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Women and strength training, your experience and advice please

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  • #16
    Another poster mentioned Stumptuous; also have a look at Strong is the New Skinny (blog and on Facebook).

    Re: progress - I think it's far more sensible to do what you've been doing - listen to your body and use a weight which will let you finish your workout without injury rather than add a certain amount each session because the program says you should. Being focussed on proper form and technique is not wimping out. I'm doing 5x5 at the moment and had to deload my squat weight when I first got to 130lbs because I just couldn't get back up. Fast forward to this morning (2 weeks after fail) and I got through all of my sets on 137.5lbs.

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    • #17
      Also it's important to remember that you do not build muscle while lifting. That's the tear-down. Recovery is where you build muscle. You need to work in a generous amount of recovery days in order to prevent injury and rebuild the muscle itself. Lifting heavy literally tears muscle fibers apart and so if you're constantly sore, you may not be repairing and rebuilding the muscle, but only tearing and destroying it over and over. Please don't ignore recovery days.

      When I was lifting heavy I did a fairly typical rotation starting the week with large muscles and compound lifts and ending the week with small muscles and isolation lifts. I NEVER worked the same muscle group on back-to-back days. My strength came gradually and at the end I was lifting pretty heavy for a woman (I got to be able to use 50lb dumbbells for presses; the biggest challenge was actually picking them up and getting them into position!). I never got huge, but I did get strong.
      5' 9" 47 YO F
      PB start June 2, 2012
      Pre PB SW = 180 (no scale at home, Mom's scale January - 153lbs!)
      Current deadlift 245 lbs, squat 165 lbs, bench press 135 lbs


      PB Journal

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      • #18
        Originally posted by sbhikes View Post
        1) So hungry! Yet still too fat.
        Advice I have seen is to eat more protein. I easily eat over 100g of protein a day. Other advice around here is to eat more carbs so I also have a potato for breakfast and sometimes another one for lunch.

        Other advice on the Starting Strength site says that if you are already fairly fat, eat a low carb paleo diet. Expect to see your waist shrink (this is what they say will happen to fat guys.) So far, none of my fat has budged. If anything, I'm fatter.

        Okay, so have I been blowing it royally with the potatoes? Should I eat to my appetite (I'm so hungry the day I lift)? Should I white-knuckle through the hunger and try for a calorie deficit? Go back to a low carb diet? Am I mistaking muscle bulk under my fat or even inflamed muscles for weight gain? Any advice for the almost 50 women out there?
        Are you really getting bigger, and are you weighing and taking measurements to track that? Also, how long have you tracked over? I find it takes a while for what one does to really show up as a trend. That's why I use an app that tracks my weight on a graph over time--seeing variation up and down is normal with strength training, seeing an ongoing trend upward is a sign that it's more than the usual fluctuations that come from post-workout inflammation, water weight gain/loss, and hormone-related shifts.

        I think you're eating plenty of protein for your size. At 133 pounds and 25%-ish body fat, you're eating that 1g/pound LBM or even more. Upward of that is probably counterproductive. You might consider cycling intake/macros--eat more protein/carbs and more food in general on lifting days, less food and more fat on off days. A lot of people don't understand that fat is also important for recovery but can be consumed anytime rather than the benefits of eating some foods in the pre/post-workout window. More fat on off days might help with satiety and recovery. Don't gorge on it, but maybe have more avocado and fish that day and less meat and potatoes.

        You're not blowing it with the potatoes, IMO.

        2) The whole big = strong thing
        So how the heck does any of this work for women who get strong without getting big? Is there a really good resource out there about getting strong without mixing in all the nonsense about getting big? The whole Starting Strength thing is all "get big, drink a gallon of milk a day, big = strong, if you haven't gained 20lbs in 3 weeks you aren't doing the program" yadda yadda. Yeah, thanks, but I don't think it's like that for us.
        Yeah, it's totally not like that for us (well, most of us, some women do gain mass better than others). GOMAD is for skinny hardgainers. Most dudes want to add strength and size, and the milk thing helps them do that. The idea that a woman is going to add 20 pounds mostly of muscle in 3 weeks is ridiculous. Big does not always mean strong, even for dudes. Yes, there's a correlation between muscle mass and strength, but you can be hella strong and still not big. We see these photos of female heavyweight Olympic lifters and miss the fact that women in the lower weight categories are still astonishingly strong but quite small.

        My partner just did GOMAD for a few weeks after being really ill and losing 28 pounds in an insanely short period of time (and losing a lot of muscle mass). He put on 25 pounds in a hurry, most of it muscle but obviously a little fat too. If I tried that, I'd put on 20 pounds in a hurry too, but I can tell you that most of that wouldn't be lean mass. Sadly, it just doesn't work the same way for most women.

        3) High impact stuff
        Someone over on the SS forum suggested I add a finishing session after lifting. 3 or 4 sets of three exercises done to exhaustion, such as pushups, planks, snatches, situps, 100yd sprints. Anybody see any change in your fatness by adding this? How about regular sprints like Mark recommends, done all by themselves and not attached to the end of lifting, like on an off day? Will that be effective (remove this excess fat) or cause more harm than good (overtraining)?
        Conditioning does make a difference, and the research backs it up if you look at the results of studies on tabata protocols and other HIIT. I wouldn't necessarily do it the same day (I prefer to do mine separately), but doing sprints, hill running, tabatas, and the like will really help. One caveat--I really don't suggest doing leg-based HIIT the day before a heavy leg workout, so if you're going to deadlift the next day, you might want to consider whether doing a ton of hill sprints is a good idea.

        4) Doing other exercise?
        I go straight from the gym to my desk. I'll get up to use the rest room and then see suddenly how sore my workout made me. Sometimes going running at lunch helps loosen the stiffness but someone told me that will only make me fat and stressed. Okay, so what do I do not to end up permanently frozen and curled up with stiffness? What other exercise is safe to do on same or off days?
        Active recovery is a good thing. Don't go and do long, intense stuff, but going for a walk or a gentle run can be really helpful for me in loosening up. Biking (again, not super intense) can be good too. I also love my foam roller.

        5) Progressing
        I do my best to progress but sometimes I don't make it. So I repeat the same weight until I get it, then move up. I've ordered some washers for microloading, but so far slow like this is working okay. It took me 3 workouts of squats at 90lbs before I could do all my sets and reps without fucking them up somehow. Does anyone else do it that way? Is it okay for a woman to take progress slower, push forward a little less aggressively, or is that just wimping out?
        Again, the progress that a young dude sees is not going to be the same as a mature woman sees, so don't worry so much about what some guy on the SS forum is getting for progress. You're better off advancing more slowly and not hurting yourself. That doesn't mean you don't work hard and seek improvement; it means you accept that you are not a 20-year-old dude. The washers are a good idea and will come particularly handy on things like OH presses.

        6) Recovery
        The weekend is my longest consecutive days of not lifting. By Sunday night I almost feel worse than I did on Saturday, almost like the lifting got me jacked up with endorphins and anti-inflammatories and now they're wearing off and dang who kicked me in the stomach because I feel exhausted? Any advice there?
        How many days a week are you lifting? Your workouts sound like you're trying to incorporate a lot into your gym time, and if you're also doing 3-4 days per week, it might be that you're doing too much and overstressing your body. How long is an average gym session for you?

        I know your trainer showed you a whole lot of exercises, but as you get heavier on the lifts, you might consider doing one major lift and a couple of accessory lifts each session. Some people do squats and deadlifts in one session, but I don't--my legs need more recovery time than that, so I only do one or the other and they only come up every 4th day (so Monday's main lift might be squats, Wednesday would be OH press, Friday would be deadlifts in my schedule of every other day). You could probably still do deadlifts and bench or squats and presses in one day.

        And yeah, the second day after is almost always the worst for me. I did heavy squats yesterday, and I know they're going to show up when I get out of bed tomorrow morning.
        “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” --Audre Lorde

        Owly's Journal

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        • #19
          Thanks for that, Owly.

          That trainer did show me a lot of exercises. I have cut down on most of them. I do basically the SS workout but add lat pulls, assisted pullups and DB rows if there is time. I haven't tried the power clean yet. Not sure what to do about that. Perhaps I'll just do lat pulls, assisted pullups and db rows the day you are supposed to do power cleans and not do them the other days.

          I haven't actually gained any weight, or more accurately, I haven't gained any size (I haven't actually weighed myself.) I'm the same as I've always been and possibly a little smaller in the waist.

          I seem to have a weakness for vegan desserts all of a sudden. But on non-lifting days I pretty much resume my normal appetite and am not particularly hungry.
          Female, 5'3", 50, Max squat: 202.5lbs. Max deadlift: 225 x 3.

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          • #20
            My twopennies worth: if you can afford it, hire a trainer. I've been lifting for 3.5 months now - once a week with a trainer and twice alone in the gym - and have seen some huge results. I started off flabby and with wrecked knees from too much running - I couldn't even do a body weight squat to 1/3 distance without knee pain. In the last 3.5 months we've gone through a load of rehab stuff and lots of progressions until now my knees are totally fine (so that I can start running again, albeit gently...I know, I know, but I love it!) and I'm lifting weights heavier than any girls in my gym...and absolutely loving it! Originally, due to financial restraints, I had intended to work with the trainer just once or twice a month, but I get so much out of it and love it so much that it has become a priority for me and I see him every week.

            In terms of losing fat, I dropped my carbs and increased my fat intake about 6 weeks ago and saw myself very quickly dropping 10lbs of fat. My waist size has decreased and the fat around my upper body has reduced - I look more muscular and defined but less bulky than I did. My weightloss seems to have stalled for now - but I'm still losing inches, so am not particularly concerned.

            I also find that if I eat too many carbs I'm just hungry all the time. When I dropped carbs and increased fats I definitely found that the hunger went and I mostly went down to 2 meals a day with no snacks.

            You'll need to play about with your diet to find what works for you, but as for the lifting, I know that if it wasn't for my awesome trainer I'd still be messing around in the gym, not quite understanding how to progress and therefore not making any gains.

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            • #21
              I concur that it really does help to hire a professional who knows what he or she is doing. Not all trainers are equal, some facilities require next to no education from what they call trainers, so do your homework.

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              • #22
                I've been reading this with great interest as I'm trying to up my exercise from just being normally busy, walking and doing PE with my class! I'm 56, live in the UK and cannot find anything useful written down pertaining to women. Do I gather from this thread that there is very little on the net as well? I really could do with some kind of structure to base my weight lifting on.....


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                • #23
                  I have some suggestions for point 1, they're not very specific, but maybe it will help with your hunger. The first time I tried fasting I went for 18 hours or so without food. That changed my view on eating completely and after doing it again for 24 hours my feeling of hunger completely changed. I eat less now and I'm less hungry.
                  I stuff myself at lunch with whatever I have for a main dish so that I can avoid being hungry until dinner. I literally mean stuff - long after feeling full I still eat. I think overall it makes me consume less calories because snacking makes me lose overview of how much I've been eating all day and I end up munching all the time and never feeling full. I use a lot of oil and butter for my main dish and salad too.
                  Between meals I only eat fruits and nuts, maybe that would help?
                  If you need more calories the day you do your workout I would say let your body have what it needs. If you maintain a deficit overall I guess it shouldn't be a problem .
                  5' 7'' - current weight: 117-119 pounds - starting weight: 132 pounds
                  English is not not my native language, so if you find mistakes, please tell me. I'm always happy to learn

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                  • #24
                    Originally posted by ragwort View Post
                    I've been reading this with great interest as I'm trying to up my exercise from just being normally busy, walking and doing PE with my class! I'm 56, live in the UK and cannot find anything useful written down pertaining to women. Do I gather from this thread that there is very little on the net as well? I really could do with some kind of structure to base my weight lifting on.....
                    Check out stumptuous and Nia Shanks websites. Both have really good content with beginners guides and are aimed at women. They're both, I think, US sites, but I don't think that makes a difference apart from weights being in lbs rather than kgs. I'd definitely recommend finding a good trainer though, to make sure you get technique right - I think I struck gold with mine!

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                    • #25
                      Originally posted by ragwort View Post
                      I've been reading this with great interest as I'm trying to up my exercise from just being normally busy, walking and doing PE with my class! I'm 56, live in the UK and cannot find anything useful written down pertaining to women. Do I gather from this thread that there is very little on the net as well? I really could do with some kind of structure to base my weight lifting on.....
                      BTW I'm 45 and have only been lifting heavy for 3.5 months....love it, love it, love it!

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                      • #26
                        Originally posted by spuggygirl View Post
                        Check out stumptuous and Nia Shanks websites. Both have really good content with beginners guides and are aimed at women. They're both, I think, US sites, but I don't think that makes a difference apart from weights being in lbs rather than kgs. I'd definitely recommend finding a good trainer though, to make sure you get technique right - I think I struck gold with mine!
                        Both awesome sites. Gubernatrix is also good (UK site).
                        “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” --Audre Lorde

                        Owly's Journal

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                        • #27
                          I think Stumptuous is Canadian.

                          I'm following Starting Strength, more or less. I don't find that I can progress quite so linearly. I always redo the same weight I did last time if I did not feel that I achieved good form or if I didn't do all the reps, and I progress only 5lbs each time, not 10. I also have not done any power cleans.

                          I started by hiring a trainer who showed me around. But after I read Starting Strength I could see that she taught me some things incorrectly. For example, she didn't think I should go quite so low in the squat. She certainly thought I should go about parallel, but not as low as what Rip shows. And she thought I should keep my head up while Rip says to look about 4' in front of you. She also didn't show me how to grip the bar the same as Rip. So I try to follow Rip's form suggestions rather than hers. She also wouldn't show me real deadlifts. Instead she showed me Romanian deadlifts. So basically I have just been doing a great deal of this on my own. I am a self-motivated individual, though, so it works for me.

                          I have managed to go from 25lb squats the first day when my trainer showed them to me to 95lbs on my own. I showed myself the deadlift and can do 110lbs. I started the press at 20 and now 45 feels pretty easy. Bench press from 30 to now 65lbs.

                          I, too, think this is really enjoyable.
                          Female, 5'3", 50, Max squat: 202.5lbs. Max deadlift: 225 x 3.

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                          • #28
                            Yes, Stumptuous is Canadian.

                            Yay for enjoying it!
                            “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” --Audre Lorde

                            Owly's Journal

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                            • #29
                              Great progress SB. Glad to hear you are enjoying it.
                              F 5 ft 3. HW: 196 lbs. Primal SW (May 2011): 182 lbs (42% BF)... W June '12: 160 lbs (29% BF) (UK size 12, US size 8). GW: ~24% BF - have ditched the scales til I fit into a pair of UK size 10 bootcut jeans. Currently aligning towards 'The Perfect Health Diet' having swapped some fat for potatoes.

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                              • #30
                                Canadians, you can't trust them.

                                I kid, they're great.

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