Spinning you wheels and not getting the results you seek in the gym or your lifestyle routine? If so, you are not alone, so I thought I would dedicate this post to all the ladies out there who are busting their butts but can’t work out what’s missing!
Essentially, results come from consistency, adequate training with progressive overload and plenty of recovery, and for most people, really good nutrition.
Let’s start with the first, consistency.
You’re not consistent enough
Consistency is key, and the main reason results fall short. This probably comes more under ‘mindset’ but without it, you can’t get results. Building a body is a long-term endeavour, it can’t be fast-tracked or skipped, you just eat and train, train and eat, and be patient.
All professional bodybuilders can attest to the time and dedication it takes to build a physique, particularly one that turns heads. On the plus side though, a body built over the long term is something you get to walk around in.
The reason people fall short on consistency is because they chase the fads – fasting, no carbs, double workouts, HIIT sessions. These things have benefits yes, but when it comes to the long-term results, eating well, and eating a lot of good food, daily and consistently and pairing this with a solid weight training regime is the only way.
There are outliers, yes, those who do this kind of thing and look great, but this is not why they look great. If they look good with these methods it’s their genetics that have allowed it.
You’re following poor programming, or have poor program balance
Training should always be a strength-based development program with cardio as a ‘topper’. Cardio should never be the focus – including HIIT. This is not the way to build a strong, lean physique.
Programming should be progressive and not random, so you need to follow a program which is within your capabilities and where you aim to increase strength in each exercise over a period of time. The program that follows that will be more challenging in either exercise order, volume, load or all three, but it won’t be completely different from the first one if your focus is to get results.
I believe the ideal time period for a program is 8 weeks if you’re in the first year of training, as you can progress a lot more quickly within that first year. I even do 4-week blocks for brand new clients. Once established and stronger all over, I find 12-weeks to be a great time-frame to commit to each program.
If you break it down over 12 weeks, it takes around 2-4 weeks to find the ideal weight and learn a new exercise, and then 8-10 weeks following that to really push your capabilities with those exercises. Just as you start to get bored or plateau, it’s time to change in up. This is where patience comes in, changing your program all the time because you’re ‘bored’ or ‘impatient’ will only hinder your long-term progress.
Changes in body composition are even more dependent on food intake than training. If you don’t eat enough you will have inadequate nutrition to recover and build muscle from your sessions, but if you eat too much you will gain body-fat.
You also need to determine what kind of constitution you have – can you handle dairy, processed foods, gluten and wheat, or not? For some people, a whole-foods diet is essential for progress but for others they can be more flexible. You need to work out where you fit here and stick within reasonable boundaries if you want your body to respond positively.
I always try to get my clients eating as much food as they can, whilst still feeling good, and not gaining body-fat. For some women this is 1700 calories, and for others it’s 2300. Everyone is different and unique differences are uncovered not with a calculator, but with consistent tracking, patience, and check-ins where we look at weight, measurements, photos, and strength progression.
This applies even when dieting – you want as much food as you can get away with, and you don’t want to be eliminating food groups unless your body tells you they need to go (and there are professional ways to approach this).
Back to training – you can’t build a physique if you don’t have good technique.
I get that is feels good to enter a gym in your first week and put a 60kg barbell on your back, but if you’re not doing it properly all you’re doing is ‘impressing’ the people around you whom also have no idea and sabotaging your results in the long term.
Most women don’t naturally have the structure for weight training, they need to build it. This means developing the glutes, hamstrings, abs and back muscles to a point where your posture is sound, and those muscles are working just as hard as (or harder than), the muscles that are naturally developed like the quads and traps. See my post on the posterior chain here, to dive a little deeper into that.
Some women take 12+ months before they can squat 60kg, and others take 3 months. Some need to do months of mobility and postural correction whereas others need minimal. If you want to learn good technique, you need to hire an experienced professional. Just because someone has a gym or 300K followers on Instagram does not indicate experience – it indicates cash in hand and time spend on their phone, posting things that trend and interacting with other accounts.
Research someone’s history and understand the industry is very new, and the more years spent mastering their craft, the more you’re going to get for your money. The overall point here is, good technique will have you burning more calories, and building way more overall muscle (in all the right places) than poor technique will. So don’t skip the fundamentals and again, be patient.
You are training too much!
Lastly here we have over-training. It is not that common to over-train in a way that is damaging for athletic performance but it does happen, particularly when there is poor programming or if you aren’t eating enough to fuel your activity.
Where I find it most common is amongst gym people who are trying to change their body composition. Doing ‘more’ is not always the answer. Well, it’s rarely the answer. It is crucial to choose an exercise load that your body can handle, and that you are nourishing for. If you eat as little as you can, and train as much as you can in the hopes that this will ‘speed up’ progress, you are misinformed.
My philosophy with my clientele is always to give them as much food as possible, and as little training as possible, that is needed to get results. I never through extra training in, particularly cardio, in the hopes that they will get more out of it as this just isn’t the case Long story short, over-training can leave you falling behind on your goals and it just isn’t worth it.
What to do if you’re doing any of these things…
Stop. Reset. Restructure your approach. Seek professional help if you must but avoid continuing down a path that isn’t working well for you! Send me an email if you want more information about any of these topics
PRE AND POST TRAINING NUTRITION: How does it work and how important is it really?
The purpose of pre and post-training nutrition is to provide your body with the most effective nutrition to support your training and body composition goals, increasing the availably of those nutrients at the time you need it most. These two nutrients are protein and carbohydrates; protein as a building block, and carbohydrates as fuel.
Meal timing aside just quickly though, as I want to make it clear there are things that are way more important, and need to be prioritised FIRST in order to maximise your chances at overall success:
Adherence and consistency when it comes reaching your macro targets,
The quality of your training and training methods, and
Your overall health and stress levels.
Without these things in check, it won’t matter what time of the day you eat what nutrient. So, overall health and consistency first, and perfectly timing your meals second!
Now to answer the original question; how do I best time my meals?
Here is a very simple run-down of how you would approach your nutrition before and after training, for those ready to give it a go:
Eat a carbohydrate and protein rich meal, with lower fat. This could be something like lean meat with rice or potato, oats with whey protein.
Make sure to leave at least 90-mins to digest the meal before you train.
If you are training first thing, and you’re not ‘dieting’ you can train fasted
If you are dieting, I recommend you have a small protein-meal before you go to the gym, to avoid stressing your body out too much (especially for females). Something good for this could be protein custard, a protein yogurt, or similar.
If you’re training at night, then carbs and protein can be consumed pre training really easily
You want to eat something that is higher in carbohydrate and protein, but lower in fat and fibre, as the faster this meal is digested, the better for muscle recovery.
Think – white rice or potato with lean beef or chicken, or rice cakes with jam and a whey protein shake in water.
The higher your choice of protein is in the amino acid Leucine, the better this will impact your muscle recovery. This can be found in the largest amounts in lean meat, egg whites, and whey protein supplements.
Meal timing is great if you’re wanting to just just that little bit more from your nutrition and training. If you’re not quite there yet, and you find all this timing info overwhelming, then it is completely OK not to get this right in the early stages. You will still make progress. Many of my clients have competed (and won) without worrying about meal timing at all!
The image is chicken breast with jasmine and wild rice, and some pomegranate seeds – delish! There’s a little spinach in there (I had too much in the fridge!) but this is a pretty good option for pre or post training 😉
Hope this is helpful. Leave any questions in the comment section below and I’ll answer them for you
The posterior chain is a group of muscles that make up the back (posterior) portion of the body structure. They include the back, glute, and hamstring muscles. The abdominals (mostly the inner portion) tie this chain together into one functional unit. Most people, and especially women, have a weak posterior chain, and these are the muscles you need to strengthen when you want to improve performance, body composition, health and posture. They are also extremely helpful in pregnancy as your weight will be pulled forwards with the baby, so maintaining strength through the posterior makes child-bearing less uncomfortable. Exercises that require a strong posterior chain in order to do them well include the squat, lunge, bench press, push up, pull-up, and deadlift. Interestingly, these are the movements most people seem to want to start on. I never program these exercises until a client has a strong enough posterior chain to handle them well. Personally, I have never met a woman who doesn’t have ‘symptoms’ of weakness in these areas, and who isn’t experiencing issues with their hips, knees, or lower back when they start training with me.
IDENTIFYING IF YOUR POSTERIOR CHAIN IS WEAK
In posture, you can identify it through forward-rounded shoulders (palms tend to face backwards when relaxed), kyphosis (the upper spine is over-rounded and hard to extend), lordosis (where the lower back arches inwards creating what you may call a ‘duck butt’), and/or collapsed feet, which usually come with inwardly rotated knees. You may have one, or all of these imbalances. When you train, weakness can be noticed if performing weight training causes upper body discomfort including your lower back or upper traps (top of your shoulders), or lower body discomfort such as painful knees, hips, or tight hip flexors. When squatting or lunging, if your glutes and hamstrings are weak your knees will want to rotate inwards, and you will want to push back up with your toes. You may over-arch your lower back in order to press back up to the beginning of the movement. You may feel like you never get the ‘burn’ through your glutes that you are aiming for. When pressing or rowing, you may find that you never feel your back muscles the way you want, or your upper traps and neck might feel painful and inflamed the next day. Shrugging your shoulders when performing upper body movements is a sure-fire sign that your posterior chain is weak Abdominally, you may find your lower back hurts, or your hips and thighs take more weight, and ‘burn’ more, than your abs do when you’re trying to strengthen them Essentially, if too train on a weak posterior chain, although you may get stronger at first you will find that eventually you will stall in progression, as your body isn’t in it’s ideal position, and the larger, stronger, supporting muscles whose job it is to perform those movements, are hindered or inactive.
IMPROVING THE STRENGTH OF YOUR POSTERIOR CHAIN
Strengthening the posterior chain is simple but can take a bit of messing around depending on how out of line your posture is, and how tight you are in the ‘wrong’ places. Below are the steps you would take, and that I take with my clients, to get their posterior chain working efficiently;
Learn how the movement is supposed to look and where you are supposed to feel it, for any exercises involving the glutes, hamstrings, abdominals, or back
Choose a weight that is light when you are learning. Leave your ego at the door. It is also a good idea to keep your learning to machine-based exercises until you get the basic principles, and move on to things like squatting and deadlifting later on when you’re ready. If you are re-learning, then you will need to lower your weight compared to where you were at before, if you aren’t feeling it in the right muscle groups.
Note where you are feeling the exercises, if it’s your back, glutes and/or hamstrings, this is correct. If it is your neck, upper traps (shoulders), lower back, knees, or hip flexors, this is incorrect.
Use stretching and activation exercises for the muscles that aren’t ‘switching on’ for you. This includes band exercises, bodyweight exercises, ball or foam rolling, static and dynamic stretching, and some basic/light strengthening movements.
Continue this process until you ‘feel’ the muscles you’re aiming to feel. Once you feel them on basic exercises, then move on to harder ones such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, or other full-body movements.
Keep in mind, results won’t come unless you take the time to master this
Remember that results, whether you are seeking a muscular look, posture correction, enhanced performance, or any other objective, come when you do the movements well, regardless of how heavy the weight is. I have had women come in and see me who are squatting 80kg+, but in order to get their glutes ‘working’ and supporting the movement, we have had to drop the weight down to 30kg and, much to their shock, they find this harder When your posterior chain is ‘activated’ and functioning as it should, your nervous system will become more resilient and powerful, as will your body in general. Heavy weights should only be lifted once technique is perfect, as building more muscle on unsupported foundations creates more work in the long run to correct it, and trust me when I say this, at some point, you will have to correct it. Hope this helps you to accelerate your results in the gym 😉 Jen x
In January this year I was interviewed by Bulk Hackers, they were interested in my philosophy and background and how I overcame chronic fatigue. Here is my interview:
Tell us about yourself and your training
My name is Jenifer Lee, I am 36 years, living in Australia. I specialize in women’s health and lifestyle change. My education centres on nutrition, personal training, and naturopathy, as well as energy medicine. I have been training for 20 years and a personal trainer since I was 18.
I own my own holistic health coaching business, which combines multiple health disciplines to offer women health, body and mindset transformations, both online and in person, locally and internationally.
I approach all coaching from a whole-health perspective, aiming to restore balance in both body and mind whilst my clients chase their individual goals. A large portion of my business is in body re-composition, including bodybuilding competitions and prepping for photo-shoots.
Outside of that I enjoy writing, drawing, painting, playing music, travelling and reading. I practice meditation daily and always strive to learn more about the world.
Training wise, I have tried everything from dance to martial arts, cycling, powerlifting, bodybuilding and strongman. I was once a cardio bunny totally addicted to the ‘runners high’ until I learned about the value of lean muscle and eating to help your body grow strong.
Since finding a balance with weight training and nutrition, I haven’t pursued any other forms of exercise as this brings the most benefit for me in both body and mind.
Describe a typical day of training
My training philosophy is based on a combination of powerlifting and bodybuilding, which I’ve developed over the last 10 years of coaching. I focus on weight training and building strength, and prescribe nutrition to fuel that.
For me personally, I follow that same philosophy, but I train for fun now and not with the intention of competing. My training split varies but generally the balance is legs twice per week, back and shoulders twice per week, and chest/arms once per week.
I do some cardio for fun but I don’t prioritise it. My favourite exercises are for the posterior chain; deadlift movements, squats, lunges, and rows.
I like to train alone, as I train clients most days. It’s my time to focus on myself and my own health and well-being.
At the moment, I am training intuitively, since I just recovered from chronic fatigue. I don’t like to set targets for myself and risk over-doing things. I generally remember all the weights I lift anyway and thus don’t log it, though when I had competition goals in the past I logged everything in a diary.
As I am predominantly weight training, I don’t focus so much on measuring heart rate, just session times and energy expenditure, to ensure its consistent week to week.
How do you keep going and push harder?
I don’t necessarily push my limits in training any more. I suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for around five years and only in 2019 was recovered enough to train again. I used to be all about pushing as hard as I could, whereas now I maintain a healthy balance and focus on remaining strong and enjoying myself.
I think in order to stick at training for the long term, you need to spend time finding a routine and discipline that works for you. People tend to love cardio for the ‘high’ you get afterwards, but in my opinion it is fleeting and you have to keep training hard to get it again.
Weight training is the easiest to invest in long term, but you do need to spend some time with a trainer in the beginning, building foundations and a split that works with you in order to really feel the benefits of weight training that you can benefit from in the long term.
Another tip to keep the momentum going is to ignore what’s going on around you. Train for yourself and eat to be strong and healthy, but don’t over commit or put too much pressure on yourself to look a certain way.
A healthy body looks fabulous no matter what percentage of body fat you carry, and I think women sometimes get discouraged by the fact that they don’t look like a professional within the first year.
It takes a long time to build a physique, but your efforts never go unnoticed and once you are consistent enough to feel the benefits, the motivation to continue comes easily!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
If I could start over in my bodybuilding/fitness journey, I would do a lot of things differently. I came up in a time where very low calories and high amounts of cardio were the norm in exercise prescription for women, as well as very restrictive food choices.
I used to eat around 10 different foods as they were considered ‘clean’ foods. I don’t think these methods are beneficial for women at all in the long run (not even really in the short term), so I make sure to pass on better wisdom to my clients, and also ensure I never go down that road again myself!
My goals for the future are just to remain strong and healthy, and focus my energy on building my business. I love sharing my knowledge and supporting women in their journeys to becoming healthier, stronger, happier women.
How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
I train consistently in a split that works for me, I have never been injured but in saying that I have had a lot of postural issues that took a lot of correcting along the way. I don’t push beyond what I consider to be good technique, because doing that only sets you backward in the long run.
I have been out of training for a period of about four years due to chronic fatigue, and I managed that through natural therapies and light training, until I was well enough to build my training back up again.
I think listening to your body and training smart is the key to longevity in training, and many people get caught up in their egos and miss the signals their body is sending.
I generally sleep around six to seven hours per night, and this is plenty for me. I started turning my WiFi and phone off at night, and avoiding lights after dark as a management tool for my chronic fatigue, and since recovering I maintained this habit as I sleep much deeper, and wake up feeling rested.
When I travel, I either cram my sessions in on the days I am home (if I’m away only for a weekend), or if its longer I either have active rest or do full body sessions only a few days per week. It really depends on where I am and whether a gym is easy to get to.
How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
My diet consists of primarily whole foods, I don’t like to eat processed foods, mostly because my body doesn’t agree with it and after battling health issues, I have learned that low-inflammatory nutrition is essential for optimal mind and body health.
The only supplements I use are a Evolve WPI (Whey Protein Isolate) and glutamine. My favourite brand is Evolve by Australian Sports Nutrition (all products), and NoWay protein by ATP Science. I leave the rest to my food. In times of stress, I supplement with magnesium and zinc, and around my cycle I take a liver supplement to support detoxification. I take a more specific approach these days, rather than taking all the traditional training supplements, as I find it more beneficial for me now.
What has inspired and motivated you?
I am inspired by learning more about the mind and body, and inspired by supporting others to see and experience their own potential. This is what keeps me going and what I invest all my energy in.
I am inspired by music and other health professionals as well. Learning new information and applying this to my business and myself is key to keeping me inspired and motivated towards the future.
Music wise, I listen to a broad range, for training it’s mostly 90’s RnB, but in my free time it’s Soul music and a lot of world music. I read a new book roughly every two weeks, and frequently listen to podcasts on health and well-being.
Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
If you want to improve yourself, the best advice I could give is to find a mentor. When I started out, the Internet was new and there was not much knowledge going around. Progress was much slower and in most cases, a result of trial and error.
Doing your research into a good mentor will fast-track your journey in ways you can’t imagine, and I think skipping this step is a big mistake. Self-research, YouTube, and free online programs just don’t cut it (especially if you have the added difficulty of a health condition, or a history of disordered eating).
I often think to myself, imagine how different my life would be if these people were around when I was younger!
I have had at least 10 significant mentors in my health and fitness journey, including a psychologist, naturopath, chiropractor, homeopath lifting coach, and energy medicine practitioners. I learned a lot from them and as much as it costed me money, I would not have the knowledge or health that I do now had I not learned from them.
The biggest mistakes I find are those who self-prescribe strict eating regimens, try to train way ahead of their training age, not paying attention to their body signals, underestimating the importance of eating healthy food, and not eating enough calories to fuel their training.
Are you taking on clients right now?
I am currently at capacity with my coaching, as it is all one-on-one and I only have so much time every day to commit to my business! I do have a waiting list so when spots open up, I offer them to the next person available.
To go on the waiting list, I have a short interview process that I run through, to ensure that person will be a good ‘fit’ for my coaching. I think it’s important to make sure you’re both on the same page when it comes to expectations, before beginning any coaching journey.
With COVID closing gyms and leaving us hanging out at home twiddling our thumbs and looking for online training routines, I thought I would share some great resistance-band exercises that my clients have incorporated into their home programming.
Resistance bands are a great training tool, and when performed well can keep your body in great shape whilst you wait for gyms to open up again. Benefits of resistance bands include greater joint stability, greater strength as the resistance varies, and the obvious fact that you can take a band ANYWHERE to train with.
I have broken the workouts up into three splits;
Day 1: Legs & Abs
Day 2: Chest & Arms
Day 3: Back & Shoulders
The equipment you will need to complete these workouts is a band, either circular or with handles, somewhere in the home to attach a band to, and a broomstick (optional). Each video contains various options for you to try, as it does depend on how many bands you have, the type, and the attachments you have available to you. If you have other equipment, then these exercises will make great additions to your training routine!
Performing 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps is pretty standard for resistance band exercises, though you may need to adjust it based on your own strength and endurance levels. Start there as a guide, and modify as needed.
Day 1: LEGS & ABS
Legs should be supported all the way through to your upper back. Keep your lats/middle back engaged throughout the movements
Keep your pelvis slightly tucked
Aim to keep the glutes (bum) and hamstrings engaged throughout
Day 2: CHEST & ARMS
Always support the weight through your lats (middle-back)
Push your chest out to increase support and engagement through the upper body. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed. Avoid flaring your elbows
Focus on the muscle you’re using, so with triceps focus on extending with that muscle, for chest focus on squeezing it in order to press
Day 3: BACK & SHOULDERS
Always start by locking your lats into position, and pulling from your middle-back. There is no need to pull it any further than you can pull with your back muscles
Push your chest out to maintain good posture and a natural spinal curve
With shoulders, always keep your elbows in front of the weight. Avoid flaring them outwards. Support the weight through your abs and lats/middle back.
I hope you find these exercises helpful! There are so many great exercises you can do at home with limited equipment. Stay tuned for more exercises in the future
Strength training isn’t just about getting a bikini body. When I began lifting weights I was focused only on physical goals but it wasn’t long after I started that I realised how diverse the benefits really were!
Curves, improved body composition and muscle tone are all amazing benefits but there are so many others, like how your confidence improves with muscle and nervous system adaptations regardless of body composition changes, or the benefits to your health in mobility, posture, circulation, bone density, immunity and mentality.
Becoming a stronger woman physically helps you become a more powerful woman internally and over time it teaches you that you can do anything you set your mind to.
You don’t have to be an athlete to begin weight training, you just need to be committed to the idea of becoming a stronger, healthier and more powerful version of you