starting from scratch
My first introduction to lifting was Kinobody’s eBook Goddess Toning Program, which is a beginner-level workout designed specifically for women to build a sexy, slim, and strong body. The program details how to life a healthy lifestyle, how to track macronutrients, and explains why specific exercises are best to get the results women want (toned arms, slim legs, and a curvy bum!)
I didn't know how to use a barbell. The program called for Sumo Deadlifts so I used the light fixed-weight barbells. Sumo Deadlifts and Conventional Deadlifts start with the barbell on the ground. You use the power of your legs to pull the bar up. If the barbell is too low to the ground, like it is if you use teeny-tiny weights, you'll have to bend over and pull up with your back, which is bad form and can cause injury.
Here's me doing sumo correctly with a barbell and two 10kg plates (total of 40kg).
When I started GTP Program, I was in this cocky stage of thinking I had strong legs from horseback riding (eye roll). The program called for Goblet Box Squats and I was doing them with a 20kg kettle-bell but it was too easy. I went to use the fixed-weight barbell and then I realized I had no effing clue how to lift this barbell over my head, onto my shoulders, and then take it off again.
I said to my boyfriend (who is basically my trainer) "How the EFF does this work?" and he took me to the big-girl area of the gym and taught me how to use a squat rack.
He also taught me how to bench press. The GTP program didn't include flat bench press—I'm not sure why, because it's an important compound exercise that everyone should incorporate into their program. (After months of hissy-fits, saying "But I don't care about having a strong chest!" I stuck with it and understand its importance. Sadly, it doesn't make your boobs grow.)
mike matthews' program
Three months into GTP, I got Mike Matthews’ book Thinner Leaner Stronger. Matthews’ book had 3-day, 4-day, and 5-day programs. I was in only in class 3 days a week, so I had extra time on my hands and wanted to try his 4-day routine instead of the GTP Program, which I wasn't completely following anyway since I'd added regular squats and bench press to it.
I ran Mike's program for awhile. It was 4 days of low-rep/heavy weights with main-compound lifts like sumo-deadlifts, squats, and hip thrusts followed by isolation exercises like dumbbell curls and lateral raises.
I loved doing this type of program. I was only in the gym for 40 minutes, getting increasingly stronger because of "newbie gains" (your body reacts strongly to the new stimulus), and I was putting the weight up on the bar every week. I was losing fat and gaining muscle!
when to tweak a program
I learned that you don't have to "confuse" your muscles every workout. I'd been told time and time again that you need to switch things up every workout and that you only know you have a good workout when you're sore.
You don't have to feel muscle soreness after every session. Once your muscles are used to an exercise, you won't feel that intense soreness but it doesn't mean your body isn't still working. I stopped getting sore legs after a few weeks of squats but I was still moving up in weight and reps every week for months after that.
I had to tweak Mike's program a few times during this period because I plateaued in my flat bench press. My chest strength absolutely sucked, but I was only doing 2 chest exercises per week so it wasn't giving my chest enough volume to progress. I added chest into my routine 2x a week and finally, my bench weight moved from 22kg to 25kg to 27kg to 30kg.
You can't do the same routine forever and you won't even want to. It's okay to get bored. Just make sure you've worked the program long enough. I'd say give a program at least 8 to 10 weeks or more before you move to another one.
It takes awhile to see results from a program and if you "program hop" to something completely different too soon, you'll lose all the strengthening progress you've made.
the age of "fitsporation"
Many female athletes who produce “fitsporation” on Instagram and YouTube churn out different routines on a weekly basis for their viewers to try. That confused me. (Yeah, lots of petite blondes in the fitspo-world...)
Why don't they just stick to one program?
How can they remember their progress for next time?
Do they just make it up as they go?
I learned that these athletes were following a bodybuilding program whereas I was following a strength-training program. Bodybuilding programs focus on aesthetics, meaning they focus on building the size of the muscles (“the pump”) more than strengthening them. Yes, of course you’re still going to be strengthening your muscles, but not as much as you would with a strength-training specific program. Bodybuilding programs involve a lot of isolated-muscle exercises, lots of reps, and lots of sets which means lots of volume.
(Think bicep curls for 4 sets of 15. That's 15x15x15x15 = 60 reps in total for one exercise, whereas I'd do bicep curls for 3 sets of 8. That's 24 reps in total but the low range of reps allows me to lift heavier dumbbells, so I will burn out faster with 10kg dumbbells than the bodybuilder doing 60 reps of 5kg.)
trying out a bodybuilding program
But still, I was curious about this “body pump” style of fitness. In Gymshark athlete Robin Gallant’s YouTube video, she announced a discount for her Intensive Max Glute Hypertrophy program and I thought, Oh what the hell, I’ll try it. It was 5 days a week with an emphasis on the glutes, a lot of isolation exercises, and a lot of reps.
After tweaking Robin's program to my liking (adding bench press, eliminating moves that would injure my shoulder and neck again), I started it during the first week of November. I was cranky the first day I tried it and wanted to quit the second day, but I couldn’t. Robin’s program ran for 4 weeks (though it was the same program each week) and the problem is—you can’t run a program for 4 weeks and expect to see significant results. Run it for at least 3 months.
Did I run it for 3 months? Nope.
Why not? — here's A couple of reasons:
1) It was too much volume. I went from 40-minute routines 4 days a week to 1 hour and 15 minute-routines 5 days a week. I never thought the day would come where I would be lying in bed thinking, “I really don’t want to go to the gym tomorrow”, but there I was last week thinking just that. The main reason I love strength-training is because it’s quick and still gives my body great results. This bodybuilding program called for sets of 12+ reps and in my book, anything over 10 reps is cutting it dangerously close to cardio.
2) I never felt satisfied afterwards. I was doing light weights and isolation work. I felt unfilled when I left the gym having not done 3 heavy sets of squats and/or deadlifts.
personalizing my own program
I don’t regret doing Robin’s program. (Of all the “fitsporation” athletes out there, Robin is one of my favorites. She was a competitive powerlifter and has done intensive research on glute hypertrophy. Her YouTube videos may be infrequent but they are always great quality and informative.) My butt is definitely bigger but I haven't lost any progressive amount of weight and my progress pictures are nothing to write home about.
I'm glad I tried it because now I know what I like and what I don't. What’s even better is that I can take pieces of all the programs I’ve done and put them together into my own, personal program.
I made a 3-day push/pull/leg split incorporating compound lifts and exercises I liked from Robin’s program. I’ll only go 3x a week but I’ll be putting my body through an intense workout that will most likely not involve sweating and will most definitely NOT involve cardio.
Here's what it looks like:
Sumo Deadlifts (2 sets of 4-6)
Sumo Deadlifts (drop back weight, 3 sets of 6-8)
Hip Thrust (3 sets of 4-6)
Cable Row (3 sets of 8-10)
Cable Curls (3 sets of 8-10)
Assisted Pull-ups (3 sets to failure)
Bench Press (3 sets of 6-8)
Incline Dumbbell Press (3 sets of 8-10)
Lying Tricep Extension (3 sets of 10-12)
Dumbbell Lateral Raises (3 sets of 10-12)
Calf Raises (3 sets of 30)
Squat (2 sets of 4-6)
Squat (drop back weight, 3 sets of 6-8)
Lunges (3 sets of 18-20)
Leg Press (3 sets of 10-12)
Cable Glute Kickbacks (3 sets of 12-15)
My game plan is to build my strength as well as grow my muscles and I want to focus on the 3 powerlifts: bench press, squats, and deadlifts. I like sumo deadlifts because they work the glutes more than conventional and sumo deadlift doesn't cause strain on my neck.
Once I hit the top reps of my exercise, I move up in weight by 2.5 kgs. It's a slow process but very rewarding.
Main goals of 2018: squat and deadlift 90kg.
What's your favorite style of training? Please comment below!
bonus: progress pictures that are not totally inappropriate
(left to right) August 2016, 63 kg -- to -- Sept 2017, 58 kg
Nov 2017 - 57 kg (during Robin's program)
Sept 2016 - 61 kg