Jul 2nd, 2011
A picture from the previous Femme Fit. Strength helps with deadlifts.
Last week we began our discussion of female trainees who wish to get stronger and we’ll continue that today. The scenarios we discuss today will be particularly applicable to those whose strength gains have stalled. I mentioned last week that setting some goals is a valuable part of the process. It is important to send an unambiguous signal to the body to become stronger and having target weights for a handful of lifts will provide a useful yardstick by which to gauge progress.
The question becomes, "How does someone become stronger?" Not surprisingly, for men and women the answer is the same. Lift progressively heavier weights and make sure that recovery is adequate to support strength increases. If done correctly, muscular bodyweight gains often accompany this process. This is not to be feared, but embraced. Men and women will differ in how fast and to what extent gains in strength and bodyweight will occur for several reasons. The largest variable here is testosterone. Men have more of it and, if they train properly, can make larger gains in both strength and bodyweight than women. That being said, there are several women walking around CFO that are stronger than some of the men in the room. Body chemistry, therefore, is not the sole determinant of strength and performance.
This series is called eating to grow, so it makes sense to talk about food. If strength is to be pursued, eating a lot of good food is required. What is a lot? More than you are eating now. Protein is very important to support muscle growth. Protein and calories need to be increased. Dietary fat is not to be feared. If gains are not made, calories and protein need to be increased more. For very underweight women, this may represent a wholesale shift in eating habits. Find a skinny guy and eat more than he does. Eventually, you will lift more than he does. I have seen this happen a few times with the women who dedicate themselves to becoming stronger. When you squat more than the skinny dude next to you, then the high fives really begin. Keep food quality high and set PRs in the gym.
Let’s discuss body fat as this is the next question that will arise. Training and eating for strength will cause muscle to grow. Muscle is heavy and will cause an increase in the weight on the scale. If you are eating a lot and training heavy, it is also likely that some fat will come along for the ride. I would love to tell you that this is not the case, but for most people a little extra body fat is a likely outcome. This, however, is controllable and since most women are not seeking to put on 50 pounds of bodyweight, it is also not something with which to be greatly concerned.
Let’s take a hypothetical underweight female trainee and put 10 pounds of bodyweight on them over the course of several months of dedicated training and appropriate (read: big) eating. Of those 10 pounds, three may be fat. The remaining seven pounds are lean tissue gains. This bodyweight gain is accompanied by significant improvements on all of the lifts and their dead hang pull ups have also increased. Neat trick. Put on bodyweight and do more pullups. Yes, this can happen. Are those three pounds of fat problematic? Definitely not. The likely result is that the trainee will not only feel better, but look better. Most importantly, they are significantly stronger.
I have more to say on the matter so it looks like there will be a part seven at some point, but I will close with the following observation. For those women who wish to gain strength yet are not making gains, I encourage you to chat with some of the women in the gym who move big weights. Find out what they eat. It’s probably a lot. If you are really interested and the woman you are talking to does not mind telling you, find out what they weigh. It’s probably more than you would guess. Muscle is heavy. Muscle is useful. Muscle is the goal. Enjoy your Fourth of July. Eat a steak for me.