Today we have a special treat as former contestant and finalist from the Men’s Health reality show “Next Top Trainer,” Kevin Mullins, weighs in on women’s wellness. Kevin is my male counterpart in the sense that he goes to bat for women and puts their greatest needs as his highest priority. His advice is honest and authentic. His training style is serious (and effective) but his personality can be goofy and light-hearted. Side note: we banter like siblings all the time. I regularly poke fun at him for eating “all the wrong things” to fuel up for workouts but then he manages to attain a six-pack. Geesh. Show-off.
Handing it over to Kevin… (and my side commentary)
Fitness is Changing. More specifically, fitness is changing for women. Gone are the days where women blindly jump on treadmills and elliptical machines and plod away for hours on end only to deprive themselves of much needed calories for the rest of the day after. Thankfully, an increase in the available education for gym goers and fitness professionals alike has helped women train appropriately and maximize on progress towards their goals, while also maintaining their health and well-being.
The fact that you find yourself here on Maggie’s awesome site proves that quality, unbiased, and factually supported information is readily available. Knowing her for years, I’ve seen her consult textbooks, research studies, peers, and her own intuition when building programs, teaching concepts, and sharing her passion for fitness. With Maggie, you are in great hands! (Maggie: Stop Kevin, you’re making me blush!)
I hope my two cents don’t disappoint!
How We Got Here
As a trainer I have supported, guided, and trained a wide variety of clients in a variety of locations and settings. I’ve stood beside professional athletes, fashion models, pregnant mothers, and college-aged young guys and gals. I’ve had some amazing experiences and breakthroughs with many of my clients, and intend on having many, many more.
Nothing, however, provides as much satisfaction to me as guiding women, young and old, into a new era of personal fitness. See, for far too long women have been misguided in the gym setting. Everything from “6 minute buns” in the 90’s, the popularity of Zumba and dance-based classes across America, and the creation of Curves has segmented women from men in the fitness setting. Add in provocative, sexually driven ads of ripped, but scantily clad, women in every women’s magazine and there is no wonder why many women are frustrated by fitness.
Frankly, it’s not fair. (Maggie: It’s refreshing to hear a man agree!)
Now, I’m not saying I don’t support a good Zumba sweat, or a nice at-home DVD for the busy-on-the-go woman. In fact, I support all of my clients being active as often as possible. Take a hike, a run, lift weights, dance your booty off, or dust off that old Jane Fonda tape…I don’t care! Just move.
Yet, “just moving” only gets you so far. If it’s progress you seek then it’s progress you must chase.
We want progress! You want progress!
Thus comes the need for women, like men, to train to be stronger. Yes, STRONGER. I implore you to put a little trust in fitness professionals and start picking up heavier things when you go to the gym. Let’s learn why! (Maggie: Yes, please!)
A Quick Lesson in Science
Now, it wouldn’t be fair for me to talk about strength and how to train to achieve it without paying some time and word count to a bit of the science.
What is Strength, actually?
Strong is watching a baseball player hit a home run way over the fence. Strong is also watching an Olympic gymnast nail a dismount from the bars and not flinch, or an ice skater hit a Triple Lutz with grace and beauty.
Strong isn’t ugly.
There is an antiquated assumption that for a woman to be strong she must be big and “manly.” Women such as Maggie herself, Neghar Fonooni, and Molly Galbraith (the creators of Girls Gone Strong) prove that strength and beauty go hand-in-hand. (Maggie: Whoa, Kevin! Just threw me out of my ballpark – equally thrilled and in shock.)
The neuromuscular system is the “highway of information” that runs throughout our body. Our brain communicates to our muscles and our muscles communicate what they are sensing back to our brains. Oftentimes, a deficit in strength output is resultant of inefficiencies in this system. Imagine trying to win the Tour De France when you’ve never really ridden a bike before…No Bueno…
Therefore, strength gains often come in the absence of muscle mass gain. In fact, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, all progress in the first 6 to 8 weeks of a strength training program can be attributed to neuromuscular efficiency, and not a change in muscle mass. (Maggie: Yes! I mentioned this in Frenemies.)
So, fear not! Strength is very independent of muscle size. You can train to achieve it without waking up tomorrow looking like Chris Hemsworth. I’m still trying to find what will make ME wake up looking like him though!
So, what is it then that makes my muscles bigger?
Oh my, oh my! If there were one answer to this question then you would be far more impressed with the muscularity of the men that attend your gym or fitness center.
Hypertrophy, is the fancy science word for muscle growth, and it is a darn hard physical phenomenon to achieve. The most modern studies have pinpointed training volume and time under tension as the foremost variables that cause a muscle to grow or not.
So, now that you know that strength and hypertrophy aren’t much like each other, you should feel more at ease for trusting me. If not, then let me give you one more reason why you don’t have to worry about looking more like the Beast than the Beauty if you start to train strength!
Men have an estimated 10 times the amount of the hormone testosterone as women.
Testosterone is the sex hormone that helps keep body fat levels low and muscle mass higher (i.e., the major physical difference between men and women).
Yet even guys struggle endlessly to put a single pound of real muscle on in a year. So, if a male struggles with muscle gain and has 10 times the potential for growth then I promise that you have nothing left to fear!
(Maggie: Okay, okay! Enough of the science Kevin…)
Why You Should Train for Strength
I know what you are thinking…”this sounds great and all, but why do I want to be stronger?”
Here are my top 3 reasons women should train to be stronger!
- Lifting near maximum weights in exercises such as the squat and deadlift have proven to release calcium into the bloodstream. This will strengthen bones and go a long way towards minimizing the risk of osteoporosis.
- Lifting weights and achieving strength is also an exercise in postural control. Learning to position and move through exercises such as the deadlift and overhead press will help you understand correct spine, hip, and shoulder alignment. Furthermore, you will strengthen postural muscles such as the gluts, hips, and spinal erectors, so that they can better support you in everyday life.
- Lifting for strength is a measurable challenge. Instead of going to the gym and trying to burn off yesterday’s mimosas, and chasing an image that isn’t fair in the first place, you show up with the intent of changing numbers. Even if you lift 1 pound more than you did last week then you’ve made progress. Progress makes you happy and increases rates of compliance to exercise programs.
These are all incredible reasons to start training to be stronger. If you need any other ones, Maggie and I will be more than happy to provide you with a plethora of them!
Where do I Start?
Great question, ladies! I really feel like we are on the same page here.
Training for strength doesn’t have to be intimidating. You don’t have to venture into the jungle of sweaty, cut-off shirt wearing guys with their headphones and shaker bottles right off the bat. You can stick to that machine you’ve been working out on for a while but this time, GO HEAVY! Do this with every move you do. Try to do 5 sets of no more than 3 to 5 repetitions. That last rep should be very hard! (Maggie: Kevin has put ME to the test with a strength program before – I really saw results!)
Here are my 2 guidelines to get you started:
- Do a Set of the exercise. Could you have done more? If you think you could have done 3 more reps then add 5 pounds to the lift. If you think you could have done 5 or more extra repetitions then add 10 pounds to the lift.
- Focus on progress week-to-week not day-to-day. Take notes and observe trends.
I truly hope that you feel a little inspired to start training to be stronger! I hope that you can be an example for your friends and family. The most powerful people in the world are the ones who are willing to test the waters and take the risks. We follow risk-takers because we trust them and their intuition. Be the one who starts the change!
Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you,
About the Author
Kevin Mullins is a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach for Equinox in Washington DC. Kevin was selected as one of Men’s Health magazine’s 2014 Next Top Trainers, and appeared on a reality show with some of the best trainers in the country. Kevin has also written and modeled for MetRX magazine, is an avid deadlifter, and teaches group exercise classes. Kevin can be contacted at Kevin.firstname.lastname@example.org and maintains his own website, complete with blog, at KevinMullinsFitness.com.