Ladies, don’t be put off by the fear of bulking up… Using weights can help you tone up and feel confident, says Scitec’s Michelle Brannan…
For most women, the idea of their perfect body is one that leaves them feeling truly confident, whether in a trouser suit, little black dress or on the beach – and that tends to mean losing fat and developing toned muscle, while retaining femininity.
While it’s a cliché – it’s the definition of ‘The Bikini Body’. But what is the best way to sculpt that body? The answer isn’t hours of cardio on a treadmill and low-calorie dieting. Instead, it’s about understanding the truth about heavy resistance training and eating a nutritious, metabolism supporting diet.
Body sculpting truth – low calories and cardio aren’t the answer
Healthy weight loss isn’t a number on the scale. It’s about losing stored fat, while maintaining healthy lean muscle over the entire body – resulting in a firm, toned, shapely body. Scitec’s Michelle Brannan reveals that many women fall into the trap of drastically reducing calories, while performing hours of cardio such as jogging – which results in a calorie deficit that can actually burn muscle tissue and reduce metabolic rate: “The foundation of effective body sculpting comes from a healthy diet with right balance of all your macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats), inclusive of an effective calorie deficit of 15-25% below your maintenance calories.”
The fundamentals of fat loss nutrition
Step 1: Calculate your Metabolic Rate and subtract 15-25% of the total calories. Multiplying your metabolic rate by 1.55 is recommended to reflect the needs of a moderately active woman who exercises 3-5 days a week.
Step 2: Calculate your protein needs by multiplying your goal weight in kilograms by 1.6-1.8g (e.g. 1.6 x 68 = 109g protein daily). One gram of protein contains four calories.
Step 3: Consume your remaining daily calories from a mix of healthy fats and carbohydrates (1g of fat contains nine calories, while 1g of carbs contains four calories).
Consuming adequate protein is key because it helps support muscle tissue and metabolic rate when in a calorie deficit, while also controlling hunger. However, the body needs healthy fats and carbohydrates for energy and health. Michelle recommends eating the majority of carbohydrates before and after workouts, when they’re most efficiently stored in muscles as fuel and not as body fat.
Heavy resistance training – strong really is the new sexy
Despite much more publicity about the benefits of lifting weights, the concern about developing strength and ‘bulking-up’ remains for many women. The reality is very different – when done the right way, strength training results in a leaner body that’s firmer and slimmer – with research proving that it’s more effective than cardio workouts.
What’s more, Michelle says that developing a modest amount of muscle, is a women’s best friend when it comes to burning fat: “One kilogram of muscle burns almost 15 calories an hour, so if you build an extra 5kg of muscle, you will burn through an extra 1800 calories each day.”
She’s a firm believer that the best way for women to train, is to focus on compound exercises that use lots of muscle (such as squats, deadlifts and presses), while using the heaviest weights possible in a 4-6 repetition range with 85-90% of one’s maximum strength: “Strength training boost metabolic rate and targets myofibril hypertrophy, which develops lean, dense, toned muscles – like the professional dancers on Strictly Come Dancing.”
Twice weekly strength circuit
Perform 1-2 working sets of 4-6 repetitions
Perform in a circuit, super-sets, or individually
Crucially, Michelle advises against lifting light weights for lots of repetitions: “High rep workouts can activate sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which tends to give muscles a puffy, bulked-up look, plus less of a metabolic boost.” While she doesn’t advise quitting on regular cardio workouts for their health benefits, Michelle suggests adding 20 minutes of low intensity cross-training after a strength session, when the body is most efficient at burning fat.
Ultimately, when it comes to body sculpting results, strong really is the key to sexy.