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10 mistakes women make in the gym

10 Fehler, die Frauen im Fitnessstudio machen

Here's a quick summary:

  1. Women often end up with a scrawny, yet flabby appearance as a result of their exercise program. This is a condition where they appear thin with clothes on, but actually have a higher body fat percentage than before they started their workout. This is also known as skinny fat syndrome.
  2. In order to transform their bodies and build muscle, women need to get comfortable with the idea of using heavier weights.
  3. Most women need to cut back on their cardio workouts, get off the BOSU ball and find a smart exercise program that will help them make progress.
  4. Women would benefit from using the post-workout phase to their advantage by fueling their bodies with foods that will help them build muscle.

Build curves, avoid the skinny-fat syndrome

Women are often torn between what they read in women's magazines like Shape, what they see on the blog of one of those crazy aerobics queens, what their husband or boyfriend says and society's conflicting expectations of what a woman should look like. It's no wonder they can't decide whether to work out with weights, do aerobic exercise until they're skinny, or practice so much yoga that their seven chakras grab their things and go. Too often, women end up combining elements of all these practices and end up looking worse than when they started. They sometimes develop a body that is also referred to as "skinny fat" - a cruel, paradoxical condition where they appear thin in clothes but actually have a higher body fat percentage than before they started practicing because they have lost muscle instead of body fat. I assume that one of the reasons women go to the gym is because they want to look better, and looking better usually means getting thinner or getting more curves. The most aesthetically pleasing bodies are a combination of convex and concave curves rather than straight lines. You are a pleasurable and attractive mammal, not a tree. As such, you want to build muscle to build or accentuate convex curves. If you are already blessed with convex curves, then you should develop concave curves by losing fat. You do this by exercising intelligently with weights. Many women have accepted this wonderful reality, but I still see stuff that makes me want to wear blinders.

Here are some unfortunate practices I see in women all the time:

1 - Fear of appearing masculine

You've heard this before, but it just doesn't seem to sink in. You need to evolve past the point where you're using rubber-covered lady dumbbells that have a lump of iron on either side that's the size of a baby's fist. In other words, you need to use heavier weights. Your muscles won't grow - and you won't get curvy - if you use weights that weigh about the same as an iPhone for presses, squats or curls. Say hello to 20 to 30 pound dumbbells and aim for 40 to 50 pound dumbbells. Use weights that allow you to perform between 8 and 15 repetitions. And don't play that age-old "I don't want to get too muscular" card. Unless you're the one in a million woman who has testosterone levels so high that stallions whimper nervously when you walk past them, you're not going to suddenly sprout muscles from your ears and everywhere else. Nor will your muscles grow beyond your aesthetic ideal unless you start eating a lot more. Muscles don't grow on air and love - you need to fuel them with protein and carbohydrates. That's why men who train with weights eat barns full of cattle, rivers full of fish and barrels full of protein powder. If you don't eat this way, you won't get too muscular.

2 - The fear of making an ugly face

We've just talked about heavier weights, but we haven't talked about intensity. If you're training with weights, then you shouldn't be able to maintain the same facial expression as you would during a manicure. Too many women just don't get their hands dirty. They rarely grimace and don't even grunt in a semi-feminine way. Building muscle takes discomfort and it also takes some pain. You may be able to look pretty and composed during the first few reps, but you'll eventually have to do an ugly female Wolverine weight during the last few productive reps as you force your muscles to grow. No ugly face, no curvy muscles. No ugly face, no strength gains. Thank you for your outdated views on femininity. Screw what it looks like or what others think.

3 - An obsession with abs

Absession - a blend of the English words for abs and obsession - is not a new fragrance from Kelvin Klein. Rather, it's about an obsession with working out your abs, or your core in general. Here's a shocker: everyone has a six-pack, you just need to lose enough fat to make it show. Okay, you may want to build up your abs so that they are more pronounced, but stop thinking that you have to devote half or more of your workout time to your abs. Three or four sets of 15 to 20 reps - using an extra weight or a more challenging angle if necessary - a couple times a week is all you need. Spend the rest of your time building up the rest of your muscles and doing activities that burn fat in general.

4 - Training your abs like a powerlifter

I know I said in mistake #1 that you should use heavier weights, but abdominal training is the one exception. For some reason, many women use heavy weights when they train their midsection. Strangely enough, they think that training the midsection with heavy weights will make the midsection smaller. The waist is made up of muscles and muscles respond to heavy weights by getting bigger. If you want a waist as wide as a tree trunk, go for it. However, if you want the mythical wasp waist, then stop training your abs with heavy weights. Stick to a weight or resistance that allows you to perform around 15 to 20 repetitions. Most importantly, don't use weights while training the lateral muscles of your core, also known as the lateral obliques. The safest way to build a strong core is to do side bends with dumbbells. Instead, you should train your lateral obliques with a few sets of side planks a few times a week.

5 - Training on the BOSU ball

I have to grudgingly admit that the BOSU Ball might have some value in developing balance. As such, it may be for Cirque du Soleil performance artists, but beyond that, there are few applications for it.

Yes, the Bosu Ball can find its use in abdominal training or rehab training for people with unstable ankles, and it can probably help with balance issues, but at some point exercisers - usually women or their whip trainers - start using the BOSU Ball as equipment for training with weights. They either place one foot on it when performing lunges or they place both feet on the ball while performing a series of traditional exercises with weights such as dumbbell curls, side raises, overhead presses or squats.

Some idiots have even taken this a step further by performing the same exercises on a Swiss Ball (if you see someone doing the latter, feel free to give the ball a push and send them crashing to the floor).

These people have the idea that lifting weights on an unstable surface makes the muscles work harder because they have to prevent them from falling on their face, but balancing is not the kind of muscular effort that builds muscle. And to keep your balance, you need to use lighter weights than you normally would. Lifting weights - even light weights - while standing on a BOSU ball will fatigue your muscles faster and force you to finish the set sooner than you otherwise would. You end up missing the really productive reps at the end of the set, during which you activate the muscle fibers that are most responsible for growth. If all this falls on deaf ears, then you should consider that none of the studies conducted with a BOSU ball concluded that this type of training builds muscle faster than performing the same exercises on solid ground.

6 - Too much aerobic training

Have you ever seen a marathon runner or a passionate jogger with a really good body? Probably not. These athletes are either slightly emaciated and have a body with very few curves, or they have the typical "skinny fat" appearance. They also have really ugly feet. Without going into all the hormonal or evolutionary permutations, let's just accept the scientific fact that the body would generally rather sacrifice muscle than fat during a calorie deficit, and what is excessive endurance training other than an artificially induced calorie deficit?

Nevertheless, women in particular are often firmly convinced of the myth that the more aerobic exercise they do, the better they will look. Remember that you want muscle and that excessive aerobic exercise is deadly for your muscles. There are much more effective ways to burn fat. Going for a brisk walk first thing in the morning is amazingly effective and saves muscle. Even short bursts of high-intensity training in the form of sprints, Tabata-style training on the ergometer or training with weights will build muscle and burn fat at the same time. If you are not familiar with Tabata, it is simply a brutal training protocol where you perform an activity as fast and intense as you can for 20 seconds, pause for 10 seconds and then perform another workout/pause cycle of 20 and 10 seconds. You do this for 4 minutes at a time before collapsing into an exhausted but proud heap of misery. You can perform Tabata workouts with kettlebell swings, dumbbell squats, sprints on the stationary bike or a variety of other exercises.

7 - Exercise monogamy

Bonding for life, as swans, wolves, lovebirds and Catholics do, may have some biological benefits. However, committing to your training for life has no advantage. It's bad that many women ignore this fact. Whether it has to do with a lack of imagination, the misguided belief that exercise equals exercise, or the belief that there is only one way to move a weight, some women continue the same exercise program year in and year out. This is unfortunate because the body adapts to workouts - whether they are weight training sessions or aerobic workouts. This is the reason why there are so many fat aerobic exercisers. They have been doing the same training program for years and their neurobiological system has adapted so much to this type of training that it only costs them a few calories and effort to perform this training session. You need to change your training sessions in cycles every 6 to 8 weeks. Emphasize your legs during one cycle and your shoulders or arms during the next. Try different training programs from different bodybuilding and fitness sites.

8 - Training confusion

The opposite of a workout monogamist is, of course, the workout slut. Even though this is much more common among men, there are also plenty of women who can't stick with one workout program for long. They try out a workout regimen for a few days, see that it didn't give them an NFL cheerleader body, and try something else. One manifestation of this is this "CrossFit fever." These women, unsure of what constitutes a CrossFit workout, perform a bastardized version where they do an often nonsensical, semi-aerobic, semi-anaerobic conditioning workout lasting 1 to 2 hours without rest for no apparent reason. These training sessions are chaotic and ultimately produce poor results. It is therefore important that you find a logical, progressive training program that addresses your individual needs, builds muscle, burns fat and makes you the queen of curves - and just as importantly, that you give this training program 4 to 6 weeks to work. Then, and only then, should you change your exercise program - even if it has been working well.

9. fear of food

Are you ready for your dietary beliefs to be shaken to their foundations? It's nearly impossible - regardless of what you eat - to build fat during the post-workout window, which is roughly defined as the one-hour window after you finish your weights workout. While it's very unlikely that you'll build fat during this time, it's very likely that you'll build some muscle during the same window of time - always assuming you're giving your body the protein (and calories) it needs. This all has something to do with insulin - the hormone that transports glucose and amino acids into your muscle cells. Broadly speaking, insulin has two options - it can either transport glucose and protein to adipose tissue and the liver, or it can transport these nutrients directly to muscle cells where they are used for energy, muscle repair and muscle growth.

The pathway that insulin chooses is determined by your training - if you are training with weights or have just finished your training session, then insulin will transport the nutrients directly to your muscles instead of storing them. Your muscles are particularly sensitive to insulin during exercise and during the post-workout window, so if you want to build muscle - it's crucial that you eat during the window of time that includes the time before, during and after your workout. So forget your fear of calories for this time - and temporarily forget your fear of carbohydrates too, because this is the period during which you definitely need to provide your muscles with the material they need to build curves. In general, you should consume a protein-carbohydrate drink about 45 minutes to an hour before your workout and substantial amounts of protein and carbohydrates after your workout. In an ideal world, you would also consume a protein-carbohydrate drink in sips during your workout, but you should at least make sure you don't skip your post-workout meal.

10 - Juice and smoothies

I'm talking about the plastic cups of powdered, barely edible mixtures of algae, seaweed, wheatgrass and all sorts of other obscure fruits and vegetables that are found in the supposedly healthy drinks that many women love to drink before and after their workouts, as well as throughout the rest of the day.

I know it seems counter to common sense and may even seem heretical to suggest that you should limit your consumption of these drinks, but please hear me out first. Fruit and vegetables contain simple sugars and complex, harder-to-digest carbohydrates, which in itself is not a problem. However, when you put those fruits and vegetables through the blender, you're breaking down all those normally hard-to-digest carbs into tiny little pieces. When you drink this stuff, you are bypassing a large part of the digestion process. All these sugars enter your bloodstream relatively quickly and your pancreas releases a surge of insulin to counteract this spike in blood sugar. This is almost the same effect that a 750ml sugar slurpie from a 7-11 has.

Insulin transports some of this sugar to your muscle cells and the rest is stored (in the liver or as body fat), but after this your blood sugar levels will drop below baseline and you will become quite hungry quite quickly. If you give in to this hunger, you will consume more calories than you normally would and extra, unnecessary calories will be stored as fat. Even worse, if you do this juice/smoothie thing too often, you can develop insulin resistance, which is the first step on the road to type II diabetes. And there's something else you should consider. You probably wouldn't be able to eat all those fruits and vegetables that are in a typical fruit and vegetable smoothie if they were on your plate.

These fruits and vegetables would take up so much space in your stomach that all the spandex and elastane in your "belly away" pants would not be able to give you a flat stomach. However, if you pulverize all those fruits and vegetables into a kind of primordial soup, it will easily fit into your belly with all the calories it contains. Smoothies and juices allow you to eat more than you normally could, which is never a good thing if you're trying to control or reduce your body fat. I am not suggesting that you should never drink a smoothie again. Drink them in moderation, eat them in their non-powdered, natural state or use a simple trick: add a scoop of protein to your smoothie.

The protein will soften the big insulin spike - not to mention provide your muscles with a few extra building blocks.

By TC Luoma | 05/29/14

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