Do you remember when your family got cable for the first time? I do. I was 14. Before that we lived off seven local channels. Imagine my brother’s and my excitement when we added 24 more! We viewed four channels the most: VH1, MTV, Eurosport and, in the lead, Discovery Channel.
One of my favorite shows back in the day was “Man vs. Wild.” I’m not sure why, but I was most interested in learning how to set up traps in the wild. Maybe because I always loved to eat.
While I could draw some similarities between the show and strength training, today, I’d like to talk about traps: specifically, the mindset traps that women fall into when they start strength training.
1. Eating everything in the name of gains.
There is no middle ground in the fitness industry. Not long ago, fitness enthusiasts and science folks alike were telling us to glue our lips together and die on a treadmill to achieve the ideal physique. Now, they encourage eating pop tarts while squatting—thus supporting the statement “You can enjoy foods you like if you lift weights.” While this is true, what most people hear is “I can eat pizza-cheesecake-donuts-ice cream-cupcake before, during, and after I workout, because, you know, gainz.”
Anyone who is fixated on “good or bad food” is looking for permission to consume more “bad” foods. I know because I’ve been there. Not only did I gain fat, but I also felt like a pile of poop on the training floor. Sure, eating a donut before lifting sounds like fun, but what’s not fun is the sugar crash after, when you still have 80% of the workout to finish.
However, when you start strength training, there are foods you need to eat more of. These are protein, veggies, and complex carbs. To avoid unnecessary fat gain, to feel good when working out, and to achieve the best results possible, your nutrition should consist of 90% of the foods named above. The remaining 10% are everything else you like—not the other way around.
2. Ditching cardio.
Cardio kills strength training gains. Heard this, eh? So did I, and I became a member of #teamnocardio for what seemed like forever. Until that time when my program called for squats at 175 to 195lbs for AMRAP, followed by five sets of eight to ten reps at the same weight. My legs felt fine (as fine as they could be) but my lungs had gone south. After I resuscitated them, I quickly found myself on a bike two to three times a week for 20 minutes.
It’s popular and common to abandon cardio in love of strength training. But if you’d like to see yourself squatting over 200lbs, you want to make sure your lungs keep up to speed with your leg strength. While excessive cardio and malnutrition can contribute to muscle loss, 20 to 30 minutes of it won’t kill you. Not to mention that if you’d like to lose a pound or two of fat while lifting, cardio is your friend.
For example, my client Lauren lost 20 lbs within 5 months while doing a combo of strength-training and cardio.
3. Going bodybuilding style.
Muscle-isolation and body-part-split workouts are as old as the universe. Bodybuilder, bikini, and figure competitors train this way. So to say it doesn’t work would be wrong. But there is one caveat: these people give up their lives to the devil. They sell their souls to the Stage Gods. Their level of dedication is outside of this world. They train six to seven days a week, spending hours on both strength training and cardio. They eat chicken, rice, and broccoli all day long and consume ice cubes with protein shakes as their version of a dessert. The sport becomes their life. How do I know? Not only have I worked with one, but I’ve been “trained” by one. I lasted two and a half months for two reasons:
A) I had life commitments (full-time work and full-time school.)
B) I was bored out of my freaking mind with four sets of 15 on every single exercise.
I doubt that if you have work, two kids, a mother-in-law visiting every other month, and other life-related stuff, that you’d like to give out that much commitment and time. And if you do, my hat goes off to you. But if you know that, realistically, you can get to the gym three times max on a good week, body-split workouts are a waste of your time, money, and motivation.
So what do you do instead? To see the best results while maintaining sanity and exercise longevity, you’re better off doing multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, chest presses, overhead presses, and rows, as well as core strength exercises. ALL THREE DAYS A WEEK. Why? To accumulate volume for each exercise and muscle group. Volume is king in the muscle-building and strength-training process. Because you can’t commit two hours a day, six days a week for life, you need to accumulate the needed volume to grow a muscle within the time you have.
4. Expecting quick weight-loss results.
The majority of my clients get into strength training because they want to look good, lose weight, and because I threatened them. In all seriousness, though, most of us want to look good more than we want to be strong. There are those who transitioned to the darker side, but it’s a small percentage of the entire female population. The rest get into strength training because they’ve read somewhere it helps with weight loss.
Usually, the following scenario happens: you join the gym, download a strength program from bodybuildingdotcom, ditch the treadmill, and get to work. In two weeks, proud of yourself, you hop on the scale. What do you see? Not only you didn’t lose an ounce, but you gained two motherfucking pounds. And that’s after all the work you’ve done!? Your motivation level is below zero and you stop by a coffee shop to get a donut to lick your wounds on your way to work. Been there? I sure was.
Here’s the thing though—weight gain is normal when you begin strength training. It happens partially because of this post’s first point, and partially because of the physiological changes that occur in your body. Strength training is a positive yet stressful event for the body, and it takes time for your body to adjust. So don’t give up on strength training. The muscle toning and definition happens, but not as quickly as you may like, and only with a good amount of work and consistency. To help yourself stay motivated, take progress pictures every four to six weeks.