4 Things Your Girlfriend Should Know
by Tony Gentilcore, CSCS, CPT
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Being a man in today's society is darn tough. We're inundated with constant struggles and frustrations:
1. Deciding which is the best trilogy ever made: the original Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?
2. Which Jessica to choose from: Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, or Jessica Simpson?
Jessica Alba. Hands down.
3. Pre-mature ejaculation (poor souls)
4. Trying our very best to not throw the television out the window every time we see Jared (from Subway) espousing the benefits of eating a low-fat diet.
5. Trying to convince our girlfriend or wife that lifting weights won't make her look like a she-man.
Being a guy myself, I feel your pain. I know how frustrating it can be to try to convince a woman (let alone your significant other) that doing endless hours of aerobics or spending the majority of her gym time using those hip abductor/adductor machines is a fruitless endeavor from a body composition standpoint.
If you're in the same situation as most guys, the likelihood that your girlfriend will accompany you to the gym on deadlift day is about as slim as Rosie O'Donnell keeping her big yapper shut.
Needless to say, this is for all the guys out there who are losing the battle. This article will help you convince that special lady in your life that what she's been doing in the gym is flat-out wrong. You can thank me later.
1. Yoga Mostly Sucks
I can only imagine how much hate mail I'm going to receive after saying what I'm about to say, but it has to be said. Ready?
Well, it doesn't stink entirely; it just mainly stinks. Guess I just blew my shot at ever dating a yoga instructor.
Women are fascinated with yoga. Given the claims the majority of yoga "gurus" tout, it's no wonder all these women are under the assumption that yoga will do everything from help them lose weight and get stronger to bringing sexy back.
The fact is, when it comes to general fitness and body compositional goals, most females want and/or need the following:
Decreased body fat
Improved daily/athletic function
Increased bone density
Lets break these down one by one and compare yoga to resistance training:
1) Decreased Body Fat
In order to decrease body fat, you have to provide some sort of caloric deficit either through dieting or through increased caloric expenditure from physical activity (or some form of both). I'm going to leave the dieting component alone for now (I think women tend to drastically under-eat as it is), but I do want to elaborate on the latter component.
Yoga doesn't cause a high (or acute) or post-exercise calorie expenditure, which is one of the main factors in fat loss. Many people equate sweating to burning a lot of calories. Sorry ladies, but just because you sweat a lot while taking a class in a 105 degree room doesn't mean you're burning a lot of calories. You wouldn't say you're burning that many calories sun bathing on the beach would you?
Not exactly what I'd call a calorie burning activity.
How many calories do you think you can burn standing or sitting in one spot for an hour, which is essentially what you do in a typical yoga class? Numerous studies have shown that resistance training elevates EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) for upwards of 24 to 48 hours after you're done training.
Simply put, not only will you burn more calories during one hour of resistance training compared to one hour of yoga, but you'll also burn more calories even when you're not in the gym. More calories burned equals more body fat lost. I've yet to see one study which shows yoga does anything to increase EPOC significantly (if at all).
Additionally, yoga doesn't provide resistance sufficient enough to increase or preserve lean body mass (LBM), which is directly correlated with metabolism and thus the rate at which you burn calories. Yes, beginners might see transient increases in LBM in the beginning, but that's mainly because most women who go from doing nothing to participating in yoga classes are so de-conditioned that their body weight elicits enough of a stimulus to cause a slight change.
Careful honey, ya might get "too big!"
2) Increased Strength
As Vladimir Zatsiorsky states in his book, Science and Practice of Strength Training, muscular strength is defined as "the ability to overcome or counteract external resistance by muscular effort; also, the ability to generate maximum external force." (1) In order to generate maximum force (get stronger), a trainee needs to incorporate one of three methods:
1. Maximum Effort Method: Lifting a maximum load (exercising against maximum resistance).
2. Repeated Effort Method: Lifting non-maximal load to failure (albeit still taking into consideration the rule of progressive overload. Relying on one's body weight will only take you so far).
3. Dynamic Effort Method: Lifting a non-maximal load with the highest attainable speed.
The fact is, yoga isn't easily "modifiable" to facilitate constant adaptation for strength gains, unless of course your girlfriend wants to gain weight (highly unlikely). Yoga will in fact develop strength to a point, but soon thereafter you're just training strength endurance. If bodyweight is constant, then progressive resistance isn't possible without adding an external load.
Well, that's one way to increase resistance.
3) Increased Bone Density
This is especially important for women because they're at higher risk of developing osteoporosis compared to men (especially if they're Caucasian, Asian, or slight of build).
In terms of stimulating new bone formation, what's needed is something called a minimal essential strain (MES), which refers to a threshold stimulus that initiates new bone formation. "A force that reaches or exceeds this threshold and is repeated often enough will signal osteoblasts to migrate to that region of the bone and lay down matrix proteins (collagen) to increase the strength of the bone in that area." (2)
Furthermore, physical activities that generate forces exceeding the MES are those activities that represent an increase in intensity relative to normal daily activities. For sedentary or elderly individuals, this might be where yoga could be enough of a stimulus to cause an MES and new bone formation (bodyweight exceeds the threshold).
However, you still have to take into consideration the rule of progressive overload (bodyweight will only take them so far) and for younger or more active people, higher intensity activities such as sprinting, jumping, and heavy resistance training will need to be included to exceed MES.
Regardless of one's training history or lifestyle, it's clear that the activities chosen to increase bone density need to be progressive and weight bearing in nature. Yoga doesn't do this.
4) Improved Daily/Athletic Function
During a yoga class, you're sitting and/or standing in one spot for 45 to 60 minutes. This will not equate to better efficiency or performance in daily life or on the athletic field. As an athlete your time is better spent elsewhere.
5) Increased Flexibility
This one I'll concede to yoga. It does help to improve flexibility, which is a good thing (sort of). Unfortunately, it tends to promote flexibility/mobility in areas of the body where it doesn't need it!
If we were to take a joint-by-joint look at the body, we'd notice that there's a delicate balance between mobility/stability:
What It "Needs"
I've worked with many clients with extended histories of lower back pain who start participating in yoga classes through the recommendation of a friend or worse yet, an uninformed physician. Their rationale: "All you need to do is stretch out your back." Quite possibly the worst piece of advice to give.
As you can see from above, the lumbar spine (lower back) generally needs to be trained with stability in mind. Many of the poses in yoga promote hyperextension of the lumbar spine, which is the last thing it needs. Most back issues are extension-based, which just means that an individual is getting more ROM (range of motion) at the lumbar spine due to lack of ROM at the hips. Essentially with yoga, you're promoting more ROM (and thus instability) in a place where it needs less ROM (more stability).
What are you talking about? My back feels great!
Furthermore, what good is it to have all this extra mobility or ROM if you can't stabilize in that range of motion in the first place? Having excessive ROM (in the wrong places) without the strength to stabilize that ROM actually predisposes people to injury.
So while yoga does enhance flexibility and mobility, resistance training actually facilitates movement through that range of motion, and provides the dynamic control to allow you to utilize the range of motion safely.
Commence the Hate Mail
I realize that what I wrote above is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but like I stated in the beginning, it had to be said. While yoga is an excellent modality to help improve the mind-body connection, and it certainly is a valuable tool in the "overall fitness toolbox," it doesn't hold a flame to resistance training as far as what the majority of women want/need from their time in the gym.
A good rule of thumb most women should follow would be to train three times per week while incorporating a healthy dose of soft tissue work and dynamic flexibility. Once all of that is met, then she can incorporate yoga into the mix.
2. Low Reps vs. High Reps
I love low rep training. I love low rep training almost as much as I love Justin Timberlake's "Dick in a Box" parody he did on SNL not too long ago.
Sorry fellas. I had to include some eye candy for the ladies here.
Unfortunately, most women (including your girlfriend) are obsessed with "dieting" and love the color pink. As a result, they love to perform endless repetitions with those 8 pound pink dumbbells every chance they get, thinking that this will elicit more fat loss. Couldn't be further from the truth.
Memo to Your Girlfriend:
Ditch the light weights (especially when you're dieting). You'll just end up with a fragile, weak, and soft looking body, otherwise known as the "skinny-fat" look. Your muscles will lack what's known as good neurogenic or myogenic tone (basically fancy words used to express muscle hardness).
What's with the pink dumbbells!
Simply put, there are two types of muscle tone: myogenic and neurogenic. The former refers to your muscle tone at rest; the latter refers to muscle tone that's expressed when muscular contractions occur.
Low(er) rep training increases the sensitivity of various motor units resulting in increased neurogenic tone. On the other hand, myogenic tone is correlated with the overall density of your muscles (specifically the contractile proteins myosin and actin) and is vastly improved by lifting heavier weights.
This pink thing is outta hand!
This is going to come as a shock to most women, but utilizing light weights (anything above twelve reps in my book) while dieting will likely result in loss of muscle, which is the exact opposite of what you want to happen.
When dieting, the body will adapt to the caloric deficit by down-regulating many of the hormones involved with metabolism (T3, T4, leptin, etc.), as well as getting rid of metabolically active tissue (muscle.) Obviously you'd want to prevent this from happening in the first place, which is why I always recommend that women drop the 20 rep sets and start training with heavier weights.
The Inevitable Retort from Your Girlfriend:
"Whatever. All the fitness magazines say I should use high reps for fat loss when I'm dieting, and they obviously know what they're talking about. Now when are you taking the garbage out?"
When someone goes on a diet, catabolic hormones, which promote muscle breakdown, rise (bad). Anabolic hormones, which promote muscle growth, decline (also bad). Your body is smarter than you, and it will "slow down" to work at your reduced caloric intake. As a result, it'll reduce whatever is metabolically active ? muscle.
In regards to training, a great way I like to explain things is from a conversation I had via e-mail with Erik Ledin, a well known figure coach:
"If you train light, you'll keep enough muscle to be able to continue to train light. But given this doesn't take a lot, from a relative and individual standpoint (i.e. it takes more muscle to lift a weight that limits you to 8 reps than it does to lift a weight that limits you to 20) you'll keep what you need to accomplish these generally 'easier' tasks. The key to a lean, hard body is a nice balance between nutrition, cardio, and low rep, heavy weight training. What builds muscle is what keeps muscle."
I'm willing to bet she didn't use pink dumbbells to look like this
3. Train More Like a Man
Question: "Sugarbottoms, how 'bout I teach you how to squat today?"
Answer: "But I don't want to get big and bulky."
Newsflash, ladies: You will not get "big and bulky" just because you're doing squats and deadlifts. That statement is akin to me saying, "Eh, I don't want to do any sprints today because I don't want to win the 100m gold medal next week." Getting big and bulky isn't easy, just like winning the 100m gold medal isn't easy.
If anything, it's an insult to all those people who've spent years in the gym to look the way they do. It didn't happen overnight, which is what you're assuming by saying something so absurd.
And let's be honest, most people (men and women) won't work hard enough to get "big and bulky" in the first place. It's hard enough for a man to put on any significant amount of muscle, let alone a woman. Women are physiologically at a disadvantage for putting on muscle due to the fact that they have ten times less free Testosterone in their bodies compared to men.
That being said, you still need to get the most bang out of your training buck, and that includes ditching the glute-buster machine and focusing more on the compound movements. Joe Dowdell, owner of Peak Performance in NYC, trains many of the top female models in the city and their programming includes squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, bench variations, sled dragging, and tons of energy system work.
Yes, Victoria's Secret models are doing squats and deadlifts. And yes, that's completely hot. Guess what they're not doing? Watching Oprah every day while walking on the treadmill for 60 minutes.
If Giselle can do Romanian deadlifts, so can you.
Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you can't train like a man and lift some serious weight. I never bought into this whole mindset that women are these delicate creatures that can't hang with the boys.
Heck, even my own girlfriend is hooked now. Two months ago, she never attempted a deadlift, now she's pulling over 200 pounds (209 in this video) and loves it. And she still looks like a girl no less! In all actuality, since she started training with me occasionally, she's gotten leaner and stronger. To quote her, "My glutes went from flab to fab."
4. Steady State Cardio: Sucks Worse than Yoga
Not to beat a dead Barbaro (er, I mean horse), but steady state cardio/aerobics isn't the most efficient way to burn body fat. I like lists, so I'm going to use a list to prove my point.
1) Steady state cardio doesn't elevate EPOC all that much, which again is one of the main factors in fat loss. Sure, one hour of steady state cardio will probably burn more calories than one hour of resistance training, but it's the calories you burn in the other 23 hours outside of the gym that really matter.
Essentially, once you're done doing steady state cardio, you're done burning calories. However, with resistance training and/or with high intensity interval training (HIIT), your body's metabolism will be elevated for upwards of 24 to 48 hours. Thus, you'll burn a ton more calories.
2) Speaking of metabolism, yours is in direct correlation with how much LBM (lean body mass) you have. The more LBM you have, the higher your metabolism. Given that long duration, steady state cardio actually eats away muscle; you're shooting yourself in the foot in that regard.
3) The "fat burning zone" doesn't exist. It's true that your body will burn a greater percentage of fat at lower intensities; however, the total calories being burned is so small that it doesn't even really matter. Again, it all comes down to EPOC.
4) As Alwyn Cosgrove has pointed out on numerous occasions, your body adapts very well to cardiovascular exercise (in this case, steady state cardio). This is a bad thing. As you get more efficient at running a certain distance, the work required to complete that distance will become less and less as you get fitter.
To improve, you have to go further in order to burn the same amount of calories. What once took you 30 minutes to burn "X" amount of calories, now takes you 45 minutes. Doesn't sound too efficient in my book.
5) A great analogy I like to use is comparing a marathon runner to a sprinter. Marathon runners do a ton of long distance, steady state work, and yet still average anywhere from 11 to 14% body fat (still somewhat lean, but not very muscular at all. Many of them still have the "skinny-fat" look).
On the other hand, sprinters do anywhere from 10 to 120 seconds of "work" and yet average 6 to 8% body fat. Just goes to show that short, intense bursts of energy (anaerobic work) is generally far superior to longer, less intense bursts of energy (aerobic) when taking body composition into consideration.
Elite Female Marathon Runner
(2+ hours of aerobic activity: skinny, but not impressive)
Elite Female Sprinter
(10-20 seconds of anaerobic activity: lean and muscular)
Note: I realize that the majority of women out there don't necessarily want to look like the above example of the sprinter. But the point I'm trying to make here is that she doesn't spend hours on end performing drawn out, steady state cardio to look the way she does. And yet she's a heckuva lot leaner than the marathon runner. Food for thought.
6) The majority of your fat loss should come via diet, not copious amounts of steady state cardio/aerobics. From a time efficiency standpoint, which makes more sense? Not eating that bowl of cereal at night (300-500 calories) or spending 60 minutes on a treadmill to burn that same 300-500 calories every single day?
7) Steady state cardio/aerobics does little to change how your body looks. Sure, you may lose 20 pounds, but you'll still be the same "shape." You won't look leaner, only smaller (not to mention weaker).
8) Lets be honest, do you really enjoy spending 45-60 minutes on one piece of equipment?
Other Random Thoughts
? Women need to eat more protein. Cassandra Forsythe says it best, "When in doubt, eat meat."
? You can't be on a diet forever. Learn to incorporate dietary breaks.
? Ladies, you're four times more likely to have an ACL tear compared to men. Get off the leg extension and leg curl machines and train your posterior chain more! Perform various deadlifts, box squats, Anderson squats, pull-throughs, glute-ham raises, one-legged back extensions, and lots of single leg work.
? Train with your man. He secretly loves it.
? Get off your cell phone, for the love of God!
Okay, fellas, all you have to do now is click the "print" button and strategically place this article in a place where you know your girlfriend will see it. Your best bet would either be in between the pages of this week's People magazine or inside the DVD case of any of the following movies: Steel Magnolias, Dirty Dancing, or The Notebook. Good luck!
About the Author
Tony Gentilcore is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and personal trainer (CPT) through the NSCA. He currently resides in the Boston area and can be contacted at email@example.com.
1. Zatsiorsky, V. Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1995.
2. Baechle, T., Earle, R., and Wathen, D. Resistance Training.. In: Essentials of Strength and Conditioning (2nd Ed.) Baechle, T.R., Earle, R.W.., ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2000.
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