Fat Burning and the Difference Between Boys and Girls

25 11 2013

Fat-burning aside, we all know that the primary difference between men and women is that…

With that bit of science covered, let’s discuss the difference between men and women when it comes to burning fat.  I came across a tidy little article the other day entitled Five Facts Women Must Know To Lose Fat, Build Muscle, and Increase Performance, another gem from the Poliquin Group.  I’ve already written a few pieces on women and weights, but this article really spelled out the major challenges that women face with losing fat. In summary, these 5 critical facts are:

1) At rest, women burn more glucose (carbs) than men and less fat

As we know, premenopausal women have greater fat-storing capability than men; gotta have some fat stores in the thighs and hips for baby-making time. This gluteofemoral fat typically has a high percentage of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, critical for the production of breast milk and for the development of a baby’s brain. The issue? The North American diet contains very high levels of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and very few omega-3 fatty acids. If dietary DHA needs are not met, this triggers the female brain to release hunger cues in an attempt to store more fat overall and raise DHA levels; this of course, leads to weight gain. The fix? As I’ve mentioned before, whether you are a man or woman, trying to have a baby or not, you should seriously consider supplementing with a high-quality fish oil supplement. Unless you are eating fatty fish several times a week, you are not getting adequate amounts of omega-3 in your diet. If your diet is high in omega-6 fatty acids (vegetable oils, margarine, meat, etc.) this will only compound the problem. Additionally, since women are better equipped to burn carbs than they are fats, you should make an attempt to alternate high-fat and high-carb days, forcing the body to selectively burn fat at certain times. High intensity training also encourages the body to burn of everything, so incorporating sprints and weight lifting is, as always, quite helpful. Try eating more carbs on workout days and less carbs on non-gym days; this kind of cycling can be very effective.

2) Women and men burn (and store) body fat differently

Carrying on from the last point: women rely on fat for fuel during exercise more than men. Additionally, women burn far less fat at rest than men. Women also typically lose weight in the upper body before the lower body follows suit- again, this is an evolutionary thing, with women having more receptors in their lower body fat equipped for hanging on for dear life. The fix? High intensity training. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but the truth of the matter is that lifting heavy weights and performing high-intensity cardio is extremely beneficial and is almost always the best strategy for losing fat. Get after those squats and deadlifts and you’ll give yourself the best possible chance to fight those stubborn lower-body fat stores.


3) Stress affects women’s metabolism, inhibiting fat loss

Stress also affects men, but to a lesser degree. High stress leads to high cortisol secretion which increases blood sugar providing energy for the stressful situation. The stress response isn’t always negative, but when this process becomes chronic, the hormonal precursor for testosterone (important for muscle-building and fat loss) is used to alternatively create progesterone, which leads to storing more fat. Chronic stress in both men and women will halt the fat loss process, regardless of exercise and diet. The fix? Chill out! Find ways to decompress and relax: take up yoga, meditate, get more sleep. Stress makes life unpleasant and since we only get one go-around it’s important to find ways to limit your stress and to increase the moments that make you happy!

4) Intermittent fasting and calorie restriction tends to be detrimental for women but beneficial for men

I’ve already written about the detriments of caloric restriction and IF for women, but this is a good reminder. Intermittent Fasting and caloric restriction can work for men, but these strategies tend to lead to weight gain for women. Calorie restriction leads to hormonal dysregulation in women- when calories get low, the female body goes into emergency fat-storage mode to ensure survival and reproductive health for as long as possible. The fix? Eat! Many women feel guilty when eating and this is something that we need to change. The truth is that if you eat a balanced diet of fats, carbs and protein, your hormones will be happy, your stress will be low, and your body won’t be clinging to its fat stores. Don’t overthink things- eat real food, eat when you’re hungry, and the rest will fall into place.


5) Young women have the same ability to build muscle as men

Shocking right? Recent studies show that protein synthesis and gene signaling that leads to muscle gains are nearly equal between young men and women. Women are, however, smaller overall and have less total muscle mass, so gains are relatively smaller. The only time when a man has a greater ability to gain muscle is during puberty (hello testosterone!) with the exception of older women, who have a very hard time building muscle. The fix? Well, there isn’t really a fix here, but moreso it is good news for women- you DO have an equal ability to build muscle, and muscle is the fat-burning engine in the human body; the more muscle mass you have, the more fat you’ll burn at rest. Again, the key is to lift challenging weights at the gym and to mix up your workout routine every month or so, which will prevent your fat burning from reaching a plateau.

And there you have it- a bit of insight into the female challenge of losing fat. As always, there is no one-size fits all diet or workout plan that will work for everyone, so find what works for you and execute your plan for success. For any questions on fat burning and weight loss, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

Happy Monday!



How To Train Like A Woman, Part 3: The Plan

6 05 2013


OK ladies, we’ve identified the problems, we’ve covered the guidelines, now it’s time to put a plan in place. Before we begin, however, let’s clarify a few things:

– This is a general template for all women. With that being said, it will have to be modified for your individual fitness and health condition. As always, please ensure that you are healthy enough to being a weight training program. Start at your own pace and take from this article the information that you can realistically apply to your lifestyle.

– If you want to improve your body composition and overall health, you first need to be mentally prepared for a change in lifestyle, not a temporary diet. The information contained in this post is designed to show you how to eat and exercise on a regular basis for the rest of your life. Please do not expect long-term results from short-term change.

– You cannot expect yourself to implement all of these changes overnight. Everyone reading this is currently at a different level of health and fitness. Some will need to work on basic progressions prior to touching a weight at the gym; some will have the basics down and can begin to implement a weight training strategy; some will already be weight training and can use the information here to break through plateaus and increase the efficiency of their workouts. Likewise, some of you may already be eating well, while some of you may have very unhealthy eating habits. Please do not attempt to make extensive lifestyle changes overnight. If you take on too much too fast, you will likely relapse into old habits. Take things slowly. I wrote a piece on compliance back in January that explains how to set realistic goals and achieve long-term success; please take a look. Set attainable goals on a regular basis (Example: get rid of one type of junk food every week or two/focus on mastering the fundamentals of one core movement every few weeks) and gradually you will find yourself in a sustainable, enjoyable routine.

– This information is aimed at women who want to lose fat and/or increase strength. It is not designed for women who want to add muscle mass; if this is your goal, you will have to tailor this information- please feel free to contact me if you would like suggestions.

Now without further adieu…

Nutrition Guidelines

NOTE: These are “in a perfect world” guidelines; you cannot expect yourself to implement them all overnight, but instead, try to implement them gradually over time.

  • No carbohydrates before noon. Ideally, no carbs on off days at all, and only in the evenings on days you’ve lifted weights. When you wake up, your fat cells are at their highest insulin sensitivity. If you eat carbs in the morning, especially first thing in the morning, your fat cells will grow more than they will at any other time. Therefore, no carbs in the morning, ever. This includes fruit and milk. No exceptions.
  • If you enjoy drinking coffee, please feel free to enjoy one or two cups first thing in the morning. Again, no carbohydrates (read: no sugar or milk!). The addition of coconut oil can be beneficial due to the type of fat which is used immediately for energy (medium chain triglycerides), although heavy (whipping) cream is another option. Cinnamon can be added for taste and to boost metabolism (for extra fat-burning).
  • Coffee should be limited after your first cup, as later in the day it can throw your hormones into fat-storing condition.
  • Eat fats, lean protein and green vegetables at every meal. Every. Meal.
  • Avoid products that contain refined sugar, enriched flour and artificial sweeteners. If you are absolutely craving sugar, it’s likely because you haven’t eaten enough fat earlier in the day. Try drinking some sugar-free almond milk with unsweetend cocao in it; this is a great cure for anyone craving chocolate.
  • Try to drink a minimum of 2 liters of water every day; this is in addition to coffee/tea/other beverages.
A lot!- just like any other human!

A lot!- just like any other human!

Macronutrient breakdown

In general, fats should make up the majority of your calories (>50%), protein should hover between 0.7-1.0g per lb of body weight and carbs should make up the rest (<15%).  Go online and find a TDEE calculator to determine your daily caloric needs (a rough estimate is fine), put this number at a 10-15% deficit, and base your macronutrient needs off of this number.

Start by figuring out how much protein you should be eating, based on the guidelines above; the exception is if you are overweight or obese- in this scenario, cap protein between 150-180g, you shouldn’t need more than that. The rest of your calories on off days should come from fats. On workout days, lower the fat intake and substitute some carbs (maybe 150g or so).

As a general rule of thumb, keep carbs as low as possible (or non-existent) on non-workout days and if you are going to overeat carbs, make sure you do it at night and on a workout day. Carb intake should always be highest on workout days, especially on your most challenging weight training days.

When in doubt, undereat carbs and fill up on fats and protein; this will drive fat-loss.

Sample meal plan:

Upon waking: Water. Fish oil caps. Coffee with coconut oil

Breakfast: 2 eggs, 3 strips of bacon, veggies

Lunch: Spinach salad with avocado and chicken breast; extra virgin olive oil w/balsamic for dressing

Mid-afternoon snack: Cheese, handful of almonds, veggies

Dinner: Steak w/mushrooms, veggies

1-2 hours before bed: Cottage cheese, natural peanut butter, veggies

*On a workout day, and based on your activity level, eat the carbs you want at dinner and before bed

Nutrition Plan Notes:

– The total caloric amount will vary based on body weight and activity level; please play around with this until you find your caloric “tipping” point. Use the mirror, not the scale!!!!!

– If you are eating quality food (read: unprocessed, natural food), you will almost surely be able to eat more while losing weight (especially if you are used to eating low-quality food). The body knows the difference between 100 calories from a cookie and 100 calories from meat. The healthier you eat, the more difficult it becomes to overeat.

– Ideally you will be working out in the afternoon or evening. IF you have to workout in the morning, have a whey protein shake post-workout but save the carbs for the evening.

Weight training guidelines

The weights template will revolve around the following movements. Please familiarize yourself with them. I will add links for the most important lifts, including progressions. If you are not sure how to perform a movement, and I have not provided a link, please YouTube the movement for instruction. As I’ve mentioned before, please do not touch a weight (no kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, etc.) until you are able to perform a few bodyweight sets of 20 repetitions with proper form.

Deadlifts; How-to link 1; How-to link 2.

Squats (bodyweight, goblet, kettlebell, dumbbell, or barbell; I do not grant you permission to use a Smith machine- this is not a substitute for real squats); How-to link 1; How-to link 2.

– Lunges

Overhead presses

– Pull-ups (machine-assisted pull-ups and band-pulls are the starting progressions)

– Push-ups (start from the knees, then eventually full push-ups from the feet)

– Dumbbell/barbell bench presses (only after full push-ups have been mastered); How-to link 1; How-to link 2.

– Rows (bodyweight, dumbbell, barbell, or cable)

– Optional accessory work (arms, abs, etc.)

295616_349417885163726_1136630262_nThe workout template

The weights template for women is based around 3 weight training days per week on non-consecutive days; essentially weight training every other day. I will outline a template for 2 days. The idea is to alternate Day 1 and Day 2 every other time at the gym. Once the fundamentals (bodyweight exercises) have been mastered, the idea is to change variations and repetition schemes as time progresses (thus explaining why I give the option in terms of number of recommended reps). You’ll notice that I have written exercises 2a and 2b/3a and 3b instead of 2,3,4,5. This is because 2a and 2b can be supersetted (which means you perform both exercises toegther, performing one set of 2a, then immediately one set of 2b, then a short rest, then back to 2a, etc.); supersets are performed to minimize rest time and increase the efficiency and intensity of workouts. None of these workouts should take longer than 1 hour.

Training Day 1

1) Squat variation 4 sets × 5 or 6 repetitions

2a) Push-up/Bench press variation 4 × 6-10

2b) Row variation 4 × 6-10

3a) Lunges 3 × 10-15

3b) Dips 3 x 10-15

Training Day 2

1) Deadlift variation 4 × 5-6

2a) Overhead press variation 4 × 6-10

2b) Pull-up variation 4 × 6-10

3a) Back extensions 3 × 10-15

3b)  Weighted abs variations 3 x 10-15

How to properly progress weights

The first exercise (squat or deadlift variation) should be the most challenging and have the most rest between sets. Start by performing 4 × 5 reps. Next time use the same weight but attempt to do 4 x 6. Once you can perform this weight for 4 x 8, increase the weight by 5-10 pounds and start back with 4×5 reps. Again, this should be challenging, but you should maintain proper form on every rep. If form breaks down, do not increase the weight. Each workout you should strive to improve your performance by either performing more reps or increasing the weight.


Weight training notes

– Although steady-state cardio is not recommended, I do encourage you all to walk as much as possible, and walk briskly.

– Activities like yoga, pilates, and organized team sports are also encouraged; any kind of physical activity other than steady-state cardio is generally encouraged.

– As per the programming above, there really isn’t any reason for your workouts to last longer than 1 hour. The idea that “more is better” can be thrown out the window along with the myth that cardio is good for fat loss. The goal is to keep your workouts intense and challenging and you’ll get the most out of your time at the gym.

– Concentrate on performance gains (increasing the number or reps/weight lifted) instead of concentrating on the idea of fat-loss; if you are making performance gains, varying your workouts, and eating right, the results will come!

– If you have the time and energy, don’t be afraid to add in some isolation exercises at the end of your workouts! Want to sculpt those guns? Rock out a few sets of biceps curls and triceps extensions at the end of your workout. HAVE FUN! If you aren’t having fun, you won’t make it very far. Take this template and make it your own!

And there you have it ladies. Now you know how to train like a woman! I know that there is a lot of information in this article, so please take your time to digest the details, and if I have overlooked anything critical, please bring it to my attention! Additionally, should you have any questions or require further explanations, please don’t hesitate to send me a message! I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

Good luck, and get started!!!

– DW

Women? Weights? Really?

1 05 2013


Apparently the whole “women and weights” thing is gaining steam. Yesterday I received an email from the Personal Trainer Development Centre entitled “77 Trainers Explain Why Women Should Lift Weights“. I laughed out loud when I saw it. Trying to steal some of my thunder are they!?!

Check it out, 77 different reasons (some far more valid and reasonable than others) to back up the information I’ve been putting out these past few days. My personal favourite?:

“Ok, enjoy your flat ass.”

Enough said.

That’s all for today. Part 3 of How To Train Like A Woman coming soon!


How To Train Like A Woman, Part 2: The Guidelines

29 04 2013


Last week I wrote up an introductory piece for my female readers on to How To Train Like A Woman. I had planned for this to be a 2-part series, but I have received a few questions over the last few days and want to make sure that everything is explained thoroughly; this will now be a 3-part series. To recap the take-home points from Part 1:

– The female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) which are extremely important in regards to fat storage and burning, fluctuate greatly due to the menstrual cycle.

– Cortisol and insulin must first be regulated in order to control these important sex hormones.

– Progesterone and cortisol are manufactured in the body from a common precursor (pregnenolone). If cortisol is high, progesterone will be lower, especially relative to estrogen levels, which will cause the body to store more fat. Increased insulin levels due to a high-carbohydrate diet only compound this situation.

– As women have relatively low levels of testosterone, it is human growth hormone (GH) that drives muscle-building and fat-burning in the female body.

– Birth control medications alter the levels of female sex hormones in the body, typically leading to more of a fat-storing state. More research needs to be done on this subject.

– With this information in mind, let’s explore the recommendations from Part 1 of How To Train Like A Woman:

  1. Weights over cardio
  2. High-protein/high-fat over high-carb
  3. Controlling cortisol

Why women should primarily lift weights instead of doing cardio

First of all, I understand that this is counter-intuitive. As a society we have been brainwashed into thinking that cardio burns fat and that calorie in=calorie out. Well, it’s crap. It’s all crap. The human body is not an abacus. It is an extremely complex structure with hormones and catalysts and precursors and enzymes, and in the end, we are simply animals with a body programmed for survival. Running is stressful. It is hard on the joints, and ultimately leads to quite a few injuries. Scientifically, as cardio is increased, cortisol levels rise, progesterone levels shrink, and the thyroid starts to shut down (the thyroid is responsible for controlling metabolic rate, how the body uses energy, hormone sensitivity, etc.) All of these factors put the body in a terrible state for fat-burning, and ultimately creates the opposite effect: the body slows its metabolism and holds on to fat for dear life.

Some people absolutely love cardio however, so if you are one of these people, you can certainly keep doing this inefficient steady-state exercise for enjoyment, but please don’t complain about a lack of results. Cardiovascular activity is generally healthy; it’s just not good for fat-loss. Excessive cardiovascular activity however (read: several bouts of over 45 minutes of steady-state cardio per week) is just downright silly. I apologize in advance to all my marathon-running readers, but from an exercise point of view, this is about the worst thing you can do to your body. You’ll lose lean muscle mass, store fat whenever possible, likely develop some sort of chronic injury and your cortisol levels will be through the roof, leading to all sorts of other hormonal issues. Run if you must, but understand the consequences. For more great information on this topic, read this article.

Enter, weight-training. Lifting weights will build lean muscle mass, which will lead to a high metabolic rate (read: increased fat-burning), and create a more favourable hormonal balance within the body. Additionally, if your goal is to burn fat and get that “toned” look, lifting heavy weights for low reps will get you the best results. Much like the myth about cardio, we’ve also been trained to think that lifting heavy things will make us bigger so we should lift lighter weights for more reps to prevent growth and increase tone. Well, this is again completely false. As I explained earlier this year, lifting heavy weights for lower reps (<5) builds strength and lifting lighter weights for more reps (8-15) leads to hypertrophy (aka muscle growth). You won’t always want to lift heavy weights, but lifting relatively heavy should be the core component of weight training for women, should the goal be fat-loss and muscle tone.


In part 3 I will lay-out a general workout template for women, which can be modified according to individual schedules and lifestyles, and will take into consideration the hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle. I’ll do my best to explain progressions so that it can be tackled by women of every physical activity level. It should also be noted that although I don’t encourage steady-state cardio, I do encourage women to walk as often as possible, to incorporate activities like yoga, and to engage in recreational team sports. Not only are these activities good for overall cardiovascular health, but they are also important for stress-reduction (read: cortisol reduction) as well as mental health.

Why should women eat more protein/fat and less carbohydrate?

For starters, let me reiterate something that I’ve said many times in the past: everyone, man or woman, should be consuming upwards of 1 g of protein per pound of body weight every day.

So what are the advantages of protein?

  1. Increased muscle synthesis and increased GH levels, leading to greater fat-burning and better body composition.
  2. Increased thermic effect of feeding, ie, the body burns twice as much energy digesting protein than it does carbs or fats. This means greater fat loss when dieting and less fat gain during overfeeding/muscle-building.
  3. Increased Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) in response to exercise and feeding; as women have extremely low levels of testosterone, other anabolic growth hormones (like IGF-1) are more critical to muscle-building.
  4. Reduction in cardiovascular risk — Several studies have shown that increasing the percentage of protein in the diet (from 11% to 23%) while decreasing the percentage of carbohydrate (from 63% to 48%) lowers LDL cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations with concomitant increases in HDL cholesterol concentrations.
  5. Improved weight loss profile; reducing the carb:protein ratio to 1:1 increases body fat loss, spares muscle mass, reduces triglyceride concentrations, improves satiety, and improves blood glucose management.

What about fat?

  1. Same with protein, a high fat diet leads to better body composition: cells will be more sensitive to insulin, leading to and increased metabolism and reduced inflammation.
  2. Fats support thyroid hormone function, which controls metabolism and regulates body fat.
  3. Cholesterol, which comes with fat, is used to make hormones. More dietary fat equates to better balance of sec hormones like testosterone and estrogen.
  4. Fat is satiating and leads to greater satisfaction from eating, curbing hunger and cravings (especially when combined with protein).
  5. Dietary fat elicits zero insulin response. Therefore, if you eat fat without the presence of protein or carbs, your body will be not only break down the fat you’ve eaten, but existing fat stores as well.
Eat me!

Eat me!

The truth about carbs?

  1. The purpose of carbohydrates is to provide energy. If ingested carbohydrate is not used immediately, it is stored as fat.
  2. Glucose is essential to life- the brain and Central Nervous System (CNS) prefer glucose to other fuel and function best with a constant supply- but the human body is capable of fuelling basic metabolic functions through ketone production and also by manufacturing and providing the minimum amount of glucose needed daily (~50 g) through the natural process of gluconeogenesis (ie, you do not need dietary carbohydrate in order to survive).
  3. Carbohydrates largely dictate insulin secretion in the body; the higher the carb on the glycemic index and/or the amount of carbs in a feeding determine the size and length of an insulin spike. Insulin will drive ingested nutrients either into muscle for energy or repair, or into fat cells for storage; unless you have just exercised intensely, insulin will promote fat storage, which is why the timing of carbohydrate ingestion is critical for fat loss.
  4. Chronic ingestion of carbohydrates, especially sugar, will make cells more resistant and less sensitive to insulin. The body will therefore compensate by secreting even more insulin in the presence of carbohydrates. Eventually, this will lead to the development of type-II diabetes; this is incredibly important for any women who suffer from low progesterone levels (ie, women who are extremely stressed out or post-menopausal women), as high estrogen levels (relative to progesterone levels) can lead to insulin sensitivity. These women are at an elevated risk for health problems and should absolutely make the appropriate exercise and nutrition adjustments.

For the reasons listed above, women should seriously consider lowering their carbohydrate intake and increase their protein consumption. Dietary protein and/or fat is required for nearly every metabolic function in the human body, whereas carbohydrates are an energy source, and most people consume far more carbs than they do expend energy; enough said. In Part 3 I will go over nutrition in a bit more detail with foods to target, foods to avoid, macronutrient breakdown and nutrient timing.


Controlling Cortisol

We all have cortisol, and cortisol isn’t always a bad thing (it is catabolic and therefore needed to burn fat, we just want to control it so that it doesn’t burn valuable things like muscle). Now, I’ve already mentioned a few things about cortisol, but I wanted to touch on subject close to my heart. Despite all the love that I’ve given to caffeine in the past, it appears as though excessive coffee intake can indeed be detrimental to the fat-burning process in women. I swear, it hurts me to write this, because caffeine (and especially coffee) has many great benefits. However, caffeine does increase cortisol levels, which is bad for women for 2 main reasons:

  1. High cortisol leads to lower progesterone levels (due to the common precursor)
  2. Coffee intake has been linked to higher estrogen levels (the cause is undetermined, but it could be due to the acidity of coffee), which leads to a larger estrogen-progesterone imbalance and puts the body into fat-storing mode. If carbohydrates are added to this equation (read: insulin spike), it is a fat-storing recipe for disaster. NOTE: Increased estrogen-progesterone levels are not only bad for body composition, but also make women more susceptible to PMS symptoms, infertility, osteoporosis and several types of cancer.
Just try to stick to 1 or 2 cups...

Just try to stick to 1 or 2 cups…

Now, I still fully encourage my female readers to start the day with a black cup of coffee (with coconut oil for optimal results) because despite high cortisol levels first thing in the morning, insulin levels are also low, GH levels are high and caffeine also causes the release of epinephrine, further promoting fat-burning. In other words, although this could negatively affect the sex hormones, the body is still in such a great fat-burning state in the morning that coffee should still help you capitalize on this window. NOTE: The very WORST thing that you can do first thing in the morning is wake up and immediately eat carbohydrates, as insulin will ensure that you store fat instead of burn it. If you eat first thing in the morning, stick to protein and fat and save the carbs for post-workout. Aside from this morning coffee however, it is likely advisable for women to avoid coffee for the rest of the day. This extra caffeine will increase cortisol at inopportune times, skewing the sex hormone balance and leading to more fat storage. Have a black coffee first thing in the morning, but stick to herbal teas later in the day. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure to try to drink high-quality coffee; and yes, it makes a difference.

So, how do we control cortisol levels?

  1. Sleep as much as possible. 8+ hours a night is ideal. Naps shouldn’t be overlooked, but regular, uninterrupted sleeping patterns are important.
  2. Reduce the stress in your life. Here are some tips.
  3. Exercise. Either with weights, or high-intensity interval training (ie, sprints, bike intervals, metabolic complexes, etc., lasting less than 20 minutes total)
  • Long story short: Cortisol (stress) induces the release of epinephrine and increases gluconeogenesis, releasing glucose (sugar) into the blood. Low-intensity aerobic exercise will not efficiently burn through this fuel. High-intensity exercise will burn through this glucose and force the body into an anaerobic state, signalling the release of testosterone and GH. When combined, these ingredients will make you burn fat and build muscle. When the workout is over, there will be a feeling of energized relaxation (if you’ve ever had a great workout, you know the feeling!) and the body’s perception of stress is positively altered. Jogging, biking, running, walking, yoga, etc., can lower cortisol levels to a certain degree, but not even close to the same degree as an intense workout.

If you can combine these factors with the appropriate nutritional interventions, you’ll be well on your way to a better body composition, a decreased risk of injury and disease, and an overall improvement in quality of life.

So, as I mentioned earlier, Part 3 will come sometime in the next few days. I plan to include all the details you’ll need to improve your body composition and overall health, including a workout template that you can tailor to your own schedule.

If I’ve left anything out, or if there is something that you’d like me to elaborate on in the interim, don’t hesitate to send me a message!

Happy Monday!


How To Train Like A Woman, Part 1: The Primer

25 04 2013


For a while now I’ve been meaning to put together a comprehensive piece on women and fitness. As most of you are aware, I am a man, and I base a lot of my fitness and nutrition advice on my own personal experiences. As most you are also aware, men and women are different, so my personal experience won’t always translate into proper advice for women. For the record, the information contained in this 2-part series comes from scouring the web (research papers, blogs, interviews, etc.) as well as anecdotal evidence from some female lifters that I know personally. Again, I can’t draw from my own personal experiences, so I did my best to find the highest quality information to share with my female audience. Let’s start with the basics:

As usual, there is nothing we can’t learn from Arnold. With the basics out of the way, let’s talk fitness and nutrition.

Why women shouldn’t train like men

First of all, I think the phrase “train like a man” is absolutely comical. If you trained like the majority of men, you’d be weak, with pathetic legs, overworked biceps and an inflated sense of self-worth. Most men have no idea what they’re doing at the gym, so please, don’t try to train like a man. Train like a woman– train smart, train efficiently, and train with a passion. Training men is a pain in the ass, because most men want big vanity muscles and little functionality, whereas women tend to see the big picture: a balanced body is a beautiful body.

Semantics aside, there are some major differences between men and women when it comes to training, and most of this can be attributed to hormones.  Men have high levels of testosterone, making it relatively easy to add and maintain muscle mass; fat is predominately in the abdomen. Women have high levels of estrogen and progesterone, making it difficult to add muscle mass; females tend to have smaller waists, with fat being stored on the hips, thighs and breasts. In general, women with relatively higher levels of estrogen tend to store more fat around the hips and thighs, whereas high levels of progesterone can lead to larger breasts (although this is less indicative). Testosterone levels in men rarely fluctuate, but women experience monthly hormone fluctuations due to their menstrual cycles. These fluctuations have a large effect on how women look, function and feel, and also alter fat-burning, fat-storage and muscle-building properties of the female body.

And both with make you fat; especially when combined!

And both with make you fat; especially when combined!

Cortisol and insulin also play a huge role in the regulation of female sex hormones. If cortisol and insulin are out of control, estrogen and progesterone levels will be negatively affected and manipulation of these hormones for effective fat-loss and muscle-building will be futile. A quick reminder: cortisol is a stress hormone, and will be elevated in the body in times of stress, lack of sleep, etc. Insulin is the hormone responsible for regulation of blood sugar; carbohydrate intake is the largest factor affecting insulin levels. Cortisol and insulin levels can be largely manipulated by nutrition and lifestyle intervention. What compounds the equation is that cortisol and progesterone are created in the female body from a common precursor (pregnenolone). In times of stress, pregnenolone is largely converted into cortisol, leading to lowers levels of progesterone. Lower levels of progesterone will equate to relatively higher levels of estrogen, which will increase the amount of fat stored (especially in the thighs and hips), especially when carbohydrates in the diet are high (read: when insulin levels are high). In other words, too much stress will have many negative side-effects: poor fat-burning, increased fat-storage, poor muscle-building, poor libido, decreased mood, etc.

Additionally, as women do not have high levels of testosterone, it is human growth hormone (GH) in the female body that predominantly leads to muscle-building/body-toning/fat-burning (and is therefore the closest thing that women have to reproduce the effects of testosterone has in men). You know what keeps GH high in women? Lifting weights, eating high-quality protein sources, and sleep. That’s it. You know what prevents women from the benefits of elevated GH levels? Lots of cardio, a constant supply of carbs, and lack of sleep. Those are the facts.

Finally, women tend to be more flexible and mobile than men, and can handle more frequent training sessions (women recover faster than men because they are not as strong and tend not to tax their muscular and nervous systems as much during training). Women should therefore spend a greater percentage of their workout time on strength work take advantage of their quicker recovery time by training more often.

But I don’t want to get bulky!

To quote a good friend of mine:

“Women worrying that lifting weights will make them bulky is like me shooting some hoops and thinking I’m going to the NBA.”

This honestly puts things in perfect perspective. Honestly ladies, I’ve been lifting very seriously for 10 years, for the most part trying extremely hard to get bigger, and it’s damn-near impossible- and I’m a man, with a greater propensity to pack on mass (via testosterone levels); you are not hormonally well-equipped to put on muscle mass!!! Unless your birth control pill is laced with anabolic steroids, it will be quite difficult for you to accidentally get “bulky”. Furthermore, lifting heavy weights for low reps builds strength, not mass. Lifting lighter weights for 8-12 reps is the scientifically proven way to grow bigger muscles. Lift heavy, for low reps, and you’ll blast through fat without adding “bulky” muscles. You know what will make you bulky?…



What other factors are there to consider?

Everyone is an individual, and every woman will have different hormonal levels and patterns and some will be more prone to increased cortisol levels than others. I have read about women getting “burned out” if they train weights for longer than 60 minutes, but this isn’t something I’d ever recommend; keep those sessions short! Then again, I know some competitive weight lifters who train with serious weights for 3-4 hours without any issues. As with anything else, there will be individualized effects, but as a general rule of thumb, keep your weight training session under an hour.

Aside from this, there are two major issues for women that can affect hormones and training results: birth control and menopause. From what I can find, the effect of birth control is extremely variable and the jury is out on how it really affects training results. There are several different kinds of birth control on the market, but all of them are in essence, a manipulation of the body’s natural hormonal state (the medication usually contains estrogen and/or progestin). My findings have been slim, but here is what I could dig up:

– Almost all forms of birth control lead the unwanted storage of fat. Progestin-only pills show a greater tendency toward weight gain.

– Birth control tends to correlate with higher cortisol levels (not surprising, considering the unwanted fat-storage)

– It is harder to put on lean muscle mass while on birth control

Long story short, it seems as though birth control is a small hindrance to losing body fat. If this is a major issue for you, please discuss it with your physician.

In regards to menopause, I’m really no expert. When menopause hits, progesterone levels drop, libido drops and fat begins to accumulate around the midsection instead of being predominantly stored in the hips/thighs/breasts. The only way to battle these symptoms (aside from hormone replacement therapy, progesterone creams, etc.) is to be vigilant with nutrition and exercise intervention, as I will discuss below.

With all this in mind, how should women eat and train?

Well, if you’ve been following my other posts, the advice is still pretty similar. Here are the nuts and bolts:

320539_555615461137851_457451006_nStop jogging/running long distances often: For countless reasons. This type of exercise increases cortisol levels, depletes GH and progesterone stores, eats through muscle and has little-to-no positive effects on the female body. You don’t have to stop running completely, but it must be minimized. High-intensity training (HIIT) should have a larger role.

Weight training is paramount: Hormone regulation (GH production) = fat-burning = look amazing. No more “skinny-fat”. This is the number one most important take-home point for menopausal women, as weight training will increase GH (helping to burn fat), but will also strengthen bones and ward off osteoporosis and improve overall quality of life.

Low-carb is king: If you control your insulin, you can control your sex hormones, and you can control your fat storage; in general, carbs will need to be low. I strongly endorse nutrition protocols like Carb Nite and Carb Back-Loading for almost all women (and men, frankly).

Protein, fats and veggies: High-quality protein sources (again, restoring GH levels), a variety of fat sources (which should make up the majority of your calories) and lots of fiber and micronutrients will give your body the fuel it needs, without storing fat.

Sleep, sleep, sleep: The best way to keep cortisol at bay and increase GH is to get as much sleep as possible. Less cortisol = more GH and more control of sex hormones = happier, healthier, and beautiful.

That’s it for Part 1! In Part 2, I’m going to cover specifics, including a dietary and nutritional breakdown, how to train optimally for fat-loss and muscle tone, and how to optimize your training program around your hormonal peaks and valleys.

For more information on women and weights, you know how to find me!


It’s International Women’s Day!

8 03 2013


I just wanted to make a quick post to thank all the strong female influences in my life, but a special shout-out to my wonderful mother Brenda and sister Julian- who has become an amazing mother herself!

In case this is your first time at my blog, I’d like to take this opportunity to have you read a couple of my previous blog entries written specifically for my female readers:

Ladies and Lifting: How Serious Strength Can Build a Sexy Physique

Another One For The Ladies

Happy International Women’s Day ladies; get after it, and get yours!


Another One For The Ladies

6 03 2013

Woman flexing muscleMy goodness. Please read this. Everyone. But especially any women following my blog. A few weeks ago I posted another article on strength benefits for women, but this here is some inspiring stuff.

There is so much awesome in this short article that I don’t know where to begin. I got goosebumps several times, and the article took me no more than two minutes to read. A few excerpts:

“I love having a big ass, and I want it to stay big. Just a little harder than it is now. Women are supposed to have curves, you know?”

“I’m tired of women thinking they are supposed to be weak… it needs to end… You are not supposed to be weak. You have the right to be strong.”

“The body you want is more than what you are, not less.”

“Being happy with yourself will never come from the process of hating yourself.”

This article is not telling women that they need to lift heavier weights than most men. It is not saying that women should abandon their femininity. It is saying something that simply needs to be heard by more women, especially young women: you are in control of your body and your life, and you can shape them both in any way you choose.  Our society has been poisoned by fashion magazines and countless irresponsible diet fads. The female mindset is to limit what is being put into the body, because it’s not attractive to be fat. We are so consumed by how others will judge us that we lose focus on how we actually feel and what we think looks good. Much like men are completely wrong in thinking that getting jacked and cut will get them girls, women are equally at fault thinking that men want them as skinny as possible.  We need to take steps to abolish these misconceptions and restore value where it matters: being healthy. Drink water, eat unprocessed foods, and take the stairs. It’s so simple that it makes me sick, but we’re conditioned to think that things are more complicated than they really are. Does anyone want to argue that having some muscle and being relatively lean isn’t sexy? Because it is; because it reflects healthiness.


And that about wraps-up my mid-week rant! Stay tuned for more unsolicited advice on how to live your life!