Four tips to better lower body
The weight room, once a place for only men, is seeing more and more women, which is a wonderful thing. For the fear of “bulking up” and “getting manly”, women have stayed to the cardio equipment in hopes of staying thin. It is now mainstream knowledge that women should lift weights just as men have and the treadmill is not the only answer for a good body. For this reason women are stepping off of the elliptical and into a squat rack. The only issue now is the knowledge behind training. Too many times a program is decided by a certain magazine or online forum. Some of these may be good while others a waste of time. Before using a program designed for someone else, think about these aspects of training and apply them to the creation of your own program based on your own goals.
One of the biggest walls to climb in a training program is time. Work, family, friends, and life in general take a lot of time so fitting in training is a hard task. Because of this, there have to be priorities put in place according to goals. Too many times women skip the weights and use the small amount of time they have to do cardio. Although there may be a higher calorie burn during those 45 minutes, this is not setting the body up for the long run. If the goal is fat loss there is a hierarchy that should be put into play. First and foremost is strength-training. Strength-training will build muscle which in turn will create a larger energy usage in the body on a daily basis. Strength-training will also help ease joint pain and make for a better balanced body.
If there is more time allowed during the week the second piece of the puzzle is metabolic training. This could be anything from sprints to bodyweight circuits to spin class. Similar to strength-training, intervals will increase the energy usage in the body beyond the 20 minute workout itself. Instead of just burning calories at the gym, the body will continue to burn more calories throughout the next day or two.
The final piece of the puzzle is steady-state cardio. If there is more time in your week and you have gotten in a few strength sessions and a few metabolic sessions, one or two steady state workouts could be added in. Many times these sessions should be used as recovery to get blood flow throughout the body and relieve some of the soreness you may have.
Prioritize your training. Don’t just go into the gym and do whatever. Create a plan based on your schedule. If you only have a few hours a week to get to the gym, make sure you strength train first. If you find extra time, add in some intervals to increase the body’s energy usage. Any other extra time you may squeeze out of your week can be dedicated to steady-state cardio such as a long walk or run. Priorities are a must when it comes to planning and planning is a must when it comes to results.
Ever since the beginning of bodybuilding, a body-part split has been utilized as the accepted program for training. Chest and tris, back and bis, legs, and shoulders has been the go-to program. Some have even gone as far as having a day just for training the arms. Truthfully, there is no reason to split like this unless eight weeks out from a bodybuilding/figure competition. The body does not work separately from itself and each muscle group does not isolate like many think. Very rarely is a muscle actually isolated, so to train with that thought doesn’t make sense. It also doesn’t make sense to work a single muscle group if fat loss is the goal. Fat loss comes from calorie burn and if a whole workout is dedicated to the biceps and triceps, calorie usage is going to be very low due to the small size of muscle being worked.
Whether the goal is strength, fat loss, size gain, or all of the above try a larger split such as push/pull or upper lower. A push/pull split would look something like:
Monday: Bilateral Horizontal Push (Bench Press), Unilateral Vertical Push (DB Shoulder Press), Lower Body Push (squat)
Tuesday: Bilateral Horizontal Pull (Barbell Row), Unilateral Vertical Pull (Single Arm Lat Pulldown), Lower Body Pull (Romanian Deadlift)
An upper/lower split would consist of two upper body days with pushing and pulling movements and two lower body days, one with a squat focus and one with a deadlift focus.
Try a program like one of these and see how much more effective they are. These types of splits should be implemented throughout the year, however, if you are competing in a figure show, go back to a body-part split 8-10 weeks out from the show to isolate problem areas.
Build the backside
With today’s lifestyle people tend to live their whole life in front of them. From sitting all of the time to slouching, our front sides are continually shortened while our back sides are ignored. This problem is exacerbated in the gym when there is twice as much pressing and quad work as there is anything else. With high squats, lunges, and leg presses for the lower body and pushups, chest presses, and flys for the upper body, this whole imbalance is magnified. Even those who try to balance their training program by doing the same amount of presses as pulls, more than likely still have an imbalance in the body due to everyday life.
To create a holistic program, create a stronger and leaner body, and stay healthier, there needs to be a larger focus on the back side. Strengthening the upper back will prevent shoulder pains and injuries, improve posture, and create a more athletic look while more focus on the hamstrings and glutes will improve squatting strength and make for a better looking set of legs and butt. Start implementing twice as many pulling movements as pressing movements for the upper body. If you do 5 sets of bench press, do 8-10 sets of rows or pull-ups. For the lower body, make sure squats are to full depth and add in deadlift variations, glute bridges, and a lot of single leg work like split squats or rear- foot-elevated split squats. A stronger back side will lead to a stronger, healthier body.
Stationary at the core
Because of the media and popular culture there is an obsession with the “abz” and the thought process behind getting a six pack is sit-ups, crunches, and all of their variations. Go to any box gym across America and you will see hundreds, if not thousands of crunches performed on a daily basis. The idea behind a crunch is that it flexes at the spine to contract and shorten the rectus abdominus (“6-pack muscle”). While this is true, it is not the most ideal, efficient, or safe way to train the core.
Constant flexion of the lumbar spine (lower back) can cause herniation and other trauma of the spine. There is also a lack of muscle recruitment during a crunch meaning the cost to reward ratio is not very good. Instead of moving the core around with crunches, side bends, and twists try preventing movement at the core. With anti-movements there will be recruitment of a larger amount of muscle such as the spinal stabilizers of the deep core as well as the superficial muscles that give the stomach definition.
Anti- movements will also create better spinal health being that the body will be more adept to protection of the spine during movement. The third benefit behind anti-movements is that there will be a better carry-over to other lifts such as squats, deadlifts, and bench press. The more stability there is through the core, the more efficient force production will be during other movements meaning your strength in other areas will go up.
So instead of doing 30 sets of five different crunch variations, try exercises like planks, suitcase carries, and pallof presses. Do 3-5 sets of 0:30-1:00 for each exercise and I promise your core will be taken care of.
With the shift of thought in fitness, more and more women are incorporating strength training into their routine. This is a must to create a desired physique and stay healthy throughout it all. Just like with everything however, there must be some thought into a training program. Whether you are new to it all or have been training for years, take a look at your program and incorporate these ideas. Plan it all out and keep track to see what works best for you. If you are doing the same thing you were doing a year ago and haven’t seen much progress, it is time to switch things up and try something new. Take care of your body, strengthen it, and the look you desire will be sure to follow.
Chance Cianciola is owner/strength coach at the Complete Performance Institute in Louisville. While studying to get his master’s degree in exercise physiology, he spent time working with the strength and conditioning programs at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky as well as spend some time in rehab centers learning about movement . After graduating, Chance started working with the general public and has delved into the world of powerlifting as well. His philosophy consists of bringing the aspects of sports and powerlifting to the general population to teach people that it is OK to train hard and train heavy.