I recently attended a bridal shower for a girlfriend I hadn't seen in eight years. There were other friends in attendance that I had not seen for an even longer period of time. "Oh, my God! What happened to you?" "Where did you go?" These were some of the responses I got. Some had put on a few pounds - and some even more than that. I, on the other hand, had shed considerable useless pounds and was looking as fit as a fiddle.
"I knew that you worked out a lot. I could tell by your arms," was another remark I had gotten. Nearly 30 pounds had come and gone since I had last seen these people, and as they tried to force-feed me cookies and other sweets, I was also barraged with questions on how I lost the weight.
Pushing 30 is a rough time for us women. Our metabolisms begin to slow down, but not our love for yummy foods and bar hopping. Not a good combination. We get trapped into sedentary jobs and lifestyles, and exercise usually takes a back seat to new challenges and responsibilities. Was gym class the last time you ran a quarter mile? I get asked constantly what I eat, how often I work out, do I lift weights, and how do I find the time.
Ladies, there is no simple solution. No magic bullet. I work hard to remain in my present shape and I sacrifice a lot. But I am living proof that if you're willing to follow some - I mean all - of the 10 tips provided in this simple beginner's guide, better fitness and a more pleasing body shape can be yours.
1. Take charge of your caloric intake
This is the hardest part of all the guidelines I am about to present to you. When I got started in my quest for physical improvement I didn't even really know what the following meant. I used a basic formula to create a caloric deficit. It worked like a charm.
Note: An auto-calculator is down below for your convenience!
Bodyweight x 10 = total calories per day
Example: 125 lbs. x 10 = 1250 kcal / day
I then broke this caloric intake down into a 40 / 40 / 20 split. This means that I broke the 1250 calories down into 40 percent carbohydrates (CHO), 40 percent protein sources (PRO) and the rest from fat (FAT). It looks like this:
- 40 percent CHO / 1250 = 500 calories
- 40 percent PRO / 1250 = 500 calories
- 20 percent FAT / 1250 = 250 calories
And since there are four calories per gram of CHO and PRO, and nine calories per gram of FAT…
- CHO 500 kcal / 4 = 125g
- PRO 500 kcal / 4 = 125g
- FAT 250 kcal / 9 = 28g (or < 28g)
This all seems simple on paper, but how do you really know how many calories you're consuming, and how many grams of each are in the foods you are eating? Initially, this can be difficult. I chose to consume foods providing nutrition fact labels, thus enabling me to calculate how much of each was in what. You'll be amazed how easy this becomes after awhile, and how much you learn about nutrition in doing so. You can use the Bodybuilding.com nutrient database to find out what is in your foods as well.
2. Exercise portion control
Another tactic I used - and still use - is measuring a portion of food to the equivalent size of your fist. I believe "portion control" to be the biggest obstacle to overcome and the biggest threat to a sound nutrition and exercise program. How many of us truly eat just one serving of pasta? I mean, really.
3. Break it up into five small meals throughout the day
If our daily caloric intake is 1250 kcal with 125g CHO, 125g PRO and minimal FAT, by breaking up this daily allotment into five meals spaced evenly throughout the day, each meal should consist of no more than 250 kcal with approximately 25g CHO and 25g PRO. By doing this you'll be providing your body with consistent energy throughout the day without overloading your system. You will keep your metabolism burning smoothly without allowing your body to switch into "starvation" mode. This is very important.
4. Drink tons of water
Eliminate all sugary drinks from your diet. They are useless. Sugars - especially refined, simple sugars - elevate insulin levels dramatically (a storage hormone) and turn into fat when not used immediately for energy. This is exactly what we are trying to prevent. I believe sugar to be just as much an enemy in the war against body fat as fat itself.
Try to keep your intake down. Use sugar substitutes in coffee and tea, drink diet colas (keep it to a minimum. They rot your GI tract), or just drink water. Good old water clears the system of toxins and hydrates cells, which is especially important. And it's good for the skin, too!
5. Concentrate on nutrient-dense foods as opposed to empty calories
Okay, so we're restricting calories now, right? It is therefore important for us to get the most out of what we do eat. So would it make more sense to consume a 150 kcal sugary soda or 150 kcal can of tuna fish containing protein? My belief is that the closer foods are to their natural state, the better they are for you.
With this in mind, I recommend foods such as brown rice, plain oatmeal, potatoes (not mashed!), tuna fish, chicken breast, turkey, steamed vegetables, and fruit. I realize this sounds boring, but you'll be surprised how much better you feel eating these types of foods and how much more sustained energy you'll have throughout your day.
6. Do cardio
Doing cardio is essential but need not be as tedious as you may think. First of all, you do not need to perform hours and hours of cardio each and every day like a lot of the girls I see at my gym. Thirty-40 minutes, four or five days each week, will do the trick. Do your cardio sessions first thing in the morning on an empty stomach (or later in the evening after not eating for a few hours) to maximize the results.
Thirty minutes of moderate cardio burns approximately 300 kcal in an average-sized female. Therefore, doing this five days each week will further your caloric deficit by an additional 1500 kcal (a little shy of half a pound). Cardio will also boost your metabolism post-exercise (increasing calorie expenditure significantly) and turn your body into a fat-burning machine!
7. Lift weights
I find this to be the hardest part of the equation for most women, and it baffles me. Weight training is the easiest and most enjoyable part of the program, in my opinion. You will not "bulk up". You will not get big. By lifting weights - really lifting weights - you will firm the muscles underneath the fat and build new muscle tissue (and remember that muscle is the "furnace" of the body). Therefore, the more muscle you have, the faster and more efficiently you will burn fat and develop the body you really want.
Muscle gives us shape and contour. Here is an easy-to-follow beginner's program that I used when I got started. Consult a qualified trainer if you are unsure of proper form on any of the following exercises.
Day One (legs / lower body)
Leg extensions - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Leg curls - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Lunges - 3 sets of as many repetitions a side as you can! If you can perform 20 reps then increase the resistance by holding dumbbells. Start with 10 pounds in each hand and add more as the exercise becomes easier.
Leg press - 3 sets of 20 reps (Try different foot positions of this to target different areas - toes pointed in, pointed out and straight forward.)
Glute / Butt kickbacks - 3 sets of 15-20 reps - Really concentrate on getting a good squeeze at peak contraction by maintaining a moderate speed through the whole range of motion and holding at the top for a second or two.
Click here for a printable log of day one!
Day Two (back, biceps and abdominals)
Seated row - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Lat pulldown - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Back extensions - 3 sets of as many as you can do - extend through the whole range of motion and squeeze the glutes and hams together to kill two birds with one stone!
Seated biceps curls - 3 set of 12-15 reps
Hammer curls - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Crunches - 3 sets of 25 reps
Decline reverse crunches - 3 sets of 25
Click here for a printable log of day two!
Day Three (shoulders, chest and triceps)
Push ups - 3 sets of as many as you can do - and not the knee-on-floor style!
Shoulder press (Dumbbells or machine) - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Lateral raises - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Front raises - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Single bench dips - 3 sets of as many as you can do!
Rope pulldowns (or with a straight bar) - 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Click here for a printable log of day three!
8. Challenge yourself
There's nothing I hate more than seeing women in the gym using weights a fraction of what I know they can really lift. Give me a break. Challenge yourself! If you don't, you're never going to see the kind of results you want. My general rule of thumb is, when you feel like you can't do any more reps, do two more.
9. Stop making excuses and find the time
Everyone loves to make excuses as to why she can't do this, and why she can't do that. If someone asks me for help and in the same sentence tells me they don't have the time, I stop right there. I value my time in the gym; it's the one time during the day that I give solely to me. It's my time. It is as much a priority as going to work or to school. There are so many benefits to exercise other than getting into shape, that depriving yourself of this journey would be a shame. So stop making excuses.
10. Mind over matter
And, finally, this is where I truly get on my soapbox. There are so many obstacles to overcome when attempting to adhere to this program. I'm not going to lie; it isn't easy. You must be strong and stay focused on your goals. As my mother always likes to say, nothing tastes as good as thin feels. Well, I don't know about that. But surely there is a powerful message here. Sticking to your goals and following through with the plan has its merits, and the benefits far outweigh all the little cheats along the way. I know when I succeeded with my program, and I was standing on stage at my first fitness show, there was no better feeling in the world.
When I meet with friends I haven't seen in eight years and they're amazed at how much better I look, I feel great. And when I can help others attain the same goals, feel as good as I do, and make lifestyle changes for the better, I know I did the right thing.