If you’re going to journal when stressed, keep your diary open on your work desk.
If you’re going to drink water before any emotional eating, keep your full glass near you.
If you’re going to take a short walk, keep your kicks near the door.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by picking overly complicated or burdensome activities.
#2) Place your Stress Response Menu somewhere visible.
Once you make your list, print it out and place it in your kitchen or pantry (or wherever you typically stress eat).
You could also write out a couple of your favorite activities and attach them to your refrigerator.
If it’s right in front of you, it’ll be harder to ignore (however, it’s okay to ignore it from time to time, as we aren’t striving for perfection).
Just please don’t write it and then stick the list in the junk drawer that opens to another dimension.
You never can find anything in that drawer.
#3)Track your usage of the Stress Response Menu.
This will help us in two ways:
First, by tracking your usage, you’ll start to feel better about using the SRM. You’ll see an accumulation of all the times you successfully deployed a stress response, helping you visualize the momentum you’re building.
Second, the data will help you understand your patterns of emotional eating. Maybe five deep breaths steered you away from ice cream but the large glass of water did not. You can then use this information to update and revise your response plan.
For the first point, Coach Justin has his clients keep a “Jar of Awesome.”
Every time they have a small win in the day, like taking five deep breaths instead of chugging soda, they place a marble or small token in a jar. After a while, the jar will have a decent amount of marbles or “small wins” in it.
This will then stand as a visual reminder of all the progress being made, proof of their ongoing wins.
How Common Is Stress Eating? (Lesson #3: Learning Self-Compassion)
The American Psychological Association has found that about a third of Americans respond to stress with food.
This research was done BEFORE the global pandemic.
If you find yourself binging in response to stress, know that you are not alone here.
Heck, both clients and NF Coaches turn to food and alcohol for comfort every now and again.
Personally, somewhat recently I mindlessly devoured an entire tub of Animal Crackers after a stressful week. It was only when the bag was gone did I understand what just happened.
So yep, many of us (even fitness “experts”) are prone to stress eating.
Now, don’t take this as a free pass to stress eat.
If the behavior goes against your goals, it’s something we want to work towards improving.
But there’s a reason they call it “comfort food.” Food can often be used to make us happier.
At the end of the day, we’re all emotional bags of meat on this floating hunk of space rock, and we’re doing the best we can.
Give yourself a bit of a break, my friend.
You’re here, you’re reading, and you’re trying. That’s great!
This will bring me to my last point with our handy guide:
Is It Okay to Stress Eat? (Next Steps)
There are times when food is the perfect response to stress.
It’s something Coach Justin mentions in his video.
“Stress eating” might be appropriate if:
After a long workday, a glass of wine with cheese helps you unwind.
To celebrate the coming of the weekend, you have an ice cream party on Friday night.
The week already seems long, and it just started, “Taco Tuesday” might help you survive until Friday.
The important thing here?
“We are making a choice.”
We are choosing to deal with stress or anxiety with food. By making it an intentional activity, we can remove the guilt around emotional eating.
Food can be fine as a reward, as long as it’s us controlling the behavior, and not the food itself.
In addition, if we can recognize the action (or plan for it), we can then adjust our calories before and after and not go off the rails.
If it seems like you aren’t quite there yet, start with your Emotional Eating Notes and your Stress Response Menu.
Even just the process of taking notes on specific episodes of stress eating may be enough to slow down the behavior.
Remember, no matter what happens:
You are not a bad person if you stress eat.
You are not a bad person if you forget to take notes.
You are not a bad person if you ignore your Stress Response Menu.
You are not a bad person (unless you’re a Death Eater, but come on, you know what side you’re on).
If you need any help along the way, we are here for you.
We have three specific paths to continue with Nerd Fitness:
#1) Our Online Coaching program: a coaching program for busy people to help them make better food choices, stay accountable, and get healthier, permanently.
As I said before, “stress eating” is the number one issue faced by our coaching clients, so we know exactly how to help recognize and address the habit.
You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you:
#2) If you want an exact blueprint for leveling up your nutrition, check out Nerd Fitness Journey! Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).
If you follow our Mindset missions, you’ll learn to de-stress while earning XP! Sah-weeeet.
Try your free trial right here:
#3) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.
Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our Rebel Starter Kit, which includes all of our “work out at home” guides, the Nerd Fitness Diet Cheat Sheet, and much more!
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The 15 mistakes you don’t want to make.
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Alright, I want to hear from you:
Have you been stress eating more over the last year?
Do you have any tips or tricks to interrupt the pattern?
If you don’t have time to run through the whole sequence, no problem!
Depending on how much time you have during the day, you can do your whole workout at once, or break up your training into four different sessions throughout the day (with each session being ONE of the exercises).
Here’s a sample day for your No-Equipment Workout:
Wake up, do 40 jumping jacks to warm up, and then do bodyweight squats.
At lunch, you grab your suitcase (if you’re at work, milk jug if you’re at home) and do inverted rows.
After work, you do another 50 jumping jacks and then do your push-ups.
After dinner, you do your planks while watching TV.
You could even split it up over two days if needed, but the goal would be to do it the whole sequence at once.
The main Angry Birds Workout article describes in detail Levels 1-6, but here’s Level 3 for you:
Once you’ve done the complete routine, you have my permission to whip out your phone and play the actual game!
The trick here is to couple your home workouts with adjustments to your nutrition.
We’re big believers that you can’t outrun your fork, so any successful weight loss plan will include a focus on building a healthy plate.
That will look something like this:
If you want some help on adjusting your nutrition, I’ve got two great resources for you:
The Nerd Fitness Guide to Healthy Eating. This massive resource will help you slowly adjust your nutrition, without forcing you to give up the food you love (yes, you can still eat pizza here and there). No more diets, instead we’ll work on building habits together.
Nerd Fitness Coaching. If you want to take it to the next level, one of our trained professionals can help you adjust your way of eating to help you reach your goals. No shame. No judgment. Just a like-minded nerd who will show you the way.
I have two resources to help you design your own no-equipment workout:
The 42 Best Bodyweight Exercises: This guide will teach you how to perform the best bodyweight exercises – no equipment required! Check it out if you are unfamiliar with any of the movements referenced in today’s guide.
However, as I mentioned in the intro, you’ll often hear that losing fat while gaining muscle is impossible. The argument goes that you should just focus on one or the other, because doing both at once is destined to fail.
Let’s explore this claim.
Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle at the Same Time (The Controversy)
To understand why losing fat while gaining muscle can be problematic, we need to explore both processes.
To gain muscle, your body needs to be in a caloric surplus. This surplus provides the energy your body requires to repair and build bigger muscles.
Given this, losing fat (caloric deficit) at the same time one is gaining muscle (caloric surplus) seems impossible.
However, if we go a few steps deeper into the science, it IS possible!
To appreciate the nuance here, let’s get into some specifics on losing fat and gaining muscle separately, and then we’ll combine them.
HOW DO YOU LOSE FAT?
There is a simple answer and a slightly less simple answer when it comes to losing body fat.
The simple answer: “consume fewer calories than you expend or burn.”
Eight words, and one or two of those could probably be thrown out.
When your body needs more calories than the amount you are eating, you are in a “caloric deficit.” Your body doesn’t have the calories it needs as fuel, so it’ll start breaking down parts of itself for its energy requirements.
By reducing your total fat on your body, OR increasing muscle mass, you’ll end up with a lower body fat percentage (it’s just a simple ratio of fat to everything else).
And lower body fat percentages are where “toned arms” and “6-pack abs” hang out.
We’ll discuss tips on keeping and growing your muscle while in a calorie deficit later in this guide. For now, remember you need fewer calories “in” compared to calories “out” for weight loss to occur, from either fat stores or muscle.
You may be asking, “Steve, what’s easier to do? Burn more calories or consume less?”
Numbers will help tell the story: though this is a gross oversimplification – let’s use the ‘widely accepted’ starting point of “3,500 calories equals roughly one pound of fat.”
If you want to lose one pound – or half a kilogram – of body fat in a week (a worthy, sustainable goal for some), you need to create a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day.
Your options to create this caloric deficit include:
Consuming 500 fewer calories
Burning 500 more calories
A combination of the two
Which is easier?
Here are both halves of that equation. 500 calories equals:
The number of calories found in a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew.
When it comes to maintaining a caloric deficit, it really comes down to diet.
It’s significantly more effective and time-efficient to consume 500 fewer calories than it is to burn 500 additional calories.
As Time magazine controversially pointed out – with tons of cited studies – “exercise alone won’t make you thin.” It’s too easy to add more calories in, and requires too much work to effectively influence “calories out.”
Here at Nerd Fitness, we are firm believers that 80-90% of the fat-loss equation comes down to diet (check out Rule # 4).
Here’s another idea we focus on: EAT MOSTLY UNPROCESSED FOOD.
Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts are all great examples.
These foods are very nutrient-dense and often low in calories compared to their processed counterparts. Which means you get filled up without overeating.
Have you ever seen the difference between 200 calories of broccoli and 200 calories of a bagel? WiseGEEK does a great job of displaying this, so we’ll borrow a couple of their photos.
200 calories of broccoli:
200 calories of a bagel:
That’s why REAL food is the answer to creating a sustainable caloric deficit.
Most people can eat an entire bagel, no problem. Plates of broccoli, with all of the fiber, are much tougher to overeat.
We lay it all out in our Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating. It’ll provide tips on how to gradually create habits that get you to a “REAL food” way of eating, including proper portion sizes, tips on batch cooking, and a cameo from Winnie the Pooh.
With all of this, we advise you to take it slow, so new habits of healthy eating become permanent.
Something you can do for the rest of your life.
It’s a strategy we work closely with our coaching clients on: small nutritional adjustments they feel comfortable making. It’s how some of them have been able to lose 50-100 pounds!
Let me explain again: what you eat will be 80%-90% of the equation for losing body fat.
The other 10-20%? Exercise.
Of course it’s exercise.
That’s a pretty good segue into…
HOW DO YOU GAIN MUSCLE?
If you want to build muscle, you’ll have to lift heavy things and ensure that your body has enough calories and protein to adapt by building more muscle.
I will always be on Team Strength Training. If you’re looking to build muscle, you’re gonna need to lift heavy things.
When you lift an object (or your own bodyweight) enough times, your muscles reach the point of failure. This causes your muscles to tear and breakdown.
When your muscle rebuilds itself following the workout, it’ll be bigger and stronger than before. Then you do it again.
As long as you are eating enough to rebuild your muscle, you’ll get stronger!
Not sure where to start on a Strength Training practice? No problem! You can download our free guide Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know when you join the Rebellion (our free community) below:
Download our comprehensive guide
Everything you need to know about getting strong.
Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
How to find the right gym and train properly in one.
Because your muscle needs to be rebuilt after exercise, the calories are gonna need to come from somewhere. I’ll talk a lot about proper diet in the next section (with a Harry Potter analogy), so I won’t spend too much time on it here.
Just know that eating the right quantity of foods will be a big part of gaining muscle.
Your body rebuilds itself while you sleep, so make sure you get plenty of rest each night. I’m talking 7-8+ hours. This will help ensure your body has the time it needs to grow stronger.
If you’re strength training and only getting 6 hours of sleep a night or less, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Go to bed!
That’s the short gist of how to build strength: challenge your muscles, eat well, and get some rest.
Let’s narrow in on our second point, “Eat a diet based on your goals.” It’ll become very important when balancing both losing body fat and gaining muscle.
To do that properly, grab your owl, and let’s chat about Hogwarts.
How to Lose Fat WHILE Gaining Muscle (The Science)
To answer the question of losing body fat and gaining muscle at the same time, I’d like to introduce an analogy from the world of Harry Potter.
Recall the “Sorting Hat:” The Sorting Hat’s job was to determine which of the four houses kids will call their home.
It’s almost like a traffic director: “Harry, you will go to Gryffindor! Draco, you will go to Slytherin!”
Your body operates on a VERY similar operation: every day it receives new calories (when you eat), and it needs to decide what to do with them!
You eat a chicken parm sub with fries and a 20-ounce soda. Your body then has to know where to route all those calories.
To keep things simple, it has three choices. It’ll sort those calories into one of three houses:
A. Burn for Fuel.
B. Rebuild Muscle.
C. Store as Fat.
Right now, when you eat food, your body sorts most of those calories into “Burn for Fuel.”
There’s a number of calories your body needs each day just existing: to keep your liver functioning, your heart pumping, your brain operating, to regulate your body temperature, and so on – it burns a good chunk of calories just keeping the lights on.
This is your “Basal Metabolic Rate” which you can calculate for yourself in our TDEE calculator.
There’s also “B. Rebuild as Muscle” and “C. Store as Fat,” which I devoted entire sections to above.
This is where the problems arise: When you overeat calories and your body doesn’t need anymore to fuel itself, it takes those extra calories and stores them as fat.
However, our goal is the OPPOSITE of this.
We want to keep the muscle we have (or grow it) while getting rid of the fat!
So let’s imagine a scenario where we pull all this together by strength training heavy AND reducing our caloric intake:
You strength train regularly, and your muscles break down and need to be rebuilt.
You don’t consume enough calories to both rebuild muscle and fuel itself. There’s not enough to go into the “Burn for Fuel” and “Rebuild Muscle” houses.
Does your body just shut down?
Your body has been preparing for this, by storing any excess calories over the years in the “Store as Fat” house.
This means your body can pull from “Store as Fat” to make sure all the work still gets done, including your daily functions as a human and rebuilding the muscle you tore apart.
Said another way:
If you have fat stores (and we all do), you do not need to be in a “caloric surplus” to rebuild muscle. The calories stored in your fat cells act as this required energy.
There is also evidence that muscle can even be grown while in a caloric deficit.
To recap: if you train heavy and eat a caloric deficit, your body will pull from its fat stores to both fuel itself and potentially also build muscle. This is a double whammy of AWESOME.
#3) Prioritize protein
Outside of being in a caloric deficit and lifting weights (or yourself), eating enough protein is one of the key components of both losing body fat and building muscle.
Protein is the number one nutrient for creating new tissue.
So when you cut out calories to create a caloric deficit, don’t cut them from protein sources.
Studies have shown that participants can gain muscle, even while in a caloric deficit, as long as they eat enough protein.
It’s important enough that I’ll say it again:
If you don’t want your body cannibalizing its muscles while you are in a caloric deficit, you need to eat plenty of protein.
How much protein?
As we point out in our Guide to Protein, roughly 1 gram for every pound of your weight, with an upper limit of 250 grams. Or two grams for every kilogram if you are on the metric system. This means:
If you weigh 300 pounds (136 kg), eat 250g of protein.
If you weigh 250 pounds (113 kg), eat 250g of protein.
If you weigh 200 pounds (91 kg), eat 200g of protein.
If you weigh 180 pounds (82 kg), eat 180g of protein.
The gist: don’t skip out on protein. It should be on your plate for every meal (we’ll show you exactly how much in the next section).
If these generalized recommendations stress you out, and you want to know exactly what to do, we can help!
I’ll remind you of Nerd Fitness Coaching, where we help clients lose body fat, gain muscle, and level up their lives. We provide tailored and specific recommendations based on your body and lifestyle, plus accountability and mindset changes to help ensure your new habits stick.
WHAT SHOULD I EAT TO LOSE FAT AND GAIN MUSCLE?
Remember, your eating strategy needs to include two points to lose fat while gaining muscle:
Sustain a caloric deficit.
Prioritize protein so you can build muscle even while in a deficit.
You may be thinking, “That’s all well and good Steve, but what’s that actually look like?”
Eventually, you’ll reach a status where there just isn’t enough fat on you to help with “Rebuild Muscle.” At this stage, you can no longer stay with a caloric deficit. You’ll need to flip to a slight “caloric surplus” to build more muscle.
Which means you’ll have to eat more.
It’s debatable when this will actually occur, and we are all different. Reaching 8% body fat for men and 16% body fat for women is a good place to start.
HOW TO TELL IF IT’S ALL WORKING (Continuing to Lose Fat While Gaining Muscle)
If you’re trying to improve something, it’s important to track it. This also holds true of body composition.
Most people do this by jumping on the scale. This can be “okay,” but it’s only going to tell part of the story.
If you’re building muscle while losing fat, the scale might not go down. You might even weigh more!
Despite weighing more, you could potentially have a better physique.
That’s why in addition to jumping on the scale, I would also encourage you to take progress photos.
Take front and side photos in your mirror, wearing underwear or a bathing suit. Each week, take new photos, and record the number on the scale under the same scenario. Two forms of tracking here allow us to get the full picture.
The scale sometimes lies!
If you eat for a caloric deficit, strength train, and prioritize protein, see what happens.
You may find yourself losing some fat and gaining muscle.
If not, track each category:
Data can help tell the story.
…I was thinking of detailed notes.
But an android would be helpful too.
Oftentimes if you’re not seeing desired results, notes and record-keeping can help point us in the direction to make adjustments.
What is Couch to 5K? Why is the Couch to 5K Plan so popular?
“Couch to 5K” is a free program that takes people from their couch to running a 5K race in 9 weeks.
5K is short for 5 kilometers, or 5,000 meters or 3.1 miles.
This running program was invented by Josh Clark of CoolRunning WAY back in the day.
It has since been co-opted and copied by every running blog out there, so we’re going to be referring to a generic “Couch to 5K” program when we talk about it.
(When people ask the question “How long does it take to complete Couch to 5K,” it really depends on which program they pick.
It might be 6 weeks, or 12 weeks, or 9 weeks. The original Couch to 5K plan created by Cooling Running took 9 weeks).
Here’s the Couch to 5K plan a nutshell:
The program utilizes an uber-popular concept called interval training – moving at different speeds throughout a running session – and lays out exactly what to do every day for 6-12 weeks after starting.
By varying your pacing, your body is forced to adapt to different speeds, and your heart and lungs have to adapt to various levels of strenuous activity (and get stronger/healthier as a consequence).
As a result, you actually burn more calories and get better prepared for a race than compared to just training at a constant speed.
So in completing Couch to 5K, you train and get to see yourself progress weekly, you get to finish a race and feel a sense of accomplishment, and you go home with a medal you can hang on your wall reminding you of the proud moment.
Plus, it might get you in shape!
Maybe…we’ll explore in just a moment.
If you are trying to get in shape, I’ll mention our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program. I know of no better way to transform yourself than through the help of an expert who knows exactly what to do. We’ve helped hundreds of people run their first 5K and helped others train for triathlons!
Does Couch to 5K actually work? Will I lose weight Doing Couch to 5K?
“Steve that’s all fine and good. But what do you REALLY think about running 5Ks and Couch to 5K?”
Okay, you got me. I got thoughts. I also got jokes (they’re bad).
Will the Couch to 5K program help you run a 5k? YES! If you actually stick with it for the entirety of the training program.
Will the Couch to 5K program help you lose weight? MAYBE.
Is Couch to 5K a program that will get you healthy permanently? MAYBE.
Will Couch to 5K make me sexy and look damn good in a bathing suit? MAYBE, but probably not.
Here’s the truth about Couch to 5K: It’s the same truth with popular programs like P90X or Insanity or any other structured workout program:
It totally works and will help you lose weight if you do two things:
MISTAKE #1: Couch to 5K totally doesn’t work and won’t help you lose weight if you do two things:
You actually complete the program, BUT
You don’t fix your diet.
As sexy as it is to think that just going for a run will help you lose weight, the data doesn’t back it up. In fact, as Time Magazine rightly pointed out years ago and got yelled at for telling the truth, exercise alone won’t make you lose weight.
This is Common Mistake #1: not fixing your nutrition if you’re running for weight loss!
If this were a movie, nutrition would be Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible and exercise is that funny sidekick who helps Tom. Let’s be real here, Tom is doing all of the heavy lifting to make that movie what it is.
Couch to 5K helps people run a 5K.
It’s not designed to help you lose weight or build a body you’re proud of. It’s also a temporary program that lasts a certain number of weeks until you run your 5K.
For Couch to 5K to be successful for you long term, and for it to help you lose weight, it needs to be the catalyst that causes you to build a consistent long-term habit of exercise and changes how you think about food.
“Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, don’t nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weight.”
In other words: “Everybody wants to be in shape, and look great, but nobody wants to put the work in to actually GET in shape and look great.”
And yup, getting in shape is tough; if it were easy we’d all look like Captain America and Wonder Woman.
Instead, 70% of America is overweight and 30+% are obese. Crap.
This brings me back to the most crucial question of this entire 5K process:
Do you even LIKE running?
The world is split into three groups:
People that like running and want to run.
People that don’t like running but eventually learn to love it.
People that don’t like running and will never like running.
Here’s that Ronnie Coleman quote, slightly adapted: “Everybody wants to have run a 5K, but many people don’t actually enjoy running.”
Running a 5K is a great achievement and a worthwhile fun goal, but it’s only one way of thousands to “get in shape.”
Many people feel like Andy Dwyer in Parks and Rec when they go running.
Some people love that feeling of anguish or pushing beyond the limits, and that’s awesome!
But for everybody else, they make Mistake #2: they force themselves to run even though they don’t like it!
So before you start Couch to 5K, think of it as a science experiment:
“I hypothesize that following Couch to 5K will help me run a 5K. I also hypothesize I’ll enjoy the process, enjoy how I feel after a run, enjoy running a 5k, and/or enjoy the achievement of having run a 5k.”
And that’s all this is: an experiment to see if running is the type of exercise you want to continue doing consistently for the next few years.
If 2 weeks into Couch to 5K you’re miserable and hate it: fantastic!
You just discovered that you hate running and are now free to NEVER RUN EVER AGAIN FOREVER. It doesn’t make you a failure.
It means your science experiment produced a result that you can now use to inform future exercise decisions.
Again, it doesn’t make you a failure.
It just means you found a type of exercise that doesn’t work for you.
If you discover you LOVE running and how it makes you feel: fantastic! You can now make running part of your regular exercise routine. Combine this with a good nutritional strategy, and you will build yourself a runner’s physique. And you’ve found something you can do for the rest of your life.
If you are running to prove something to yourself, because a friend is doing it, because you’re raising money for charity, or anything else: fantastic! Do Couch to 5K and then decide after if this is the strategy that you enjoy and want to stick with permanently.
Don’t make Mistake #2: If you’re ONLY doing this to lose weight and it’s making you miserable, quit. Don’t run. Ever.
Instead, pick an exercise you actually enjoy. But not because the exercise is going to help you lose weight – because doing an exercise you love is a constant reminder of “I’m making healthier choices, and thus I should probably eat healthier!”
If weight loss above all else is your goal, I’d recommend our Beginner Bodyweight routine you can do at home and combine it with our “Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating.” I can promise that if you read those strategies and start to implement them in your life, you’ll see results without ever having to set foot on a treadmill.
Phew! Okay, that covers “do you actually LIKE running?”
There’s another massive question you should be asking yourself before you start…
Are You Healthy Enough to Run a 5K?
Just because you WANT to run doesn’t mean you SHOULD necessarily start running just yet.
It could be a fast track to injury, disappointment, and misery!
Those are literally three of my least favorite things. The fourth being brunch.
Back to your health: are you physically ready to run?
If you’re at or close to your goal weight, then starting a running program is a good idea.
If you are obese or very overweight, I think (power) WALKING a 5K is a great goal for the immediate future.
However, I think Mistake #3 would be running a 5K before properly preparing your body for it!In fact, running prematurely without addressing your weight might cause damage to your joints and ligaments and cause you to backslide a whole bunch.
If you want any help getting in shape to run your 5K, we got you! We help men and women and self-aware robots with our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program. We offer nutritional guidance, professional accountability, and custom workouts!
How to Start the Couch to 5K Program
“Steve I’m in. I read all of that jazz above and I am ready to get started. Whether I’m walking or running, I want to start Couch to 5K!”
If you’re ready to do the Couch to 5K program, you can download the following which I believe is the Original Couch to 5K Program (they’ve made it quite tough to find!).
The reason it’s tough to find is they’re pushing people towards the official Couch to 5K App.
HOW TO FIND A 5K IN YOUR TOWN: Let me google that for you. Type “5K + [your town]”, and I bet there’s a 5k every weekend for the rest of the year coming up. The Couch to 5K app also lists local races for you.
Pick a race that looks fun that raises money for a good cause
Recruit a friend or two
Go for your first day of running!
It’s gonna suck, and you’re going to be fine. You’ll get better!
This is exactly what I did years ago when I dressed up like a Caveman with 20 of my friends and raised thousands of dollars for kids with cancer to go to summer camp!
How to Not Get Injured Training For a 5K
If you don’t learn how to run correctly, you’re doomed to develop an overuse injury and that’s going to negate the whole reason you started running in the first place!
This is Mistake #4: Crappy running form!
When you run, you’re putting hundreds of pounds of pressure on your joints and ligaments with each bounding step down the road.
This is then repeated thousands of times over the course of training and a race.
No wonder nearly every runner has tons of stories of injuries they’ve had to deal with. It can be a brutal activity that can wreak havoc even with good running mechanics.
With poor running mechanics, the results are compounded.
And not the GOOD kind of “compounded” like compound interest like you learned in 2nd grade with the story about starting with 1 penny a day and doubling it every day for 30 days.
The BAD kind of “compounded” like plantar fasciitis and stress fractures and sore IT bands and torn ligaments and crazy soreness all the time.
We don’t want that.
I’m going to get super granular into proper running technique in this section, so if you already have perfect running form, you can skip this section. But I’d still read it.
Yeah, you should probably read it.
Here are the “5 Steps to Not Sucking at Running a 5K,” thanks to my friend Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running:
1) Lean From Your Ankles
Lean from your ankles, and keep a straight line from your ankle, through your butt, and up to your head.
If you’re standing still with this slight forward lean, you should feel like you’re about to fall forward.
When you start running, gravity will help keep you progressing forward. A proper lean from the ankles keeps your body in alignment and loads your muscles properly and efficiently.
2) Increase Your Cadence
Cadence is your stride rate, or the number of steps you take per minute. It will probably seem weird at first, but you’re putting less stress on your legs with shorter foot strikes.
Your cadence should be at least 170-190 steps per minute when you’re running at an easy, conversational pace. It will probably increase once you start running faster—that’s normal.
“Steve, what the hell do I do with “170-190 steps per minute?”
Great question. Go to Spotify and look for 170-190BPM playlists, like these which I found here:
Not on Spotify? Cool. (But like, why?) To get a cadence, try running to Outkast’s “Hey Ya” and time your strides to match the beat. That’s the cadence you’re looking for:
Research has shown that increasing your cadence and taking more steps (around 180 per minute) provides many of the same benefits of barefoot running: less impact shock that goes up your legs, improved running economy (or your efficiency, which means you’ll run faster with less effort!), and a reduced chance of injury.
You’ll feel like you’re taking way more steps than normal – that means you probably had poor form before and now you’re fixing it!
If your legs get to the point where they’re going this fast, let me know:
3) Foot Strike at the Right Time
When your foot comes down and makes contact with the ground, it should be underneath your body, not in front of it.
Combined with a quick cadence and a slight forward lean from your ankles, you’ll be distributing impact shock evenly—and efficiently.
This aspect of running form is often skipped over by beginning runners.
Instead of focusing on where the foot is landing in relation to the rest of the body, they focus too much on running on their forefoot. If you don’t first land in the right place, a midfoot or forefoot strike will only do more damage.
As you’re running, a good mental cue is to think that you’re just “putting your foot down” in a straight line underneath your body.
There’s no reaching or stretching your leg out in front of you. Practicing this mental cue will have your leg touching down almost exactly underneath your center of mass, distributing your weight evenly and safely.
4) Land on Your Mid-Foot
While not as important as landing underneath your center of mass, becoming a mid-foot striker has a host of benefits.
It can help you avoid a lot of injuries by absorbing impact shock and preventing a severe heel striking running stride.
Heel-striking can’t be entirely blamed for injuries and labeled “bad.”
Even elite athletes heel strike when they run races! It’s not entirely bad— especially if you’re putting weight down on your foot just after you heel strike, instead of directly on the heel.
What you should focus on is having a higher cadence, landing underneath your body, and not aggressively heel striking.
Try to land with your foot flat on the ground, instead of with your toes angled upwards.
5) Symmetrical Arm Swing
Nobody wants to look at you running if you’re flailing your arms wildly all over the place like Elaine dancing from Seinfeld.
An ideal arm swing has your arm bent at about 90 degrees and a front-to-back swing (not side-to-side).
Imagine a pretend line that goes down your mid-line or center of your body. When you run, your hands should not cross over this imaginary line.
Cup your hands loosely together (no clenched fists!) and if you want to use your arms for momentum, pump your elbows, not your hands.
Once you incorporate these changes into your running form, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable and your injury risk is going to plummet.
For extra credit, learn to run softly and quietly. Foot stomping isn’t allowed and gets increasingly more difficult as you approach 180 steps per minute.
A few other things you want to keep in mind:
Keep a tall back, chest up. No slouching.
Look 30-50 meters in front of you – not head down looking at your toes.
Both are easy cues to keep an athletic posture and good running form.
Go back through and read this section a few more times. We know it’s a LOT to think about while running, but it is incredibly important. If you get a chance, have somebody film you running, and then watch your tape back to see how you’re doing.
I should note that we provide form checks to our coaching clients. Through our awesome app, you can record a video of your running form or exercise technique and send it right to your coach! That way you can know your running and training safely and correctly!
10 Tips and Tricks for Training for Your 5K
Although the Couch to 5K Program covers specifically how you should be training, it still leaves out quite a few important things (like technique, which I covered above!).
Once you’ve picked your 5K training program, here’s how to get yourself to ACTUALLY follow through on your training!
#1) Recruit an accountability partner. Have somebody that trains with you (or at least somebody you tell about your training), so that each day you can check in with each other.
Wanna be diabolical?
Give somebody else $100 of your money. And tell them you’ll check in with them after your training every day – if you don’t do your run, they’ll donate $50 of that money to a political cause you HATE.
While you’re building the habit of running, you need to make the pain of skipping your run greater than the pain of doing the run.
Do this enough times until you build up enough momentum and get hooked on that runners high so that you actually look forward to training.
#2) Warm-up before, stretch after. Don’t do static stretches before your runs. It’s not doing what you think it is. Instead, you’re going to warm up your muscles through active movement.
Do a dynamic warm-up before you run. Continue this by going for a light jog, high knees, and warming up your muscles through movement.
If you sign-up for our free weekly newsletter, I’ll send you a PDF of the workout so you can track your progress.
Grab Your Beginner Bodyweight Routine Worksheet. No Gym Required!
Complete this workout at home, no equipment required
Avoid the common mistakes everybody makes when doing bodyweight exercises
Learn how to finally get your first pull-up
#5) Don’t worry about your shoes when you start. Wear whatever shoes you have so that you can just get started building the habit immediately. If you START to love running, read our article on proper footwear and get yourself some better kicks.
The same is true for “running clothes.” Do not let this be a barrier to entry.
Start running first and make sure you like it before you go spending any hard-earned cash on stuff you’re not gonna use.
Oh, and as Coach Jim mentions in the video below, DON’T RUN IN BRAND NEW SHOES!
Trust us on this one.
#6) Sign up for your race as far in advance as possible. Use 20 seconds of courage if you need to, but commit to the race.
If you don’t sign up, you’re going to be much more likely to back out when life gets busy.
But if you pay for it ahead of time, and get other people to run with you, you’re going to be using positive peer pressure to follow through on your commitments.
#7) Your race time doesn’t matter! Who cares if you’re the last person to finish? Like the Rock taught us, it doesn’t matter.
What’s important is that you finish something that you started. That’s a huge accomplishment in itself.
#8) Start a running club or join one at work – the more people you surround yourself with that are doing the things you want to do, the better. Hang out with runners that are faster than you.
You’re the average of the 5 people you associate most with, so you might as well start associating with faster, healthy runners.
#9) Don’t have an in-person running community? That’s cool! Join the Scouts Guild in the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.
It’s the section of our community that does running, biking, swimming, and other distance-based activities!
#10) Hire a coach. Outside of having a group of friends or co-workers keeping you accountable, a coach who routinely checks in with you and your progress can be a godsend. We’ve helped tons of people build the habit of running!
What Do I do After the Couch to 5k?
You made it through the training, and you ran/walked your first 5K! I’m so proud of you.
So after successfully completing your first 5K, you may be wondering what you should do next. To run again or not…
Many new runners absolutely love the atmosphere at a race; the number pick- up, pre-race motivational speech, cheering crowds, and crossing that finish line.
Oh, and the post-race beer and meal is the best food and drink you’ve ever tasted.
So after the excitement settles down, you need to ask what you want to do next.
Your three options:
Run Faster: Sign up for another 5K, keep training, and try to beat your previous race time.
Run longer: Maybe you want to run a longer race like a 5 miler, a 10k, or go slay a bigger dragon, like half-marathons or marathons.
Pick a different activity: Going from Couch to 5K to Couch doesn’t help you at all. Temporary changes create temporary results.
Notice there wasn’t a 4th option, the option that usually everybody picks:
“Go back to sitting on the couch”
That’s Mistake #5: not having a plan to CONTINUE exercising after Couch to 5K!
As we say at Nerd Fitness: “Temporary changes create temporary results.”
So you have to do SOMETHING next, otherwise all that hard work and training will have been for naught!
Want help figuring out exactly where you should go from here? I got you!
Pick the option below that best aligns with your goals and timeline:
#2) We have a bunch of NF Coaching clients that are training for 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, and tough mudders. If you want step-by-step guidance on how to lose weight, eat better, and train for races, check out our killer 1-on-1 coaching program:
3) Check out these other sweet running resources:
To recap our guide on the Couch the 5K plan, these are the 5 Mistakes to avoid:
Running a 5K might be a good way to lose weight. It is entirely dependent on your nutrition. The same is true of literally ANY workout program. (Mistake #1: Not changing your nutrition)
Couch to 5K may or may not be a great program for you. It depends on how much you enjoy running, and what you are hoping to get out of the program. (Mistake #2: not actually enjoying running)
Make sure you are fit enough to endure the rigors of running! If you’re severely overweight, let’s get you in shape FIRST before we put stress on your knees and joints for thousands of running steps. (Mistake #3: Running before you’re ready)
Make sure your running technique is solid. It’ll save you years of pain and injury. (Mistake #4: Running with improper form)
Recruit a friend or find a way to stay accountable so you actually do the race!
Who cares about your race time! Just completing the race should be your goal.
Once you finish the race, decide if you want to keep running or if you are going to pick a different activity. (Mistake #5: Not having another goal after completing your 5K)
Okay, it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your experiences when it comes to training for a 5K, and if you enjoyed the process.
Have you DONE Couch to 5K? Did you stick with it?
What challenges did you run into along the way?
Share it in the comments below!
PS:I’ll leave you with a final reminder of our 1-on-1 Coaching Program. If you’re blown away by the fact that you don’t have to run to get in shape, but don’t know where else to begin, we got you.
So you’re having trouble working out consistently?
I get it.
Life is busy and hectic. You probably wear multiple hats in your life.
Hopefully, one of them is a pirate hat:
If you are having trouble exercising regularly, know that you aren’t alone.
Not being able to work out consistently is one of the top issues facing our clients in Nerd Fitness Coaching. Luckily, there are some tips and tricks that help them, which we’ll share with you right now too.
Here’s what we’ll cover today:
Let’s jump right in!
Step 1: Why You Miss Workouts
As I mention in the video above, it’s okay to stumble – everyone misses a workout now and again.
Your job might need you to stay late.
Maybe your spouse can’t pick up the kids today.
Or perhaps you just lost track of time while playing video games.
These things happen, so don’t freak out whenever you miss a workout.
“Wait, wait, wait Jim! I thought this article was about consistency – then you start off saying it’s OK to miss a workout?”
What I’m saying is to not beat yourself up over it. I’ll see people be so tough on themselves for one missed workout, that it spirals downward and then they’re doing NO workouts.
It’s unnecessary, and it’s not sustainable.
Here’s something I remind my clients: If being tough on yourself helped with workout consistency, it would’ve helped by now.
So first of all, forgive yourself.
Then, I share with them a saying we have here at Nerd Fitness:
“Never Two in a Row.”
As Rebel Leader Steve mentions in the video below, it means aim to not miss two workouts, back to back:
It’s a mantra you’ll hear throughout the Rebellion (our community!).
Here’s the justification: as I mentioned, missing one workout is nbd.
However, two workouts in a row could be the start of a trend. If you’re not careful, after a few missed workouts, you could just stop exercising altogether.
That’s the real danger.
So we aim to not allow the trend to start in the first place.
Takeaway: If you miss a workout, it’s fine. Just try not to miss the next one.
Step 2: Building a Workout Plan
Here’s a great quote from Benjamin Franklin:
If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.
When it comes to working out consistently, we need to define what “consistently” actually means.
As Coach Staci mentions in the video above, we want to focus on three key questions when programming our training:
What type of workout are you doing?
When do you plan on doing your training?
Where will this workout take place?
All three questions are important, but we’re going to focus on “when” right now.
Determining “when” you’ll train is easily the most important step for working out consistently.
That’s why I want you to place your workouts in your calendar!
Schedule your workout like it’s the most important meeting of the day!
(A reminder that you ARE important!)
That’s what I have my clients do in our 1-on-1 Coaching Program. It goes a long way to helping them stick to their workout schedule.
So if you plan on training first thing at 8am, have a calendar reminder go off at 7:50am.
It’ll make a difference. I promise.
What days should be workout days?
For that, I have a couple of resources to share with you:
How to Build Your Own Workout Routine. Our MASSIVE guide will teach you exactly how to create a training schedule, including what exercises to do and when to take rest days. If you want to get your hands dirty by building your own workout, this is the way to do it.
Nerd Fitness Journey. Our fun habit-building app will tell you exactly when to workout, with video tutorials for every exercise covered. No need to create a plan, just open up the app and check your missions for the day. Plus, you’ll build your very own superhero as you go, which is totally sweet. You can try it out for free right below:
Step 3: Why “All of Nothing” Hurts Workout Consistency
Another one of the best things you can do to improve your workout consistency: have a backup plan.
Let’s say a pipe bursts at your gym, and it’s closed for the next few days.
Does that mean you should stop working out until they resolve their plumbing emergency?
If you only listen to your favorite podcast when you run, eventually, you might start looking forward to running.
The same thing could happen with music. If you start to associate your favorite tunes with building up a sweat, one day you might actually enjoy building up a sweat.
Let’s say you only watch The Great British Bake Off while on your elliptical. If that’s the case, you’re going to start protecting your time exercising (“Don’t bother me now”).
Don’t overlook the power of coupling activities you enjoy with your workouts.
Step 5: How to Build Workout Accountability
Another strategy we can deploy when improving workout consistency: accountability and support.
There’s nothing quite like being accountable to another human being when it comes to exercising regularly.
There are a few ways we can create workout accountability:
#1) Tell Friends and Family
Share your goals with your loved ones, then let them know the times you’ll be working out.
This will help for a couple of reasons:
We’re more likely to follow through with action if we commit ourselves in front of others.
If we don’t show up for a workout, they may politely call us out on it.
#2) Join an Online Community
In the 21st century, it’s very easy to find a group of people who are on a similar mission.
If you want to exercise regularly, I’d wager you aren’t the only person on the internet working towards that goal.
So join a digital community! That way you can get in on some group accountability.
We regularly hold group challenges through our app, Nerd Fitness Journey. I’ve been told by countless Rebels that they’re more likely to get their training in if they know everyone else in the community is doing it too.
Heck, I did burpees in the snow because everyone in the Rebellion was doing a burpee challenge.
If you want to try out some of these experiences, you can sign-up for a free trial to our snazzy new app right here:
If you want some next-level accountability, I have to mention the ultimate power-up: hire a coach.
Step 1: It’s okay to stumble (Forgive yourself). Everyone I know misses a workout here or there. It’s nothing to feel shame over.
Step 2: Have a plan! Without scheduling your week’s workouts, how do you even know if you’re being consistent or not?
Step 3: Have a backup plan! (Lose the “all or nothing” mindset). If your first plan falls through, nbd. Just move onto the next one. “Some” workout is always better than “no” workout. Do the best you can.
Step 4: Make it fun. Your workout doesn’t need to be something you dread. If you like hiking, go hiking. If you like swimming, go swimming. Any movement is beneficial and should be encouraged. No one said you have to hate it.
Step 5: Find an accountability partner. Going alone is almost always harder. If you can find a friend or coach to team with, it will make working out consistently easier.
Step 6: Embrace “action” not “motivation.” If you have to wait around for motivation to start working out, you might be waiting for quite a while. You’ll become motivated after you act.
Step 7: Don’t find time, make time. Your schedule won’t magically free itself. Look at your calendar and start prioritizing.
The most important thing you can do now today: START!
Not tomorrow. Not next Monday.
If you don’t know what to do, look at the next free spot on your calendar. Then schedule a walk.
Then schedule it a couple of days later.
Then the following week.
BOOM! You just started a plan for working out consistently.
As always, if you need any help here, we gotcha.
Here are three ways that Nerd Fitness can help you exercise regularly:
#1) Our Online Coaching Program: a coaching program for busy people to help them make better food choices, stay accountable, and get healthier, permanently.
As I said, this is the ultimate way to build workout accountability. Not only will a NF Coach build your workout, but they’ll check in with you too to make sure you’re able to do it.
If you can’t?
No problem, they’ll work with you to create a new plan.
You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you. Just click on the image below for more details:
#2) If you want an exact roadmap for working out consistently, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app tells you exactly what days to exercise, what days to rest, and helps you track it all so you know if it’s working for you.
Try your free trial right here:
#3) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.
Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our Rebel Starter Kit, which includes all of our “work out at home” guides, our Strength Training 101 eBook, and much more!
Get your Nerd Fitness Starter Kit
The 15 mistakes you don’t want to make.
Full guide to the most effective diet and why it works.
Complete and track your first workout today, no gym required.
Alright, I want to hear from you now:
What’s your biggest issue with working out consistently?
What tips helped the most?
Are we missing any helpful suggestions for a beginner?
“If you want to gain weight, eat more calories than you burn regularly. Want to put on the right KIND of weight? Exercise and eat the right way too.”
Now, there’s plenty of nuance to this when comparing men and women:
Due to our natural hormones, it’s generally more difficult for people with typical female anatomy to gain muscle than people with typical male anatomy.
We have a lot of factors (such as hormonal birth control) that have been proven to make it even harder as well.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible!
It just means we have to work harder for it.
Ugh, I know.
Now, one thing I want to touch on quick: if you see a woman who is absolutely jacked and at an extremely low body fat percentage, I guarantee she has been working her butt off for a very long time with the goal of building muscle.
It’s not something that happens overnight, or by mistake.
In addition, some women with larger amounts of muscle mass choose to take steroids to help assist them in gaining muscle, because we simply don’t have the hormones naturally to get to that size.
So if you’d like to build muscle, but not as much as a professional bodybuilder – don’t worry, it’s not something that happens by accident.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about body fat and body types:
As we point out in that body fat percentage guide, we women can look very different at any weight depending on our body shape and how much muscle we have. It comes down to our own personal goals!
This guide is going to primarily focus on two things:
How to eat to gain weight and build muscle.
How to strength train to build muscle.
We’ve helped thousands of women with our online coaching program, many of whom are trying to gain weight and strength train for the first time in their lives.
Everybody is on their own journey, at their own pace, and everybody will end up with different results too!
Should Women Build Muscle? (7 Reasons Women Should Grow Muscle)
If it can be harder for women to gain muscle (compared to men), why go through the trouble?
I’m glad you asked!
Here are the top 7 reasons why women should strength train:
#1) When you’re stronger – everyday life is easier. No need to call for help to get that 50lb bag of dog food off the top shelf, or carrying an air conditioner unit up a flight of stairs. LIFE is easier when you’re stronger.
#2) Less injury risk – when you build strong muscles, you’re also building stronger bones, ligaments, and tendons, making you less prone to injury doing things you love (like playing in a quidditch league).
#3) Helps combat age-related muscle loss, allowing us to remain independent longer as we age:
#4) Muscle is harder to maintain, which means you need to eat more just to hold on to it.
#5) Reduce pain – having a strong body makes living easier on your joints, as well as allows you to hold a better posture, and reduce back / hip pain.
#6) Appearance – this is a personal preference! Some women like to have a lot of muscle, and some don’t. While you can’t spot reduce fat, you can choose to build more muscle in specific areas, changing your body shape. Growing up, I was an extreme pear shape, but due to strength training, I now have more of an hourglass shape.
#7) Live longer – want to spend more time on Earth? Strength training and growing muscle will help you do just that.
How to Eat to Gain Muscle as a Woman
As we said above, gaining weight comes down to thermodynamics and science.
Every day, we burn a certain number of calories just existing, which is called our BMR (basal metabolic rate). We then factor in our daily activity level, and get a number that is called our “total daily energy expenditure.” You can calculate yours below.
(Note: we have used The Mifflin-St Jeor Equation to create this calculator! ).
Since we want to gain weight, we want to take our TDEE and add 250 calories to it to get our daily goal. This should result in gaining about half a pound per week.
Now, although eating ANY EXTRA calories from any source will result in weight gain, our goal is to gain the RIGHT kind of weight, in a healthy way.
And thus, we’ll be focusing our efforts on a “healthy muscle building” strategy.
We could easily add more calories each day, and gain weight quicker, however, the slow method gives you the best chances at gaining mostly muscle, with minimal fat. The faster you try to gain weight, the higher the percentage that will likely be fat – so starting off at half a pound per week is a great place to start!
In addition to the number of calories we’ll be adding, we also want to pay attention to the type of foods we’re eating.
As we cover in our “Healthy Eating Guide,” we’re going to build muscle by consuming the three big macros in the correct quantities:
Protein: rebuilds muscle after you break it down.
Carbohydrates: provides your muscle with fuel and body with energy.
Fat: helps your bodily functions and can also be burned as fuel in the absence of carbs.
Let’s look at each of these individually:
PRIORITY #1: PROTEIN
Protein can come from any number of sources, including:
Fat is a macronutrient that can help you reach your calorie goals (in the right quantity), as fat can be high in calories. Plus, you can eat lots of it without feeling full. Helpful if you’re trying to put on weight.
Healthy fat can be found in foods like:
Science has recently come around on saturated fat too. Once completely vilified, but now considered okay for moderate consumption.
Saturated fats can come from things like:
Full fat dairy
Fatty cuts of meat
To help you gauge: a serving size of fat is roughly the size of your thumb!
For reference, this is a single serving of almonds (162 calories):
THIS is a serving of olive oil (119 calories):
As you can see, you can eat an extra 500 calories of “healthy fats” by eating lots of “heart-healthy” fats like nuts or adding more olive oil to your meals.
PRIORITY #4: VEGETABLES!
Last but not least, you need vegetables in your diet.
As you start to eat more food, your stomach, intestines, and other bodily functions will thank you for consuming more high-fiber vegetables!
A serving of veggies is about the size of your fist.
Here’s a quick, non-complete list of high-fiber veggies that can fill your plate:
Consume 1-1.5g per pound (2.2-3.3g per kg) of body weight in protein every day.
Consume the rest of your calories from foods composed of carbs and fats.
Always eat vegetables so that your body can actually PROCESS all this extra food. I like to aim for half of my plate of vegetables.
If you are not gaining weight, (and you’re hitting your protein goals), add more carbs and/or fats to your meal.
It really does come down to the following:
If you are not gaining weight fast enough, you’re not eating enough. Increase your portions of carbs and fats!
Whenever we work with coaching clients who struggle to build muscle, this is the area we target: adding more carbs and fats to each meal.
8 Strength Training Exercises For Women to Build Muscle
Years from now, you’ll look back and thank “Past You” for starting strength training today.
And don’t worry, I’m going to tell you exactly what to do so you can start strength training TODAY!
Here’s why strength training is so important: when you eat a caloric surplus (more calories than your body needs each day), the extra calories have to go somewhere.
If you don’t do any exercise, your body will choose to store the extra calories as fat for later.
However, when you strength train, your muscles are broken down. Then they’ll use the extra calories to rebuild themselves bigger and stronger over the next 48 hours!
“Staci that sounds great, but I’ve never strength trained before, and I don’t know what I’m doing…Halp!” You might be saying into your computer or phone.
Fear not! I’ll help. Strength training doesn’t need to be scary or overly complicated.
Simply put, “strength training” means two things:
#1) “Movement of any weight against “resistance” (including your body weight) – Doing ANY exercise that pushes your muscles outside of their comfort zone, forcing them to rebuild stronger to prepare for the next challenge.
Here’s what you need to know about strength training:
Strength training is one of the BEST things you can do for yourself.
Strength training will help you put on muscle while eating in a surplus.
While you can’t spot reduce fat, you can focus on building more muscle in specific areas, which can help you attain a specific look you’re going for.
If you don’t like the gym, you don’t need to go, ever. But I hope you do. Because that’s the easiest way to start training with weights.
Regardless of your fitness level, body fat percentage, strength level, or biological sex, you have every right to be in the free weights section in the gym, training with heavy weights, with everybody else. The people in the gym who are very strong with a lot of muscle started somewhere, too!
I used to be a CrossFit instructor, and my favorite thing about CrossFit was that it destigmatized barbell training and heavy lifting for many women.
In order for us to strength train and build muscle, we’re going to approach this intelligently.
We’re not going to pick up small dumbbells and do lots of reps.
We’re not going to sit down at various machines and scroll through our phones while doing leg curls.
Do our workouts quickly and get out of there. The workout should take no longer than 45-60 minutes.
This is how we efficiently build muscle in the minimum amount of time. What are the exercises that we’re going to target?
1) The Push-Up: The best exercise you could ever do for yourself when it comes to using your bodyweight for push muscles (your chest, shoulders, and triceps):
2) The Bodyweight Squat: This exercise serves a dual purpose: it is the foundation for building strength AND helps build proper mobility. If you are going to ever do barbell squats, you need to work on hitting proper depth with a bodyweight squat first!
3) The Inverted Bodyweight Row: Until you can get your first pull-up or chin-up, these exercises are GREAT to start building your pull-muscle strength (your back, biceps, and forearms).
7) The Barbell Bench Press. Lie on a bench, squeeze your shoulder blades to keep your back tight, and then lower a barbell until it almost touches your chest. Pause, and then press it back up towards the sky. Repeat! And get strong.
8) Barbell Overhead Press: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and lean back by pushing your hips forward. While keeping your entire body tight, press the bar overhead.
Once the bar passes your forehead, move your body back under the bar by driving your torso forward and back into a standing position. At the top of the lift shrug your shoulders slightly and lock your elbows.
These are some of the best compound exercises you can complete in order to build muscle. Want more muscle? Great! Get stronger at these movements!
One quick note: when I first started lifting, it took a while to build up the strength to be able to bench press or overhead press with the 45-lb bar. If your gym doesn’t have a lighter bar, dumbbells are a great option!
Your mission, should you choose to accept it:
Commit to trying ONE of these movements in the next week. Use 20 seconds of courage, recruit a friend who has lifted or trained before, and try your best.
I have three options for you next:
Select one of the muscle-building routines for women in the next section.
“Staci, that’s still too many choices! Can you just tell me what workout routine to follow?”
Okay fine! Here’s what I would do if I was you.
Still overwhelmed? Check out our coaching program. We get to learn your story, and then build a program and strategy around your goals that you CAN do.
10 Tips for Building Muscle as a Woman
I interviewed multiple other coaches on our team and asked for their best advice on how to build muscle as a woman.
Here’s what they said:
Susy (Coach, BS in Psychology, Certificate III & IV in Fitness, 5+ years of experience)
Tip #1: Food is your friend when you are looking to build muscle and get stronger – your body will need fuel, so you may need to eat more on the days that you work out!
Tip #2: Strength and muscle building requires structure to your workouts – you progress through getting better at specific movements, so make sure that you enjoy the style and structure of your workouts so that you can be as consistent as possible.
Tip #3: Your progress will always be fastest if you avoid injury, so correct form and listening to your body is super important. Your muscles will fatigue and feel sore, but joint pain and sharp, stabby pain means something isn’t moving quite right.
Kerry (Coach, NASM-CPT, 6+ years of experience)
Tip #4: Fall in love with the process. Getting stronger is a journey, one that is both rewarding and challenging. So no matter where you are starting from, take the time to celebrate each small step along the way towards a more badass version of yourself!
Christy (Coach, BS in Applied Health/Fitness, National Personal Training Institute Graduate, Precision Nutrition Certification, 6+ years of experience)
Tip #5: To get strong, you gotta lift weights. When lifting weights to get strong, you gotta be okay with testing your boundaries every now and then.
After exercising with your current weight, for the next training session…stop…and try a few reps with the next weight UP to test it out! It might surprise you how much more weight you can lift!
Here are some other tips to help you build muscle.
Tip #6: Boost your testosterone naturally: Consume enough saturated and monounsaturated fats, keep your sugar intake low, and make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D and Zinc.
These are items linked with boosting your testosterone naturally.
Speaking of testosterone – I know you may think of this as a “male” hormone, but it plays a huge part in women muscle building, fat loss, increase bone mass, and many other health-related issues(remember: estrogen is made from testosterone).
Men make about ten to fifteen times what we make naturally, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need it too.
Another way we can help our testosterone levels is to watch our cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a hormone that is promoted by stress and reduces free testosterone levels (in addition to signaling for your body to store fat).
Steve drinks two smoothies a day to reach his protein goals and you can check out our Guide to Protein Shakes for his personal recipe.
On the go with no blender? I like to keep protein powder with me in a small Ziploc bag – that way I can grab a bottle of water, rip off the corner of the Ziploc bag, and use that as a funnel to get the powder into the water bottle. Then, just replace the cap and shake and you’ve got a protein-filled snack!
Tip #9: Get more sleep! When you build muscle, your body is working overtime, burning extra calories. It’s going to need some time to recover. Remember, muscle is built when you rest, not when you actually lift.
Go to bed!
Tip #10: Start today!
Gaining muscle comes down to eating right and strength training. Let’s get you lifting today!