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The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess

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The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess [Paperback]

Lou Schuler , Cassandra Forsythe M.S. , Alwyn Cosgrove
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (414 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews


“Lou Schuler has finally written a training book for me, and for all women. His expert advice, no-nonsense plans, and sense of humor are reassuring, motivating, and entertaining. I’m starting the program tomorrow!”
– Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., author of Power Eating and The Good Mood Diet

“The workouts in this book are unique, challenging, and extremely effective…be prepared to get into the best shape of your life!”
—Valerie Waters, celebrity trainer

About the Author

Lou Schuler is a National Magazine Award–winning journalist, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, and the author of many top-selling fitness books. He lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Alwyn Cosgrove is a veteran trainer and strength coach. He co-owns Results Fitness in Newhall, California.
Cassandra Forsythe, Ph.D, R.D., is a women’s fitness expert who has been featured in major magazines like Women’s Health and Oxygen. She currently resides in Connecticut, where she runs her own group fitness facility.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Why Should a Woman Lift Like a Man?

IIf you’ve ever watched a man working out in a gym, you can be forgiven for not immediately recognizing the bountiful lessons he has to offer. Instead, if you observed anything, it was probably one or more of these:

  • poor form
  • overly optimistic weight selection, resulting in even poorer form
  • odd, guttural noises, usually uttered while lifting too much weight with poor form
  • a sudden inability to lift those weights after 8 to 12 repetitions (done with good or bad form), resulting in a pile of iron on the floor and an empty slot on the rack where those weights belong
  • a curious attraction to the bench press, which not only results in all of the aforementioned problems, but also is performed with a dedication and zeal that leave no time for exercises designed to work the muscles he can’t see in a mirror
  • an even more curious lack of awareness that other people can see the muscles that don’t show up in his mirror

So what in the world can you learn from the average meathead in your local health club? A lot. I won’t pretend that men do anything better than women in the weight room. But I think they understand a few concepts that women tend to ignore.

These are by far the most important of all the new rules I’ll list in this book.

NEW RULE #1 • The purpose of lifting weights is to build muscle

Weight-training advice for women revolves around what I call the three dirty words: toning, shaping, and sculpting. “Tone,” short for “tonus,” has a specific meaning in exercise science: it’s the firmness of any given muscle when you aren’t deliberately flexing it. Tonus improves when you train with weights, but it’s not anything you can see.

The way “toning” is used in books and magazines catering to women, and then by women themselves, it means “make your muscles look better without making them bigger.” The idea is that there are specific types of workouts—usually involving lots of repetitions with light weights—that will help you achieve this.

But that’s not a realistic or healthy way to look at your muscles. If the weights are unchallenging, your muscles won’t grow. If your muscles don’t grow, they won’t look any better than they do now, even if you could somehow strip off whatever fat sits on top of them.

This is such an important point that I’ll repeat it:

With or without excess fat, your body simply will not look healthy and fit without well-trained muscle tissue.

“Shaping” offers a different but equally unlikely promise. Muscles can’t be “shaped.” Their shape is determined by your genetics. You can make them bigger or smaller, and if you’re a talented and dedicated bodybuilder you can change their size in proportion to the size of nearby muscles. In other words, you can certainly reshape your body by making some things bigger and other things smaller. But you can’t change the shape of individual muscles.

“Sculpting” is the most meaningful of the three words. It implies a combination of muscle growth and fat loss that leaves the lifter’s physique looking . . . well, sculpted.

But you can’t “sculpt” muscles you haven’t yet built.

NEW RULE #2 • Muscle is hard to build

When I started lifting weights, back when I was a ridiculously weak and scrawny thirteen-year-old boy who dreaded the humiliation of removing his shirt at the local swimming pool, I dreamed of having muscles roughly the size of the muscles I have now. If you had told me I’d someday be a fairly solid 185-pounder, thanks to the weights, I would’ve said, “I’m in!”

But if you’d added the caveat that it would take more than three decades to reach that size, I might’ve had some reservations.

I’ve never once walked into the gym thinking, “Today I’m going to try to not get too big.” For most guys, when we’re talking about muscles, there’s no such thing as “too big.” Those of us who train drug-free celebrate each pound of muscle we add, and every millimeter of upper-arm girth. Some guys even obsess over the circumference of their necks. Why? Because we know that it’s really hard to put on muscle size, it never happens by accident, and every bit of it is a sign of success against all odds. And that’s with all the hormonal advantages that nature gives to men.

Meanwhile, women, naturally deprived of the amounts of testosterone that would make muscle-building a more straightforward pursuit, worry endlessly about adding so much muscle that they’ll turn into the type of shemale you rarely encounter outside The Howard Stern Show.

So this brings me to the fourth dirty word: “bulky.” As in, “I don’t want to get too bulky.”

I’ll say this as simply as I can:

Unless you’re an extreme genetic outlier, you can’t get too bulky.

Your body won’t allow it. If you put on 10 pounds of muscle in Alwyn’s six month program, you’ll be at the top of the class. And if you don’t take off at least 10 pounds of fat with the combination of Alwyn’s workouts and Cassandra’s nutrition plans, I’ll be surprised. The most likely outcome, assuming you’re willing to work hard, is that you’ll come away with a small net loss in body weight, but a dramatic difference in the way your body looks in the mirror and the way your clothes fit. Your tops should be a little tighter, especially in the shoulders, and your trousers a bit roomier, particularly around the waist.

What you don’t have to worry about is getting too big. I’ve been lifting weights longer than many of you have been alive, and I’m still waiting for that moment when I look in the mirror and say, “Damn it, I’m just too big!”

NEW RULE #3 • Results come from hard work

This is a somewhat redundant rule, given that I mentioned hard work in the previous one. But here’s something I’ve observed over my many years of hanging around in gyms: A woman who’s willing to work like a galley slave in Spinning class, twist herself into Gordian knots in the yoga studio, and build enough core strength with Pilates to prop up a skyscraper will walk into the weight room, pick up the pastelcolored Barbie weights, and do the exact opposite of what will give her the results she wants.

I’ll tell a story that illustrates what I mean:

As I was writing this chapter, I observed a woman at my gym doing two exercises in combination. The first was triceps kickbacks, a simple and useless exercise in which you lean over a bench, hold your upper arm parallel to the floor, and straighten your elbow while holding a very light weight. The second was one-arm rows, in which you lean over a bench with your upper arm perpendicular to the floor, and row the weight up to the side of your abdomen.

A rowing exercise involves far more muscles, including the lats and trapezius, the big, strong muscles of the upper back. Plus, since it’s a multijoint exercise, the muscles that bend the elbow, such as the biceps, are also involved. And in addition to all that, the leverage on a one-arm row is perfect for lifting relatively heavy weights—you have one foot on the floor, and the opposite knee and hand braced on the bench. There’s no stress on your lower back, and it’s not unusual to see serious bodybuilders doing this exercise with a dumbbell weighing 100 pounds or more.

The kickback, meanwhile, is an awkward exercise, with relatively poor leverage. The only movement is at the elbow joint, which is not designed to move heavy weights at that angle. Even a beginner would probably be able to use three or four times as much weight on a row versus a kickback.

This woman was using 6-pound dumbbells for the kickbacks . . . and 7-pound weights for the rows.

I asked a trainer at the gym if he’d seen what I’d just seen. He shook his head sadly, and said that the toughest part of his job was getting women to use weights heavy enough to make their time in the gym worthwhile.

So even if a woman understands the first two rules in this chapter—that the object of lifting is to build muscle, and that muscle is hard to build—the idea that she truly needs to challenge herself in the weight room may not get through.

NEW RULE #4 • Hard work includes lifting heavier weights

It’s not enough to progress from lifting the Barbie ’bells fifteen times to lifting them twenty times. It may be an accomplishment—that is, the result of purposeful and exhausting work—but it’s not going to make muscles bigger.Muscles grow for a variety of reasons, but the main one is strength. If you force them to get stronger, they will get bigger. If you start lifting 100 pounds five times, but train your body to lift 150 pounds five times, you’re going to end up with bigger muscles. But if you start off lifting 50 pounds ten times, and progress to lifting the same 50 pounds fifteen times, all you’ve done is increase the endurance of the muscles, which by itself will not make them bigger.

NEW RULE #5 • From time to time, you have to break some of the old rules

You’ll rarely see a woman lifting weights with bad form in a gym. And you’ll almost always see at least one man slinging iron around with technique so miserably wrong you want to dial 9 and 1 on your cell phone just to save time when the inevitable spine-buckling accident occurs.

In between the extremes, you’ll see lots of guys pushing themselves out to the edge of acceptable form to get an extra repetition in the...