If you care about a man’s opinion, I think Kelly Ripa has nice muscles, but is perhaps too lean. In this photo she certainly looks good, but is very close to the minimum body fat percentage for a healthy woman; extremely low body fat in females can result in a loss of menstrual cycle and decreased bone mass. Another thing to keep in mind is that your breasts are largely comprised of body fat.
Too much body fat is certainly unhealthy, but so is too little. It requires tremendous effort and dietary restriction to achieve. Personally, I’m a fan of achieving your own level of “good enough.” In other words, what body shape can you achieve and happily maintain without feeling like exercise and diet rule your life.
So, now that I’ve said I think Kelly went perhaps a little too far on the fat-loss front, I still want to discuss her impressive musculature, so let’s start with that.
Woman and Weights: You’ll be Happy with the Results
No woman ever gets huge by accident.
For a woman, getting hyper-muscled requires many hours of intense training each week, and in most cases supplementation with protein powders, creatine, and even anabolic steroids. You simply don’t have to worry about losing your femininity from regular weight-lifting. On the contrary, building muscle for women is far harder than it is for men because of lower testosterone levels. Therefore, you’re going to have to try really hard just to gain moderate amounts of muscle.
And I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be pleased with the results.
So, what’s the trick? My advice is to lift weights the same way most men do. This means lifting heavier weights in the lower repetition range. I have found from observation and through working with female clients that there is a tendency to use light weights for high reps, and this isn’t going to do very much at all for the way a muscle looks or how strong it is. This type of lifting only builds muscular endurance, which can be good at improving your ability to engage in aerobic activities like swimming and running, but that’s about it.
If you want to be stronger and improve the tone, shape, and size of a muscle, there are two types of lifting you should rotate through:
- Strength-focused lifting: This is in the two to five repetition range
- Size, tone, and shape focused lifting: This is in the six to 12 repetition range
And here is the really important point: When you’re lifting in this range, you’re doing as many as you can. For example, if you decide to do a set of ten repetitions, then you need to choose a heavy enough weight where doing 11 would not be possible without sacrificing good technique. Just FYI, anything more than about 12 reps gets you into developing muscular endurance (which, again, doesn’t do much for a muscle’s shape or size).
Speaking of good technique, I recommend getting a qualified personal trainer to teach you. Preferably one with an exercise related university degree and a CSEP-CPT or CSEP-CEP designation.
The other bit of advice is to focus mostly on large muscle groups. Nice looking arms come mostly from focusing on exercising the chest and back muscles, and only spending a small amount of time on focused arm training.
If all this sounds a little overwhelming, having a great trainer is a must. The women I’ve worked with have found weightlifting to be very empowering and, after they build up their self confidence usually become passionate lifters.
Lowering Body Fat to See Those Muscles
Again, I think Kelly went too far, but if you have some flab to lose then there are two things you need to do in combination:
1. Exercise: The above discussed weight-lifting, which definitely burns calories, although note that anything you might have read about extra muscle mass being a tremendous calorie burner while at rest is a myth. Extra muscle is great, but it doesn’t burn many calories while you sit on the couch. So, in addition to weight-lifting you want to spend time doing higher calorie-burning aerobic activities that you enjoy like running, swimming, cycling, or fitness classes. Get your heart rate up there to about 65-85 percent of maximum for an extended period of time.
2. Eat healthy and eat less: Keep your body fueled throughout the day using the old Chinese adage of “Eat until you are eight tenths full” with a variety of healthy and unprocessed foods. You never want to starve yourself during the day or it can cause a mega-hunger gluttonous feast in the evening. Instead, by staying “satisfied” throughout the day you won’t binge in the evening. If you can go to bed a little hungry (but not so you wake up needing to eat in the middle of the night), then this will serve to keep your caloric intake moderate and the fat will come off.
The most important thing to remember in all of this is taking a slow and steady approach that you can sustain over the long term. No crash diets, exercise addiction, or compulsive behaviour. Find a way to love exercise and healthy eating and you will also find yourself living in a high-performance, healthy (and hot-looking) body that you are happy to take to the beach.