Conventional wisdom about how women should eat, exercise, and look is often negative, self-defeating, and downright degrading. Magazines and over-hyped media encourage women to eat less, warn us not to lift too heavy, and offer numerous "secrets" about how lose weight. Because, you know, a woman's happiness is inexorably tied to the number on the scale. Duh.

Women are often given quick fixes, crash diets, cleanses, and other absurd fitness advice to help us make all of our high-school-jeans dreams come true. When in doubt, we're told, just do more time on the step mill and make more kale salads...oh, and stop eating so much.

It's no wonder so many women are miserable, overly exhausted from marathon workouts, and starving from constantly trying to eat fewer and fewer calories. Many of us are frustrated, confused, and tired of constantly looking for a simpler solution.

The explosive popularity of superhero movies, culminating in "Avengers: Endgame," shows that change is in the air. Actresses like Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Brie Larson as Captain Marvel are proving that women can derive power from strength, not just looks, and are giving Captain America a run for his money. It's time to pull your hero costume out from the back of the closet, dust it off, and wear it proudly. It's time you fully embrace the ass-kicking heroine role you know you can play. You're about to start leading the way for a more positive approach to women's fitness.

From Damsel in Distress to Superhero

Most of the common fitness "advice" for women revolves around following a strict diet and rigid gym schedule, and meticulously counting every gram of carbs, fats, and protein that crosses our lips. Unfortunately, most of us can't practice such an inflexible regimen for the long term without some negative consequences.

I know this because I have ventured over to the dark side and tried several "diets" with the hope of building a better-looking body. Once I finally came to my senses and got back to sane and simple nutrition principles, I had to correct obsessive-eating habits. After a bit of time, patience, and consistency, I found my way back.

Once I replaced my worry and doubt with a superhero cape, I began to follow positive, motivating, empowering fitness principles. I want to share them with you.

Here is the Superhero Creed:

1. I Will Shatter Self-Imposed Strength Limitations

Unfortunately, many women still believe a bodyweight pull-up (let alone several) is something they'll never do. They think deadlifting a loaded barbell that weighs twice their body weight is not a realistic goal. The limitations you set upon yourself aren't real. It's time to tell yourself, "Yes, I can," instead of "No, I can't."

New Rules of Building a Super Body

When you apply this mindset to your workouts, you'll not only increase your physical strength, but your mental strength, as well. The simplest way to start breaking away from the limitations and freeing your inner superhero is to let go of your fear and take action. Forget what you know about what women are capable of doing. Ask yourself, "What else can I do?"

Lift heavy barbells and dumbbells—real-life superhero Meg Squats will show you how in her program, Uplifted. Exercise for strength, not weight loss. Don't be afraid to squat away from the Smith machine. Unleash your power.

2. I Will Eat Real Food

Eat filling, delicious meals that make you feel great. Don't apologize for eating, and don't force yourself to eat foods you don't like just because they're supposedly good for you. There are tons of delicious, all-natural, healthy foods available, so eat the ones you like.

Despite what some "diet" principles would have you believe, eating whole food is really quite simple. All you need to do is apply some common sense and resist the temptation to dwell over the minutiae. Build your diet around red meat, poultry, fish and seafood, dairy, fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, herbs and spices, and healthy fats like nuts and seeds.

If you keep your nutrition guidelines simple and stress-free, you'll be much better off and much more likely to stick to them throughout your life. Not only that, you'll get more out of your workouts. Muscle, after all, needs to be fed to grow stronger. Delicious and filling real-food meals are not complicated, especially if you follow some great recipes.

3. I Will Focus on Performance

Instead of working out with the sole purpose of changing how your body looks, focus exclusively on what your body can do and work toward constantly improving your performance in the gym. We all want to look as great as we feel, and that's one of the huge perks of training for performance: building a great-looking body is a tremendous side-effect.

To become Captain Marvel, Brie Larson trained for function, practicing heavy lifting and skill-based training to be able to perform stunts and fights. Follow her lead and focus on performance-based goals.

New Rules of Building a Super Body

Most women want a sexy pair of arms that look great in a tank, but instead of doing military presses, biceps curls, and triceps extensions to get them, try working toward performing a few bodyweight chin-ups and 10 or more push-ups with perfect form. These exercises build your arm muscles, as well as the muscles in your back and chest, building true functional strength.

By the time you achieve those goals, your arms will look absolutely incredible and you'll have developed some real upper-body muscle strength in the process. This is truly win-win!

One of the other awesome things about training for performance is that you have tons of variability in your workouts. Use the whole gym. For instance, you can train primarily with bodyweight workouts, you can use a combination of barbells and dumbbells, you can use kettlebells, and you can use strongman lifts. Ultimately, the possibilities are endless!

Remember, train to be a superhero! Try to build the strongest, most awesome version of yourself. When you focus on that goal, the bonuses will include a leaner, shapelier, better-looking body. You also should have a lower resting heart rate, stronger bones, and more athletic skill!

4. I Will Embrace the Truth That I Am Awesome Right Now

Even if you're overweight, have just started working out, or still have a long road ahead of you, you can still choose to be happy with where you are right this moment. Forget about planning to be happy once you reach your main goal in the distant future. Being a superhero means living every day to the fullest and making healthy decisions because you love yourself as you are this very moment.

New Rules of Building a Super Body

5. I Will Follow Simple, Sustainable Lifestyle Habits That Enhance My Happiness

Like any superhero, you will have to fight your fair share of villains. Skeptics will say women shouldn't lift heavy. "Experts" will tell you you'll have to diet the rest of your life. Even that little voice inside you will say your happiness and self-worth are determined by numbers on the scale.

Trust yourself and do what you know will fortify you. Keep focused on what really matters: your health and resilience. Every battle you win will make you that much stronger, that much smarter, and that much more awesome. In the end, you will be victorious.

The Younger Generation Needs Superheroes

As you go through your hero transformation, it's important to keep in mind that you will be watched.

All young girls have their role models. Growing up, and even to this day, the most prominent ass-kicking woman in my life is my mom. She taught me from a young age that physical and mental strength are traits to be desired, and that my self-worth does not come from a number on the scale. It's because of my mom that I'm the woman I am today.

The young women in your life are watching you. Be the superhero they can look up to. Show them how to be strong and confident. Talk more about gaining muscle and less about losing fat. Show them that being a woman is an awesome and powerful thing.

Ready for superhero training? Train for superhuman power with Meg Squats in Uplifted, or build strength and tactical agility with flame-haired Hannah Eden in FYR, only on All Access.

About the Author

Nia Shanks

Nia Shanks

Nia is a personal trainer dedicated to showing women how to build a better body by following a simple approach to nutrition and strength training.

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