On August 15th I talked about how to program for a girl who is getting into a lifting program with no lifting history. There was a slight stink made about creating “special programs” for females and how they should just do the same program a guy would use. This was particularly amusing since the week before women were welcomed to voice their opinion on the transition from conventional fitness training to more of a “strength and conditioning program”; their opinions formulated the basis of this series on “Getting Girls to Train”.
One confusing concept to most girls will probably be that “cardio” isn’t necessary (see my friend Ellee’s post on this). “Cardio” implies that a machine is used for at least 20 minutes of self-hating Cinnabon dreaming. Low intensity cardio, (AKA long slow distance, or LSD) doesn’t have any kind of significant systemic stress for improved endurance (or ‘conditioning’) nor does it have any muscular stress whatsoever. Girls trying to develop toned, tight muscles, are merely sweating a little bit and not doing anything to affect their body fat or lean body mass (Remember: sweating is not an indicator of a good exercise stress).
Lifting creates a significant systemic stress that increases metabolic activity in order to recover from. That just means that more energy is used in recovery compared to doing LSD since there isn’t anything to recover from in LSD training. And it’s not just higher energy levels; there is a unique hormonal response that helps reduce body fat. I’ve never had a female gain body fat when doing a linear progression strength program, and the girls that I did do a body fat test on lost body fat (a pinch test with a good caliper and experienced pincher is the only relevant body fat estimate without a Bod Pod, DEXA, or hydrostatic weighing). Cardio is as useless as a Dothraki at sea.
However, after years of elliptical slavery, it’s hard to say no to monotonous leg pumping and wiping sweat with a towel (it proves you were actually sweating). Lettuce be real tea, there’s no reason we have to chain a girl to the barbell rack. Mocking slavery and then becoming a slave driver is just hypocritical, so let’s have new female trainees do cardio proper-like.
FIT explains why endurance training done with intensity is more effective and plenty of examples of how to program it with strength training. Here is an incredibly simple program to use for a girl who is leaving the shadowy cardio cave and stepping into the light of effective training:
Tabata stationary cycle
Assisted Pull-up machine
30/30 Running Interval
30/30 implies 30 seconds of running followed by 30 seconds of rest. The speed should be more challenging than a mere yog.
This set up could be alternated two to four times a week, although three would be optimal. Instead of just writing in “high intensity endurance training”, I actually filled in the conditioning portion with examples. There are two larger barbell movements in each day, then a useful assistance exercise, then an intensity-based endurance workout. The resistance for the bike and speed on the treadmill could be increased slowly over time to increase the stress and fitness. This little program would develop the legs, ass, and arms, but also provide a good foundation of strength to shift into a more serious strength program if the girl wants to. Most girls, especially the new ones, need to keep in mind that these “developments” or “changes” are going to be subtle, particularly the muscle-related changes. Girls don’t grow muscle very quickly, and they aren’t going to accidentally get mega jacked. The primary problem is the image they have in their head of what is healthy or sexy, so let’s continue using Erin Stern as the “this is what a healthy woman looks like” image.
The lifting and inclusion of higher intensity “cardio” will also help drop body fat…if she eats right. And eating for the beginning female trainee is the subject of next Monday’s post (it will actually be next week too).
For more information on how to transition into strength or endurance training, check out FIT, an unconventional guide to excellent fitness.