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Thread: Women and strength training, your experience and advice please page

  1. #1
    sbhikes's Avatar
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    Women and strength training, your experience and advice please

    I don't want to hijak another thread. Sorry this is is too long.

    I'm doing something close to Starting Strength. I am interested in any advice from other women, and information you can share about your own journey and what worked.

    Here are some things sort of rattling in my head.

    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?

    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.

    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)?

    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?

    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?

    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?
    Female, 5'3", 49, Starting weight: 163lbs. Current weight: 135 (more or less).
    Starting squat: 45lbs. Highest squat: 167.5 x 2. Current Deadlift: 195 x 3

  2. #2
    June68's Avatar
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    Re #2 - from what I understand from natural powerlifting people, men and women, it's not about the size of the muscle, it's about how efficiently and fully the nerves trigger the muscle. It's about harnessing that which is essentially part of the adrenal response - what lets the 120lb woman lift the car off her baby. Time, technique and more time is what is required to lift really heavy weight which I've seen women do. And most of the women you'd never guess in a million years they could lift that much. I'm talking deadlifting 3x bodyweight. None were gigantically muscular looking.
    5' 9" 44 YO F
    PB start June 2, 2012
    Pre PB SW = 180 (no scale at home, Mom's scale January - 153lbs!)


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  3. #3
    Leida's Avatar
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    Strength workouts work different for women than men. They are not fat burners for women. They are only muscle builders. You have to do extra cardio to lose fat when you are doing strength. Ideally, you would do a few minutes (~ 12-20) after lifting. This way you do not interfere with recovery & don't fatigue yourself.

    Growing big - strength based workouts do not cause hypertrophy to the extent that pump workouts would. Not in men, not in women. In women, you will grow bigger in certain areas, particularly in quad (my legs actually look heavier due to lifting), and if you do deadlifts properly -in hamstring. Rarely women will develop bigger UB, but normally it will be pretty sexy shoulders. It takes a lot of efforts for a woman to develop good upper body. Strength based tranees generally do not grow big, rather they grow dense. The GOMAD is intended for 14 yo skinny teens who need to fill out. It involves GIGANTIC caloric surplus. You will be able to meet your beginner gains on maintenance or even deficit.

    3 to 4 times is your ideal attempt to the new weight. If it fails 3x times, you need to deload ~ 20% and work your way back up. It is normal for women to have smaller increments, so microloading is your BFF. Ankle weights is what I use.

    If you are not recovering on 3x a week, you will either have to lift every 3rd day or do not squat heavy on the day you are doing deadlifts (maybe throw in a few light sets to warm up). As much as the SS would lead you to believe that squatting heavy 3x a week is the best thing EVAR, it often kills other lifts and leads to the under-recovery.

    Hope this helps
    Last edited by Leida; 11-16-2012 at 12:48 PM.
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  4. #4
    Miscellangela's Avatar
    Miscellangela is offline Senior Member
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    1- remember the book was written about teenage boys. You don't have to eat so much. If you eat your maintenance calories, you'll recomp at first. If you want to eat less, you can, but your strength gains will be a bit slower. But as new to it as you are, you'll still make progress b/c of the CNS adaptation.

    I find that white potatoes make me jiggly, sweet potatoes do not. But that's just me.

    2-keep lifting in the 3-5 rep range and you won't get big. Getting big requires excess calories, and is best accomplished with an 8-10 rep range. You'll gain some muscle at first, but it will level off really quickly and you'll get stronger faster than you get bigger.

    3- it depends. I do sprints on saturdays so it doesn't interfere with my lifting. I was doing metcons on the off days, but my lifts stalled. When I dropped the metcons, they shot up. It depends where your priorities are.

    4-same as 3. Although I tend to stretch alot to avoid the stiffness. The bros will tell you not to stretch because it makes you weaker. Hogwash. Pain makes you weaker. Stretch if you're stiff. Jog, walk, whatever. Just understand that you may slightly hinder strength gains. And that's okay.

    5- slow progression is better. If you try to rush it, you'll either stall or get hurt. There's no hurry. Getting strong is not a quick process - slow and steady wins the race. Be the turtle, not the hare.

    6- make sure you're eating enough - track and make sure you are actually eating maintenance. Try eating a little more on weight days (maybe 200-300 calories more). Make sure you get plenty of REST - good sleep, and days of no exercise. Not easy exercise or active play, but no exercise. Your muscles need time to recover. If none of these help, it may be worth reducing the other non-lifting activities because they aren't allowing your body to recover. Or, if lifting is not the priority for you, drop it to two days instead of three and use that extra day to REST.

    Feel free to PM me. Also, read thy Stumptuous. All of it. also, look for Simma Park on the SS forums and the Stumptuous FB group. She knows her shit, and she gives excellent advice.

  5. #5
    Louisa655's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes View Post
    I don't want to hijak another thread. Sorry this is is too long.

    I'm doing something close to Starting Strength. I am interested in any advice from other women, and information you can share about your own journey and what worked.

    Here are some things sort of rattling in my head.

    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?

    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.

    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)?

    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?

    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?

    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?
    I'm no expert, but last year I worked with a professional body builder who coached me/tormented me 3days per week. He advised to only slightly increase protein -- meaning adding an extra egg and an extra piece of 3oz chicken to my day. It strikes me that you eat an inordinate amount of food. Lifting will help burn fat and build strength --- but unless you are an olympic-lifting athlete, you don't need that much more. And patience. You can't judge the results from a new programme in a window of a week or two. Why not enlist the help of a professional coach for a period of 4-6 months, and give yourself a chance of success. Moving from programme to programme, food protocol to food protocol just doesn't allow your body the opportunity to respond. Again, just in my humble opinion.
    ----------------------------------------
    F, 48, 5'10"
    Start Date: 25-06-12 @ 161lbs
    Goal Reached: 30-09-12 @ 143lb. Now bouncing between 145lb - 149lb. I'd like less bounce and more consistency :-)

    Started Cross Fit 20.12.12 ---- Can't wait to submit my success story on the 1st anniversary of starting primal.

  6. #6
    seaweed's Avatar
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    #1 i just eat. i have found carbing up makes me want to permanently carb up which is not good. so i low carb as always. i have not noticed a difference in my lifting based on carbing up or low carb either and i have a trainer so i cant bunk off.
    #2 big = strong is a very male thing i think. i am alot stronger than i was, i can lift more than most women bar the power lifters and i am not big at all. i have become more defined but no bulk. but then too, i am not naturally bulky or stocky.
    #3 i dont do that much high impact. actual no. i do. if you do big enough weights i reckon it is high impact. sometimes we do a minute of each exercise in a circuit which is very high impact. no change in fat from that. it does make me want to eat more. the only thing that has ever lost me fat is walking, running and what i avoid eating.
    #4 is where i struggle. i walk heaps. 4 miles + a day which i can do pretty much do in my sleep. i look on it as active stretching. i try to concentrate on stretching my abductors and posture and core etc while i am doing it. what i find is if i have been to the gym and i am sore. as i always am as i go see the trainer every week and we push it. what i find is i dont then want to over train already sore muscles. i nick the body by science approach ( and no i havent read it at all ) but from what i can glean you lift real heavy every week to 10 days to give your body time to recover. if i train too hard, which i like doing, i just end up in a screaming tired heap and then it all falls down a few weeks later so i have learnt to avoid that.
    #5 I have gymed it for pushing 20 years with a few years off in the middle for the kids. i have always either been able to do it or not been able to do it. never any progression as such. till i got a trainer. the brain is the weakest muscle after all. alot of it is even just thinking you can do it. i picked up the whole stack on the machine shrug the other day by accident. i was talking to my trainer and didnt notice the pin was at the bottom. 96kgs. coz i didnt see it, i did it. if i have seen the pin there, i would have put it halfway up and not even thought about it. so progression is what you want. set goals and aim for them or just do what you enjoy. it is also IMO crucial to concentrate on form and doing the whole ROM vs trying to do too big weights with bad form. i have read and i agree, women shouldnt go to failure but stop just short. it is of course very difficult to go to failure on a non machine exercise without anyone spotting for you.
    #6 see #4. i go once a week. go hard out and walk the rest of the time. i do do alot of hils when i am walking and it is on pretty gnarly trails. i have defined up and gotten stronger with this approach. i enjoy it heaps and it is maintainable. which is something at my age i need to think about.

  7. #7
    Jennifla's Avatar
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    I started strength training in July after going primal in May. I started at 194 lb and I'm down to 175. I'm 5'7''. My only upper body exercise is assisted pullups 3x per week. I have been reading a lot about it and wondering if I am progressing fast enough. At first it appeared to improve quickly because I lost weight and gained strength. My weight has plateaued for several weeks and I am not improving as quickly now, but I am concentrating on my goal of unassisted pullups rather than weight loss. I have a 1-rep of 146 lb, which is encouraging to me because that means I am strong enough to do the unassisted pullup if I weighed what I "should". I should stay I also hike or treadmill a lot, some elliptical, and just started jogging a little. I am pretty strictly primal, no dairy except cream in my coffee, and maybe a potato every other week. I don't track calories or macros, that is too much hassle, but I'm around 100 g of carb daily at the most. I recently read about fuckarounditis and started lifting heavier with fewer reps. Generally, I am happiest (that is the most important thing to me) when I have followed Mark's advice: eat when hungry, and, periodically take a long (7-10 days) break from heavy lifting. Even though I have plateaued weight-wise, my clothes have continued to get baggier and baggier. My arms and shoulders have gotten very lean. My thighs and waist, less so. I plan to incorporate the other primal movements, squats, planks, and pushups, eventually. I honestly don't have a goal weight because I'll know by sight when I have reached a size I am happy with. The rate I'm going, I could end up at 165 pounds and a size 4. I believe that I could drop weight more quickly if I conscientiously scale back the carbs, but I'm in this for the long haul, anyway, and don't feel the need to push myself. That just stresses me out.

  8. #8
    sbhikes's Avatar
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    This is all very interesting, as I hoped it would be. There's just not enough woman-specific info out there in regards to strength training and what info is out there can be quite contradictory. I don't have enough experience to know for sure what lifting heavy will or won't do for me. I would like to at least follow a path that has a consensus of success among real women.

    I can say that after 4 weeks of it, it feels good to be stronger. It's also a fun project because of the progress being so tangible. But it is sort of a bummer to always be feeling a little bit sore.
    Female, 5'3", 49, Starting weight: 163lbs. Current weight: 135 (more or less).
    Starting squat: 45lbs. Highest squat: 167.5 x 2. Current Deadlift: 195 x 3

  9. #9
    Goldie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes View Post
    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.
    It's not like that for us. Women don't have the right hormones to "get big". And the older we are, the longer it takes to add muscle. Testosterone and human growth hormone are the main muscle-building hormones, and HGH is highest during puberty (especially for boys). As we get older, all hormone levels go down. I think the mistake that some women make is to follow the advice for men and eat too much/too much protein.

    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes View Post
    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)?
    I LHT twice a week, and sprint on one of my off-days. Sometimes I'll sprint once a week, sometimes every other week (but I also Crossfit twice a week, and that often counts as sprinting, depending on the WOD.) Mark emphasizes sprinting, but I don't think you need to sprint for long. I usually do two tabata sessions when I sprint, with a 2-3 minute rest in between each tabata session.

    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes View Post
    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?
    Doing slow movement helps me when I'm stiff/sore. I'd think that running like you do, keeping your heart rate low, would help more than hurt. I'll walk and do easy stretching-type things several times during the day when I'm really sore. I also find that using about 5g of L-Glutamine once a day helps with soreness.

    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes View Post
    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?
    It is definitely OKAY to progress slowly. Part of improving at LHT is getting your central nervous system used to the load; it's not all just muscle-building. And it IS age-related, as much as I try to deny that! (I'm 55.) I do not compare what I can do and my progress rate to anyone else; as long as I'm enjoying it and not going backwards, I'm happy. Going backwards on an occasional basis is nothing to worry about. Going backwards and not being able to progress for a couple weeks in a row is a sign of overtraining, and that's when you need to take things a little easier for a while. And there's also a limit to how much you can progress. At a certain point, you get as strong as you can be with the effort you're willing to put into it, and maintaining is the goal.

    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes View Post
    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?
    It sounds to me like maybe you're doing too much. I do my lifting on Tuesdays and Fridays, and that's it--and not every session is as heavy as I can go. Some sessions are heavy with fewer reps; some are lighter with more reps. Some are working on technique, and occasionally a session is for a 1RM. I get that you really like lifting! I love it, too! But perhaps you should simplify and do fewer exercises, concentrating on the complex movements that hit up more muscle groups at one time.

  10. #10
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    The other day I read http://everydaypaleo.com/2012/11/10/...en-experiment/ on Everyday Paleo. Maybe they're not typical results but it's interesting nonetheless.

    @sbhikes: I thought you were feeling good with eating sorta 'big' on your lifting days? Now you think you're 'fatter' if anything? What changed?

    I've signed up for a weightlifting course that starts this week, which is exciting, but I've had this annoying pain at the left of my tailbone that's been persisting at the same dull level for a week. Hoping it doesn't interfere with / isn't exacerbated by / *just goes away before* learning lifts...

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