Men want more muscle; women typically don’t. When a guy sees a mixed martial arts fighter such as Georges St. Pierre, or a model on the cover of Men’s Health, he knows he needs to gain muscle. However, when a woman sees a body like Jennifer Garner had in Elektra, she typically thinks, “I’d like to tone up and look like that.” In reality, Jennifer had to gain muscle to get that lean, sexy look. Toning up is nothing more than losing fat and building a little muscle.
Whether you want to look like St. Pierre or Jennifer Garner in Elektra, your goal should be to gain muscle and lose fat – build lean muscle, in other words. Since women have a fraction of the testosterone men have, they don’t need to worry about packing on extra muscle.
There are two primary benefits to gaining muscle. First, you’ll look harder and more defined when you lose fat. Second, you’ll boost your metabolism. Even just a few pounds of additional muscle can have a significant impact on supercharging your metabolism at rest (the jury’s still out on how much a pound of muscle actually boosts your metabolism, but regardless, it helps).
First and foremost, your diet must be in order to lose fat. With that in mind, here are three changes you can immediately make to your current workout program to make it more effective for building lean muscle.
1. Use enough weight: focus on lifting weights that don’t allow more than 12 reps per set. As a general rule, start with a weight you can lift 6-12 times for the first set. Shoot for 25 total reps per exercise with heavier weights (6RM) and 50 total reps with lighter weights.
2. Keep your rest periods short: one of the biggest mistake people typically make is that they rest too long between sets. Your heart rate should remain elevated throughout the entire workout. At some point during the workout you should be questioning whether you’re resting long enough. No rest is best between exercises – just enough time to transition between exercises. 30 seconds is the most you should ever rest when fat loss is the goal. As a general rule, 10-20 seconds between exercises works well.
3. Do Full-body workouts: every time you train you should perform upper and lower body exercises. This drastically increases the metabolic demand of the workout and keeps your metabolism elevated long after you leave the gym. Choose one upper body pull, one upper body push, and a squat or deadlift variation as a bare minimum to meet the full-body requirement. And be sure to put in full-body cardio strength exercises (eg, squat thrust with overhead press with dumbbells) at the end of your workouts to really crank up your metabolism.
And speaking of Jennifer Garner, I just did a cool video interview with her trainer, Valerie Waters. You can check it out here.