Seriously though, if you’re going to workout, do it the right way.
Some ladies get 50% on this; they’ll choose better exercises, but then not load them appropriately. While it’s slightly better, it still bugs me, because the common reason for lifting light weights is “But I’m a girl!” Yes, you’re a girl, and you’re stronger than you think. For example, my friend Anna walked up to me last week and said, “I want to pull 195lb today.” She then did it, easy as cake. We highfived, then she started to squat. She is so much win.
While Anna has a background of exercising, many people who are new to the gym are intimidated by heavy weights and barbells, and I understand that to a certain extent. It certainly is easier to hop on an elliptical for 45 minutes, or more fun to jump around in a Zumba class for an hour. But are they more effective? Hell no. That’s why I like to see ladies getting it after it at the gym. I taught a stranger how to Romanian Deadlift last Thursday when she asked me how to. I watched a 10th grade girl deadlift 135lb like it was a feather on Thursday. My friend Jess recently joined New York Sports Club, and has been meeting with a trainer. Yesterday, I took my girlfriend through what I’d call her second ‘real’ workout. Random girl, Jess, and Maria are starting to get it. Highfive!
These ladies have made things a little bit easier by working with trainers. A mutual friend told the girl at school to ask me about RDL’s, Jess is working with a trainer, and Maria knows that I think all children should be given a kettlebell when they turn 12. (I actually just made that up, but it may be a good idea…) She knows that lifting weights is exponentially better than ‘doing weights’, so she agreed to let me take over her Saturday workout.
You might say to yourself, “Harold, if you think that girls should be lifting weights and getting stronger, what kind of stuff do you tell your girlfriend to do?” My response to this is as follows: “Well, anonymous reader, that’s a wonderful question! I think it would be a great case study to track her progress so we can see exactly what she does. This will help you to know exactly what I mean!”
So, to shed light on this past Saturday, here is an exact copy of her work sets:
- A1 Deadlift, 3 x 5, 1 x 4, 1 x 1
- A2 TRX Inverted Row, 4 x 8
- A3 Half-Kneeling Paloff Press, 3 x 4 x 2 x 2sec.
- B1 Hand-Elevated Push-Up, 3 x 10
- B2 Step-Up 3 x 8 per leg
- C1 Plank 3 x Form Failure
- C2 Rainbow Deadlift 3 x 10
- HIIT, 20:40 x
Now, some of this needs to be explained. When she was deadlifting, she felt the bar slipping out of her hand on the 4th rep of the last work set. I told her that she was done, but she really wanted to pull that last rep, so she did an extra rep; and changed the bar weight, to pull a 10lb PR. I told her that I’ll start taking video when she can pull 135lb, and it’s actually much closer than she expects.
The set/rep scheme behind the Half-Kneeling Paloff press looks confusing, doesn’t it. What exactly does it mean though? Well, she did 3 sets of Paloff Presses, and each set included 4 reps on each side of her body (x2). Finally, each ‘rep’ included a 2 second hold in the extended position. So, 3 x 4 x 2 x 2sec. If you’re still wondering what a Paloff Press is, then read THIS article, and figure out where they fit into your programming. THIS is a link to a video of the Half-Kneeling Paloff Press. Maria didn’t really like them because they really challenge your core stability; especially in the half-kneeling position. What does this mean? That she’ll be doing them again!
I’ve begun using the step-up as my entry-level unilateral knee dominant exercise after watching THIS video from Mike Robertson, so I wanted Maria to experience those. If you train the correct way, that old misconception about becoming ‘muscle bound’ or inflexible from weight training is bogus, and I wanted to increase the range of motion set to set, so I added a riser to the aerobics box we were using for her step-ups each set. While it wasn’t absurdly high, she was a few inches below a paralell femur on the last set. Mobility win!
Of the three super-sets that I gave her yesterday, the last one was my favorite for one reason: It was hard. Rainbow deadlifts have an innocent name and seem innoculous; however, they’re rather taxing on the cardiovascular system. Planks would be too easy for her, if I didn’t correct hip positioning. She does not like being taken out of anterior pelvic tilt. In between huffing and puffing from the Rainbow Deadlifts and cursing at me for the planks, she admitted that she was more out of breath than she normally is from her elliptical workouts. I’m not sure if I said “I told you so!” or “Do you want to do intervals?”
I distinctly remember getting laughed at when I told her I spend maybe 24 minutes a week on the elliptical. I distinctly remember her telling my Uncle John that I don’t do any cardio and only lift weights. I distinctly remember her saying that a 20:40 interval was going to be easy to do 8 times. I distinctly remember stopping her after 5. Welcome to HIIT.
Why am I telling you this? Is it to say that I can make somebody really tired? Not at all, a chimpanzee can design a workout to make somebody tired. It’s because I think it’s a good workout, and more people should be training this way. By using super sets and compound movements, we trained every muscle in her body in a very efficient manner. Including the teaching time, the workout probably lasted around an hour and a half, and once the learning curve flattens out then it should be around an hour. By replacing an hour of cardio with an hour of strength and interval training twice a week, anybody is going to see amazing changes.
Hopefully from this example, you’re starting to see the difference between just going through the motions and actually getting after your training. If you understand what I mean by this, then you most likely have an issue with the ‘deadlift’ in the above photo. Does that even count, it’s like 35lbs! If you’re thinking about transitioning out of the Cosmo Soup Can workout of curls and trying to get into a bit more sophisticated training, I have a general tip for you: Start with getting stronger.
The reasons for this come back to the fact that you probably haven’t thought about it. You may be discouraged from true strength training, using sets of 3-5 reps, because you’ve never trained that way. You may say, “But I’m too weak!” That’s exactly why you should do it. If you start working on something that you’ve never worked on, you’ll get better at it rather quickly. You can probably lift more weight than you think, and be developing a base of absolute strength, you’ll be able to then build qualities such as strength speed and speed strength. Huh? Well let me give you an example.
Kettlebells are extremely popular nowadays, right? There seem to be kettlebell classes popping up everywhere, and kettlebell specific gyms are being opened too. Even that walking ball of fail Jillian Michaels has a kettlebell DVD that is newly released. You’ve heard about the amazing cardiovascular and strength benefits of using a kettlebell, and you’re interested in giving it a try. The hip-snap swing with a kettlebell is quite similar to a Romanian deadlift; they’re different, but for the sake of argument let’s consider them the same movement at different speeds.
You want a bell that is heavy enough so that you can use it’s momentum during the swing, but light enough so that you can move explosively. Typically, a 26lb kettlebell is recommended for women to start, while a 35lb is recommended for men. As en example, say you plan on using the Tabata protocol for a 15 minute Swing workout. That would be 3 sets of the following: 8 intervals of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, (that’s 4 minutes) with a minute between each set. 14 minutes later, you’re done. Who do you think is going to be capable of performing a better workout in this fashion, the person that can deadlift their body weight 10 times or the person that can deadlift their body weight 1 time? It’s apparent that maximum strength needs to be adequate to perform this metabolic conditioning program.
As it is common for girls to avoid the ‘heavy’ lifting with exercise, this is precisely what they should be working on! On top of a base of strength you can build conditioning, but if you focus on the conditioning, which is only slightly different from the norm, you’ll only reap half the benefits. Instead of being strong and well conditioned, you’ll be well conditioned and weak. Weak girls isn’t a good look. Get strong ladies!
One of the last arguements I often hear from girls in their avoidance of anything metal and heavy is “Maybe I don’t want to do that.” This is a good closing arguement in 4th grade when you’re not very good at math and you don’t want to do your homework. When you get a little bit older, you realize that doing your math homework, while it may not be your favorite thing, helps you get better at the other things you need to do. Or you fail out of school. There’s always that option.
“Maybe I don’t want to do it!” is usually a code for several things. It may mean, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” If that’s the case, then find yourself a certified trainer or ask an educated friend. (I sense questions coming my way.) It may also mean, “I’m scared of getting big and bulky.” If that’s the case, lifting weights doesn’t make you big and bulky, eating too much and lifting heavy weights makes you big and bulky. You can’t blame strength training for your poor nutrition choices. If you’re still trying to get out of this, then it may mean “But I’m just too lazy to do it.” In that case, I hope that you can smile during Zumba, just as I smile when I know that the people who are working the hardest get the best results. If you’re reading my blog, hopefully you’re not content using some group fitness classes as the extent of your workouts. If that’s the case, I leave you with one last picture of a girl lifting, not doing, and the knowledge that I’ll be talking about this topic again in about 72 hours.