The (New) New Rules of Lifting for Women

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I’ve stated this in the past on numerous occasions, but I’ll say it again:  I (and the fitness industry in general) owes a huge debt of gratitude to Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove for writing The New Rules of Lifting series.

I believe there are five books in total; two more and JK Rowling will have to look over her shoulder.  But it’s the second in the series – The New Rules of Lifting for Women – co-written by my good friend, Cassandra Forsythe, that holds a special place in my heart.

You see, the fitness industry is kind of funny.  Not funny “haha,” but rather, funny in the sense that its done a fantastic job of confusing the hell out of people.

It seems every week another fad diet or workout gadget or gimmick makes a splash on television or on the New York Times best seller list, and does nothing more than throw more fuel on the “who’s right/who’s wrong, and what the hell am I supposed to be doing?” fire.

Or, maybe the more appropriate analogy would be throwing more napalm on the fire.  Heck why not go for broke and just say it’s a nuclear bomb of bulls***!

Yeah, that works.

For example, here are some doozies I “stole” from personal trainer Nate Palmer from his Definitive Guide To Weight Loss:

Rule 5: On day 8, 14, 19, and 27, it’s important to recover vital minerals by eating 32oz of nut butter. However, to maximize electrolyte intake and to put your body into “fat burning mode” the nut butters must be eaten by hand.

Rule 8: To keep oxidants at bay, blend 1 dark chocolate bar and 2 cups of blueberries into a bottle of red wine. Apply generously to the skin before going outside. This will dispel the suns harmful rays and eliminate cancer causing radiation from your cell phone.

While you and I know better and understand Nate’s being a bit facetious with his tone, I have to say:  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are people out there who are that gullible and would take such advice to heart.

Furthermore, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was some website or book or DVD out there that would advocate such things.

It’s the nature of beast nowadays with information so easily accessible.

By that same token, training is no different.  There’s certainly no shortage of opinions out there as to what’s the ideal way to train:

Should we train on an empty stomach, and will doing so turn us into an Olsen twin?

Is CrossFit really the bees knees?  I mean, not being able to feel the right side of your face after completing a circuit of 47 clean and jerks followed by a 2-mile jog while holding a 25 lb plate over your head (for time) is normal, right?

Are body-part splits better, or is it more advantageous to perform full-body or upper/lower splits?  How about right leg, left arm days?

Is it better to bench with the arms 16 inches apart using a 5321 tempo, or 14 inches apart with a 4442 tempo?

It’s crazy talk, right? What ever happened to just keeping things simple?

See that barbell over there?  Go pick it up.  Repeatedly.

A few days later, add a little more weight.

Hell, why not live life dangerously, place the barbell on your back, and squat it!

There you go.  Simple.

But that’s the rub: The water gets a bit murky when you start talking fitness with women.  While many out there “get it,” and understand that there’s really no inherent difference as to how a man should train opposed to a woman, it’s dumbfounding how many people cater to the fears that many (not all) women have towards fitness.

In a weird, ass-backwards kind of way, it’s almost like we live 100 years in the past where women we expected to stay in the kitchen and weren’t allowed to vote.

What’s next……allowing them to read!?!!?

Heresy!!!!!

Lets Turn Off the Stupid

We all know there’s no shortage of gurus out there who seemingly “specialize” in training women, but really do nothing but placate into the fears that many have towards strength training – telling women that they shouldn’t lift anything over 3 lbs or else they’ll grow an Adam’s apple, for example.

Which is why I feel I’m indebted to Lou, Alwyn, and Cassandra for writing The New Rules of Lifting for Women.  No other resource, in my opinion, has done a better job at giving women no-nonsense, infalible, researched (and real world) based information that works.

In more ways than one they turned off the stupid, muted all the chaos and noise, and brought people back to the middle where things make sense.

And with that, today I’m stealing a page from their book (figuratively, of course) and starting a new “series” where I provide some of my own “Rules of Lifting” for women.

Although to be fair – and to provide a bit of warning – there will be times where I won’t be so “nice” or careful with my words.  I believe everyone needs a dose of “tough love” from time-to-time.

The idea of this series stemmed from a conversation I had recently with a current client who, upon getting engaged, wanted to up the ante as far as her training is concerned.

A woman’s wedding is kind of a big deal. Akin to a young boy dreaming of the day when Optimus Prime comes blasting through the front door and making him an honorary member of the Autobots, a young girl dreams of the day when she finally starts planning for her wedding.

I can’t say this is the exact case for my client, uhhhh, Kate Upton, yeah, that’s who it was, Kate Upton, but I’m going to play the law of averages and say that she’s been waiting for this day for a while now…..;o)

After congratulating her on her engagement, we started talking “game plan” for getting her into rocking shape for the big day.

Not like it’s any surprise, but in the time that she’s been training at Cressey Performance (about a year and a half), she’s done her fair share of deadlifts, squat variations, push-ups, Prowler pushes, med ball throws, and a litany of other stuff most people hate.

She’s made phenomenal progress in that time, and in many ways, I’ve made her a gym snob.  On an almost weekly basis she’ll come to train at CP and tell me some story about some trainer at her gym doing something asinine or how she saw the most god-awful squat technique.

It’s enough to bring a tear to my eye.

Which is why I was caught off-guard when she told me that she had started adding in some quick 10-15 minute bicep/tricep circuits with ten lb dumbbells throughout the week.

Perplexed, I asked “why?”

“You know to get my arms in shape for the wedding.”

More or less this was my reaction.

I kinda gave her “the look,” as if to say, “really, did you just say that?”

Of course I was understanding.  On one hand I couldn’t knock her for wanting to do more.  I was proud of her, actually.  This is someone who, when she first started, wasn’t sold on this whole strength training thing, and it was a struggle to get her to buy into doing the OPPOSITE of what she’s always been told to do.

“What do you mean running on the treadmill for 45 minutes, four times per week isn’t the best way to lose fat????”

But on the other hand, I asked her “do you really – I mean really – think performing those cute arm circuits with something that weighs less than your purse is going to have any effect?”

Again, to reiterate:  I was proud of her. Here she was asking me my advice on what she could be doing to get more exercise in, and of course I told her that doing something was better than nothing.  I understood where she was coming from. I was just bummed that she reverted to her default setting of “light weight, high reps for long, sexy, lean muscles.”

Which brings us to one of my (New) New Rules of Lifting for Women:

1 Chin-Up, 5 Push-Up Rule

Until you can perform one, clean, dead-hang chin-up AND five, clean, chest-touches-the-floor push-ups, you have no business performing isolation bicep and/or tricep work.

The way I explained it to “Kate Upton” was that the total muscle involved, calories being burned, and overall work being done by the body to get to the point where you can perform a chin-up or push-ups for reps trumps ANYTHING you would ever be able to do with a pair of pink dumbbells.

Put another way:  the EFFORT it takes to do a push-up or chin-up (or work up to that point) is where it counts.

That is what’s going to make those arms smokin hot!

And I know there will be some women reading who can’t even come close to performing either.  That’s fine!

Like I said, making the appropriate adjustments and fine tuning things to implement the proper progressions would be a far more valuable use of your time.

Chin-Up Progressions for Women: The One Rep HumpPart I, Part II, and Part III.

As well, I’m not opposed to tossing in some TRX (or any suspension training apparatus) into the mix here.

And as far as push-ups are concerned, I’m not a big fan of “girl push-ups” where someone performs them off their knees.  Instead I’d rather elevate them so that we can get the full benefit and then progress as needed:

Taking things a step further, you could also use THIS cool push-up progression using a resistance band.

There’s really no excuse that can be used here.  You can do push-ups anywhere.  And you can easily hook up a chin-up bar or TRX in the doorway in your house or apartment. Or, if you’re really a badass – in your office at work.  But that’s contingent on whether or not you have the coolest boss in history. Like someone who doesn’t filter your web access, lets you wear cool t-shirts to work, or lets you leave early on Fridays.

But, if YOU’RE the boss then it won’t matter now will it?  Get it done!

In any case, hopefully most reading can appreciate my logic.  Do you agree?  Have any of your own “rules” to add or want me to expound on in future installments?  Share your comments below.

And, if you could, “Like” this post and share it on your social media.  The more we get this kind of message out there, empower women and give them confidence, the less likely I’ll want to swallow a cyanide pill.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  • Emily

    Tony, Love the 1 chin up/5 push up rule. This makes me feel better about my curls from the other day. 😉 And please don’t be gentle with your comments for the ladies at times….Pulcinella doesn’t beat around the bush. Take a look. 😉

    Emily S.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-dwTLd574Y&feature=em-share_video_user

    • TonyGentilcore

      OMG. OMG. That was epic. Thanks for sharing that!

  • Barath

    I know you keep repeatedly bashing it, but Crossfit is the only place where women train like they should. I’ve trained mostly in three gyms over the last four years, and have probably seen only a handful of women deadlifting or squatting. Most (upward of 90%) still are wedded to the treadmill.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Do I really keep bashing it? I know I have my qualms with CrossFit (as I do with Powerlifting, Linear periodization, etc). But I’ve also gone out of my way to express WHAT I LIKE about CrossFit on numerous occasions.

      I like how it emphasizes compound movements; and you can’t trump the camaraderie it provokes in its community.

      But I think it’s also a fair argument to say that many people who walk into a CrossFit gym for the first time I have no business performing 90% of the WODs that are put up. And even that’s a conservative number.

      I know MANY affiliates who do it right: assess their members and provide appropriate progressions and regressions. But that’s definitely more the exception than the rule.

      • Barath

        Errr….sorry. I kinda wrote that in a hurry, and realize it doesn’t read well. Didn’t mean to offend you/misconstrue your statements at all. Just one of those things. ehug?

        • TonyGentilcore

          You dammit – I can’t stay mad at you! Yeah, lets ehug it out……;o)

  • Jennifer

    I am living proof that women should get off the cardio machines and into the weight room – using serious weights! I was a cardio person everyday for an hour at a time (in addition to my strength training). Now I might do cardio two times a week! And when I do use the machines, it is only for 15 minutes (30 max). I hired an awesome trainer, and within eight months I have dropped 9% body fat, down 25 lbs (130lbs now), lost several inches everywhere, all the while gaining SERIOUS STRENGTH. It is all because of my change in nutrition and weight training. I am lean and muscular, not big and bulky. I currently can hip thrust at 185 lbs (5 sets 10 reps), 255 lbs being my best so far (3 sets 3 reps) and deadlifting 135 lbs. (which I just started). Goblet squatting at 70 lbs. Push ups are easy to crank out now and I am trying to reach my pull up goal (unassisted) of one (will be so psyched when that happens)! I actually have started the workout in The New Rules for Women just to mix up my routines a bit and learn more moves. Excellent book and so true…..”A Women’s Place Is In the Weight Room”. So get out there ladies and get strong!!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Jennifer –

      Thanks for sharing your story! It just goes to show that everyone needs to start somewhere and that with a little hard work (and consistency) anything can happen.

      Keep up the great work. And please, keep spreading the message!

  • gostillers11

    NROL changed my life. Changed. My. Life. I played DII women’s lacrosse, but I can honestly say I never trained before this book. I ran and I enjoyed running, but I was also battling injuries on a regular basis and was well on my way to osteoporosis. I’m healthier now than I ever was, finally worked my way up to a 200lb deadlift, I’m pretty damned close to a chin up and I can do at least three push ups from the floor. Also, my posture has improved dramatically. I give this book out as a gift and if I could kiss Lou on the lips….well, I’d at least thank him 😉

    • TonyGentilcore

      Awesome story, and thanks for sharing. I’ll pass along the kind words to Lou and company….;o)

  • Craig

    Thank Godddddddd for this article, and thankd goddd for introducing me to that book Tony!

    I’m currently training in the UK to become a PT initially and S&C coach beyond that, and while I still have so much to learn i’m sick to the freakin back teeth of so many so-called trainers and experts out there pushing these kinds of myths in commercial gyms and on the web! But if there’s one thing that gets to me more than any of the other typical ‘squats will make your knees implode’ type cliched crap, its this weird, BS, patronising, sexist attitude to women’s training!

    Ok rant over!, It’s just i’m not even qualified yet and i’m already dreading the challenge of convincing the vast majority out there that rather than pounding the treadmill relentlessly in the vain hope that one day they’ll break through their stagnant plateau of mediocrity and actually make some progress, they could just do something more effective!! Alright so maybe the rant wasn’t over.

    Anyway, i’d just like to say again thank you for posts like this that have kept me sane and from questioning myself in recent months. I’ve read a lot of your blog and all of your t-nation articles several times over and have learnt 10x more from them than the half-assed ‘qualification’ i’m currently taking.

    Thanks, keep it up!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks for the kind words, Craig. While I can’t promise you won’t have bouts where you’ll want to pound your head against a wall……….you can take solace in that there are PLENTY of other trainers, coaches, and enthusiasts you have the same mindset as yourself.

  • Michelle Royse

    Preach it Tony! I started lifting 8 months ago. I’ve lost 30lbs and a ton of body fat and I’m 42. When all of my friends are complaining about a “slow” metabolism and having no energy I’m talking about deadlifting 160lbs and squatting 150. I have now made it my mission to get more women to try lifting. This has literally changed my life and I want everyone to get this feeling. Once you can get a woman to pick up a weight one of the biggest issues I see is the low weight/high rep combo. They’re afraid or just don’t understand you should be pushing yourself to get all the health and physical benefits. It took me a month or so to get that straight in my mind but once that happened it was magic. Thanks for writing this and oh, Optimus Prime is coming to knock on my door next Wednesday so I completely understand how your client feels.

    • TonyGentilcore

      That is so awesome to hear Michelle!!! Fantastic story and thanks for sharing!

  • R Smith

    Tony,

    This series will be a must-read and likely more popular than you can imagine. I’ve steered several women to TNROLW, and those who have stuck with it have seen tremendous results.

    But–and I could be way off base here–are we not seeing a really annoying dichotomy in the field? It seems like folks navigate to either the “I-haven’t-really-trained-hard-until-I-throw-up” or the “This-will-make-me-look-better” school of thought.

    I now see just as many women doing bicep curls and tricep kickbacks as I do men. And when I talk to the trainers at my gym, they all say that many women are requesting “arm days” while
    being resistant to movement like deadlifts, lunges and squats.

    Your series will surely help.

    RS

    • TonyGentilcore

      I see what you’re saying. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely feel the more women we see actually lifting weights, the better. But, as is the case whether we’re talking about males or females……there’s always a more efficient way to train.

      The whole pull-up, push-up rule could apply to men as well……;o)

  • Deb

    I’ve been meaning to thank you for a while, Tony. I used your pull-up progression and in two months I was able to pull off one dead-hang pull up, after years of trying other things. I am now addicted. You improve really fast if you keep with it. I can do 3 in succession in one month and then i can do singles all day long. Do you have any recommendations moving forward to do more in succession? I, too, am training for my wedding and I can’t wait to show off the wonders heavylifting does for women. I’m that people will ask me what I did to achieve my wedding physique and I’ll tell them, “Well, you know what Tony Gentilcore says. Heavy things don’t life themselves.” Thanks again for your great blog.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks so much Deb – that made my day!

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  • Bethany

    I’m at the beginning of stage 2 of NROLFW and while I think I have my workouts down, what do you think about their eating plan in the book? I was on Weight Watchers and now I count calories on MyFitnessPal, but the book is telling me to eat like a crap ton of calories. I’m used to cutting calories, not adding them. Is there truth to this logic?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, I know Cassandra (who wrote the nutrition part of the book), and think she’s spot on. Most women – and I have no idea if this is the case with, only speculating – DRASTICALLY under eat and thus (for long periods of time) which can effect hormone levels – specially T3 and T4.

      You can only cut kcals so long before the body starts going into “preservation” mode and will start to store fat rather than burn it.

      It’s counterintuitive I know, and certainly isn’t the case ALL the time, but I’ve seen it happen more often than I’d like to see.

      I say SLOWLY introduce more kcals and see what happens. You may be surprised.