Ladies: Here’s Why You’re Not Getting Stronger
Today’s a travel day for me.
I’m heading back to Boston after spending the weekend in Houston, TX with Dean Somerset teaching our (Even More) Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint workshop.
Pinch writing for me today is Lana Sova, personal trainer and competitive power lifter1 based out of Boston, MA.
Ladies: Here’s Why You’re Not Getting Strong(er)
After almost five years in the fitness industry working almost exclusively with women, I can tell you that although all of us are the same gender, we are all built differently.
Shocker! I know.
Throughout this time I’ve had hundreds of women deadlifting, squatting, benching, and overhead pressing big numbers. But more importantly, they got slimmer and stronger, and kept these results long term.
But their thing might not be your thing — what worked for them may not be 100% working for you. However, ladies who successfully deadlifted, squatted, and in some cases benched their body weights had these three things in common.
To help you stop wasting your time and start succeeding in strength training, here are three things you must do if you want to get strong AF.
#1. Once Again, Eat More Protein
If you look at bodybuilders, whose job is to get as big — muscularly — as they possibly can, they eat, drink, and breathe protein.
Your goal might not be to become the next Ms. Olympia, but if you want to get stronger so you can pick up your kid off the floor, carry groceries in one trip, install a window A/C all by yourself, or, IDK, tow out your car when it’s jammed between two others somewhere in downtown Boston, your muscles need protein.
And I’m sure you’ve heard about it, you’ve known about it, but it’s not the knowledge about needing the protein where women go wrong.
It’s their choice of protein source.
For some reason, things like chia seeds, nuts, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds became a staple of “feminine” food. Go to any health-related hippie cafe and you’ll find all of the above (often) included in one smoothie.
Well, I’ll tell you what. Save your money, and go buy yourself a nice piece of steak (or tofu for my vegan friends).
While I don’t dismiss the health properties of seeds, nuts, and the like — there are plenty — when it comes to protein, the amounts are so small that you need a truck load to get the amount of protein needed to trigger muscle synthesis. Which means you’ll eat a ton of fat, which then will have an impact on your physique and THAT’s what’s going to make you look bulky. Not the muscle itself.
So, what do you eat then to hit your protein target, and what’s that target anyway?
For active fitness enthusiasts, the number ranges from 1.8g/kg to 2.2g/kg
But, when you have a life, counting every ounce of protein is time consuming. Instead, try this nutrition habit I teach my clients:
Protein hits the plate first. No matter where you are — home, Mom’s house, restaurant, a buffet — a lean source of protein lands on your plate first, and then you add whatever else your heart desires.
If you’re not sure what’s a lean protein, here are a few examples for you: chicken breast (to which Tony G is allergic — fun fact2) turkey breasts, 93/7 ground beef (or any piece a meat that has less than eight to ten grams of fat), plain Greek yogurt, tvorog, and cottage cheese.
If you eat these with every meal, I can guarantee you will improve your gym performance and very likely get slimmer.
#2. CARDI-B Over CARDI-O
P.S. I hope that’s not a ™ and I won’t get sued.3
Steady state cardio has its benefits and should be included in your monthly workouts. Cardio is good for your heart, and if you’d like that thing to work for longer than the average lifespan, you need to do cardio.
Where many women go wrong is the amount of cardio.
Seriously— if we were to use all the cardio machines in every gym in America to power the entire country we’d never have a problem with energy.
If you’re coming to strength training as the last resort to finally tone out and maintain the results, you may still have the mentality that you should do as much cardio as you possibly can, a belief that’s hard do deviate from.
I mean look at any Instagram Fitness Guru and she will without a doubt tell you that you absolutely have to hop on a cardio machine and eat tons of celery to get toned and strong.
But please don’t be fooled — all she’s trying to do is build an army of bunnies. You are not one of them.
And yes, if you are looking to lose weight, cardio will help you burn some calories off. However, if you’d like to get stronger and slimmer, and keep the results, your approach to cardio needs to be a little bit different.
There are two types of cardio training I see women perform often: steady state and High intensity interval training with lots of jump. Both types are usually done for hours with just one goal — burn as many calories as possible.
But when you switch to strength training, cardio training serves a different purpose — to help you to recover from your strength training sessions. The perfect type of cardio training for this is steady state.
Therefore, anything between 20 and 30 minutes of light, steady-state cardio is more than enough for said purpose. And a good rule of thumb is to have at least 24 hours between your strength and cardio sessions.
If you must include HIIT workouts in your program simply because you love it, you can. But be aware that these type of workouts generally do more muscle damage, taking your body longer to recover. So you might have to wait longer than even 24 hours between strength training sessions and HIIT sessions.
#3. Stop Going From One Extreme to Another
So you’ve decided to give strength training a try. You’ve read it’s good for you and it’s something that can help you tone out and get a bit stronger.
And you put on your “I’m a big girl” pants and you step into the strength training area.
You see tons of huge dumbbells, and decide to choose the smallest one — 5 pounds.
With it, you perform about a hundred repetitions of lunges, squats, and tricep extensions and call it a day.
While this is admirable and I’d be the first one to high five you, the thing is, if you’re a normal human being who picks up and carries her kids around, or carries a heavy backpack, or ever, even once in her lifetime, got ready for a party and had to carry a few cases of wine, I can guarantee that all of those things weighed more than five pounds.
If you want your muscles to get strong, you need to give them an appropriate stimulus. One of the most common ways to do so is via resistance — free weights, or a resistance band, or even your body weight.
And often five to ten pounds isn’t enough to reach and trigger that stimulus. It’s simply not challenging enough.
On the other side of things, there are those women who’d like to go all out each and every workout — testing their strength every single day of every single week.
While at the beginning they might see huge jumps in their strength because #beginnersgains, soon they stop seeing increases in their lifts, or even become demotivated.
Because they haven’t managed their fatigue levels properly. If you workout at 100% capacity all the time, you accumulate fatigue quickly, which then will interfere with your body’s ability to build muscle and get stronger. It’s like if you had to work 24-hour shifts seven days a week. You’d probably be dead by now.
So how heavy should you go?
For my online clients, I like to use a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale. The scale ranges from 1 to 10, where anything below 6 is a warm up — pretty light.
6 = you could do 4-5 more repetitions with this weight
7 = you could do 3-4 more
8 = you could do 2-3 more
9 = you could do 1-2 more
10 = you can do just that one
When you just start with strength training, you need to play with the weights a bit. But a general rule of thumb is to work with weights between 7 to 9 RPE if you’d like to get stronger.
Here’s an example.
A1. Front Squats 4×6 @ RPE 7
A2. Dead Bugs 4×6/side
B1. BB Bent-Over Rows 3×10 @ RPE 8
B2. DB Incline Bench Presses 3×10 @ RPE 8
B3. Cable Face Pulls 3×10 @ RPE 8
C1. Reverse Lunges 4×8 @ RPE 8
C2. Farmer’s Carry 4x 20 yards @ RPE 7-8
As you can see, just going and doing strength training isn’t enough.
In order to get stronger and better at strength training you need to supplement your program with important lifestyle habits — like eating protein, going for a walk instead of dying on the stairmaster, and adjusting your efforts to make your workout truly challenging.
The women I’ve worked with who followed these rules always make the strength goals they set for themselves.
About the Author
Lana Sova is a coach at Shameless Strength Academy and a personal trainer in Boston, MA She empowers women to build and own their strength via powerlifting and strength training.