Split Squat your way to stronger glutes

You know that one thing that you changed about your fitness program that changed your whole life? Like you realised that veggies don’t totally suck and can actually be pretty yummy. Or that instead of doing abdomen crunches until you’re blue in the face, you found that strength training with good technique was a super intense ‘core’ workout? (and if you didn’t know that earlier, you do now :D)

For me, that game changer was Split Squats. Nine months of progression on this exercise and my legs stronger, I got more powerful when I sprinted, and I totally fit into my shorts better! Continue reading “Split Squat your way to stronger glutes”

The Strength Training Primer For Women You’ve Been Waiting For

This article was originally written and published for The Quad at http://thequad.in/article/strength-training-and-women/. Photos courtesy: Rahul Sadagopan for The Quad.

 

Strength training for women? This is a match that was always meant to happen!

Unfortunately the narrative of strong women lifting heavy weights hasn’t become mainstream in fitness culture yet. Which means that we women are subjected to a ton of half baked training ‘wisdom’ about what we can and cannot do in the gym.

And we have to deal with all those Cosmo articles featuring suspiciously sweat-free models, waving around 2 lb pink dumbbells (why are they always pink?!).

Before we go further, understand that as a woman who is interested in strength training, you are in the minority and you may be on the receiving end of remarks such as these (all from well-wishers, of course!)

Myth #1: Women should stick to lifting ‘lady weights’

Um, weights have no gender. And there’s no scientific proof citing lifting weights as a contraindication for women (as long as the woman in question is pain-free, and has no underlying conditions)

Myth #2: Lifting weights will make you bulky

Nopes. The women who want to look bulky put in years of effort to look the way they do. ‘Normal’ strength training will make you look lean, fit and strong.

Myth #3: Women should not lift weights while on their period. Pregnant / menopausal / older women should not lift weights.

Did you know that strength training is equivalent to chewing calcium pills? And pregnant, menopausal, elderly women are at high risk for bone related disorders. Strength training doesn’t just get your muscles stronger, it improves bone health too.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to,

What is strength training?

It is progressive overload intended to produce specific adaptations in the body. i.e. gradually lifting heavier and heavier weights over a period of time in order to get stronger / lose fat / run faster / jump higher, etc.

Strength training is not exclusive to say, the badass women you see on Instagram with muscles that put Schwarzenegger to shame, and lift the equivalent of a small house.

Strength training applies to all women – whether it helps you squat twice your bodyweight OR whether it helps you lift your child with ease, carry your suitcase around, and change water cans safely.

How do you begin strength training?

By the way, these guidelines apply to guys too. Because weights don’t care about your gender. They just want to be lifted!

My holy grail of strength training : Do few exercises and do them well.

The Internet is overflowing with pseudo experts and fitness celebrities trying to convince you to do the latest fancy looking move that’ll guarantee you drop 5 kilos in the next 20 minutes. Guess what though, fancy does not mean effective. And don’t trust anyone that promises a definite weight loss number!

Whether your goal is to get fitter, stronger or to just look better, there are certain exercises that are brutally effective. So if you can only do 5 movements in your strength training program, pick ones from this list.

5 Moves To Get You Started today

What exercises can you do?

  1. Squat: Front/Back Squat, Split squat, Lunge
  2. Hinge: Deadlift, Kettlebell Swing, Clean, Snatch
  3. Push: Overhead Press, Bench Press, Plank, Push Up
  4. Pull: Band Pull, Bent-over Row, Pull Up
  5. Traverse: Run, Farmer carry, Crawl

And how do you put these together in a training programme?

There’s no blanket recommendation for how many days a week you should lift weights. This varies for each of us depending on our goals, stress levels, the amount of time we can invest, etc. And a big factor is how quickly we can recover from each session. The benefits you gain from lifting weights do not happen to you when you are actually lifting; they happen over a 24-48 hour window following your workout. But here’s the catch – if you do not rest enough in this window, these benefits are lost. So the quality and quantity of your sleep is an important thing to factor in when you’re figuring out how often you should work out.

Let’s consider the following scenario,

Person A :

  • Working professional, regularly works 12 hour days
  • Often goes through period of stress and struggles to get 6+ hours of sleep a day
  • Goal is general health and fat loss

Person B :

  • Professional athlete
  • Work stress is low, sleeps 10-12 hours a day
  • Goal is performance

Should both these women invest the same number of hours in strength training per week? Absolutely not!

Person A (i.e., you and I) cannot afford to train at the same intensity as a professional athlete. But we doesn’t need to train at the same intensity as an athlete to get the results we’re looking for. Remember, for an athlete, their performance is their livelihood so their lifestyles are built on training hard, eating well, and getting more than enough recovery and sleep. For you and I, we have to balance career, family, friends and other obligations. Our goal is not to win any competitions; it is to live healthier lives.

For most of us, two days of strength training – that involves full body movements – per week is adequate to keep us fit and strong. On top of this, we can invest another day in activity that gets us closer to our specific goals.

Here’s an example of a basic training week

Day 1 : Strength: Squat and Row

Day 2 : Strength: Hinge and Push

Pick a squat variation – like the barbell front squat or double KB front squat, or the simple goblet squat. Pick a hinge variation – the deadlift is the obvious and best answer. Add in the row and the overhead press, and you have a solid set of movements.

How many sets and reps? 4 sets of 8-12 reps is a good place to start.

These two days of strength training are the foundation of your program. If you have only two days to train, do this. Think of these as the ‘protein and vegetables’ of your meal. Without them, your meal would be incomplete. Similarly, without these two days, your training would be incomplete.

Now to add Day 3 – or condiments – to your meal.

Day 3 : If you want to focus on fat loss, a simple conditioning workout

* 25 minutes, as many rounds as possible. * Work as fast as you can while maintaining good technique

  • 8 burpees
  • 80m run

Day 3 : Or do a bit more strength work

25 minutes, as many rounds as you can. Work with as heavy a weight as you can for the Farmer Carry and Lunges, while maintaining good technique

  • 20 metre Farmer carry
  • 20 metre Weighted Lunges
  • 1 strong set – Plank / Push Up
  • 1 strong set – Hang / Pull Up

And a few more pointers to help you train safely

  • Value quality over quantity
    • Technique trumps everything else. When lifting weights – or doing any exercise in the gym – focus on maintaining good technique. This will keep you safe, and ensure the most benefit from whatever you do.
  • Warm up and stretches – don’t ignore these
    • Before you start your workout of the day, spend 10-15 minutes making sure your body is prepared for exertion. Similarly, after you put your body through a tough workout, take 10-15 minutes to calm down and relax your muscles. How to warm up and stretch is a different topic that I will cover in a different post 🙂

Strength training does not have to be intimidating or overwhelming. Start light, and work with weights that are well within your comfort zone. Over time you’ll naturally be able to lift heavier and do more.


So there you have it. My complete guide to strength training no matter where you are and what equipment you have access to. What are you waiting for? Get lifting 🙂

How much is enough: How Many Hours a Week Should I Exercise?

This article was originally written and published for The Quad at http://thequad.in/article/how-many-hours-a-week-should-i-exercise-for/
Photos courtesy: Rahul Sadagopan for The Quad
Pic courtesy: Rahul Sadagopan

Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could answer that question with one magic number? If you exercise for exactly 2.735 hours every week, you’ll get fitter, stronger AND develop the abs of a Greek God.

Unfortunately, there isn’t one right answer to that question. Like so many fitness related questions, the answer is – very annoyingly – ‘it depends’. 

It depends on things like,

  • Your training goals – are you looking to lose some fat, build strength and just get healthier overall? Or are you looking to become the next Serena Williams? The number of hours you should exercise for will change according to which one you picked.

  • Your sleep pattern – are you chronically sleep deprived and regularly picture trading a kidney in for an extra hour of sleep? Or do you get a peaceful 7-8 hours of sleep?

  • Time – is the gym your favourite place to hang out and do you bum around there for a couple of hours everyday or do you struggle to squeeze your workouts into your schedule?

Notice the pattern here? Basically, there is no one right answer, but there are many right answers. So, rather than look for that one perfect solution, you need to find your particular solution.

Most of us exercise because we want to be healthier, fitter, and fit into clothes that make us look good. We want our workouts to keep us refreshed through the day and help us sleep better at night. We want our exercise program to keep us feeling strong and pain-free. As a general rule,

Too little exercise

Not enough to produce any effect on the body

“Just right” amount of exercise

You get stronger and healthier!

Too much exercise

Your body shuts down because it can’t handle the load

So where does that leave us? Since I haven’t given you an easy answer to the question (and I am not going to either) here’s a checklist of points instead.

Can you answer YES to all these?

  • My workouts leave me feeling energised and very rarely exhausted

  • I do some form of strength training two times a week

    • I.e. performing exercises against an external resistance (weights, bands, etc.).

    • Full body movements like squats, deadlifts, presses and rows

  • I spend 45 minutes each week doing a fun activity that makes me feel good

    • I.e. playing a sport, or playing with your pets/kids, walking, cycling, Yoga

  • I can see gradual, continuous progress with my exercise program – I’ve gotten stronger and I feel fitter

Can you answer NO to all these?

  • Squats hurt my knees and deadlifts hurt my back. Wait, are you telling me that isn’t normal?!

  • I push hard at the gym every single day and beat myself up if I miss a workout

  • I rarely find time to exercise and this makes me frustrated, so I eat a ton of sugar instead

  • I’m told that lifting weights will make me bulky so I only do cardio

And your magic number is…

Pic courtesy: Rahul Sadagopan

If you answered YES to the first set of points and NO the second set, you’re doing a great job with your exercise program. Don’t stress about how many hours a week you spend exercising; keep doing what you’re doing and have fun with it!

If you didn’t get the right YESes and NOs or are new to training and have no idea where to start, start with 3 days a week. You’ll need to strength train 1-2 of those 3 days and work on simple endurance on the other days. From there, train or more or less frequently based on how you feel on a daily basis. If you feel strong and energetic during the day and calm and relaxed during the night, try adding in a 4th day of training and see how you feel. If you feel tired and exhausted during the day and have trouble sleeping at night, drop a day of training and see if you’re feeling better.


So, how many hours a week should you exercise for? I hope that I’ve inspired you to look for your perfect answer!

Fitness beyond Size Zero: 3 ways to focus on #gainz without aesthetics

 

I like to start with the good stuff, so let’s do that: as a society, it’s fantastic that we’ve gotten more conscious about health and fitness. We are slowly waking up to the fact that our sedentary-junk-foody-sleepless lifestyles (are fucking with our bodies)  may not be the most ideal way to survive (for a more classy way of putting it). We are building a culture that attaches value to investing time, effort, and money in getting fitter and healthier.

All of this is awesome, agreed. But there’s a darker side to this drive towards fitness:  our issues with body image.

Fitness and health have somehow (thank you, media!) gotten associated solely with looking a certain way – thin people are fit; overweight people are not. Not only is that is factually incorrect on many levels, it also drastically limits the definition of health and fitness.

Fitness is not a reflection of your weight on the scale. Your waist-size is not an indicator of overall health. So it’s totally worth your time to look at yourself as more than just what you see in the mirror.

To associate health and fitness solely with how thin a person looks is like judging a buffet based on the starters alone.  It’s reductionist, narrow-minded and misses the point entirely!

So in a culture that places a premium on aesthetics and looking a certain way, how do you break away? Continue reading “Fitness beyond Size Zero: 3 ways to focus on #gainz without aesthetics”

Periods and pumping iron: How to workout when you have menstrual disorders

Being a woman can really suck.

As if the patriarchy wasn’t frustrating enough, we also have to deal with periods. Ugh.

Incidents of endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, dysmenorrhea and other other menstrual disorders are steadily on the rise. And it’s time we talked about them.

You workout regularly, you eat right, you’re feeling great! And then it starts.

The PMS, the cramps, the fatigue, and the emotional upheaval. By the time your period has passed and the symptoms are gone, you feel like you’re starting from square one when you walk back into the gym.

So how do you deal when that happens?

Continue reading “Periods and pumping iron: How to workout when you have menstrual disorders”

Are you doing these basic exercises wrong?

You don’t need the newest equipment, or the latest fitness fad to see results. And while I’m at it, you don’t need to squat on a stability ball to get stronger at the squat. In fact, for most of us, the best way to get stronger using a stability/bosu ball is to pick it up and throw it out the window as far you can. Shiny new objects are fun to play with now and then, but what gets you sustainable results is doing a few exercises, and doing them well.

Continue reading “Are you doing these basic exercises wrong?”

Six things your body needs more than a Six pack

Yes, I get it. Six packs are hot and you want one.

But before you choke on your grilled skinless chicken breast trying the latest “6 weeks to a six pack” program that some pseudo-professional posted on their Instagram page, let’s take a step back and understand what a six pack is. And whether the grind to get one is worth it (but that’s for you to decide, after reading this).

Continue reading “Six things your body needs more than a Six pack”

Detox these common workout habits

If you came here looking for the latest faddy detox diet or juice cleanse that promises to burn fat, cleanse your aura, and give you the glowing complexion of a baby’s bottom… you’re in the wrong place.

Fun fact #1 – Detox diets are scams. You don’t need a juice cleanse.

Fun fact #2 – Toxins are not just things that you eat or drink. Toxins can be habits that mess with your progress. So detoxing goes beyond drinking lemon-honey-ginger-unicorn-feather concoctions and praying for miracles. 

And the only kind of detox you actually need : are these workout habits wrecking with your progress?

Continue reading “Detox these common workout habits”

“But warm-ups are boring”: why you should do them anyway, and how you can make them more fun

Admit it. Skipping or slacking off warm-ups is something we all do. It may because we find them boring, think we’re rushed for time, or don’t know how to warm-up.

I’m going to skip the part where I list out many compelling reasons why you should warm-up, and you nod along in agreement, and still skip your warm-up anyway. (A Google search will suffice if you are really interested). What you do need to know is,

A good warm-up helps your body perform better in your workout, and prevents the risk of workout related injuries.

Continue reading ““But warm-ups are boring”: why you should do them anyway, and how you can make them more fun”

4 steps to a stronger Kettlebell Press

Single-arm Kettlebell press FTW!

The kettlebell Press is arguably one of the most shoulder friendly pressing variations there is.

For fitness professionals / movement geeks : “It involves the coordinated action of the serratus anterior and the middle trapezius muscles, which together lead to the proper rotational action of the shoulder blades.”

For regular folks : “it lets your shoulder do its thing.”

Continue reading “4 steps to a stronger Kettlebell Press”