Let me guess, you probably learned weight training from a guy. Maybe it was your boyfriend, your ripped BFF, a hot trainer, or your abnormally amped-up Phys. Ed teacher.
Whoever it was, you probably followed their instructions to a tee, and have blindly continued to do so for years. Yeah, you definitely decreased the weight and are possibly doing high reps instead of the low heavy sets he did, but are those adjustments enough to avoid building masculine muscles?
What if I were to tell you that there are some exercises that women should completely avoid. Are you shocked? I certainly was when celebrity trainer Holly Perkins told me.
Holly is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with a focus in women’s strength training, and a Promax Nutrition Ambassador.
I met with Holly recently to do a special feature for the blog. The initial idea was: “A Beach Body Workout for You & Your Man.”
When I arrived at The Gym on Nemo, a super exclusive, tucked-away celeb facility, the BF and I were all set to whip our lazy bums into shape. I figured Holly would give us 5 exercises we could each do, adjusting the weights and reps according. I was sure they would be challenging but not expecting to learn anything new about strength training. I was in for a surprise.
Holly sent everything I knew about building muscles into a tailspin when she told me that unlike a lot of other trainers, she believes that women CAN bulk up from lifting weights. Finally, someone admits it!
“I do believe that some women can bulk up,” said Holly. “I have worked with several women who’s genealogy makes them very capable of bulking up. In addition to genealogy, women with shorter limb lengths (arms and legs) are able to move heavy weights more easily than women with longer arms and legs. This is simple physics.”
I was shocked… and worried.
As a woman with a genetically muscular build, I had always an inkling that the notion that women couldn’t bulk up wasn’t completely true.
So what now?
I’ve been on a real fitness kick lately, trying to tone up and slim down a bit, and possibly even shave off those final 5 pounds that I’ve been talking about for the past ten years. But have I been going about it all wrong? I pressed Holly for answers.
Here’s what she told me:
Q&A with Holly Perkins
Q: Why should women and men be doing different exercises in the weight room?
A: You don’t need me to tell you this, but women’s bodies are very different from men’s. While a man may want to increase the volume of his chest or beef up his traps, most women don’t want these things. A beautiful female body looks very different from a man’s. So why would you train the same as your man? I think most people don’t think too much about the concept and therefore, by default, assume that a chest exercise is a chest exercise. But every time you change an angle or push weight in a different direction, your body develops accordingly. While it’s important for men and women to strengthen the entire body and improve all major muscle groups, we should also be choosing exercises for the results they will inspire.
Q: Do you think it’s better for a woman to have a female trainer?
A: I believe that the experience of being a woman can only be fully understood by a woman. Our bodies move differently, process carbohydrates differently, and due to hormonal changes, our muscles work differently at certain times of the month. I believe that when it comes to training the female body, a woman trainer inherently has a stronger set of skills, because she lives it.
Q: So you really believe women can “bulk up”?
A: The majority of women would have to work really, really hard to bulk up. It’s just not in our hormonal profile. And, increases in muscle size are physiologically impossible before 4-6 weeks of consistent training. Therefore, if you hit the weights once or twice and SWEAR that you’re bulking up, I promise, you are not bulking up. It’s simply water retention and redistribution from the stress of exercise. That being said, I have worked with several women who’s genealogy makes them very capable of bulking up. I do believe that some women CAN bulk up. The best way to avoid bulking up is to follow my 3 steps for strength development. If you follow these 3 steps closely, you will find that you create nicely rounded, firm muscles in just the right places.
My 3 steps are:
1. Technique Trumps All. This ensures that you’ll use the proper muscle groups and avoid compensating with other muscle groups.
2. Focus on a slow negative and an enthusiastic positive phase of movement. This fosters muscle strength and makes heavy weight loads harder. Heavy weight loads are what will bulk up muscle.
3. Ensure that the last 2 reps are a little lousy, but only the last 2 reps.
Q: Do you believe in light weight, high reps or high weight, low reps?
A: All of the above! In order to inspire change in a muscle, you need programming and variability. I generally start clients with a weight load where she can complete 15 reps. As her time in the gym progresses, I will begin to increase the weight load so that she can only do 10-12 reps. But remember, I am constantly referring back to my 3 steps of strength development. #1 rule is that Technique Trumps All. So therefore, I choose the weight based on the woman’s ability to maintain perfect technique.
Q: What’s your favorite form of cardio to combine with strength training sessions? How many times a week/how long do you recommend for your clients?
A: Cardio is like medicine. I prescribe it based on the woman’s goals. A good general recommendation is: if you truly believe that you bulk easily, aim for 30 minutes of cardio prior to weight workouts. If you don’t have a solid amount of muscle tone, perform 30 minutes of cardio AFTER weight workouts. Then, also include some cardio on other days when you don’t lift weights. You can choose your favorite form of cardio – they all are great. The secret is to make sure that you are maintaining a heart rate range around 70-75% of your theoretical max heart rate.
Q: Do you think women’s and men’s diets should differ too? If so, how?
A: I do believe that women need to monitor carbohydrates more than men do. Because of estrogen, we process carbohydrates differently. Therefore ladies, watch the sugar! Promax LS is a great snack option as it is high in protein and low in sugar.
After chatting with Holly, I felt so enlightened. All this time I had been unaware of a key factor in muscle building. Armed with this new info. Holly, the BF, and I hit the gym.
Stay tuned for the rest of the week as I will be revealing 5 moves you should be doing differently than your man.
Each day, you’ll learn a new take on an old exercise and how to adapt it to get the results you want to see as a woman. You’ll also see the version men should be doing if they desire to “bulk up.”
I hope you enjoy the series!