Ask a Trainer (Vol. 11)

Hey parents and cool aunts/uncles!

This is a quick reminder that CFC is offering CrossFit Kids classes on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:00 to 4:30 PM, as well as Saturdays from 12:00 to 12:30 PM.

We still have some space in our Kids Founder’s Program – you get a discount and the kids get some neat schwag (kids love schwag)!

For more information, go here: www.crossfitcatonsville.com/crossfit-kids


Welcome to Ask a Trainer, Volume 11.

If you’ve missed some in our running series, head on over to the Ask a Trainer archives and read on!

You got questions? We got answers! Send an email to chris@crossfitcatonsville.com with all your fitness, health, and wellness queries. You might even end up in the next Ask a Trainer!

Today we’re talking about getting ready for the beach this summer, how missing workouts may affect your strength/endurance, and the myth that women will get “bulky” lifting weights.


What can I do to get ready for “beach season” so I look my best?

The nice weather is finally peaking it’s head out from behind the clouds, and even though you may still see some snow out on the ground it’s the right time to start thinking about how you’re going to look in that bikini or your trunks come June. When it comes to fitness, you should be playing the long game and making healthy choices now that will show positive results in the near, and far, future.

The most common complaints we hear when summer looms are “I’m too fat for my suit” and “My [insert muscle here] doesn’t look good enough for the beach”. These are usually followed up with, “help!” Don’t worry, I’ll be your Obi Won today.

Diet

Now is the time to start watching your calorie intake and break those bad habits you built over the long winter. Start cutting back on sweets and other comfort foods, and remember that your body only needs a certain number of calories per day to function. Whole, unprocessed foods are what you want forming the bulk (i.e. 85% or more) of your daily diet. Vegetables, lean meats, and a light/moderate intake of fruit will set you up for the best fat-loss results day to day. If you start now, it’s possible to cut 8-10 lbs of fat by the time June comes around.

If you need a little motivation, stop wearing all those baggy winter clothes when you don’t have to. Break out the t-shirts around the house, or the short sleeve collared shirts when you head into the office. The tighter clothing will remind you that summer is coming and that you have goals to get to!

Some things to avoid include lots of breads/pasta (tons of calories from carbohydrates), and excessive alcohol intake (tons of carbs and alcohol calories). Substitute pasta/rice with spaghetti squash, leafy greens, or boiled/cooked black beans. These are harder to overeat, provide fewer calories per serving, and won’t leave you hungry an hour later.

If you need to know how many calories you should be taking in each day, here are a couple handy formulas you can use to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).

English BMR Formula
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in year )
Metric BMR Formula
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 9.6 x weight in kilos ) + ( 1.8 x height in cm ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 13.7 x weight in kilos ) + ( 5 x height in cm ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )

Keep in mind that the number you just got is only the calories you need to maintain your body if you don’t do anything all day. Basically, your BMR is how many calories you need to just live and breathe. Now that we know that, we’ll find about how many calories you need to maintain your daily activity level without losing or gaining any weight:

If your activity level is… …then do this:
Little or not activity BMR x 1.15
Light Exercise (1-3 days/week) BMR x 1.3
Moderate Exercise (3-5 days/week) BMR x 1.5
Heavy Exercise (6-7 days/week) BMR x 1.7
Very Heavy Exercise (physical job or 2x/day) BMR x 1.9

Okay, last step:

  • If you want to lose fat, eat healthy and take in 10% fewer calories than your [BMR x Activity Level] suggests.
  • If you want to gain weight, eat healthy and take in 10% more calories than your [BMR x Activity Level] suggests.

Exercise

This is the simpler part: you should be getting at least 30 minutes of full body exercise, at least 3 times per week with a day of rest in between. Things like swimming, jogging, circuit training, CrossFit, and other activities that challenge your body as a whole are the best options for those who are light on time.

Going to the next step, join a group fitness class which meets 3-5 times per week and programs their workouts so that you can exercise day to day and not overtrain yourself. A good personal trainer, circuit training routine, or CrossFit program are all options that, when managed correctly, would allow you to exercise multiple days in a row before needing to rest. The goal is to hit different muscle groups on days that fall back to back, like doing primarily legs on Monday/Wednesday, primarily upper body Tuesday/Thursday, running on Friday, and swimming on Saturday, with Sunday’s as rest days.

If you’re not comfortable creating your own routine, seek out a certified personal trainer for guidance (which CrossFit Catonsville happens to have on staff).


Will missing workouts affect my strength and endurance?

Quick summary: Yes, quite dramatically depending on how many and how often you miss your training days.

The human body develops by going through challenges which force it to adapt and grow. Lifting weights and running are just intentional, stressful challenges that we put ourselves through so that the natural tendency your body has to heal and grow stronger is kicked into gear. If we all just did what modern society allows (which is mostly sitting), only a small percentage of the population with physical labor careers would continue to physically adapt in healthy ways. The rest of the population that has a sedentary-type job would “go to fat” very quickly. Only those who are the most genetically gifted can remain marginally healthy despite inactivity and other poor choices, and they are few and far between.

So, you should be getting 3-4 sessions of resistance training each week, at 30-60 minutes per session, for the most sustainable results. Missing those sessions will cause issues ranging from small set-backs like failing to add weight week to week when you only miss one session every 7-8. When you start missing a session every week, you may notice that your progress stalls completely. On the next extreme, missing a week or more in a row will likely cause you to backslide on those movements that you weren’t good at, and at best stall on the ones you are good at. Once you’ve missed a month of workouts, it’s pretty likely that you have lost at least 4-8 weeks worth of progress.

Now, don’t let all that discourage you. The best way to stop this from happening is to hit every single workout as often as it is possible for you to get there. If you miss one, GO TO THE NEXT ONE. Don’t fall into the thinking trap that so many people get stuck in, where you tell yourself it’s okay to miss another workout because you already missed one.

No. It’s not okay. Hold yourself accountable, get back in the gym, and force yourself into good health habits. That is the only way you will make progress and get healthier. It will never happen by itself.


Will a woman get “bulky” like a man from lifting weights?

Not unless she wants to.

A lot of the women who come into a CrossFit or personal training studio have this concern, partially because there is left-over stigma that weight lifting leads to bulk and partly because the modern science behind resistance training hasn’t fully become part of the common knowledge pool. We’ll address both here in brief.

Stigma

One major name sticks out here, and that’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. Do I need to explain who he is? Didn’t think so. Good ol’ Arnie immigrated from Austria in 1968 and through a rather impressive career in bodybuilding (5 times Mr. Universe and 7 times Mr. Olympia) and acting he raised awareness of bodybuilding to a huge degree. This was good and bad, because on one hand it showed that there were alternatives to the training at the time that could provide real results, but on the other hand it also created a very specific image of who should be lifting weights. And that image didn’t really include women too much. Thus, the stigma was born that weight lifting is primarily a “guy thing” and that if women started lifting they would end up looking like men.

With the advent of cross training, CrossFit, and other recent additions to the fitness community, we are slowly lifting this view that a strong woman has to be bulky or that “strong” can only equate to a lot of muscle mass. In reality, many women who are very strong, don’t look like body builders at all! While you may see elite-level lifting/CrossFit athletes who do have the musculature that some may describe as bulky, there are also many who, while obviously physically fit, don’t look like men.

Conclusion: You can be strong, and lift weights, without looking like a man or being super-muscle-bulky.

Science

The major factor that is different between men and women when it comes to weight training is hormones, and the biggest one that plays a role in muscle building is testosterone.

First, understand that the levels of testosterone in the blood between men and women is wildly different. Men have an average of 700 ng/dL of T in their blood at any given time, while women have about 60 ng/dL. Thats “nanograms per deciliter”, by the way, which is incredibly small to begin with, and equates in men to 0.0000007 grams per Liter of blood. In women it’s even less.

Make sense? Good.

 

The levels of testosterone in your blood affect your recovery from muscle building workouts (i.e. weight lifting) because the higher your T level, the easier it is for your body to rebuild muscle. Since men have about 10-15x more testosterone hanging around as compared to women (which is normal, and ladies you’re happier that way) it means that men are naturally able to push harder and recover more quickly. That isn’t to say women can’t get really, really strong and outperform men. Because, Holy Lifted Iron Batman, can they ever!

The averages above are for average people. Proportionately, if you take a female and a male, put them through the same training for the same period of time, the male’s maximal effort will increase more than the females, relative to their starting point. It’s because of the way testosterone helps them recover, and also how some other hormones interfere with muscle building. Specifically, estrogen is a fat supporting, muscle denying hormone which is prevalent in women but low in men, though the difference isn’t Quite as large as the testosterone. In women, estrogen levels fluctuate throughout the month but average about 160 pg/mL, while in men the standing average is about 38 pg/mL. The estrogen levels in women make fat more likely to be stored in muscle less likely to be built, so that women who eat at caloric access (such as when trying to gain muscle while training), must be more careful of gaining at your fat by mistake. Men have to worry about this to a lesser extent, though it is still very easy to gain fat rather than muscle if you don’t do things right.

The combination of testosterone and estrogen levels build a platform for muscle growth in men, while the reversed levels make it easier for women to maintain a healthy birthing environment. In the end, we can look at the ancestors of humans and determine why our hormones act the way they do. Women have hormones that are predisposed to a body type that is good for carrying a child and giving birth to it, while the non-birthing partner (you know, dudes) have bodies that are predisposed to being able to be off a sabertooth tiger before it eats mama.

With training, women can quite a bully build muscle, become incredibly strong, and go kill their own tigers, but the trick is that they have to want to do it. No man has ever accidentally become an Olympic champion weightlifter, even with genetics predisposed to doing so, and no woman has ever picked up a weight and accidentally become Hilda Schwarzenegger. If you see a person, male or female, who looks like a badass, weightlifting, rockthrowing, Olympic bar gripping, CrossFit games podium winning super athlete… It’s because they meant to do it.

So ladies, stop worrying and come lift some weights. It’s good for you. Plus, strong is sexier than skinny every day of the week.