Tag Archives: Toning

The Best Indoor Exercise for Winter

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When it comes to exercise, I’m wary of using overarching phrases like “the best” and “the ideal solution” because each person’s body has its own unique demands and needs. Forgive me for making an exception to my rule. Today, I’m going to tell you that I think this specific exercise can be enjoyed by the vast majority of people and can offer a plethora of benefits, especially during the more sedentary winter months. It’s quite simple to learn and has a variety of ways it can be done to offer you whatever you need in the way of stretching, toning and/or cardio. Bonus: No equipment needed! I’ve also included two 4-week workout plans; one for beginners and another that is more advanced. So, what is this mysterious exercise? Time to find out… sun salutation

…SUN SALUTATIONS!!! Whether you’re a yoga-lover or scared to death of spending time on the mat reaching for your toes (they seem so far away sometimes!), sun salutations are a great way to start or end your day. You can limber up with just a few rounds of sun salutations (also called Surya Namaskara in Sanskrit), a process that can take anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, or you can devote a longer amount of time to them for additional stretching, toning or cardio benefits. Yoga teacher Krishan Verma said, “It is better to practice daily for 20 minutes than to practice for an hour occasionally.” The beautiful thing about sun salutations is that you CAN reap benefits from them very quickly, so you can easily do them every day – no hour-long gym sessions or equipment needed!

What is Surya Namaskara?

“Surya” means “sun” to Hindus and is revered as the center of the physical and spiritual worlds. Sun salutations are a sequence of asanas (physical poses) intended to salute or show respect to the sun. Some texts claim that the sequence originates as far back as Vedic times, approximately 2,500 years ago. Western cultures adapted the practice in the early 1900s and now people of all different spiritual practices from around the world enjoy it as a physical exercise and outward expression of the desire to connect deeper within. Here is a quick video from a yoga school in Brooklyn which shows how to perform the poses…

Tutorial Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73sjOu0g58M

*I love this video because it takes people through the full traditional sun salutation and how to make each pose work for them. The only thing I don’t like about this tutorial is that it doesn’t show harder modifications of the lunge (with the knee lifted), full chatturunga and upward facing dog. Feel free to choose these harder modifications in the sequence if you are experienced and know them.

Why is Surya Namaskara so ideal for winter months?

  • It’s all about focusing on the warming energy from the sun – something we need to harness during the cold and dismal winter!
  • It doesn’t require equipment
  • It doesn’t require space
  • It can be done at different tempos to meet needs for relaxing, stretching or strengthening
  • It helps give a full-body stretch to weary limbs and rigid spines that are tight and fatigued from long hours inside and sitting
  • It can be done in just a couple of minutes or a longer stretch of time like 20-60 minutes
  • It helps clear the mind
  • It connects you with your breath – bringing awareness to the breath in general can help you calm down during tense moments of the day
  • It tones muscles that might be otherwise neglected while the tennis racquets, swim goggles, hiking boots and soccer shoes sit in the closet waiting for warmer weather

 

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BEGINNERS SUN SALUTATION WORKOUT PLAN:

This plan is ideal for anyone looking to limber and find a little energy to start the day. It’s simple and fast but just tough enough that committing to it takes effort.

Week 1: 5 Sun Salutations/day

Week 2: 10 Sun Salutations/day

Week 3: 15 Sun Salutations/day

Week 4: 20 Sun Salutations/day

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ADVANCED SUN SALUTATION WORKOUT PLAN:

This plan requires a lot of commitment and work but can leave a person feeling very accomplished and in great shape. I have built the plan around the goal of accomplishing 108 sun salutations on the final day. 108 is considered a holy number according to several religions and is meaningful in science, literature, martial arts, sports and more. For this reason, many schools of yoga will use 108 as a goal for the sun salutation practice.

                                                             Week 1: 10×2, 15×2, 20×2, REST

Week 2: 20×2, 25×2, 30×2, REST

Week 3: 40×2, REST, 50×2, REST, 60×1

Week 4: 70×1, REST, 80×1, REST, 40×1 REST 2-3 days

Final: 108 Sun Salutations

My highest hope is that in performing this practice you can find new energy and happiness! Connect with your breath, find the rhythm in your body and get lost in this sequence! Ommmm….

Namaste!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Bulky vs. Long and Lean

People are often concerned that they will get “bulky” when starting a workout program. I hear something like this a lot: “I want to get lean and toned, not big and bulky.” Packing on bulky muscle isn’t likely something you have to worry about though. Here’s why you don’t have to stress about bulking (unless you want to!) and how you can adjust your workouts to feel “long and lean.”

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Why You Don’t Have to Stress About Getting Bulky

Bulking takes a LOT of effort

I hate to say it but you will probably have a harder time increasing muscle size and strength than having an overabundance of voluminous muscle suddenly added to your frame. A couple months of hitting the gym is not likely to make you truly bulky. Even regular exercise only does so much to build up muscles in a “bulky” manner. This is especially the case for women due to differences in hormones that prevent us from being able to acquire muscle in the same way that men do. Not fair, Mother Nature. Not fair.

The truth is, bodybuilders spend a ton of time hitting the weights (we’re talking potentially hours every day of the week) and follow a very strict diet (much more protein than the average person consumes). So don’t sweat it if you’re trying to avoid your pants feeling too tight or your suit jackets not fitting. Although, in my opinion, if this results from healthy muscle gains then you’ve got a GOOD “problem” on your hands! Your exercise program will probably not be vigorous or specific enough to bulk you up.

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Heavy weightlifting does not necessarily result in bulky muscles

Heavy weight training and light weight training aren’t all that different. If you exercise, with any weight range, to the point of fatigue, you will get micro-tears in your muscles which repair and allow you to become stronger and more toned. Building muscle can result from any kind of physical exercise, weight training or endurance activity. This is a good thing, just to be clear! Heavy weightlifting tends to get a bad rep though (among people concerned about bulky muscle), but heavier weights are one of the most efficient ways to spend your time exercising since they give you great results. The more you progressively overload your muscles with heavier resistances, the more muscle you will gain. The more muscle you have, the higher metabolism you create for yourself and the more calories you burn overall throughout the day. Greater calorie burn = greater potential for becoming lean. When coupled with a balanced diet that is…sadly, you still can’t eat cake every night and get away with it.

To sum, building muscle strength through light or heavy weight training (although the latter is generally more efficient) is not synonymous with the specific training for maximal muscle acquisition that comprises the process of bulking.

What ACTUALLY Makes Someone Look “Long and Lean”

We’ve all seen that person walking into the gym with muscles so puffed up that their arms barely look like they will touch their sides. Clearly, this is not a physique that screams long and lean. More often, images of ballerinas and thin Pilates instructors come to mind. In reality, there isn’t a lot these individuals are doing to “lean out” their muscles though. They often look “long and lean” because they are themselves thin and toned. Sometimes this is the result of hard work and sometimes it’s simply genetic.

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While it’s true that stretching helps elongate muscles, stretched out muscles don’t aesthetically look a whole lot different than tight muscles. There’s no major discernable visual difference in spite of what many Pilates, Barre and yoga instructors might preach. Yup, the “long and lean results” claims are mostly marketing ploys. I haven’t met a single person who is 5′ 4″ that has done Pilates three times a week and looked “longer.” Have you? Someone doing Pilates, Barre or yoga might look lean (although typically cardio exercise and weight training produce a leaner physique thanks to burning more calories), but they aren’t suddenly looking like some sky-high beanpole. They probably feel longer thanks to muscles that are nicely stretched out throughout these exercise formats. Balancing strength and cardio exercise with stretching is the ideal way to help you feel longer, relax tight muscles, speed recovery and avoid injury.

As an exercise professional, I can tell you that the only way to *potentially* look “longer” is simply by being leaner – and maintaining tall posture. Perhaps less bulk on your frame (from shedding fat, not muscle) will help you look in the mirror and say “aha! I look taller!” If so, wonderful! Whatever helps ya sleep at night and, of course, stay healthy.

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Here’s how you get and stay lean:

  • Burn calories. Through whatever exercise modality you love and can do regularly, workout to burn energy and shed fat. As you lose a layer of fat your muscles will emerge. Ever seen a young skinny boy with a six pack? He didn’t work for those ripped-looking abs at the ripe age of 10, he just doesn’t have much fat to cover them up! Yes, a six-pack lies within all of us. Literally. 
  • Do a variety of exercises. That’s right, not just Pilates or yoga. If you continue to stimulate your body through new exercise types and challenges, you will avoid a training plateau and continue to reap calorie-burning and muscle-building results. This will lean you out. As mentioned earlier, don’t forget to stretch!
  • Switch up the way you work each muscle. One of the ways that bodybuilders achieve bulk is by repeatedly doing the same exercise over and over again at heavier and heavier weights. There are lots of benefits to this, don’t get me wrong! You can achieve great strength gains, burn fat and boost confidence as you master your technique, but you are also more likely to hypertrophy specific muscle fibers that will get larger over time and *may* result in a little bulk. To avoid this, try rotating what type of equipment and angle you use to work each muscle group. For example, try doing chest fly instead of push-ups to work the chest muscles. After mastering the chest fly, try an incline bench chest press with dumbbells. Keeping the muscles stimulated in this manner will help them stay strong and balanced. It will also help you achieve an overall toned look.
  • Eat clean. There is no way to get lean without controlling caloric intake and the best way to do that is to limit junky foods which are laden with calories. Eat clean, get lean. It rhymes!
  • Drink lots of water. Our muscles swell or hypertrophy after tough workouts, retaining fluids during the healing process. Help your body out and drink lots of fluids to keep things moving and avoid feeling puffy. Sometimes people quit effective workout routines before they’ve had a chance to see results because this post-workout muscle swelling can feel bulky. But it’s not! It’s a sign of progress! 

Get long and lean, or get bulky if that’s what you want! Whatever your fitness aspiratoins, just stay YOU in the process. And have a little fun while you’re at it!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Upper Body Toning; Tricks of the Trade

This is not a post to tell you how many sets and reps is ideal for you. In fact, I’m not even going to mention the amount of weight you should attempt to lift. This article is centered on the stuff you probably don’t know about upper body lifting and how to achieve optimal tone. Your triceps can thank me later…wink wink. 

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Forget Biceps and Triceps…Temporarily

Yes, I’m serious. You can actually put off doing bicep curls and tricep exercises until the end of your routine. These muscles [biceps and triceps] act as assistors to larger muscles. Literally, every time you flex your elbow, the bicep is shortening and having to work. This applies to motions like picking up something heavy or even lifting a fork to your mouth. Can we make that a fork puncturing a big fluffy bite of chocolate cake, please?  

The same is true for your triceps. Any time you extend your arm straight or push something away from your body, you’re shortening and actively working your tricep. Soooo, you know what this means? It means that when you’re doing chest, back and shoulder exercises, your biceps and triceps are actually getting a workout too!

Thus, if you’re pressed on time, opt for working larger muscles in your upper body. You will accomplish more overall work and will reap the benefits. Helloooo strapless dress! 

 

Back it up, Baby!

Your back is begging you to pay more attention to it. It’s actually quite common to forget about the back because we tend to focus our workouts on areas of the body that are easier to give the stink eye to via our mirror’s reflection. But, it’s SO important to incorporate more back work. Here’s why…

  1. You will get the optimal posture that you want by doing exercises (properly) like rows, reverse flies, lat pull downs and rotator cuff exercises. You will look more confident, tall and lean with improved posture. Not to mention “the girls” will now be sitting pretty! 
  2. Since we’re sitting down all day long, we often slouch forwards. This creates a rounded posture that can lead to kyphosis, discomfort, rotator cuff issues and impaired movement. Thus, it’s important for both function and tone to focus on opening the chest and working the back. I typically tell my clients to do two back exercises for every chest exercise. If someone has serious postural issues then I suggest an even greater ratio.

 

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Get Low, Get Low, Get Low

I know I just preached about doing more back than chest exercises, but the chest is important too, and many women see great results when they work it. Here’s the thing though; if you want optimal tone for your chest exercises, you’ve got to complete a full range of motion in your exercises. For example, many people will opt for push-ups on their toes instead of their knees, but they only lower their bodies a few inches towards the ground before pushing back up to the starting posture. This is not ideal push-up form. A chick like this needs to humble herself and choose an easier modification (knee push-ups, wall/”mommy” push-ups, or push-ups with hands on a raised bench). Ironically, she will get more out of her workout this way.

You will achieve better results when you lower your body to a 90-degree angle (in the elbows) at the bottom of a push-up. You may not be able to complete nearly as many push-ups this way at the outset, but you will build up much better upper body and core strength in the process. Funny side note: I’ve corrected a lot of ex-military professionals on their push-up form. At first they think I’m crazy and arrogant, and then they feel the difference…

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Don’t Fear the Transition

There’s this painful point in any exercise where you’re transitioning from lengthening your muscle to shortening it, or vice vera. For example, you’re doing a tricep dip and you’re changing from lowering to lifting your body (i.e. bending to straightening the elbows). The transition feels super intense and your body gets overwhelmed by the effort, so, oftentimes, people rush through this part of the exercise. They’re missing out…

By taking your time transitioning from one phase of the exercise to the next, you will get way stronger than if you rush the process. And you know what goes with getting stronger? Getting more toned!

There are many more bits of advice I could give you about upper body lifting and toning, but, for today, let’s leave it at these four nuggets. I hope you consider at least one of these concepts and achieve greater resilience through the application of it.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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7 Ways to Ramp up Your Core Workout

There is no single “perfect” core exercise that trumps all the rest. For example, one person may perform a core routine with minimal effort or poor form, reaping fewer results from it compared to a hard-working friend who knows how to properly engage her muscles with each rep. So, instead of giving you a list of the “Top 5 Best Core Exercises,” I’m giving you a list of ways you can ramp up any of your favorite core routines for optimal tone.

how to ramp up your core workout

1)    Use Gravity

Gravity genuinely makes a world of a difference for many types of exercise. For example, which do you think is harder? A) Leg Pressing 150 lbs or B) Free Form Squatting 150 lbs. The answer: B. This is because of gravity. Anytime you work against it, you have to more actively engage the core for support.

Example Exercises: 

Planks, Decline Sit-ups, Captain’s Chair Leg Tucks/Raises, Roman Chair Back or Side Lifts, Balancing on One Leg + Medicine Ball Twists, and more!

2)    Increase Your “Lever Length”

Lever Length is basically an exercise pro’s lingo for the distance between your core and your limbs. The longer you stretch your arms or legs away from your body while performing a core exercise, the tougher it will get. Here is one easy to imagine scenario for how an increase in lever length can amplify the difficulty of a move – Imagine you’re picking up a heavy bucket of rocks. Is the bucket going to be more difficult to lift (i.e., it will feel heavier) if you A) pick the bucket up with your arms close to your body or B) pick the bucket up with your arms stretched far away from your body as you lift? The answer: B.

Examples of Increasing Lever Length:

Change a crunch with knees bent to a crunch with knees straight

Change a sit-up with a weight on your chest to a sit-up with a weight overhead

Change a side plank with one leg crossed in front for support to a side plank with the top leg lifting high into the air and the arm reaching high too

increase lever length

3)    Don’t Forget Your Back

A ton of people save their core exercises for the end of a workout and then tend to focus those five short minutes or so on abs (crunches, sit-ups, the like), but it’s equally important to work your back muscles. Although you probably don’t often stare at your back in the mirror while you might regularly evaluate your belly, it’s still important to work it out – and not just for toning reasons. Since many people sit at a desk for the majority of their day, it’s important to counteract the stretching and stress on the back by providing it with proper support. Plus, if you perform a back exercise after every 2-3 ab exercises, you may notice that you’re getting a bit more out of your ab exercise too, since your entire trunk is getting worn out versus just one part of it.

Example Exercises:

Trunk Lifts, Supermans, Swimming, Swan Dives, Saw, Double Leg Kicks, Prone Gluteal Raises, Pelvic Tilts, and more!

4)    Move in 3 Directions

I wrote an article in Feb. 2015 called Move in ways you never thought possible! that was all about gaining mobility and function by moving in all three planes of motion: frontal (front/back), saggital (side to side), and transverse (twisting). Moving in all three planes of motion also yields excellent full body tone, especially for our midsections! Plus, it helps to prevent injuries. So, I encourage you to think outside of the box with your core workouts. Do a million sit-ups and not a whole lot else? Time to switch it up with some side bends or obliques! Do a bunch of straight kettlebell swings? Time to add in some woodchops! Here are some ideas…

Frontal (front/back) Exercises:

Crunches, Double Leg Lifts, Sit-ups, Knee Tucks

Saggital (side to side) Exercises:

Side Bends with Weight, Side Planks, Isometric Crunch + Side Reaches

Transverse (twisting) Exercises:

Oblique Crunches, Woodchops, Side Leg Drops/Circles, Across Body Twists

move in 3 directions

5)    Use Proper Breathing

It astounds me how few people know how to engage their transverse abdominus during core exercises – and it’s so important! So, now is the time to really pay attention, especially since engaging this corset-like muscle both helps prevent injuries AND helps flatten the stomach. I recently wrote an article for Mad Dogg Athletics that explains how to recognize whether or not you’re engaging this muscle (which is activated by the breath since it’s attached to the diaphragm):

So, how do you get the flat abs that you want?

“The key is to focus on whether or not you’re actively drawing your abs in with every core exercise that you perform. You should be able to exhale and squeeze your core in and also hold it tight while both inhaling and exhaling (demonstrating even better control).

You can even get a friend to video tape you while you perform a set of crunches. The first time performing the crunches, just do them without thinking too much. When watching this video, you may find that your abs look a little bit rounded at the top of your movement. This shows that you’re engaging the rectus abdominus (six-pack muscle) but not the transverse abdominus.

During the second set of crunches that you video tape, try to focus on exhaling as you crunch up (note: you should always try to exhale as your abs shorten/work hard). While you exhale, mentally and physically focus on actively drawing your stomach in. When you watch this video, you should see that your abs look a little more drawn in or flat at the top of your movement. The two videos may not look dramatically different but, as you can imagine, if you keep your core more actively engaged with every set and rep then you will reap better results.”

6)    Incorporate Cardio

If you’re not prone to set aside time in your workout exclusively for core exercises, try to sneak core in during cardio. This will have your abs burning even faster due to the oxygen deprivation you’ll be fighting against. It’s really not that difficult to do either – just pick high-intensity core moves and alternate them with jumps, sprints or burpees, or perform cardio moves from plank positions like the following:

Example Exercises:

Mountain Climbers, Plank Jacks, Planks w/ Knee Tuck Jumps, Plank Hand to Toe Reach + Tap, Plank Diagonal Knee Tucks, and more!

core + cardio

7)    Add Weights

This one is pretty obvious, but it often takes a bit of confidence (not to mention control) to start throwing around weights. So, be judicious when selecting which exercises to add weight to, especially if it’s fast moving and you feel unsure of yourself. Otherwise, have no fear of weights – they will help you tone, especially if body weight exercises aren’t giving you strong returns anymore.

Example Exercises:

Kettlebell Swings, Overhead Plate or Dumbbell Lifts, Planks with Dumbbell Exercises (Rows, Twists, Kickbacks), Woodchops (w/ Cables, Ball, Dumbbell), Twists with Plate or Dumbbell, Weight-Loaded Ab Machine, Captain’s Chair Lift w/ Weight Belt (or ball btwn legs), and more!

I have no doubt that these clever maneuvers can work for you! More than anything, getting the midsection you’ve been wanting for years is about putting in the effort, keeping exercises varied (for fabulous tone), and eating healthy (to reduce body fat and reveal the muscle you’ve worked hard for). Lastly, if you are just getting started with core exercises or if you’re a bit out of practice, I encourage you to check out last week’s article Core Support: KeepMeTight, to learn about additional ways to boost your confidence and core strength.

Do you have any signature tricks for your core workouts or any favorite ab exercises?! I’d love to hear about them in the comments section!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Your Booty is the Best

YOUR GLUTS ARE YOUR BEST ASSET

What lady doesn’t want to hear that her booty is her best asset?! Just imagine…there are cat calls left and right as you sashay through your day. Or maybe that’s kind of creepy?  Man-oh-man, lady, your derriere is AMAZING!

If you’re thinking “no way, that doesn’t apply to me,” then think again. Of course it does! Here’s why…

The muscle in your rear end is actually the largest in your body. You’re probably thinking, I already know this and it’s why buying jeans is such an ordeal. This isn’t something to be upset about though. It’s something to embrace!

Love your booty

The size of our bottoms means several positive things:

1) Power. The glutes are often referred to as the “powerhouse” muscle group. They act as a “Commander” over other muscles during exercise, taking over much of the responsibility for working hard. Powerful glutes are why tennis players can lunge quickly to return a strong serve. They are what allow a soccer player to kick the ball far across the field. They are what energize a gymnast as she flips and cartwheels through a floor routine.

2) Increased Caloric Burn. The large size of the glutes means that they are also capable of expending more calories compared with smaller muscles when they are worked. This is what I call “good stuff.” So, if we get the lower body involved in an exercise session then we’re going to burn more calories. For example, if you’re doing a shoulder press while also performing squats then you are burning more energy compared to just doing the shoulder press. Pretty straight forward stuff.  

3) Function. One of the first things I do for clients with back pain, knee pain, and/or ankle instability is strengthen their glutes. If the glutes are not strong then dysfunction will follow. Safe and controlled exercises such as hip bridges, glute kickbacks, and side lying leg lifts are a good place to start. Anything that activates the glutes will help to gradually (or even rapidly) improve other areas of the body. Why? Other smaller muscles have to work harder when the “Commander” (see #1) does not perform her job effectively. In essence, this tires them out. Poor little things. 

4) Desirability. Men are attracted to the toosh/heinie/derriere/booty/junk-in-the-trunk. It’s primal. And women are attracted to men with powerful bodies too. It’s not a bad thing! Having muscle and even some “fluff” in your rear end is natural. Now, just because you don’t have a JLo or Kim Kardashian booty does not mean that yours is unattractive. Also, just because you might have cellulite or stretch marks, does not mean that you’re in the minority. It’s common and normal. Please don’t feel ashamed.

Unfortunately, we lose sight of just how treasured our own tooshies are because of all the photoshopped, smooth, and tanned bottoms abound in the media. I’m sorry but no one has a naturally tan bottom mid-winter…or even in the summer unless you flaunt a thong…I smell something suspicious people!!!

Enjoy yours and put it to good use for your workouts and needs!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie Winzeler

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Men’s Health Next Top Trainer Finalist Weighs in on Women

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!

Fitness is changing

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!)

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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…)

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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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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,

Kevin

(Maggie: Clap-Clap-Clap-Clap!)

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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.fit2last@gmail.com and maintains his own website, complete with blog, at KevinMullinsFitness.com.

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Women’s #1 Question

The #1 question women ask trainers all the time is “how do I get more toned?”

Whenever a woman asks me this question, I take a deep breath and prepare to answer. I cross my fingers and hope that all the “2 weeks to a tighter core,” “top tricks for toning,” and “5 best exercises for a sexy butt, etc. articles haven’t completely clouded her judgment and made her think that there is a single magic bullet out there in the mystical beyond of the exercise heavens that will get her the toned body of her dreams. Thank goodness, we don’t have to search the world and 100,000 fitness articles for the holy grail of toning – there are endless ways to achieve this goal. Below is a summary that you can take with you for life…

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The exciting reality is that anything that stimulates your muscles will help them achieve good tone. There is no single and superior exercise prop or movement that fits every body’s needs or even a single person’s needs in different seasons of life. You can use exercise bands, dumbbells, stability balls, body weight, machines, cables, bosu balls, kettlebells, TRX, and many more pieces of equipment to achieve your toning goals. You can even use a toddler or a bag of heavy groceries…wink wink. Actually, it’s true! Again, anything that stimulates your muscles with resistance can improve tone! The secret to seeing results from all this “stimulation?” Answer: CONSISTENCY! 

Incorporating weights or resistance training to work all major muscle groups in your body is sufficient for toning if you do it a few times a week (again, you can use any of the props mentioned above). If you don’t exercise very often then twice a week for a half hour might be a good place to start. If you exercise regularly then you already know that more intensity is required to stimulate your body the same amount, so the aforementioned prescription probably won’t be enough for you. Ohhh, the mountaintop is always just another few steps higher and higher. 

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This brings me to the next point; for those who are new to exercise and those who are seasoned, you can take a deep breath and rest assured that you don’t have to spend excessive amounts of time in the gym hitting the weights for good toning. The secret to being efficient for toning purposes is….drumroll please…..lifting HEAVY. 

Using more intense resistance or heavier weight on any number of exercises means you’re stimulating your muscles and hormones at a higher level and can reap greater results in fewer sets and reps. This saves time and helps you look and feel fantastic. Once you experience this firsthand there will be no desire to go back to the cute little weights! Now, before you panic about heavy lifting because you think it will make you “bulky,” I want you to look at the picture below….

WW Women Don't Get Bulky

Okay, now please look back up at the picture again for an additional 10 seconds…

Did it sink in yet, ladies? I can’t tell you all how many times I have had to quell a woman’s fear that weight lifting will make her look bulky. I’m prepared to offer a small sample from the overwhelming evidence of why this just doesn’t happen to women. Read on! 

  • Testosterone is one reason women don’t get bulky. We don’t have a ton of it. Testosterone is a hormone that is produced in 20x greater amounts by men than women and helps with muscle growth. Frankly, this is kind of disappointing news!
  • On the flip side, research suggests that some female dominant hormones may actually prevent protein synthesis which again, aids muscle growth.
  • Women have fewer muscle fibers in their upper bodies compared to men. Hence, it’s harder to acquire that “bulk” women are so afraid of.

Parnell Dean with Body Transformation Fitness wrote:

“Although it is understandable that women are worried that weight training will make them overly muscular, there are many physiological and coincidental reasons why it is highly unlikely that women are going to become too big and bulky from weight training. Unless they take anabolic steroids, eat more calories than they need, and train intensely for years, women will not get too big and bulky from weight training; instead, they will build the strong yet sleek, trim, and toned physique that they desire.”

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And why wouldn’t you want to lift weights when you know how much they can transform you? Take for example, Adam Campbell with Women’s Health Magazine who wrote an article titled “12 Reasons You Should Start Lifting Weights Today,” and cited that lifting weights can help women lose up to 40% more body fat compared to just doing cardio exercise or no exercise.

To sum, consistency and lifting heavier as your body becomes stronger will help you achieve the toning you’re after. Trying out a variety of exercises and props will help you hone in on which ones you feel confident performing and which ones you enjoy and want to do more often.

I promise, I could write articles on the top 5 exercises for your gluts, upper arms, calves, inner thighs, lower core, upper back, chest, etc. all darn day long but here’s the thing – I’m interested in giving you so much more than a short list of exercises to take home. Wellnesswinz is here to help you understand how to make living fit and well a lifestyle.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

References:

http://bodytransformationfitness.com/can-women-get-too-big-and-bulky-from-weight-training

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/weight-exercises-women