Trust me when I say, there’s a method to the madness when it comes to rep ranges, intensity, speed, and focus of a well-designed strength-training program. These components are not random, but rather intentional variations to ensure that you get the best results.
Let’s break it all down…
You already know the best way to build strong sexy muscle: is by strength training, resistance training, lifting weights, bodybuilding – whatever you wanna call it – it goes by so many names but it all means the same thing.
The beauty of this kind of exercise is that it’s very moldable for your aesthetic goal – you can be very intentional about developing very specific muscle groups to sculpt and shape your body. Whereas things like crossfit or olympic lifting or even powerlifting – which also are based on weight lifting – are actually more focused on the performance of it rather than the visual result.
With intentional workouts, you have the ability to manipulate and change the way your physique looks, you can create illusions of curves , and you can do that by manipulating your workouts to focus on the areas you want to build or bring down. This is the individualization aspect of weight-lifting that is so powerful. For example, if your quads are dominant and your hamstrings are under-developed – which is pretty common for petite women – you can do less quad movements and more hamstring movements to balance out your physique.
To sculpt and tone your body: You must be working out with the intent to build muscle – not just for the sake of “working out”, “burning calories” or “working up a sweat”. Your mindset must be there first and foremost.
BUT! Before we go any further I want to get a few myths out of the way:
*Only* performing really high reps goes hand-in-hand with only using very light weights. You have to abandon the belief that light weights “tones” the muscle. If you want to tone the muscle, you still have to build the muscle. If you’re afraid of getting too bulky let me tell you this… I’ve been lifting heavy since I was 15 years old. That’s Half of my damn life, do I look bulky to you?! If you think yes, then I’m sorry but we can’t be friends and you should probably stop reading right here, right now. Truth is, in order for women to achieve that bulky manly look, they basically HAVE to take enhancement drugs. It’s just not in our hormonal makeup. And newsflash, most of those women you see on national and pro level bodybuilding stages (even bikini competitors) they HAVE taken muscle enhancing drugs – even if they claim they are “all natural”. I’ve been in that world, I know what goes on. That’s a choice they make and a look they desire. You can’t get there by accident so let’s just stop worrying about that, kay?
Now, back to our scheduled broadcast…
Is it better for petites to do less weight and high reps or more weight and less reps?
The answer is both. Your body needs and will respond to both. So what’s best is progressive training which is a strategy of alternating through different phases and we will get to that in the next lesson.
For now, there are 5 components of strength training we need to chat about.
- FORM – Exercises are only as good as you can perform them. If your form isn’t good or you’re not connecting to that muscle when you’re performing it, you’re not going to see the benefit. If you’re just getting started with lifting weights, your focus should be more on form than the rest of the things I’m about to tell you. I’ve trained many clients in my career ranging in all heights, sizes, genders, ages, etc. Everybody learns at a different pace so it’s difficult to give you a time frame. I highly suggest working with an in-person trainer or an experienced lifter friend when you’re just starting out because they’re guidance is the fast-track and will help prevent you from bad habits or injuries.
- SPEED: a lot of times people think working out means you always have to do it as fast as you can, keeping your heart rate high and sweating like a dog – And while some of that is necessary, You don’t want to be going too fast because you’ll likely just be momentum and skipping over the whole muscle building part. 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. Truth is, if you go at a steady pace & utilize the next 2 components, you will still work up the same amount of sweat, calories burned, and heart rate but have way more effective workouts.
- FULL RANGE OF MOTION: This means getting all the way to the top of the movement and then returning all the way back to the starting position. Without full range you aren’t completing a full rep and that would essentially be cheating. 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 doing it – that’s half-assing it! Lesson to be learned here: If you want long, lean sexy muscles, Don’t half-ass it, if you’re gonna do it, use your full-ass! Your full-range of motion.
- CONTRACTION: This is essentially the climax of the movement right before you pivot to go back to the starting position. Weight lifting is not just about picking a weight up and putting it down… It’s about pausing for 2-3 seconds at the top of the movement to feel the contraction and connect to that muscle being worked. So if you’re doing a bicep curl, you want to bring the weight up, hold, then slowly lower down. Same thing still holds true for the movements where you’re pushing out (ex. Leg press, squats) You should hold that weight for a couple seconds when you’re at that full range of motion position. So many times I hear petite women say things like “I train back all the time but I don’t feel it in my lats – and the reason for that is the lack of mind-to-muscle connection. When you train you should actively be thinking about the muscle being worked”
- Intentional REST PERIODS: This one is tricky and actually coincides with the progressive and periodization training strategy (which we will get to soon…) but what you should know is the less rest, the higher the intensity of the workout will be. HOWEVER, you don’t always want intensity to be super high all the time especially if you’re in a low rep heavy lifting phase. Taking breaks actually allows you to recover & lift heavy for the next set. If you don’t fully allow yourself time to recover between sets you run the risk of not completing the set or worse…injury. So you want to make sure that your rest is appropriate per your phase of training.
If you were to do the same workout program with the same number of reps and sets and the same weights day in and day out, your body will just continue to stay the same as well. The reason for this is that your body is not being challenged. When we do a new workout, movement or apply more weight, our body knows! It’s like omg, I need to grow some muscle to be able to handle this next time.
In order to build muscle to change your body composition, your workouts must change as well. There are 2 ways you should go about this.
First is Progressive overload. PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD is the gradual increase of stimulus placed on the body. In simple terms, this is when we do the same exercises each week, but try to increase the weights we use each time you do that exercise. By slightly challenging your body a little more and a little more, it will recognize that you need it to be able to do more, so the muscles will continue to grow as you continue to challenge it.
How much weight you can add each week depends on the exercise & the size of the muscle being worked. You will feel it’s easier to increase by large amounts for compound exercises (which are exercises that use multiple muscles like squats) and larger muscle groups (like back and legs). Which means you’ll find it harder to add weight to isolation movements (like hamstring curls) and smaller muscle groups (like shoulders). For those smaller movements & muscle groups, you might not be able to jump up to the next level for several weeks — and that’s O-K! Honestly, as a pretty advanced lifter, I still don’t do more than 10-15lbs on lateral raises because that’s about all my little shoulder boulders are going to handle.
Within the first year of strength training, you have a greater ability to increase strength fairly quickly as a newbie. But for intermediate & advanced lifters, that rate of acceleration of strength starts to slow. IT doesn’t mean you’re a failure or you’re getting weaker. It just means that your body is getting stronger.
So If you’re wondering if you’re lifting enough… Don’t you worry, girlfriend! I got chu. I made this handy dandy chart to show you a safe weight for beginners to use, how much you’ll need to add to be considered intermediate, when to know you’re an advanced lifter AND finally, find out what it takes to be at the elite level. Get the chart by taking this fun quiz!
After a few weeks of applying progressive-overload to a specific training program, you’ll eventually reach a point where you can’t add any more weight. This is a sign you’ll need something else to stimulate the muscle growth and it’s time to switch things up!
This is where Periodization comes in. PERIODIZATION is the manipulation of training variables like increasing or decreasing repetitions, sets, tension, load, rest periods, frequency OR applying pyramid sets, incorporating partial reps, the list goes on and on!
And this is exactly why I change up my training and my client’s training about every 3-5 weeks. Because after a few weeks, your body will get used to any stimulus you throw at it. By changing at least one of the training principles every few weeks, you are giving the body another stimulus to adapt to and therefore change constantly. Besides, it would be boring as hell to do the same workout over and over for several months.
Simply put, progressive overload & periodization are key to avoiding that dreadful plateau AND ensure continued strength and muscle gains.
I get that this is TRICKY stuff to figure out all on your own especially if you’re not a trainer or don’t have a background in this stuff. and that’s why I have The Funsized Fitness App so that you literally don’t even have to think about it. Every month, I give you a brand new program that follows these progressive-overload and periodization training principles so that you’re constantly providing new challenging stimuli to your body. Trust me when I say, there’s a method to the madness when it comes to rep ranges, intensity, structure, and focus of your training program. These changes monthly are not random, but rather variations that I make intentionally to “periodize” your training to ensure that you get the best results.
P.S. Did you know that petite women have a much larger advantage when it comes to lifting weights?
- First off, our lower center of gravity helps us to be more athletic than taller women.
- We are known to be faster, more flexible and structurally aligned.
- Our compactness & shorter-limb length means there’s less torque on our muscles so we are actually less likely to get injured when lifting because the weights are closer to our center of gravity.
- Our muscle bellies are shorter which makes a teeny bit of muscle much more noticeable on a small frame.
- Building muscle is a long slow process for everyone but since it is more noticeable on us, it tends to take us less time to achieve a certain look compared to someone who is taller.
- We also don’t have to lift as much as taller people. For example, It doesn’t take more than 15lbs to build our biceps but for someone just 6 more inches taller, they probably have to lift at least double if not triple that amount.
- And While it’s necessary to lift heavy to build muscle, we only have to lift heavy relative to our size. Which means that petites also have a higher advantage when working out with limited equipment at home than anyone else.
Those are some real short girl perks right there!