Strong is the New Skinny

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The key to looking and feeling  great is Strength Training.  Strength training helps you burn body fat and gives you a firmer, leaner look with curves in all the right places.  And no; it won’t make you “bulky”, unless you overeat, take drugs, or are a genetic outlier.  The truth is that most people aren’t genetically predisposed towards gaining significant amounts of muscle.  It’s even more difficult for women, who, on average, have about five percent of the testosterone of the average male.  And since building muscle does take time, getting big and bulky overnight is really nothing to worry about.  It takes a well designed programme, with periodic changes, implemented with sufficient intensity and consistency over time to achieve the body changes you are interested in.

If you are holding back on your training by going too light, because you think you are going to end up with a “bulky” body, then be aware that you run the risk of achieving no real results and of hitting a plateau very quickly. This means that you will have mostly wasted your time in the gym unless you enjoy hanging out there which some seem to do.

People everywhere are getting stronger and fitter – men and women.  Lean, fit bodies are getting more appreciation and attention, and so they should.  People work hard to achieve these results and a strong body is a healthy body.  This is especially true in comparison to the bodies that have dominated the media for so long.  The waif-like, skinny, stick figures with virtually no muscle tone, resulting in a skinny-fat look.  It is also a look that has encouraged ill health and eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia and orthorexia.

Sadly, for some, this remains the ideal look.  But people have started to love getting and looking stronger and more powerful.  If you doubt this, ask yourself how the CrossFit movement has gone from 13 boxes in 2005 to more than 13,000 boxes worldwide at present!? What an explosion of strength enthusiasts!  However, CrossFit can be extreme and it is not for everyone.  There are plenty of other ways to get strong, lean and fit, and basic strength training is one of them.

In order to get results, you need to follow a well-structured, personally-customised training programme based on your specific goals, circumstances and abilities.  And a well designed programme can help just about anyone look, feel and perform better.  The guidance and support of an experienced and knowledgeable coach is invaluable to develop and monitor this process.

Every day I see people who don’t really know which exercises they should be doing, how to do them effectively for optimal gains, or even complete them in a way that won’t lead to injuries further down the road.  And because we are all looking for the next, new best thing, novelty plays far too big a role in people’s choices.  Fads come and go, nonsensical exercises are simply invented and are completely ineffective, and often a huge waste of gym and training time.

To add to these challenges that we face, there are some fully-certified trainers with years of experience, that are not aware of how to teach or even do the basic exercises, which are the foundation of any effective strength-training programme.  Unfortunately, since they have not mastered the basics, they simply cannot put together a training programme that effectively achieves the results that you are working towards.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of great trainers and coaches.  As with any industry there is a huge skill variance, and the fitness and nutrition industry is no different!  Also, changing the way that our bodies look, is extremely challenging for most of us, myself included.

I have personally experienced frustrating plateaus, when nothing seems to be changing, training feels like torture, and my body doesn’t comply with my expectations. If you belong to a gym, have a look around next time you are there.  Then think back six to twelve months and identify some of the people who have achieved noticeable changes in their physique.  I know from personal experience that, unfortunately, there won’t be very many. Change is hard- and sustainable fat-loss and physique transformation is, for most people, one of the biggest life challenges they will encounter.

As a coach who is passionate about getting results, it can be confounding to see a strong woman, who picks up her 15 kilogram child in one arm, head off to the mini-dumbbell section to find a two kilogram weight to row with.  Always remember- “ If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you! “

With strength training it is very important to have realistic goals and expectations, and a good coach will help you with this. “The Cost of Getting Lean” is a great Precision Nutrition article that challenges us by asking some straightforward questions, “Six-pack abs. Tight butts. Lean, vibrant, flawless health. That’s the image the fitness industry is selling. But have you ever wondered what it costs to achieve that “look”? What you have to do more of? What you really have to give up?

IMG-20171113-WA0001 (2)Everyone wants to be really lean and “ripped” or even “shredded”.  Sounds awesome. Until the reality of the process kicks in.  For many it will be a nightmare and they will quickly burn-out.  The mental and physical stress of the dieting and intense training.  The gnawing hunger as your body desperately fights back against perceived starvation.  This starts affecting your sleep.  But without sufficient quality sleep you can’t adequately recover and stress goes even higher!  Do you work full-time and have kids? Oh dear – stress ever higher.  Oh well, maybe if you can plan, shop and cook a whole bunch of meals on the weekend you will still be able to stick to eating lots of pretty boring meals most of which never really leave you feeling very satisfied.

And be sure to cancel and avoid any social engagements for several months because you won’t have the time or the energy and will need as much sleep as you can get.    The bed will only be used for sleep as hormonal disruptions  kill your sex drive.   Besides you will often be so irritable you would sooner strangle them than make love.

Does this sound like something that most people should consider?  I don’t think so and that’s why I help clients achieve good results without driving them insane and ruining their health and well-being in the process.

The fitness and nutrition industry, especially when it comes to “fitspiration” on Instagram and other social media platforms, can be so misleading.  Carefully selected, filtered photos of genetically-blessed, drug-enhanced, fitness models are everywhere.  And it sends out the wrong message to people like you and me who are trying to change and  improve our bodies.  Promises of quick, dramatic results are rife if you buy their diet or meal plan, or book or training system, or supplements and meal replacements.  For most of us mere mortals anything really worthwhile and sustainable takes time and effort.

Strength training combined with Flexible Dieting is the way forward for most of my clients.  It is the shortest, most enjoyable route to success, that is sustainable in the long-term.  This does not mean it is a shortcut, but a process that is based on evidence and science, rather than the latest fad that promises quick results, but is inevitably unsustainable, resulting in another bitter disappointment.  This only serves to reinforce the disillusionment and feelings of personal failure that grow stronger with each aborted attempt at weight- and fat-loss, and muscle gain.

Since everyone is different, I understand the importance of meeting clients where they are at in their nutrition and fitness process.  And while it is important for the individual to understand some basic nutrition principles and ideas, and what’s true or false according to the science; it’s even more important that we start taking action, developing the habits and learning the new behaviour that are necessary for sustainable transformation.

That’s the most important aspect of coaching.  It’s providing the guidance, support and encouragement to get you on the road of action.  Then to keep you on that road by developing accountability around what you have decided on as your goals, plans and steps to getting the results you want.  It’s a team effort and if you keep taking actions, motivation and inspiration will follow, and the sustainable results that have eluded you, will be the results you achieve and maintain.

Start small, but begin today!

Click here for more information on my strength training and fitness coaching programme.

The highs and lows of strength training in the “scary man section”!

4newNine months ago when I started working with Alex as my fitness coach I was terrified by the idea of weight training!  The thought of the “scary man section” at the gym, weights and muscles was not something I was remotely excited about.  I’d always had this idea of being slender and toned, I didn’t want to be big and built.  And here was my coach telling me I was going to be building muscle.  I was not seeing it from his perspective.  He had his work cut out for him!

Okay, I’ve always hated cardio, hammering it out on the cross-trainer and the treadmill has never been my thing.  But when given the alternative of complicated weight training workouts, I was almost receptive to the idea of being strapped to a treadmill or sent to a spinning class.

The process started slowly, and Alex patiently explained the benefits of strength training – over and over again.  I had a vision of biceps that developed overnight and overly strong thigh muscles.  My legs were big enough already – they did  not  need to get any bigger.  All I was interested in was a flat stomach and much slimmer legs.  It took me a while to understand that the fat was not simply going to  be replaced by muscle, but that I was going to build muscle and lose the fat.  That fat is far more voluminous than muscle and I was not going to turn into a 95kg body builder.

Slowly I was introduced to the basic movements, which are far more difficult to do than they look, especially when I watch the pros that I follow on FaceBook and Instagram. Alex has helped me to understand proper technique and movement, and my body started to respond.  Slowly (and sometimes painfully) at first while I learned how to squat, lunge, leg press, dead lift and use the other equipment in the gym.  And instead of muscles starting to spring up, the fat and centimetres (hips, waist & thigh) started to fall away.  Untitled

The initial months of my training consisted of learning how to do things right – Alex is a stickler for correct technique, form and movement that’s not going to cause injury.  And funnily enough as my body began to change, I became more excited about the strength training.  It was motivating to see my form improving and how my body was responding.  Small improvements in the sets, reps and weight I was doing began to push me to do better. And I was not turning into a female version of Mr. Universe.  Suddenly I wanted to look less like the skinny, Hollywood waifs, and more like the women competing in Cross Fit events.

I have started wanting to be strong and lean, with a great ass and a toned stomach, not skinny and weak.  And after nine months, I look at the training completely differently…and I actually fee quite at home in the “scary  man section” at the gyms I workout at. I have a different idea of how I want my body to look and the kind of shape I want to have.  I’m far more interested in being stronger than I am in being thinner.  And that idea is constantly changing as I see my work paying off.

Of course it’s not always easy.  Sometimes I get caught up in thinking and working towards outcomes goals (mainly some preconceived scale weight I have randomly plucked from the ethos), rather than those focusing on my behaviour.  There are times when my body feels weak and spongy, and not that keen to lift, press or push anything that weighs more than a couple of kilos, but after a day or so, I am ready to get back to it. I am not in the gym more than 4 or 5 times a week, and sometimes less than that.  It doesn’t happen at the expense of everything else, and I have learned to be more self-loving and gentle when I don’t make a scheduled day’s training.  My mindset around the entire process has changed…

I don’t give up on a week’s training, because I missed a day here and there.  I simply refocus and move forward.  And that’s a huge shift for me.  Missing a day in the past was all I needed to put my exercise on hold.  But because I am more focused on behaviour I am better able to see a missed day for what it is.  Sometimes extra recovery time, sometimes rest, sometimes because I am just too busy at work.  Now I don’t chastise myself for being useless, lazy and procrastinating… I give myself the reward of time or rest, and don’t get caught up in a negative thought cycle about myself and my fitness programme.

And as for my muscles…well they are definitely not bulging out of my jeans and T-shirt. Rather, they are growing and strengthening quite nicely, and I am really happy about how they look (especially when they are working out).  I feel confident and self-assured in the gym now, even happy to ask the guys in the gym if the equipment is free.  Okay, I am still a little self conscious when it comes to hip thrusts, but I am getting there.  And one of these days I’ll even feel good enough to do lunges across the weight floor (at Old Eds Virgin Active).

So onward I press, push, pull and lift to a body and mind that are healthy, aware, strong, supportive and in line with my growing value of long-term fitness, health and wellness.