Yesterday I was at the gym when a girl stopped me and asked me how she can lean up and lose some body fat. Being a fitness professional, I didn’t give her a short answer. After I was done with my long and probably exhausting explanation, I thought to myself, “I’m willing to bet tons of girls are going through the exact same thing she is. It may be beneficial to talk about the things I discussed in that conversation on a blog, podcast, or video of some sort.” So here I am, writing a blog on the 3 reasons girls aren’t seeing results.
As I mentioned, the girl that asked the question wanted to lean up and lose some body fat without losing any muscle. In fact, she thought it would be nice to get a little more muscle while losing that extra body fat. I asked about her training and her nutrition, and as I suspected, she was lacking in all three areas that most girls are. Here they are the reasons she was lacking.
Reason #1: No Strength Training
Unfortunately, it’s been sold (and still is) to girls that in order for them to tone up and lean down, they need to do light weight but lots and lots of repetitions. This advice couldn’t be worse. I’m confident that this advice is actually the demise of the lean body that girls are seeking to achieve.
The reason this advice came about in the first place is because it’s easier to market, and it burns more calories. If the industry told girls they’ll look like guys if they lift any other way, why wouldn’t they do what they’re asking, right? Also, more repetitions means more calories burned during a workout.
Let me tell you a couple of little secrets.
Secret number one is that you won’t look like a guy if you lift heavy weights. Not at all. You simply don’t have enough testosterone flowing through you to see those kinds of significant changes in muscle growth. In fact, after lifting heavy weights, the change you’ll see in muscle is most likely the exact right amount to reach that toned and defined look.
Secret number two is that performing lots of repetitions during your workout in order to burn more calories is an absolute waste of time and energy. The amount of calories that you burn in a day comes from many different places like your BMR (calories burned at rest), NEAT (fidgeting, walking, chores, etc.), exercise, and more. Only 5% of your daily burned calories come from exercise. Only 5%! That’s nothing. On the other hand, 75% of your daily burned calories come from your Basal Metabolic Rate, or calories burned at rest. This is determined largely by the muscle that you have on your body. So, if burning calories is your goal for fat loss, it would be far more wise to spend time focusing on strength when you’re working out in order to increase the amount of calories your body burns at rest.
When we exercise, we send a signal to our body depending on the stimulus we give it. If we perform long distance running, we tell our bodies to be better at long distance running. Our body responds by losing muscle and slowing down the metabolism in order to be more efficient. If we perform moderate lifting with lighter weights, we tell our body to have better muscular endurance. Our bodies respond by slowly improving the amount of times a moderate weight can be lifted before exhaustion. If we perform strength training, we send a signal to our bodies telling them to become better at lifting heavier weights. Our body responds by increasing its lean muscle mass and central nervous system adaptation in order to become more efficient at lifting heavy weights. A direct response of that is a faster metabolism.
So, lift heavy weights. Girls spend most of their time lifting 12 reps or more with a moderate load. Girls, test your strength. Be strong. Spend some time lifting more weight for 4-8 reps. Do some heavy squats, heavy deadlifts, heavy bench presses, heavy overhead presses, and heavy rows. Trust me, you’ll see the change you’ve been looking for.
Reason #2: Too Much Cardio
I alluded to this in the previous reason but it still needs its own section.
Before I move on, let me be clear. I am NOT bashing cardio. As I write I will only be bashing what is called chronic cardio.
Too many people suffer from chronic cardio addiction. They know that cardio burns a lot of calories so they get on the treadmill or stairmaster and they go and go and go. They see results after a short period of time, so they continue to run and climb. More and more and more. After a while, the results start to dwindle. In fact, Hours and hours of cardio are done per week and the results simply don’t come any more. What could be going wrong?
Remember what I said earlier about the signals we sent to our bodies? That’s what’s going on here. The more we do a certain type of training, the better our body gets at that certain type of training. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing. We must give our bodies a chance to adapt and become better at that new type of training. But after a while, it’s no longer beneficial to expose our bodies to the same thing over and over and over again. Especially when it comes to long durations of steady-state cardio. When performing these long bouts of cardio on a consistent basis, our body responds by becoming more efficient. It becomes more efficient by getting rid of muscle, and slowing down its metabolism, because those two things aren’t advantageous when it comes to long durations of cardio.
Basically, the body’s metabolism turns into that of a Prius. It goes a long way without burning too much fuel. When it comes to toning, getting leaner, and creating more definition, we want the metabolism of a Ferrari. We want to burn a ton of calories without a lot of effort.
You now know that the Ferrari metabolism comes from strength training.
Does that mean you have to wipe out all cardio? No, of course not. But you definitely should take it down if you’re doing it chronically. I recommend no more than 2, 12-minute HIIT sessions after a couple of your strength training workouts per week. Let your body prioritize building that faster metabolism through your strength training first, and use the HIIT as a supplemental way to burn a few extra calories in the week.
Reason #3: Not Enough Protein
When it comes to building muscle and keeping it, protein (and getting plenty of it) is extremely important. The girl that was asking for advice in the gym was in a common situation that I find a lot of girls in. She doesn’t track her food intake, and therefore has no idea how much protein she is eating in a day. She said she drinks a protein shake after training, but doesn’t have any idea how much protein she consumes outside of that. Unfortunately, if she’s not eating enough protein as is, that supplement she’s spending money on and making a part of her ritual is a complete waste and isn’t doing jack for her. I know for a fact that this is most people.
They are unwilling to track their food intake but they are taking all the “right” supplements for their goals.
Listen, tracking your food intake is something you MUST do if you want to make sure you’re doing the right things to reach your goals. It lets you know everything that is going on. Even the stuff you can’t see. It says “here you go, this is why you’re not reaching your goals.” It gives you the exact problem in order for your to find the exact solution. The unwillingness to track food intake is like a company saying it wants to lower its expenses but is not willing to look at the books and keep a budget.
Track your food.
Tracking your food intake will allow you to see how much food you’re eating, what you’re getting plenty of, and what you’re defficient in. After coaching people for years, I can tell you with confidence that 90% of people seeking to improve their body composition are not eating enough protein.
So, what’s enough?
Thankfully, enough protein isn’t what supplement companies tell you. No, you do not have to eat 2x your bodyweight in protein. Barf.
A good range to live in when it comes to protein is .6-.8g per pound of body weight. Protein isn’t the only thing that aids in muscle growth, but carbs do as well. So, when you’re in an energy surplus (eating more than you burn in a day), you don’t need to have super high protein intake since carbs are there to help you build. Stay within .6-.8g per pound of body weight when in an energy surplus.
Being in an energy deficit is different, and that’s where you’ll most likely be if you’re wanting to lose fat in order to become leaner and more toned. When you’re eating fewer calories than you burn in a day, you’re at risk for losing the muscle that drives your definition and your metabolism due to the lower carb intake you’re probably consuming. You don’t want that. When in an energy deficit and prioritizing fat loss, it’s recommended that you take your protein up to 1g per pound of body weight.
Note that going higher than 1g per pound of bodyweight has been shown to have no effects of muscle improvement. Your body will just use the rest to convert to energy or store as fat.
Takeaway #1: Begin strength training at a higher weight load for 4-8 reps. Focus on increasing your strength each week and watch your muscle definition improve.
Takeaway #2: If you’re performing a lot of cardio, take it down to 2, 12-minute HIIT sessions after a couple of your strength training workouts. I advise slowly weaning off all cardio at first but if you must have it, stick to a couple of short HIIT sessions per week.
Takeaway #3: Eat more protein. Eat .6-.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight when increasing calories. When in a deficit, bump it up to 1g per pound of bodyweight to keep that hard-earned muscle.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam is a fitness professional, baseball fan, and cookie fanatic based in Fort Collins, Colorado. After hanging up the cleats, he found a strong interest in the human body and how it performs. Since then, Adam has been transforming lives through fitness in a fun and encouraging atmosphere. As an ACE CPT and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, he is constantly moved to help people improve in all walks of life. If you’re interested in hiring Adam as your coach, fill out an application here.