Here are some words I often hear from my petite clients:
“I’m exercising but why am I not building muscle??”
But not all forms of “exercising” will promote muscle growth. Let me break it down…
When the focus is on cardio you lose as much muscle as you loose fat – and that is what results in that smaller but still flabby skinny-fat. Instead we want to maintain as much muscle as possible while losing the fat so that the result is these beautiful bulging muscles that press against our skin giving us that tight and toned look we see all over Instagram.
Here’s some food for thought. If you lose fat and muscle while dieting when you stop dieting you’ll only gain fat back. If you maintain muscle in a deficit, when you stop dieting your muscle will keep your metabolism humming and you won’t gain as much fat.
Without the strength training piece, you probably won’t like what your body looks like at a lower weight because you wouldn’t have created a body recomposition.
Most fitness gurus these days are saying screw cardio, just focus on strength training. But as a petite myself, I’m here to tell you we still need cardio. Actually, we need it more than anyone else because its harder for us to be in a caloric deficit so we need to increase output.
The key for petite women is to prioritize strength training with intensity. The bad news is – that requires you to work a lot harder during your workouts. I know you don’t want to hear that but it’s the truth.
In several of my blog posts I have told you that petites don’t need as much calories and so its harder for us to be in a calorie deficit. AND You can’t create the big caloric deficit that taller women can, therefore you’re calories out have to be high.
On the brighter side, your compact statues allows you to be strong and coordinated. And it doesn’t take as much weight to feel the burn.
That burn when you strength train you actually create tiny little tears in your muscle fiber. That’s not a bad thing! Breaking down those muscle fibers is a signal to your body that you need to repair it and therefore, your body will shuttle the nutrients you eat to those muscle to repair it! As the muscle fibers are repaired, your muscles say “hey, the next time she performs that movement, I want to better at it so give me a little more cushion here” and therefore your body adds a little more muscle tissue to give you more strength for next time.
More strength training = More lean muscle tissue
More lean muscle tissue = increased metabolism
Increased metabolism = petite permanent weight loss
When it comes to strength training you want to train with intent and intensity!
It’s going in there with the purpose to build muscle – not just going to the gym for the sake of saying you got your workout in.
What makes up intensity?
- Speed: many people think intensity strength training means doing it as fast as you can. And that couldn’t be more far from effective. You don’t want to be going as fast as you can because you’ll just be using momentum. Instead you want to be going at a slow and steady pace so that you have good control and you can feel the muscle being worked.
- Full range of motion: Without full range you aren’t completing a full rep and therefore are only cheating yourself. Let’s say you have 20 reps and you only use half your range of motion. That’s like only doing 10 reps – that’s half the requirement but you spent the same amount of time – that’s half-assing it! Don’t do anything half-ass, if you’re gonna do it, use your full-ass!
- Contraction: This is the part many people mess up. It’s not just about picking a weight up and putting it down… It’s about pausing for a second or 3 to feel the contration of your muscle. Think about squeezing the weight you’re holding so hard that you crush it with your she-hulk grip strength at the top of very rep. What about the movements where you’re not holding a weight (ex. Leg press, glute kickbacks)? You can still practice pausing for 1-3 seconds when your muscle is fully engaged.
- Short rest periods: This is the key to keeping your heart rate high throughout your strength training since we now know that they actually lifting should be slow and steady. When you first get started I recommended 60 second rest periods between each set and exercise.
So here’s what it looks like: The first 2/3 of your set should be completed easily with good form at a good pace. Then about 3/4 through your set you’ll start feeling the fatigue where you might experience some burn and possibly the desire to cheat by using momentum or other muscle groups. This is probably where you begin to lose form as its harder to use full range of motion. And then finally you should feel like you are reaching failure on the last 1-2 reps and this is where you can no longer perform any more repetitions without really sacrificing your form or hurting yourself.
What’s going to happen is this type of strength training with intensity is going to feel like cardio. Your heart rate should will be raised, you should be breathing heavy (but not out of breath) and you will be sweating.
It is important to remember that…
- If your strength training program and intensity stays the same then you won’t continue to progress. Just as if you keep eating the same thing day after day, you’ll eventually plateau. Therefore, its important to continue to adjust your intensity and you can do this by applying progression. You can do this a variety of ways – like increasing the tension, decreasing rest periods, increasing frequency, increasing repetitions, applying pyramid sets, incorporating partial reps, the list goes on and on! This is also where you can and should add additional cardio after your strength training and maybe even fasted cardio. As you start to apply progression, you’ll increase more post-exercise calorie burn.
Progressive Strength training = increase lean muscle tissue
Increased lean muscle tissue – revved-up metabolism
Revved-up metabolism = petite permanent weight loss
- More isn’t always better however! Rest is also part of the program! Let’s revisit that muscle fiber break down. Since you are breaking down your muscle during exercise, your muscle is actually building and repairing when you are at rest! That is why its so important to give your body that time to recover between bouts of exercise. Rest is a necessary part of the process! Don’t skip this part!
- Lastly, Nutrition plays a HUGE role in your muscle building abilities. You could be doing all the right workouts but if your macros aren’t balanced you’ll never ever see the results you want. That would be horrible wouldn’t it? All that wasted time and effort in the gym because you’re not doing the work out side of the gym. Trust me, I’ve been there, and that’s where most people really struggle.
In my signature 1:1 coaching program I help you maximize both your training and nutrition so that you stop wasting your precious time. Every thing is completely customized to you! You change check out all the details here!