Categories
Strength Training

Beginner’s Guide To Lifting Weights For Women

If you’ve been a cardio junkie for most of your life or if you’ve never been the sporty type, then walking into the weights section of the gym can be a terrifying prospect. All those weird looking machines, grunting meatheads and scantily-clad fit chicks can be really off-putting and make your self-confidence plummet. But fear not! Everything you need to know about lifting weights as a beginner is detailed in this guide. If you prefer video format, watch this short and punchy version:

Build Your Confidence Before You Even Step Foot In The Gym

before and after transformation of Shelley Darlington

As a newbie to lifting, the gym is a scary place. When I first started my journey, I barely weighed 45kg. I was also painfully insecure about my appearance and physical abilities. I didn’t even own a pair of sneakers (at age 26 years old!). My mind would give me every excuse not to start:

“I literally have no idea what I’m doing” 😳
“Everyone will be looking at me”
“I have zero clue how to use machines”
“What if I do the exercises wrong and people laugh at me?”
“What if I injure myself?”
“I don’t belong here next to all the fit girls”
“I feel so stupid/ugly/awkward/weak”

Let me tell you something…

We all start somewhere, even the professionals were once beginners and no one starts out perfect. Simply put: you’ve just got to feel the fear and do it anyway! The more you can work on your mindset before you even get inside a gym, the less anxiety and overwhelm you’ll feel. Get hyped up, watch this motivational video and this one too. If you feel confident on the inside, it’ll reflect on the outside too.

Here are my top tips to make your first day at the gym a much smoother and more enjoyable experience:

1. Be Prepared

woman at the gym writing in a training journal

The more ‘work’ you can do before you enter the gym, the better. Walking into the weights room with a solid plan, knowing what exercises you’re going to do with how many sets and reps etc. will take all the confusion and overwhelm out of the equation. Mapping out in your mind where the machines or free weights are located on the gym floor, means you can just charge right in, set yourself up and get lifting without aimlessly walking around looking lost. Have your workout printed out or accessible on your phone so you can refer to it easily during your workout.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

2. Start With Home Workouts

woman doing squat in a home workout in the living room

If the gym still sounds scary to you, then try home workouts using nothing but a set of dumbbells. It’s the ideal way to ease into lifting weights while learning how to do the fundamental exercises in the comfort of your own home. Once you feel confident doing the actual workouts, it’s much easier to transition to the gym, without over-complicating your routine. Keeping things simple and basic is the best way to get results as a beginner. Check out my most popular home workouts on YouTube here.

Keep it simple, stupid

3. Don’t Switch Up Your Workouts Every Week

three women doing different forms of exercise

Whilst doing the odd YouTube workout from your favourite fitness influencer is perfectly ok for a bit of fun and variety, getting hooked on doing a different workout for every session is not a good long term strategy – especially as a beginner. In fact, it can actually stop you from progressing. Consistency and structure is how you get the best results as a newbie lifter. That means getting a solid routine, doing the same exercises every week and sticking to it for at least six weeks.

Complex workouts does not mean better workouts

4. Don’t Get Hooked On Group Classes

women doing a group fitness class

Being lead by an instructor in a group class may feel like a safer option, but the danger is that these types of workouts aren’t specific enough for your needs. Anyone can go through the motions, but to sculpt Strong Curves in all the right places, you must first learn to master your body.

Group classes are a great way to get fit and maybe build a little bit of strength but they won’t do much in the way of shaping and toning your body. That’s because they don’t teach you to master your form. Lifting weights proficiently is about mind-muscle connection. Learning to activate the right muscles with the right exercises for your goals is the key to success as a beginner lifter.

It’s easy to pick up bad lifting habits in a group setting. If you start your journey with poor form, it’s very hard to undo down the track. Start off right and learn the fundamental basic exercises that are going to set good foundations. Do classes for fun occasionally but prioritise weights to truly master your body.

Good form is a beginner lifter’s best friend

5. Hone Your Focus

close up of woman's face

Mindlessly throwing some dumbbells around, running from machine to machine while your thoughts are elsewhere, isn’t going to do you any favours on the gym floor. As a beginner lifter it’s easy to get caught up in overwhelming and negative thoughts, especially when you don’t feel confident in what you’re doing. But you will get far better results in you learn to hone your focus.

A huge part of being a proficient lifter is getting into the zone. Its essentially like an active meditation (with an added muscle burn 😉). Without this level of focus, you simply can’t give your workouts your all. Every repetition counts, so the more you can tune out of your surroundings and hone in on the rep ahead of you, the better the quality of your workout will be. So put some headphones in, eliminate any distractions and focus intently on each an every move you make. The added bonus is that you’ll also develop better mind-muscle connection for faster results.

Master your mind, master your body

6. Repel Gym Creeps

a man in the gym holding a shaker, explaining something to a bored woman

One of the most intimidating things about starting your weight lifting journey is that the weights section of gyms is typically very male-dominated. Every gym has its fair share of creeps, just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting females with cringe-worthy pick-up lines thinly disguised as unsolicited gym advice 🤦🏻‍♀️

It’s kind of unavoidable, but here’s my tip to repel gym creeps: master your resting b*tch face. I’m not joking. I literally have ‘ice queen’ tattooed across my forehead when I’m working out. Headphones and a ball cap help too. Good thing is, if you’ve come to the gym prepared, focused and in the zone, the creeps will tend to leave you alone. But if you look confused, insecure and lost, you’ll be an easy target. It sucks that I even need to mention this but it is what it is!

That’s not to say there aren’t any respectful men in the gym! Of course, not every male is a creep. And if you still feel self conscious, or think that everyone is looking at you, please remember this: most people are too busy looking at themselves in the gym mirror to be bothered about what you’re doing. Trust me, it’s human nature to be self-absorbed. So just focus on yourself and do your best to block everyone else out. I promise that within only a week or so and once you’re in a good routine, it won’t feel scary at all!

The Number One Rule For Beginner Lifters

'keep it simple' written on colourful post-it notes

So now that you feel more confident and know what to expect from the weights section in the gym, let’s move on to the actual workouts. Knowing what exercises, how many sets and repetitions to do and how heavy you should lift are just a few of the common questions that come up when embarking on your lifting journey.

All the answers will be revealed below but in reality, the number one rule for beginners in the gym is to keep it simple and to master the basic foundational lifting exercises. You really don’t need to do fancy workouts to get results. If your goal is to sculpt Strong Curves by tightening your midsection, growing your glutes and strengthening your upper body then there are literally only a handful of exercises you need to focus on. The rest is just fitness fluff and a waste of your time.

Results = Structure + Skill + Consistency (and keep it simple!)

Full Body Or Split By Muscle Group?

woman doing a squat versus a woman doing a bicep curl

Some fitness experts say that full body workouts are best for beginners but others like to split the workouts up by muscle group. In my opinion a mix of the two is ideal, especially if you have certain areas you want to work more on, like the booty of course, duh!

This blog post goes into more depth on the topic but honestly, I think keeping your workout structure as simple as possible is best. No need to overwhelm yourself with muscle split workouts at this stage. Once you’re more advanced and become more conditioned to weights, you can look at splitting your workouts by muscle group. But hold your horses girl, we ain’t there yet!

My issue with full body workouts is that you don’t get enough specificity through the muscles. Basically, that means you can’t hone in on certain areas that you might want to develop more than others. Plus, you’ll be limited to a smaller set of exercises and that can get a little boring if you’re the type that needs constant new stimulation to stay motivated.

So here’s the solution: lower body/upper body split workouts. That means you still focus on the basic foundational movements but you can switch things up a little more without getting too complex. It would look something like this: 2 x upper body workouts and 2 x lower body workouts per week.

How Many Days Should You Exercise As A Beginner In The Gym?

workout calendar

Depending on your current fitness levels, up to four weights sessions per week is best for beginner gym-goers, especially if you are doing a lower body/upper body split workout program. Any more than this and you risk over training while you haven’t acquired the necessary conditioning. The current scientific literature shows that working out 3-4 times a week is the sweet spot and anymore than this doesn’t actually give you any better results. Any less than this and you’ll be missing out on gains.

The Best Beginner Gym Exercises

woman performing a glute bridge

There are literally hundreds of exercises you can do from free weights to machines. But as a beginner, you don’t need to overwhelm yourself with them all. In fact, as a newbie to lifting weights, a smaller toolbox is far more effective.

After all, results come from first, mastering the basic foundational moves so that you have a solid base to grow from. Once you’re more advanced you can start incorporating more complex exercises. But for now, the fundamental compound moves will give you the most bang for your buck. Basically, you’ve got to learn to crawl before you can walk.

Compound exercises are moves that target multiple muscle groups and work the whole body in the most functional way, mimicking movements that you perform in your daily life on regular basis. Think: deadlifts similar to picking something heavy off the floor or, bending down to pick something up like in a squat. Compound exercises will help you develop a well-rounded and proportional physique and once you master these moves, it’ll make all other exercises a doddle to learn.

There are literally only a handful of exercises worth doing as a beginner. Here are the best ones:

Lower Body:

  • Hip Thrust (the king of all glute exercises)
  • Squat (variations like split squat)
  • Lunge (static, alternating and walking)
  • Deadlift (stiff leg or conventional)

Lower Body Machines:

  • Hamstring Curl
  • Leg Press

Upper Body:

  • Rows (single arm and bent over)
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Bench Dips
  • Push Up (elevated, close grip and wide arm)
  • Plank and Side Planks

Upper Body Machines:

  • Lat Pull Down
  • Seated Row
  • Assisted Pull Up/Chin Up

I would also throw in some isolation exercises that are great for beginners too. These are exercises that don’t necessarily use multiple muscle groups, but instead hone in on specific body parts, normally smaller muscles that can’t really take a heavy weight. Assuming you are a beginner, you will probably also be weak with low muscle mass. Therefore, these exercises are also great for newbie lifters to master:

  • Side Raise (targets the outer shoulder cap)
  • Rear Raise (targets the back of the shoulders and upper back)
  • Tricep Push Down (targets the back of the arms)
  • Bicep Curl (targets the arms)
  • Crunch (targets the core)

Glute Training For Beginners

close up of a womans glutes in a red and white stripey swimsuit

The almighty booty deserves its own section because it is that important. If you’re female and reading this, I’m going to assume that you want a nice perky butt, no? In my opinion, aside from wanting to look good in a pair of jeans, glute training should be a priority no matter your goals or training level. Here at Strong Curves we train for strength first and looks second.

Strong and developed glutes will keep your posterior chain strong, help with posture and alleviate low back pain. Weak and inactive glutes are an epidemic in our modern society due to our desk-bound jobs and sedentary lifestyles. Bad news is that the glutes tend to be a lazy muscle group, so they need a little extra TLC compared to other muscles. Beginners should absolutely prioritise some glute-specific exercises and techniques into their weekly routine, regardless of their level of lifting experience.

Watch this video to learn how to master the only booty technique you need to know when starting your booty training journey. The only other thing you need to invest in, is a decent set of booty bands so you can start switching those lazy butt muscles on in order to activate the right muscles during your lower body workouts. Trust me, it’ll put you miles ahead of the game when it comes to booty gains. Grab your set of Strong Curves Booty Bands here.

Basic Weekly Gym Routine For Beginners

woman wearing gym clothes posing in a gym with her hands on her hips

So, if we go by the general guide for beginners, doing 4 days of weight training per week with 2 lower body and 2 upper body sessions, a weekly routine might look something like this:

Day 1: Lower body (squats, lunges, hip thrust, deadlifts)
Day 2: Rest (or optional cardio or yoga)
Day 3: Upper body (focusing on back and arms – assisted pull ups, rows, pull downs, bicep curls)
Day 4: Rest (or optional cardio or yoga)
Day 5: Lower body (squats, lunges, hip thrust, deadlifts)
Day 6: Rest (or optional cardio or yoga)
Day 7: Upper body (focusing on shoulders and chest – overhead press, side raise, bench dips, push ups)

The aim of the game is to be consistent because practice makes perfect. If you want to become the master of your body and sculpt Strong Curves in all the right places, you must stick to a solid weight training routine for at least 4 weeks, but preferably 6-8 weeks. That means doing the same exercises week in week out. That might seem a little samey-samey but it’s the reality of how you get results. You don’t become an expert by doing something new every week. Take your time, focus on mastering the exercises and aim to get stronger and more proficient at them every single week.

How Many Sets And Repetitions Should You Do?

close up of a woman performing a kettle bell squat

Sets and repetitions (reps for short) are how you structure your workouts. Beginners should start off doing no more than 3-4 exercises per workout. How many sets and reps you do for each exercise should be kept simple too. There are many ways to over-complicate this and of course, as you progress and become more advanced you can experiment more with your set structure.

The science shows that 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps with a moderate weight is ideal for muscle building (think sculpting Strong Curves). For a beginner, I would stick to 3 sets of 15 reps. That means taking your first exercise and performing 15 reps. Then rest between 60-90 seconds before performing the second set of the same exercise for 15 reps and so on. Repeat the process until you have completed all sets before moving onto the next exercise.

How Heavy Should You Lift?

woman lifting up two dumbbells in front of her

How heavy you should lift will largely depend on your own strength levels, conditioning and fitness. There’s no right or wrong set amount for each person so it will require a little trial and error to find the right amount of weight for you.

To help you find the right weight, you should try to lift a moderate weight that is manageable yet challenging for most of your sets. If you don’t lift heavy enough you won’t be challenging your muscles enough to adapt and grow – that means no results! If you lift too heavy so that you lose your proper form, not only do you risk injury but you’ll simply be cheating your reps – that also means no results!

As a general rule, if you can perform all 15 reps of an exercise with ease, you’ve gone too light. In this case, increase the weight slightly and try again. You know you’ve hit the sweet spot when the reps feel challenging enough that your muscles are burning and that you really have to exert your strength to lift the weight, with the last 2-3 reps of the set being almost impossible to complete as your muscles fatigue. If you fail early in the set and can’t even complete 8 reps of the set without losing your form and end up swinging the weights up, you’ve gone too heavy.

However, don’t overthink this either. As a beginner it is far more important for you to master proper form and technique of the exercises than to worry about not going heavy enough. Remember, you’ll have the advantage of newbie gains anyway, so it’s much better to focus on cementing really strong neural movement patterns than to train with your ego and go heavier than you need to. Once you’re confident with the moves and become more conditioned, you can then start testing your strength.

Should You Take Rest Days From The Gym?

woman doing yoga

Absolutely, yes! Lifting weights will make you sore. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is unavoidable as a newbie to the gym. It may be unpleasant at first but you will get used to it and the soreness lessens, the more conditioned you become.

Weight training is also taxing on the nervous system as the new stimulus forces your body to adapt (that’s literally how curves are sculpted). If you don’t allow your muscles to recover in between sessions, you risk injuring yourself or burning out from over-training which will only set you back in your progress. Don’t be fooled into thinking that more is better.

Essentially, as soon as your muscles have recovered you should work them out again. Normally it takes between 48-72 hours for a muscle to fully recover, but as a beginner it may take longer so always listen to your body. If you are still sore and fatigued from your previous session, not only do you risk injury but you won’t be able to train to your full potential. It is wiser to train less frequently knowing that you can give every single session 100% effort, rather than working out every single day but half-ass it. If you want to get good at something, never half-ass. Always go full ass 😜

The great thing about lower body/upper/body split workouts for beginners is that it maximises on the recovery time, allowing you to train consistently without DOMS hindering your routine. If you train your lower body one day, there’s nothing stopping you from training your upper body the next day, no matter how sore your legs are.

How To Get The Best Results As A Beginner Lifter

close up of a hand writing the words mind and muscle

It doesn’t matter how heavy you lift, what exercises you do, how often you train etc. because the only thing that matters is that you focus on good form and mind muscle connection. There’s this lifting phenomenon called ‘beginner gains’, which means that as a newbie, your progress with be faster and better than someone who’s been training for years. Cool, huh?

This is because the stimulus of lifting weights is so new to you that your neural adaptations will be firing at rapid rates! Basically what this means is that you really don’t have to kill yourself in the gym with crazy workouts or train for hours to get results. In fact, keeping things as basic and simple as possible will work more in your favour. So the only thing you really need to focus on is performing the exercises correctly so that you’re able to target and contract or ‘squeeze’ the right muscles and feel it in the right places. This is how you truly master your body and get the results you want.

Sadly, most long time gym-goers don’t understand just how important this aspect of their training really is and so, they plateau very quickly and fail to see substantial results for the amount of effort they put into their workouts. Don’t be that person! Learn the skills early on for proper form and get honing your mind muscle connection. Feel the burn and see your results sky rocket!

How Fast Will You See Results As A Beginner Lifter?

woman in jeans looking at her stomach in the mirror

Lifting weights will do amazing things to your body and confidence but don’t expect to see staggering results straight away. Results don’t happen overnight and building muscle is a slow process, but providing you are training with good form and technique, you can start to notice a difference relatively quickly as a beginner lifter. Within a month you should definitely feel changes in your body that may not necessarily be noticeable to others. Within six months you will definitely start to see progress that others around you will notice too. You’re clothes might fit differently, you’ll feel stronger and everything will feel tighter and more perky! You may even start to see some definition in areas you had none before. Once this happens, you’ll likely catch the ‘lifting bug’ and be hooked.

How To Stay Motivated When Progress Is Slow

unhappy woman checking her weight on the scales

Building muscle takes far longer than it does to lose body fat. If you’re used to the quick fixes of calorie restrictive diets and excessive cardio, waiting for your lifting results to show can be worse than watching paint dry! In fact, it took me a good six months when I first started lifting to see any noticeable results. Don’t let that discourage you! However, it would be wiser for you to focus less on appearance-based goals and more on how you feel during the start of your lifting journey. Take note of how much stronger you feel, how your confidence levels have increased and how much more capable you are on the gym floor and in every day life.

Set yourself performance-based goals, rather than appearance-based ones. Instead of focusing on the number on the scales, set yourself mini goals in your workouts like, “this week I only managed 3 sets of 10 reps on squats, so next time I’m going to try for 12 reps”. Having small targets to work towards is challenging and highly rewarding as beginner so make sure you get a training journal or note down your weekly progress in your phone.

Most importantly, focus on having fun and find joy in challenging yourself. Starting is never easy for anyone but if you can focus on the positives and celebrate each and every small win, you will soon find yourself truly in love with the process and the body you are striving for will become a happy byproduct.

Final Thoughts

Starting is always the hardest part but once you get the bug for lifting, it will honestly change your life. Your new found strength and confidence will spill in to every facet of your life. You’ll feel more competent at work, you’ll be able to deal with the stresses of daily life in healthier ways and your relationships will thrive because of it. Oh, and you’ll sculpt a bangin’ body in the process. If you’ve been thinking about starting your weight training journey, join my 12 Week Strong Curves Program, designed to take you from a clueless newbie to confident, sexy and kicking goals.

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Tips

How To Take The Best Progress Pictures

Why Take Progress Pictures?

Starting a new fitness journey is always daunting – especially if you’re a complete newbie or if you’ve had a long break from exercise. Taking photos of yourself when you don’t feel all that great about yourself, is probably the last thing you want to do. But trust me, taking pictures at the start of your journey is hands down THE best thing you can do.

Throw Out The Scales

I’m not a fan of taking measurements or obsessing over the number on the scales. In my experience, it can cause unnecessary anxiety and the stress can actually stop you from getting results. It’s much better to take photos as a reference point and instead, focus on how you feel throughout your journey.

Taking note of your energy levels, digestion, skin, mood, strength gains and how your clothes are fitting is a much better measurement of your progress because it forces you to actually connect to your physical body, rather than disconnecting you by putting too much emphasis on a numerical goal with no regard for your wellbeing.

So here are step-by-step instructions on how to take the best progress pictures:

Take Photos Once Every Four Weeks At The Most

Healthy progress is slow progress – especially if your goal is to change your body composition by lifting weights. Chances are, it’ll be very unlikely that you’ll see daily or even weekly changes in your body. If you take daily photos, you’ll be disappointed when you can’t see changes right away. Personally, I recommend taking the first set of progress shots on day one of your new program and then the next set of pictures at the end of your program. Taking progress pictures no more than every four weeks would be the absolute maximum recommended.

Avoid Overly Posing, Flexing And Unnatural Angles

It’s tempting to want to make your initial progress pictures look better than they really are. We’ve all seen the deceivingly clever angles on your favourite fitness influencer’s gym selfies, popping the hips out to one side, sucking the belly in and enlarging the booty tenfold. But for the love of the fitness gods, please don’t do the same!

A natural and relaxed posture will allow you to see your progress more clearly and it will also make your photos more consistent. It’s hard to pose or flex in exactly the same position every time! The goal is to have almost identical poses for comparison between your progress photos so relaxed and natural is always best.

Good Lighting Is A Must

Your phone camera is perfectly fine, you don’t need a fancy camera. But great lighting will make all the difference. If you’re a social media pro, you no doubt have a ring light. But if you don’t have a professional light set up, take your photos in a well lit room during the day with as much natural sunlight as possible. Setting the camera up near a window with you facing the light source is ideal.

Setting Up Your Camera

Every time you take progress photos, make sure that the camera is in the same spot and that you are standing exactly the same distance away from the camera. If you have a tripod, I recommend setting it up in the right position and leaving it in the same position and height until you take your next set of photos. If you don’t have a tripod, you can simply lean your phone against some books on a desk or windowsill.

Tip: to remember your position stand up close to the camera and take how ever many steps backwards until you are in the right position. You are aiming to get your full body into the frame from the top of your head to your feet. Set the camera on selfie view with it set to timer, so you can check you’re in the right position and take shots hands-free. Once you know you’re in the right spot, take note of your exact position in the room and how many steps you are standing away from the camera.

What To Wear

Obviously the aim of taking progress photos is to see the visible changes in your body, so the less you are wearing the better! Ideally you want to wear something that is form-fitting and reveals your arms, stomach and legs. Bikini swimsuit, bra and panties (nothing too racy though!) or gym crop top and shorts is preferable, but just go with whatever feels more comfortable to you. Wear the same thing in all your photos to keep the continuity and only change your outfit if it no longer fits you. Remember, no one has to see these photos unless you want them to!

How To Pose

Each set of progress photos will have three full body views (front, side and back). For the front and back views, simply stand up straight with your natural posture, feet together, relax your shoulders and let your arms hang by your side. For the side view, do exactly the same but raise your arms up and straight out in front of you so your arms do not obstruct the view of your torso.

Morning Photos On An Empty Stomach

To get the best progress pictures, you want to be as consistent as possible. It’s always best to take them on the same day each time and first thing in the morning after you’ve been to the bathroom and before you eat anything. Our abdomens expand throughout the day after eating all our meals and drinking liquids so to avoid a bloated tummy in your photos, morning fasted pictures are best.

Opt For A Clean, Solid Background

A messy bedroom or cluttered shelves in the background of your progress photos can detract from the main focal point – you! It can also distort the lines of your body and not to mention, it just looks ugly, busy and confusing. If you can, always take your photos against a plain coloured wall or in a large open and tidy space.

Categories
Strength Training

This Exercise Shrinks Your Waist By 3 Inches In 2 Weeks

The Secret Is Stomach Vacuums

woman doing crunch

​Want to shave inches off your tummy without doing a single crunch? Sounds like click bait, but I’m not kidding… this really works. The secret trick is stomach vacuums.

Here’s the low down on how to get a smaller waist​:

The stomach vacuum technique has been around for centuries. ​Yogis in India call it ‘nauli kriya’. ​You’ve probably seen belly dancers do it and even bodybuilders practice it to shrink their waistlines.

While we might think that the humble crunch is as good as any exercise to help us get a smaller waist, the stomach vacuum technique trumps it hands down.

I used the stomach vacuum during my competitive bodybuilding days to literally shave inches off my waistline in preparation for major shows and I still incorporate it into my weekly ab workouts too.

The benefits of a stomach vacuum aren’t just for aesthetic reasons. Practicing this technique will:

  • strengthen the core
  • fix diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal wall after childbirth)
  • improve posture
  • alleviate low back pain
  • aid digestion

How Does A Stomach Vacuum Work?

diagram of the transverse abdominis muscle

The stomach vacuum technique is so effective at shrinking the waist because it works the often neglected transverse abdonimis (TA) muscle, which is your inner core. Most people only focus on the superficial ab muscles, the rectus abdominis (think 6-pack abs) and the external obliques (side waist), by doing crunches, leg raises and side bends.

​​If you want a tight midsection, you’ve got to target the TA with the stomach vacuum exercise.

​The TA lies underneath these superficial muscles and acts as natural weight belt. It’s main function is to help with deep breathing during your heavier lifts, as well as, stabilise the lower spine and pelvis area which will also correct poor posture and alleviate back pain.

An added benefit is ​that it’ll make you stronger in your power movements like squats and deadlifts (hello booty gains!).

The Stomach Vacuum Won’t Burn Belly Fat

close up of a woman pinching her belly fat

Doing the stomach vacuum exercise regularly will no doubt help to tighten your midsection and can shave up to 2-3 inches of your waistline (can you sense a big fat ‘BUT’ coming?) *no pun intended*

But doing the stomach vacuum exercise DOES NOT burn belly fat!

In fact, exercise has very little to do fat loss. Yes, you heard right. A tight midsection comes down to low body fat levels. Which means that if you want to get a smaller waist, you have to clean up your diet, fix your sleep and manage your stress levels. Watch this video on how to lose stubborn belly fat.

Avoid These Stomach Vacuum Mistakes

woman performing a stomach vacuum

There’s a big difference between perfecting a strong stomach vacuum and simply, ‘sucking in’ your belly or ‘tensing’ your superficial abs.

Most stomach vacuum articles and fitness experts get it wrong!

The stomach vacuum takes a lot of practice and it can be very tricky to master but don’t lose hope! Like anything, you only get good at something if you practice it consistently over a long period of time. You may feel very frustrated at first and feel like you aren’t doing it right, but just keep going and it will eventually click for you.

1. Don’t Just ‘Suck’ It In

The stomach vacuum feels very different to just ‘sucking in’ your belly. A lot of us ladies subconsciously suck our bellies in to appear slimmer when posing for the camera, wearing tight-fitting dresses or when we’re on the beach in our bikinis. It’s the action of pulling the belly button in towards the spine. Normally, we intuitively inhale during this action and our chest also expands.

This is NOT a stomach vacuum! Although, if you are a beginner and you have a very weak core, simply practicing sucking in your belly is a good place to start before you are able to progress and master the stomach vacuum. You may also benefit from working on your general core strength before moving onto the stomach vacuum exercise.

2. Don’t Just ​’Tense’ Your Abs

​The stomach vacuum is NOT ‘tensing’ your abs ​like the burn you feel when you do crunches. Tensing your abs is just contracting your superficial core muscles (rectus abdominis). Which is also like ‘bracing’ your core​ – that instinctive reaction you’d have if someone ​was to punch you in the stomach. Normally we intuitively exhale during these actions and our chest also depresses.

Or similarly, bracing your core is like bearing down when you’re constipated on the toilet (sorry for the visuals!). Again, none of these are how you perform a stomach vacuum.

So, how should it feel, when you do this exercise correctly? Read below for step-by-step instructions…

Step-By-Step Stomach Vacuum Tutorial

  1. ​In position on all fours, take a few deep breaths to calm the nervous system​​​​.
  2. ​Relax your belly and slowly exhale all the air fully out of your lungs.
  3. ​Close off your airways and suck your abdomen and diaphragm up into your rib cage.
  4. Imagine you’re trying to take an inhale but don’t actually inhale because your airways should still be closed off.
  5. Hold for 5-20 seconds and then relax the belly and taking an inhale.
  6. ​Perform 3-5 sets, resting for 45-60 seconds between sets.

TIP: ​This demo is performed on all fours, but you can practice this in many different positions; on your back, kneeling, seated or standing bent over. Try them all out and see which works best for you.

​Tips For Stomach Vacuum Success

The very definition of a vacuum should give you a big clue as to how it should feel when you do it correctly.

​It feels like, well… a vacuum.

Because this technique is performed ​after an exhale​ (meaning you expel all the air out of your lungs), you should feel a tight ‘suction-like’ feeling ​by drawing your inner abdomen and diaphragm up into your rib cage.

You may even feel a slight suction in the base of your throat.

​Start by holding the vacuum for 5-20 seconds and then progress to longer holds of up to a minute, as you become stronger with the technique. Practicing this technique 3-5 times a day is more than enough to start seeing results within a few weeks, but feel free to do it more often, if it feels good.

​Once you become a pro at this exercise, you don’t have to hold your breath for the whole minute! You should be able to still perform a strong vacuum whilst taking short and shallow breaths… but again, this takes practice, so be patient.

There’s no reason why you can’t practice this daily​ and the best thing about this exercise is that you can do it anywhere, anytime!

But if you feel any pain during this exercise, please stop and ​visit your health care practitioner to make sure there are no underlying issues.

TIP: ​​For best results, perform this exercise on an empty stomach first thing in the morning to avoid feeling nauseous. Plus, it is much harder to perform a strong vacuum on a belly full of food.

Stomach Vacuum: A Quick Recap

  • Lower your body fat levels by cleaning up your diet & removing stress first.
  • ​Beginners should work on general core strength before trying a vacuum.
  • Avoid sucking in your belly or tensing your abs.
  • Exhale all air out of the lungs first and then pull the diaphragm up.
  • Hold for 5-20 seconds, 3-5 sets daily.
  • ​Always practice on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.

Practicing the stomach vacuum technique regularly can give make a huge difference to your waistline but if you want to make the most of your results, you should follow a tailored approach to your training and nutrition. Join the Strong Curves 12 Week Program to kick start your results.

Categories
Strength Training

How To Get A Smaller Waist (Ultimate Guide 2021)

A smaller waist is seen as attractive and feminine because it accentuates an hourglass figure and maximises the waist-to-hip ratio. Holding body fat around your waistline increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other health issues, which is why it is important to maintain a healthy waist circumference.

Whether you want to achieve a smaller waist to accentuate your hourglass curves or to shed belly fat, here is everything you need to know about how to get a smaller waist.

Small Waist Mistakes

A small waist primarily comes down to lower body fat levels. Strength training exercises for your core will help increase muscle in that area (think six pack abs), but that washboard stomach will never make an appearance if you have a larger-than-average layer of insulation over the top.

It doesn’t matter how many crunches you do, if your diet is appalling, you will never see a toned and tight tummy. So your first and most important way to achieve a smaller waist, is to clean up your diet.

“Weight loss = 5% exercise, 20% diet, 75% lifestyle & de-stress”

NOTE: If you already have low body fat levels, especially on your belly, then losing more body fat is not recommended! According to the American Council on Exercise Body Fat Categorisation these are the recommended body fat levels for women:

Check that your body fat levels are in the healthy range with this online calculator.

Can You Spot Reduce Belly Fat?

The short answer is, no. You cannot pick and choose which body part you want to lose weight from – which means:

Targeted ab exercises like crunches don’t burn belly fat!

Where you tend to hold the most body fat comes down to your genetic predisposition and how you lose it, is largely based on your unique body composition or ‘body type’. Women have higher oestrogen levels which means they tend to hold most of their body fat around the hips, butt and lower belly – it’s evolution’s way of protecting our reproductive organs.

When you take measures to lose body fat, you will lose it evenly from all over your body, so wherever you tend to store it most (thighs, butt and belly), will be the last place you see it go from, while other areas seem to get leaner far quicker (usually upper body for women).

But this is where lifting weights can give you a head start on getting a smaller waist.

Strength training is the most effective way to change your body composition, meaning: increase lean muscle mass and lower your body fat levels (*read: get strong curves in all the right places). The more muscle you build, the easier it is to maintain lower body fat levels. That’s good news for your waistline!

More on how to lift weights for a smaller waist, later on in this article. But first, let’s talk about your diet.

The Small Waist Diet

So what’s the best diet to lose body fat to get a smaller waist? Most fitness experts will tell you to go on a low fat, low calorie restrictive diet, but honestly, who wants to count calories for every meal? These types of crash diets never work long term and only leave you constantly hungry, low on energy and miserable.

“The plan that works is the one that you can stick to”

There is a better way! Forming long-lasting healthy eating habits is only achievable if the diet you choose feels fulfilling, enjoyable and fits in with your lifestyle. That’s why I love the low carb lifestyle. You never go hungry, have oodles of energy, still able to achieve your goals and enjoy treats now and then.

Check out my blog post Why LCHF is best for a strength training female to learn more about how this way of eating can help you get a smaller waist. But in a nutshell, avoid these foods if you want to maintain a smaller waist:

  • Processed and packaged foods
  • Junk food and take aways
  • Sugary and fizzy drinks
  • Refined sugar like, candy and ice-cream
  • Processed baked goods like cake, pastries, bread and muffins
  • Trans fats in margarine and other spreads, as well as vegetable oils like canola

Instead what you should focus on eating is nutrient-dense whole foods, just as nature intended. When it comes to diet, here are best fat loss tips to help you get a smaller waist:

  • Green and cruciferous vegetables\ high in fibre to keep you feeling fuller for longer and regulate your digestion.
  • Drink plenty of water to flush out toxins (sometimes we mistake hunger for thirst and end up over eating).
  • Increase your healthy fats like avocado, real grass fed butter, olive oil, nuts and seeds to give you sustained energy throughout the day, balance your hormones and keep you feeling satiated.
  • Get enough protein to sustain muscle growth and cell repair, by eating hormone-free pasture-raised meats and seafood such as salmon, mackerel, beef and chicken.

TIP: a diet high in processed carbs, baked goods, refined sugar and sodium will make you hold more water weight, which can add inches onto your waistline. LCHF is low in carbs and sodium, so people tend to ‘drop’ this excess water which can help your waistline look tighter.

Avoid These Smaller Waist Mistakes

The myth that lifting weights makes you ‘bulky’ is only true if you do the wrong type of exercises. Certain ab exercises can make your waistline get bigger, giving your waist a blockier appearance. If done correctly, strength training will shape and tone your body like no other form of exercise – I’m talking hourglass curves in all the right places. But not all core exercises are going to help you get a smaller waist. Here are the ones to avoid, to keep your waistline small:

Avoid Weighted Ab Exercises

The more you challenge a muscle under load, the more it will grow. So if you smash the weighted crunches or use med balls and plates in your core workouts, your mid section will become thicker and blockier over time. If you want to get a smaller waist, you should avoid these exercises:

  • Cable Crunches
  • Med Ball Russian Twists
  • Kettlebell Windmills
  • Cable Twist
  • Abdominal Machine
  • Or any Ab exercise with added resistance

Avoid Exercises That Target The Obliques

The obliques or ‘side waist’ run along the sides of your torso. Many fitness experts will tell you that doing exercises that target this muscle will help get rid of your muffin top – the body fat that sits just above your waistband. But this is so wrong!

Firstly, we know that targeted exercises cannot spot reduce fat in specific body parts. But secondly, overdoing exercises that grow the oblique muscles, will only make the sides of your waist grow out, making your waistline even thicker. The result is a blocky looking torso – great if you’re a guy, but not so good if you’re trying to enhance your hourglass curves.

So to get a smaller waist, avoid these exercises:

  • Russian Twist
  • Side Bend
  • Oblique V crunch
  • Plank Hip Dips
  • Side Crunch
  • Triangle Crunch
  • Side Plank Hip Lifts

The Best Core Exercises For A Smaller Waist

Now you know which exercises to avoid, let’s talk about the best exercises to keep your waist tight and small. The best way is to stick to high rep bodyweight exercises that target the rectus abdominis (six pack) and transverse abdominis.

1. Target The Rectus Abdominis

This is the most superficial of the abdominal muscles and typically what people call ‘six pack abs’. They key is to target both the lower and upper part of this abdominal muscle. Most people only do crunches which work the upper part and neglect the lower belly, which is where women tend to hold the most stubborn body fat – also known as the ‘belly pouch’. This lower belly workout will strengthen and tighten your core.

Here are all the best core exercises to target the ‘six pack’ muscles to tighten your waistline:

  • Crunch
  • Toe touch
  • V sit
  • Leg Raise
  • Knee Tuck
  • Flutter Kicks
  • Scissor Kicks
  • Jack Knife

2. Target The Transverse Abdominis

The inner core is responsible for helping you balance, perform everyday movements and helps to encourage good posture. So it’s just as important to train this part of your core as well as the superficial ‘six pack’ abs.

When this muscle is weak, it can lead to poor posture and low back pain. It’s responsible for holding in all your organs and when you don’t have very good control over this muscle, we tend to ‘let it all hang out’ so-to-speak, which can make our waistline look bigger. So consider this your daily reminder to stand up straight and be conscious of your posture.

A great secret technique that works your inner core and can literally shave 2-3 inches off your waistline in just a few weeks, is the stomach vacuum. Watch this stomach vacuum tutorial to find out how you can get a smaller waist by practicing this move every morning.

All of the exercises mentioned above, especially the ones that focus on raising the legs, will also target the inner core too. But to really strengthen the abdominal muscles and protect the spine, we need to get good at ‘bracing’ our core (think: ‘stiffening’ your torso if you were to get punched in your stomach!)

These moves below are some more ‘bracing’ exercises that are great for the transverse abdominis to help you get a smaller waist:

  • Plank
  • Mountain Climber
  • Bird Dog
  • Foam Roller Knee Tuck
  • Foam Roller Pike

Strong Compound Lifts For A Smaller Waist

Exercises that isolate the core muscles, like the ones above are obviously great for building strength in your core and keeping your waistline tight. But did you know that the squat, deadlift and hip thrust are also great ab exercises? Crazy, huh?

That’s because they are compound movements that require you to use multiple muscle groups as well as, your core. So the stronger you can get in these moves, the stronger and tighter your core will become, which can help you get a smaller waist.

And need I tell you that these three compound exercises are also great for sculpting sexy hourglass curves and growing your booty? Focusing on building strong and round glutes will also maximise your waist-to-hip ratio and create the illusion of a smaller waist! BAM.

Another bonus is that adding strong compound lifts into your workouts helps you burn more calories and maintain lower body fat levels (yey for small waist!). Lifting weights increases your metabolism even after you finish your workout (as opposed to cardio, where you only burn calories for the duration of the workout).

TIP: Remember, the more you work a muscle under a load, the more it will grow. And same goes for how often you train that muscle too. So be strategic about where you want to ‘add’ muscle to your body. If you want to create an hourglass figure and maintain a smaller waist, then training your abs every day is way too much. Isolated ab workouts should be kept to two sessions per week maximum – especially if you are doing compound movements in your workout routine, because they work the core tremendously too!

To Cardio or Not To Cardio

Many people believe that increasing your cardio is the best way to lose belly fat. But I believe there is a better way. We already know that lifting weights is far more effective at burning calories. Cardio falls short because although it might aid in weight loss, it does absolutely nothing for shaping and sculpting your body. Lifting weights is the only way you can tone and tighten the muscles of your waistline – and that’s whats going to give you a smaller waist.

We’ve also established that you can’t out-train a bad diet and that the key to a smaller waistline is lowering your body fat levels by cleaning up your diet. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do cardio at all, it just means that it doesn’t need to be your primary focus when trying to get a smaller waist.

So what kind of cardio is ideal to help you lose excess body fat and shrink your waistline?

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is best, but only if you are already fairly athletic and have higher levels of muscle mass. If you do this STRONG HIIT workout, you’ll torch body fat and sculpt curves at the same time. Two sessions a week is more than enough, if you focus on a healthy diet and prioritise lifting weights in your weekly workout regime.

On the other hand, if you have quite a bit of body fat to lose, lower muscle mass and poor fitness levels, then the best type of cardio for you is gentle steady state, like a 30 minute walk in nature, some laps of the pool or a leisurely bike ride. However, lifting weights should be your primary focus if you want to boost your metabolism and get into the fat-burning mode. Check out this fat-burning workout, perfect for beginners who want to get a smaller waist.

More Tips For Getting A Smaller Waist

There is no magic pill or quick fix to get a smaller waist. Waist trainers, corsets, belly wraps, skinny teas and fat-burners are all a scam! Don’t be fooled by gimmicky marketing on social media, promising you results that sound to good to be true. You have to be prepared to do the work, be consistent and patient because results don’t come right away.

1. Dress To Flatter Your Curves

When we feel good about our appearance, we’re generally happier and more confident. Clothes can either flatter our bodies and boost our confidence or, do the exact opposite. Before you give up and succumb to the scams mentioned above, take a look at your wardrobe and see if making any of these little tweaks can help you create the illusion of a smaller waist, while you start putting in the work in the gym and in the kitchen:

  • Wrap dresses and A-line skirts that cinch in your waist and flow out over your hips will accentuate hourglass curves and create the illusion of a smaller waist
  • High-waisted pants and skirts that sit above your hips will hold in your lower belly and muffin top. The higher waistband will draw attention to your natural waistline (belly button level), which is the narrowest part of the torso.
  • Peplum tops and skirts will create volume around the hips which increases the waist-to-hip ratio and accentuates a smaller waist.
  • Wide belts that cinch in the waist (at belly button level) will draw attention to your natural waistline and create the illusion of hourglass curves and a smaller waist.

However, there are some styles and shapes you should avoid if you have a naturally wider wider and narrower hips and your goal is to create the illusion of a smaller waist. Baggy and loose ‘tent-like’ clothing will make your waistline disappear and low rise pants and skirts will cut your waist off at the widest part which will only accentuate a thicker waistline.

2. Managing Stress For A Smaller Waist

Sounds a bit random, huh? How can managing stress actually help you get a smaller waist? Remember how I said, “Weight loss = 5% exercise, 20% diet, 75% lifestyle & de-stress”? Well, stress is chronic and ever-pervasive in our modern world. It has almost become so ‘normal’ that we don’t even notice it anymore, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is constantly affecting our every day lives and well-being. Mental and emotional stress, as well as, poor lifestyle choices are making us sicker and fatter:

  • Working 50+ hour weeks in high pressure jobs
  • Unhealthy and dysfunctional relationships
  • Relying on convenience foods and too much technology screen time
  • Not resting and recharging enough

All these things increase our stress levels (whether physical, mental or emotional) and they have an adverse affect on our physiology. Our stress hormone (cortisol) increases, which down regulates our metabolism, makes us gain body fat or makes it very difficult to lose it. Where we tend to store this ‘stress’ type of body fat is around our torso.

To start improving your well-being and keep your stress hormone balanced, you need to look at your mindset. Watch this video on how to get your dream body by incorporating these practical wellbeing tips:

  • Get into nature daily
  • Mediate very day for at least 15 minutes
  • Practice yoga or mindfulness
  • Prioritise ‘me’ time and cultivate your passions
  • Start a ‘positive mindset’ journal

How To Get A Smaller Waist In A Nutshell

  • Lower your body fat levels by cleaning up your diet
  • Tighten up your waistline by doing the right core strengthening exercises
  • Sculpt muscles in the right places by lifting weights to give you hourglass curves
  • Avoid scams and quick fixes!
  • Dress to accentuate the waist-to-hip ratio
  • Change your lifestyle and manage stress to optimise your metabolism

If you found this article helpful, let me know in the comments below!

Categories
Strength Training

How To Get Rid of Hip Dips (Ultimate Guide 2021)

First it was all about thigh gaps, then the equally insane ‘bikini bridge’ (seriously, google it, I can’t believe it’s really a thing 😳). Now eliminating hip dips is the latest body image fad to storm the internet, made famous by the unnaturally smooth and photoshopped centaur hips of the Kardashians and every other ‘insta-baddie’ that follows suit. So, what exactly is a hip dip and how can you get rid of it? Read on…

What Is A ‘Hip Dip’ And Why Do You Have One?

close up of a womans hips

Violin hips, shelf hips, high hips, hip dents or in its anatomical terminology, ‘tronchanteric depression’, is the indentation on either side of your body between your hip and your thigh – and it’s completely normal! Most women have them and they are nothing to be ashamed of. Having hip dips does not mean you are fat, ugly or deformed. Whether you have them or not comes down to your bone structure.

The Anatomy Of Hip Dips

diagram of the muscles of the pelvis

Ok, anatomy lesson 101:

Your skeleton is a wonderful thing. It allows you to stand up tall, run, jump, squat and all those other fun things that humans like to do with their bodies. The shape of your bone structure is what determines whether you have hip dips or, not.

It all comes down to the size of your hip bone (pelvis) in relation to your thigh bone (femur).

If you have a wider and higher pelvis, then you will likely have more of an angle on your femur. This creates more ‘space’ in between the top of your pelvis (ilium) and your greater trochanter (head of the femur), resulting in a more pronounced hip dip.

If you have a narrower and shorter pelvis, then you will likely have less of an angle on your femur, meaning less of a ‘space’ and therefore, less of a hip dip. This is why girls with an athletic build or a straight up-and-down shape, tend to have very little to no indentation.

High vs Low Body Fat

close up of women pinching their body fat

It’s also important to note that where you likely hold most of your body fat will determine how pronounced your hip dips are. This is down to your genetics and can’t be changed – just like your bone structure.

Some women might have the bone structure of wider and higher hips but also have a higher amount of body fat around their glutes and thighs with an even distribution. These body types will look like they don’t have hip dips at all, because their body fat actually covers and ‘fills out’ their hip dip.

However, some women a have lower level of body fat, that isn’t as evenly distributed and instead, sits in more isolated areas like the ‘muffin top’ (the fat just above the hips and below the belly or, the ‘saddle bags’ (the fat that sits at the top of the thighs and just under the glutes).

It’s completely normal and healthy to have body fat in these areas, but if you have wider and higher hips it may make your hip dips look more pronounced. It’s important to note also, that we are constantly bombarded with photoshopped pictures of women who have had surgery to fill out their hips with fat transfer procedures and implants. Please do not compare yourself to these images!

So, How Do You Get Rid Of Hip Dips?

close up of womans hip dips

First of all, let’s make something crystal clear: you cannot get rid of hip dips completely – and that’s totally ok! No amount of exercise can train away your bone structure. However, there are some things you can do to minimise the appearance of indentations and accentuate rounder and fuller hips but, before we get into it…

**WARNING: There’s a ton of confusing mis-information out there from so-called ‘fitness gurus’ who will have you doing some very dubious exercises, that will do nothing for your hip dips and in some cases, will accentuate them even further!

Avoid These Hip Dip Mistakes!

There are two opposing camps when it comes to hip dip targeting. On one side, you’ll hear people saying you should do specific exercises to target the gluteus medius (one of the three butt muscles) and the quadriceps (thigh muscles). On the other side, some people say you need to target one of the main muscles of the hips, the tense fasciae latae or, ‘TFL’ for short.

I say, they’re all WRONG.

The pelvis and all the intricate muscles of the hip area are complex, so before you go off in your pursuit of hip dip destruction, listen up! Here are some things you need to be aware of when doing hip dip exercises:

1. Don’t Target The Gluteus Medius

diagram of the gluteal muscles

I’m a huge advocate of glute training to build a fuller, rounder and stronger butt, so it may come as a shock when I say this, but… targeting the gluteus medius will only make your hip dips look more pronounced!

That’s because it is the most upper and outer muscle of your butt and it sits just above your hip dip. If you do exercises that target this muscle to make it develop and grow, it’ll only make the indentation below it look even bigger.

Same goes for your thigh muscles. If you concentrate on doing exercises that are only going to isolate and grow your quadriceps, then your hip dip will look deeper because of it. Think of it like an optical illusion.

2. Don’t Target The TFL

diagram of the TFL muscle

This teeny weeny muscle of the hip sits right in the space of the hip dip and that’s why people say that if you target this muscle with exercises that will make it grow, you’ll be able ‘fill out’ the hip dip and make your hips look smoother and rounder.

Sounds logical, right?

But there’s one little problem with this. The TFL is not a muscle that you can target and ‘grow’, because it’s primary function is just to stabilise the hips so that you can do things like walk, squat and jump. I mean, you never hear bodybuilders talk about a well-developed TFL, do you? Nope. However, you do hear physiotherapists talk about it to clients in rehab due to injuries or dysfunction.

Trust me, if you just smash your TFL with all sorts of crazy isolation exercises during every gym session you will 1) be severely disappointed when you get ZERO results and 2) probably just irritate the muscle so much that you end up with hip pain or some sort of dysfunction from overuse.

The Solution To Hips Dips

woman doing a deadlift

So, what’s the right way to train to minimise your hip dips? Go for overall glute development. Targeting the glutes from all angles and developing the whole hip area is going to give you a much better chance of growing rounder and fuller hips to minimise the appearance of hip dips.

The king of all glute exercises that you absolutely must make a staple in your routine is the hip thrust. It has been proven time and time again to be the most superior exercise for glute strength and growth.

The hip thrust primarily hits the gluteus maximus which is the largest of the three butt muscles. But in order to really minimise those hip dips, you need to target the outer part of the gluteus maximus. This is how you truly create the look of rounder and fuller hips. Lucky for you, this hip dip workout is crammed full of exercises that do just that! Click here to watch it now.

You Cannot Out-Train A Bad Diet

woman on scales with apple in one hand and burger bun in the other

Lifting weights will tone you up, make you strong and give you an awesome hourglass shape, but the truth is that it can only do so much, because there’s another, even more important part to the equation.

Doing all the right exercises will only get you so far, if your diet is appalling! If you want to give yourself the best chance at minimising the appearance of your hip dips, you’ve got to lose any excess body fat in those trouble areas (i.e ‘muffin top’ and ‘saddlebags’) and the only way to truly do that is by optimising your hormones, cleaning up your diet and lowering your stress levels. Check out the Ultimate Guide To Losing Belly Fat for the best way to minimise your hip dips.

But remember: you cannot spot reduce body fat. So wherever you’re genetically pre-dispositioned to hold most of it, will also, always, be the last place you see it go!

One Final Thought On Hip Dips

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look your best and you should never feel bad about wanting to change something that you don’t like about yourself, but please remember that having hip dips is completely normal. I have hip dips. So do millions of other women. It does not mean that you are fat, or ugly or deformed. It is merely the shape of your bones, i.e. your genetic make-up.

Please remember that the images you see online of women with perfectly smooth and round hips is not real! Never compare yourself to someone’s cleverly-angled, photoshopped and surgically enhanced body on social media. Instead of hating on your hip dips and wishing you didn’t have them, why not embrace them? They are what make you, YOU. Nit-picking at body parts will never make you happy, so try to look at them from a different perspective.

Did you know that wider hips is seen as a very attractive quality by many people? Celebrate that! I know that many narrow-hipped athletic build ladies out there would be very envious of your curvier shape. It’s a case of ‘the grass is greener’.

Embrace what you’ve got and see your hip dips as something to start loving, instead of a body part to be ashamed of. Focusing on what you do like about yourself, rather than the things you don’t, will make you happier along your journey and it will help you get to your goals faster!

Remember… You are beautiful just the way you are!

If you found this article helpful, let me know in the comments below. And if you’re ready to learn how to get the best booty gains of your life and minimise your hip dips effectively, join the Strong Curves 12 Week Program here.

Categories
Strength Training

How To Get A Bigger Butt Without Bulking Up Your Thighs

​​I get asked this all the time and I totally get it. We’re all on a quest to build a peachy booty and maintain long slender legs. But then you say, “I don’t want to lift heavy because I don’t want to bulk up or get too manly” or, “I build muscle really fast so I can only do light weights”. Girl, if you build muscle that frickin’ easy, then pray-tell, what is your secret?? Because I’ve been doing this ‘heavy lifting’ thing for a long time ​and let me tell you, this booty didn’t morph over night. I mean, do I look like the incredible hulk to you?! **face palm** Let’s just get one thing clear:

Lifting ​Won’t Make You Manly, But Lifting Like A Man ​Will

Lifting weights (the right way) will make you lean, toned and curvy in all the right places. That ‘bulking’ business has more to do with what you put in your mouth, than what you lift in the gym. Speaking of which, check out my other blog post on how a ​low carb high fat diet is the missing link in your efforts to get lean and toned.

​Ok, so now that we’ve got that cleared up. Let’s move along shall we?

The Worst Booty Building Mistake

First off, a little disclaimer: all lower body exercises will grow your thigh muscles to some extent. Some more than others. Your lower body is made up of four muscle groups: quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves. Even the booty favourite hip thrust will activate your quads to some degree.The problem is, you may be quad dominant. If you’ve been squatting, lunging and leg pressing like a beast, (and become strong through these movements), then you’re probably quad dominant. And that has an effect on your glutes’ ability to be activated and targeted in these exercises instead.

The glutes are the largest muscle in the body but also notoriously, the laziest. Meaning; if they can let any other muscle do the work for them, then by-golly, they will. The result: a pancake butt with quadzilla thighs. Ok, I exaggerate, but seriously, that’s how you feel, right? **Disclaimer: I’m not saying squats are the devil. They are a great compound movement that work a whole heap of muscles and as a beginner lifter, it’s one of the most important basic moves that you should absolutely learn to master before moving onto the fancy stuff.

So how do you grow glutes without growing your thighs? Avoid this common booty building mistake:

Avoid Exercises That Stress The Quads

I’m going to assume that by ‘bulking up your thighs’, you actually mean the quads/front of your legs and not the hamstrings/back of your legs, because honestly, no one has ever said to me, “Damn, Shelley, I just hate how big and shapely my hamstrings are. I wish I could shrink them.” Shapely hamstrings compliment a well-developed and perky bum imo. Jus’ sayin’.

These exercises are the biggest thigh-stressors, so if your goal is to grow those glutes, you should limit or avoid:

  • Squats (all variations)
  • Lunges
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Step ups
  • Leg press
  • Leg extension machine
  • Conventional and Trap bar deadlift

You might be thinking, “what’s left??”. Admittedly, not a whole lot, but here is what you can do to grow glutes without​ growing your thighs:

Start With Lightweight Glute Activation

Keeping the weight light is crucial at first. Don’t be tempted to add the resistance. Less really is more when you’re trying to wake up your lazy butt muscles. If you go too heavy off the bat, you can bet your bottom dollar that those killer quads will take over. So grab a booty band (grab your set of Strong Curves Booty Bands here) and start focusing on your mind-muscle connection. This is key to start developing those buns! Remember how I said the glutes are lazy sons-a-b*tches? Well, you’ve got to coax them into firing up. There are a ton of activation exercises you can do like butt squeezes, lying leg abductions, seated abductions, butt planks and clams. Check out my video ‘Why Your Glutes Won’t Grow’ for all the best booty activation exercises. Just start with a 10 minute drill and don’t forget to squeeeeeeze the bejesus out of those buns!

Learn How To Squeeze!

If you don’t know how to butt squeeze, you better learn! Because this little maneuver is the key to maximum glute contraction – and the more you can contract a muscle, the more it will grow. You’d be amazed how many ladies I’ve worked with who don’t know how to effectively squeeze their tushies. It’s super easy and you can literally practice absolutely anywhere. The key is to master the posterior pelvic tilt (PPT) and clench your butt cheeks as hard as you can. Imagine you have a belt around your waist. Next, tilt or scoop your pelvis by pushing the hips forward as if you’re drawing the belt buckle up towards you. Then, imagine someone is poking you up the bum with a hot rod, making sure you squeeze the glutes hard #visuals. Check out this quick glute squeeze tutorial video.! Just make sure you use the glutes to push your hips forward and avoid crunching into your lower spine. You can do the PPT butt squeeze anywhere and any time – in the queue at the post office, in line at the supermarket or even when you’re brushing your teeth and you’ll have rock hard glutes in no time.

Choose The Right Glute-Focused Exercises

If your goal is to grow glutes without growing thighs, then your training routine needs to be tailored accordingly. That means less squatting and more thrusting. Your lower body workouts should be setting your peach on fire! But we’re all built differently. We have different bone structures and different muscle development. So what works really well for some girls, won’t necessarily work of you. For example, I prefer the hip thrust to the glute bridge because in the bridge position I feel it more through my hamstrings rather than my tush. Remember, you want to pick exercises that make your booty burn like all heck. So if you don’t feel it, ditch it. It’s best to work with a smaller toolbox, rather than doing every trick in the book, just because you saw some fitness chick on instagram doing it. Try out some of these glute-focused exercises below and play around with foot positioning, banded or weighted, feet elevated, stance width and single leg variations. Find the ones that give you the most bang for your buck and stick with them:

  • Hip thrust
  • Glute bridge
  • American deadlift
  • Cable pull-through
  • Smith machine kick-back
  • Glute focused hyperextension

Progress with more weight slowly because going too heavy off the bat (especially if your glutes are particularly weak). ​The stronger you can get through these booty-focused moves, the more your butt will grow. But don’t go too heavy too fast or your quads will ​take over again. You really want to find that balance between getting some awesome glute burn under a load but without the other muscles (quads, hamstrings, calves) taking over.

Target The Butt From All Angles

Now you know how to activate the glutes, how to get maximum contraction out of your lifts and exactly which exercises to get really strong at – next: you need to isolate and target every square inch of your booty muscle fibres for epic gains! The glutes are actually made up of three muscles… yes, three!

  • Gluteus maximus (the largest of the three and makes up the bulk of your butt).
  • Gluteus medius (gives you that upper booty shelf at the top of your butt).
  • Gluteus minimus (sits underneath the medius and is responsible for hip stablisation).

You need to target all three of these gluteal muscles if you want a round and full peachy butt. There are a bazillion exercises to choose from so booty workouts never get boring! Here are just a few of my favourites:

  • Standing cable abduction
  • Cable kick-back
  • Barbell side lunge
  • Dumbbell frog pump
  • Single leg box squat
  • Single leg side glute press

That’s how you grow glutes without growing thighs! But before you get all giddy and start planning some crazy booty workouts, just remember: there’s no point in doing these fancy isolation variations unless you master the first three steps first. Some of these moves require a certain level of mind-muscle connection and training maturity. If you feel these exercises anywhere but the butt, stick to band or body weight only, or hold off entirely until you feel the glutes doing the work rather than the quads. Baby steps. Get the basics right and your tush will reap the rewards later down the track

How To Get A Bigger Butt In A Nutshell

  • 10 minutes of light weight glute activation exercises prior to your lower body workout will wake up those lazy buns without stressing the quads.
  • Learn to butt squeeze! P​osterior pelvic tilt (PPT) will give you maximum glute contraction so that your booty can dominate instead of your thighs.
  • Get stronger at glute-focused exercises that are right for YOU. A smaller toolbox is better. Don’t follow the crowd!
  • Get fancy with glute isolation variations that hit the booty from all angles. But if you feel it in the quads, go light or ditch it!

​If you found this article helpful, please ​tell me so! I’d love to know what you struggle with most in your glute training. Let me know in the comments below. If you’re ready to take your training to the next level and want to learn everything there is to know about glute training, check out my Strong Curves Ultimate Guide here.

Categories
Nutrition

5 Benefits Of A Low Carb Diet For Women

Carbs Are Not The Devil, But You Still Need To Know The Facts!

When I first started lifting weights and cleaning up my diet, I did so because I wanted to gain healthy weight, feel strong and get my vitality back, but it was no easy road. I tried every diet going. I did the typical ‘healthy’ bodybuilder style diet of protein shakes and carbs with every meal, but I just felt horrid. I spent most of my life meal-prepping and cooking. I battled with bloat and water retention. I’d have to nap after every meal, but it was all in the name of gains, right? Apparently this is what it took to get in shape – or so I thought. And then, after years of feeling sub-par, I found a better way. The Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) lifestyle changed my life. It made everything easier. I finally got my freedom and vitality back and the best bit was that I didn’t have to give up my pizza and red wine either.

​Low Carb Does Not Mean No Carb

But before we go into detail as to why LCHF rocks, let me just make a point. ‘Low carb’ does not mean no carbs. Remember I said I didn’t have to give up my beloved pizza and red wine? That’s because it’s not about cutting food groups out altogether, it just comes down to smart timing and smarter choices. Not all carbs are created equal and we don’t actually need huge amounts of them to fuel our bodies and build muscle. In fact, it’s far less than you think. The body can only handle about 5g – that’s only one teaspoon – of sugar in the blood stream per meal sitting, before things start to go a little crazy. Have a read of Dr. Ede’s take on how much sugar you should actually be eating without sabotaging your health. Healthy fats are a far better option for fueling your body (and more delicious) *did someone say bacon?!* Sounds totally nuts, right? But, if you’re a woman who lifts weights and what you’re currently doing isn’t working for you, then read on. Here are 5 reasons why you need to start doing LCHF to get the body and the health that you deserve.

1. No More Yo-Yo Dieting Or ‘Cut And Bulk’ Cycles

You want to build muscle and grow curves in all the right places (hello booty gains). But you also want to be lean enough to get some tummy definition (hello abs). Yet the general consensus in the health and fitness world is that you can’t have both at the same time. This is only true if you eat a typical low fat high carb Western diet *bulking has entered the chat*.

The premise of the ‘bulking’ cycle is to ‘eat for gainzzz’ (normally carbs and a LOT of them) because, “you gotta eat to grow”. Fitness competitors call it the ‘off-season’. It goes on for months on end, usually during the dreary winter months when you can hide your unshaven legs under full length stretch pants. Sure, the extra kilos gained will equate to a little bit of muscle but also, a hefty bit of body fat. You feel chunky, fluffy, you’re holding water and feel bloated most of the time. “Good times”, said no one ever.

Then comes the ‘cutting phase’. With summer fast approaching, you start eating clean, counting macros, decreasing calories, cutting carbs and upping the cardio. Sure, you lose the extra kilos, your abs make an appearance, but you’re exhausted and you find yourself wondering, “where the feck did my arse go?!”. So you maintain this starvation/over-exercising mode for 6 weeks (or as long as you can hold onto any thread of sanity you have left) and then you decide, “I’m over it. Who needs abs anyway? Oooh, look, nutella!” And so, the whole cycle begins again.

What a friggin’ effort! Geez. Life does not have to be this way! The constant yo-yo effect of losing weight by torturing yourself, only to gain it all back is de-moralising, unsustainable and wreaks havoc on your metabolism in the long run. However, there is another way; without having to cut and bulk or track a single morsel, and it’s called LCHF.

Build Muscle And Stay Lean On Low Carb High Fat (LCHF)

One of the best benefits of LCHF is that you can build muscle and stay lean. AT. THE. SAME. TIME. Yes, you read that right. I’m not going to go into the science-y stuff here, on how LCHF or the Ketogenic Diet works. But if you do want to know more, Perfect Keto does a darn good job of explaining it all here. Basically, the major benefits of LCHF is that it stabilises your insulin levels and turns you into a fat burning machine, where you use your own body fat stores as fuel (hello abs). However, that doesn’t mean you can’t build muscle too (hello booty gains). In fact, this way of eating gives you more sustained energy levels throughout the day so you can smash your workouts and it has been proven to actually preserve more muscle mass than your typical low fat carb heavy diets, as this study shows. My point is, if you become fat-adapted and lift weights, you can have your metaphorical cake and eat it too, because it eliminates the need to ‘cut and bulk’ to get in shape. Stay lean all year round and grow those strong curves too. Hoorah!

2. Balanced Hormones For Better Body Composition

If you’re constantly feeling a bit well, bleurgh on your current diet, LCHF might just be the answer. Hormones are responsible for your overall well-being, digestion and body composition. ‘Eating less and moving more’ is such an over-simplified and out-dated approach. Ask yourself if any of these things ring true:

  • You wake up tired in the mornings but feel wired at night
  • You struggle to lose weight
  • You often feel bloated and sluggish after meals
  • Your progress is slow in the gym
  • You feel moody and exhausted most days
  • You crave sugar and/or carbs

If you feel like your body is working against you, your hormones may be out of whack – even if you think you’ve been ‘eating healthy’ and staying active. The typical ‘healthy’ low fat diet of the Western world simply doesn’t work for most women. In fact, this type of diet has been shown to be detrimental to female hormone health. The truth is, women do better on higher fat.

When we exercise we burn more fat and less carbs and protein than men do. We rely less on carbs for fuel, probably because we naturally store higher levels of fat in our muscles and have a lower capacity to store glycogen, compared to men. It makes sense that using fat for fuel is a much wiser choice. Cholesterol is the building block of your sex hormones and your brain loves the stuff. Eating a diet high in healthy fats will keep your hormones happy. P.s. for those of you who still think eating fat will give you a heart attack or other such nonsense, this study, as well as this and this should put your mind at ease.

A LCHF Diet High In Cholesterol-Rich Foods Is The Key

In fact, the body uses large quantities of cholesterol every day and it is so crucial that every cell in your body has the ability to make it independent of food! How cool is that?! If you want further clarity, please read this brilliant book by Jimmy Moore, dispelling many of the ridiculous myths surrounding cholesterol and high fat diets. To truly reap the benefits of LCHF you should eat an abundance of cholesterol-rich foods like:

  • Pasture-raised eggs
  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Fatty meats like beef and lamb
  • Sardines and shellfish
  • Grass-fed butter, ghee and other oils

High in vitamins A, K and D, these super-foods are important for hormone health, especially thyroid function which regulates your metabolism and weight.

Low Carb High Fat Is Best For Lean Muscle Building

If you’re on a mission to sculpt Strong Curves in all the right places, then yep, you guessed it – LCHF wins again. Keeping carbs low has actually shown to be favourable to body composition (losing body fat and gaining muscle) and also improves your metabolism.

The anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing benefits of LCHF, are due to the potent little powerhouses called ketones (fatty acids). They are responsible for turning you into a lean and mean fat-burning machine but even more so, ketones promote longevity and increased muscle mass too.The more fat women eat, the more estrogen and testosterone they produce. These are both anabolic hormones that play a crucial part in building muscle and burning fat. In fact, this study shows that a LCHF diet helps women burn more fat and get stronger, compared to a typical low fat diet. Epic!

The LCHF lifestyle healed my own health issues when nothing else worked. I suffered from metabolic damage, which then affected my digestion, my mood and my body composition. When I started eating higher fats and lower carbs, my body transformed in a matter of weeks.

3. Calorie Counting Doesn’t Rule Your Life Anymore

Living by the golden rule of ‘calories in vs. calories out’, as if nothing else matters is short-sighted and narrow-minded. The reason I love LCHF so much is because it is so liberating. The old school way of thinking says that if you want to get in shape, the #1 rule is ‘calories in vs. calories out’ or CICO. Basically, the energy from the food you eat, has to be at a deficit to the energy you burn from exercise, in order for you to lose weight. Basically, eat less and exercise more. Wow… welcome to the Dark Age of Fitness. It might work (sometimes) in the short term, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective way, or the easiest. It’s not just about eating less, it’s about eating more of the right things and letting your hormones do their job. Watch this to find out why.

Studies like this and this have shown that dieters on fat-based diets consistently lose much more weight than dieters on carb-based diets, even though both diets had exactly the same number of calories. Who wants to count calories, obsess over labels and constantly feel guilt due to what you put in your mouth? If you focus on quality, you can forget all about counting calories. The LCHF diet allows you to eat until fullness, without compromising your fitness goals.

You get a real sense of freedom from the bondage of ‘dieting’. Eating more fats keep you fuller for longer, eliminates cravings and allows you to eat delicious nutrient-dense foods in abundance. The human body is a super intelligent organism. It’s way smarter than you and it’s always trying to heal itself (no matter what you throw at it) because it knows exactly what it needs in order to thrive. You just need to get out of the way 😉LCHF is a far more efficient way for the body to use it’s fuel and something truly amazing happens when you embrace this lifestyle – your body starts working for you, (not against you), by self-regulating your appetite.

4. Less Cooking, More Living

Low fat diets are impractical in today’s busy world. This one is a biggie for me and made a noticeable improvement to my everyday life. We try to be superwoman by doing it all: run the household, raise the kids, pursue a career, maintain a social life, smash gym goals and have enough ‘me time’ so we don’t go completely insane. Yet the outdated way of ‘healthy’ clean eating on a Standard American Diet means you have to eat regularly – usually every two hours – because low fat diets aren’t as satiating, which means you are more prone to snack and over-eat. That’s a lot of time prepping and cooking! I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend less time in the kitchen and more time truly living. If you’re time poor and busy, LCHF is a life saver:

  • It’s a nutrient-dense way of eating so you don’t feel the need to eat every couple of hours
  • It keeps you fuller for longer so you won’t feel like continuously snacking throughout the day
  • It’s satiating so you don’t get constant hunger pangs or tummy rumbles
  • It’s a far more efficient way to fuel the body so you can eat fewer but more satisfying meals (less volume but more satisfying)

In the real world this means less worrying about staying on track, less hassle of prepping and planning, less time spent in the kitchen and, most importantly, less chance of you falling off the bandwagon. Bottom line: that means more free time to spend with loved ones, have more fun and live your life. What’s not to like?

5. Bye-Bye Cardio

Let’s face it. Traditional cardio sucks. It’s often something we endure, rather than enjoy because we’re told it’s ‘good for us’, (you know: heart health, fat loss, yada yada), but it’s just so dang boring! Being a hamster on a wheel just doesn’t compare to lifting heavy weights like a boss. It’s also been ingrained in us that the best way to get in shape is to eat a low fat high carb diet, count calories and up the cardio. I’m going to say something a little crazy right now that is the complete opposite – and it works. Excessive cardio is not healthy and if you don’t enjoy doing it, then you really don’t have to do it. Here’s a shocker: cardio isn’t necessary if you want to get in shape. If you want to build shapely toned muscles and lose body fat, lifting weights is king and has been shown to be better than cardio alone in the long run.

Smarter Nutrition Trumps Cardio Every Time

Cardio shouldn’t be the focus of your fitness routine. For the very best results, if you eat LCHF and then time your carb-heavier meals around your training, there is no need to rely on cardio to get in shape. Of course, elevating your heart rate on a regular basis is important for heart health – so I’m not saying you should avoid aerobic exercise completely. But running on a treadmill every day for 45 minutes, staring into gym wall is not the only way to do it! You can swim, do a dance class, try circuit training – anything that makes you get a sweat on and heart pumping – but most of all, just have fun with it.

​Benefits Of Low Carb High Fat In A Nutshell

  • No more yo-yo diets! Build muscle and lose body fat at the same time.
  • Higher fats will balance your hormones, making results effortless.
  • No need to count calories or track macros! Let your hormones do the work for you.
  • Less prepping and cooking means you can save time, enjoy your life and still get results.
  • No need to rely on cardio to lose weight! Lift weights and time your carbs for optimal body composition.

If you found this article useful, let me know in the comments below. If you want to learn more about how LCHF and how carb-cycling can work for your body type, it will all be detailed in my upcoming eBook ‘Strong Curves Ultimate Guide’. Click here to get on the mailing list so you can be notified as soon as it launches!