To start off this new year, I wanted to share with you this 5-step women’s guide to dominating the gym! This guide is intended for beginners, those of us who took time off from training and want to get back at it or New Years resolutioners who want to achieve their goals in 2022. This guide is intended to give us both realistic and transformative results. From choosing the right exercises to embracing weekly progress and consuming the right foods, following this guide guarantees that we are taking charge of our health and fitness this year. Although this guide is designed for women, men can also benefit from the information given here. This post aims to empower strength and weight-training so the advice given below applies to this type of fitness.
Fortunately, achieving a toned and curvy physique looks like actual weight-lifting with the aim of getting stronger and eating high-protein meals. The aim of being our strongest and fittest selves comes with both advantages and sacrifices, they are so worth it! Remember to self-validate throughout this process, this post is meant to inspire you on a unique journey, the tools are already well within you. Having said that, the mindset to adopt is one in which we embrace the challenges and difficulty coming from lifting weights and progressing. Fitness is a growth process, failure should be expected and not avoided, starting out or starting over yet again is only a natural part of this process. Let us reach our goals with an empowered growth mindset this year! Without further ado, here is the five step guide to follow in order to dominate the gym in 2022.
Step 1: Choose the right exercises and structure them according to this outline:
Firstly, as women, we want to choose a program that is curve-enhancing. This means that we should aim to find a program that is lower-body focussed. A lower-body focussed program includes exercises like squats (goblet squat, box squat, barbell back squat, front squat, dumbbell carry-squat with either regular/sumo/narrow-stance), deadlifts (romanian, stiff-legged, regular), leg extensions, hamstring curls, lunges (split squats, walking lunges, side lunges, reverse lunges, curtsy lunges), step-ups (front/side), bridges/hip thrust (single-leg, dumbbell, barbell, foot-elevated), hip extension (GHR, cable pull-through, glutes-focussed back extension), kickbacks (side kickback, angled kickback, straight-leg kickback, using cables, band or ankle-weights), hip abductions (machine or banded) and calf raises. Follow this outline for how to structure your workout before heading out to the gym:
Warm up (Cardio)
Choose your compound lifts from the following lists:
Lower Body Compound Lifts:
Barbell back squat
Split squat variations
Full Body Compound Lifts (Upper Body and Lower Body Combined)
Aim to perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions on these exercises with a 1-2 minute rest period if necessary. You can structure your workout from 1-20 repetitions and multiple more sets, however, the above reps and sets ensure that we are training for optimal (curve-enhancing) hypertrophy.“ If you are a woman and want to gain muscle and improve your shape and curves, then you are going to have to lift heavy weights. This means that instead of doing endless reps with light weights, as the media often prescribes women to do, you need to lift some heavy weights and really challenge yourself! While performing high rep sets (15-20 reps) does have some benefits, it is not optimal to add muscle mass (Lobliner & Charlebois, 2021).”
The isolation lifts that you will choose will enhance your physique, these can include training your glutes, quadriceps or hamstrings. You can schedule these on different days (ie: hamstrings-focussed leg day on Monday, quadriceps-focussed leg day on Wednesday and glutes-focussed leg day on Friday). It all depends on what your fitness goals are.
Step 2: Train intentionally, use your time at the gym wisely
After choosing or customizing your workout program, packing your gym bag and getting out of your house, it’s time for your workout! You’ve had your high-protein breakfast and are ready to hit the weights! At this point, you want to use your time to amplify your positive mindset.This means that you must be allied with yourself, keeping the inner dialogue positive and empowering. Any previous experience at the gym or the intimidating fit person you see on the way there are irrelevant! Your new mindset is self-focussed at the gym and intentional! Why waste any precious time worrying about these things, we have our workout plan and that is the only reason we are there.
As for using our time wisely, we want to keep our rest periods at 60-90 seconds for our moderate-rep exercises, 2-3 minutes for our longer sets and 30 seconds for the light exercises in our training. When you are training, make sure that you are focussing on the movement and controlling it. Try focussing on the body part you are training, this is known as the mind-muscle connection and perform every repetition with intent. By being intentional with our training, we are more likely to succeed at building both the confidence and physiques that we want! Check out this awesome beginner gym guide for more information on starting out at the gym.
Step 3: Go heavy on the compound lifts
Compound lifts are the bread and butter of bodybuilding. Without them, any physique will be lacking. Compound lifts are multi joint exercises meaning they utilize many joints all at once. This makes them incredibly effective at building overall muscle. As a woman, having a weekly focus on lower body (and some upper body) compound lifts will create a beautiful, fit, aesthetically-pleasing and curvy lower body. This is largely because the lower body is composed of many muscles, two of the largest muscles in our bodies being our glutes and quadriceps. Pushing ourselves in lower-body compound lifts like squats, deadlifts or lunges can awaken the potential of these attractive body parts. “Nothing against all the frog pumps and leaping skater lunges—they have their place—but when building strength, the best exercises to use are big, compound movements that recruit a lot of muscle mass (Shanks, 2021).”
An important nuance when we talk about fitness is how our workouts should be directly related to our goals. If our gym goals are to build muscle, we should aim to train like men. Muscle does not discriminate between sexes, this means it needs to be trained equally hard between sexes. Women do not have the testosterone or male hormones required for a typically bulky aesthetic, the result of training like a man will be in muscle growth. While men and women do have fat distribution, hormone and other genetic differences, the way the muscle cells respond to both training and rest is the same.
The appearance of female muscle is typically a visual enhancement to a woman’s natural frame. This visual enhancement is done by virtue of muscle having a firm appearance and by creating curves (adding dimension and outlining contours) that happens when she develops her shoulders, glutes and legs and shrinks her waist. You have to trust in the process otherwise you will be training below your maximum potential. Check out these three posts on female aesthetics. Remember that training hard with compound lifts will create your own personal results and aesthetic, don’t compare it to anyone else (especially not to professionals, Instagram models or anybody who has been training for several years), this is important to remember as you are starting out.
Step 4: Consume post-workout protein
This is an absolutely crucial step towards building our best physiques. Protein is the most important macronutrient for building muscle, you definitely want to prioritize consuming it after your workout. “Appropriately timed protein intake is an important component of an overall exercise training program, essential for proper recovery, immune function, and the growth and maintenance of lean body mass.” You want to consume some form of protein and carb 20 minutes after your workout just because your body’s capacity for growth and repair is at its highest. “In the 20 minutes after training is completed, it’s imperative to refuel and recover with effective post-workout nutrition to help replace muscle glycogen, repair muscle damage and rebuild muscle tissue (St. Petersburg Nutrition, 2018).”
Make sure to consume 30 grams of protein per meal. “From this we see that active women would benefit from consuming 2 grams/kg of bodyweight, which is about 1 gram/lb of bodyweight. For a 150 lb woman, this means that she needs 150 grams of protein per day. Ideally your protein should be spaced out throughout the day. If you eat five meals a day, this would be 30 grams of protein per meal (Lobliner & Charlebois, 2021).”
Aim to consume a protein shake, some nuts, or any protein source directly after your workout! “Ideally, 10-30 grams of protein paired with 15-60 grams of carbohydrate would be consumed directly after your workout is finished (St. Petersburg Nutrition, 2018).”
Here are some good protein sources:
Protein Powders, protein cookies or protein bars
Step 5: Minimize stress, rest well and make sure to get proper sleep
On top of eating an adequate amount of protein and training with intent and enough intensity, you want to make sure that you are getting enough sleep and relaxation. Consider self care as a necessity if you want to thrive and make continuous progress in fitness. Only you can validate your journey just as only you will benefit from fitness. This means that you need to take care of yourself, rest well and minimize stress for this reason. Furthermore, your body needs rest and sleep in order to grow from your training.
When you are at the gym, you are breaking down your muscles, you are literally damaging the muscle cells. In order for them to grow, they need those repair windows. Those windows are the time in between your workouts, aim to eat adequate amounts of protein and sleep well. Other ways to enhance recovery are to hydrate well, to stretch outside of your workouts, to leave enough time between your workouts for recovery and to have enough rest days.“After exercising a specific muscle group, let it rest for one to two days. This gives your muscles a chance to repair and heal (Health Line, 2021).”
After training legs for instance, train upper body. You want to structure your body part workouts so that your muscles have enough time to repair/grow. I personally train legs 3 times a week with 2 upper body days in between them. I take the weekend off. This is what has worked for me, something else will probably work for someone else. I do recommend taking at least one rest day out of your week just to optimize muscle repair, two is optimal! A few signs you might be in need of a rest day are sore muscles, fatigue, mood changes, pain and reduced ability to sleep (Health Line, 2021).
Regardless, progressive overload is the principle that will lead us to our success. This means that we are aiming to keep challenging our bodies on a weekly basis in order to bypass its adaptation response, we want to get stronger/fitter by pushing our body past it’s [reasonable] limits! “Progression is the secret ingredient for every successful training program. Only reason your body changes over time. You can’t do the exact same movements using the exact same weight for weeks and weeks and weeks and expect new results. You have to constantly push yourself. Once you develop a solid base, increase the weights, increase the reps, or decrease the rest periods.” (Shanks, 2021)
Deload Week/Active Recovery
In order to be successful at making continuous progress at the gym, you need to rest well and implement a deload week. A deload week is a planned period of rest from training. While they are not complete breaks from training, deload weeks include doing light physical activity like walking, yoga, stretching, etc for one week. Check out these posts on deload periods/ways to optimize rest. Make sure to also check out this post on mindset to help enhance your application of these principles and push you towards reaching all of your fitness goals.
In conclusion, whether you are a beginner or somebody who once tried getting fit just one more time, following the right steps and having the right mindset are crucial towards accomplishing your goals. The five steps in this post include choosing the right program/exercises, training intentionally and using time at the gym wisely, going heavy on compound lifts, consuming high amounts of protein throughout the day and 20 minutes post-workout, minimizing stress, resting well and prioritizing sleep.
I hope that you enjoyed this 5-step guide to dominating the gym, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments below!