Basic Program Question & Answer


Question: If women are younger, have access to a gym, and want more of a fitness look can they use the same program as for the middle-aged women, or can it be tweaked to provide maximum cosmetic effect for minimal time investment? Maybe not fitness competitor but approaching that look if that is even possible on a minimal program. A lot of this is out of personal interest. I'm naturally muscular so probably can get by on a minimal amount of weight training and spend the rest of my time on cardiovascular exercise.

The appropriateness of a fitness program will depend more upon an individual's fitness level and health more than chronological age. I understand what you are really asking though. The program I outlined is more of a general conditioning program intended to be used when little equipment is available.

Access to a gym may provide many benefits at any age. Many individuals may find too many distractions at home and consequently may end up not exercising regularly at home. Calisthenics work may force the exerciser to use resistances that are either too heavy or too light. The equipment found at a gym can be easier customize to the exerciser. There is more of a variety of exercise to choose from allowing for a program that is less boring and may provide stimulus for continued progress. Also see Restimulating Progress by Changing Exercises

On the other hand, other individuals find a fitness facility either to intimidating or consider the trip to to the facility too inconvenient, particularly if it is greater than 15 minutes away. In this case, exercising at home is certainly an advisable compromise.

Each case will have to be assessed to determine the most suitable program strategy. There will always be a compromise between what may be recommended and what the individual is willing to implement in their lifestyle. Also see Exercise & Sports Psychology Tidbits.

The process of toning involves restoring as much muscle as losing body fat. Since muscle is denser than fat, individuals who tone may not lose weight but appear slightly smaller and consequently more fit looking. Conversely, weight loss involves losing more fat than gaining muscle.

I believe it is more difficult to achieve the fit look without a combination of weight training, aerobic exercise, and a sound dietary modifications. Those that can achieve this look without implementing all three components are most likely already, or naturally not far from this idea body type.

I encourage choosing the least number of weight training exercises with the fewest number of sets particularly with the goal of toning or weight loss. With an abbreviated weight training program, more time can be spent performing aerobic exercise. The duration and frequency of aerobic exercise are important factors for fat loss.

Aerobic exercise will burn fat during exercise. Anaerobic exercise, like weight training, can continue to burn fat for hours after exercise. It seems the intensity of the anaerobics is the primary factor in sustained metabolism hours after exercise. The article you shared with me regarding HIIT was very informative an illustrated this concept. I have summarized the HIIT study on ExRx.net.

The combination of weight training and aerobics has found to be more effective in fat loss as compared to only performing weight training or aerobic exercise alone, even at the same caloric expenditure. See Resistance Weight Training With Endurance Training Improves Fat Loss.

It has also been theorized that a increase of muscle mass may enhance our ability to burn fat. Weight training exercises that utilize the greatest muscle mass has the most potential for fat loss through both an increased metabolism via anaerobic exercise and an increased muscle mass.

For individuals attempting to achieve fat loss for aesthetics, the intensity of weight training can be a double edge sword. When beginning an exercise program, muscle mass increases may out pace fat losses, resulting in a small initial weight gain. Significant fat loss requires a certain intensity, duration, and frequency that novice exercisers may not be able to achieve until they develop greater tolerance to exercise. If an exercise and nutrition program is not adequate for significant fat loss, a lighter weight with higher repetitions may be recommended to minimize any bulking effects, although less fat may be utilized for the hours following weight training. If an aerobic exercise and nutrition program is sufficient enough to lose fat, a moderate repetition range with a progressively heavier weight will accelerate fat loss with a toning effect. If a muscle group ever out paces fat loss, the bulking effect is often only temporary. For a toning effect, fat can be lost later when aerobic exercise can be significantly increased or the weight training exercise(s) for that particular muscle can be ceased altogether. The muscle can atrophy to a pre-exercise girth within months. Higher repetitions training may be later implemented and assessed.

Also see Toning with Weights. This question is also related to one of your following questions:


Q: A lot of women want the "long leg", "slim hip" look of fitness competitors and Miss American contestants, rather than the bodybuilder legs/hips. Their two favorites from what I've read are squats, and lunges. So my question is, how do you create the illusion of the slim butt, long leg look using a minimal training program, if that is possible? In my experience lunges do create the long-line effect better than squats. What about foot stance for squats if a narrow effect is what is wanted. What about front squats and hack squats in achieving this. What exactly is being done to achieve this look? Developing rectus femoris? Would it be better to include 2-3 sets for Quad/Glute and reduce exercises somewhere else?

Each individuals shape and proportions should be analyzed to determine a suitable program strategy. An exercise professional can help their client develop a realistic plan in accordance to the individuals potential. Certainly, it is not realistic for a Rosanne Donald type body to transform into a Calista Flockheart (Allie MacBeal) type body. Most high level beauty contestants tend to have a natural ectomorphic (slender) body type.

Squats seem to be a better muscle builder than lunges. Variations in foot placement will emphasis certain muscles but will not reduce fat in these specific areas. See Spot Reduction Myth. Placing the feet wider will emphasize the hip adductors. Placing the feet higher on a hack squat or a leg press will emphasis the glutes and deemphasis quadriceps. Front Squats will emphasis the quadriceps. Also see Squat Analysis.

Exercises for quadriceps and hamstrings can normalize hip and thigh proportions. The accentuated curve of the hamstrings and glute along with fat loss on and below the glute area can decrease the sharp angle of the glute-ham fold. Fat loss around the hip and inner thigh with restoration of quadriceps fullness will normalize lower body shape and proportions. Development of the glutes with a simultaneous fat loss on and below this area will lift and tighten this area. All of these improvements can accentuate the vertical lines of the lower body creating the illusion of longer legs.

Again if the muscle mass out passes the fat loss, the individual may not achieve the look they desire. Although, understand very few men and even fewer women can develop big muscles even if they wanted. The goal in this case is to lose enough fat to compensate for the slight increase of muscle mass restoration.

Some individuals may already have greater than normal muscle mass in particular areas from either genetics or training. This creates a dilemma since these large muscle groups (glutes, quads, and hamstrings) have the most potential of increasing the metabolism (as discussed above) yet further increases and muscle mass may not be conducive to ideal aesthetics. An alternative training program may be implemented if it is deemed the quads and/or the glutes are already over developed. An alternative training plan may also be use if the individual had experience greater than normal muscular hypertrophy from past training. Furthermore, it should be determined that no amount of fat loss will compensate for the potential increase of muscle in this specific area. In addition, it may be decided that significant fat loss is not likely because the individual is unwilling or unable to perform enough aerobic exercise or dietary modifications to lose adequate fat from these areas. Realize, though, the thighs and hips are commonly an area on women that it seems to get lean last.

A training modification may involve lighter weight with more repetitions although less fat may be burned for hours after weight training with this compromise in intensity. The burning sensation associated with high repetition training seems to be the primary deterrent for achieving higher intensities. Certainly, someone can adapt to the muscular endurance necessary for this high repetition training, but it still may be very challenging to train as intensely on a high repetition program even after this adaptation.

Another alternative is to simply eliminate an exercise that effects a muscle that you feel is already overdeveloped. This would be particularly true if an individual feels they have too much muscle mass in the calf area. In this case, calf exercises can be strategically omitted or discontinued later for a several reasons. Obviously, the muscle does not need to hypertrophy if it is too large, even if the exerciser may be only experience an 1/8" increase in circumference. Secondly, omitting the calves would not significantly compromise the weight training program's effect on increasing the metabolism since it is a relatively small muscle in comparison to other larger muscle groups like the glutes, quads, hams, back, and chest. Since most people do not store large amounts of fat on the lower legs, it may be more difficult to lose enough fat on the lower leg to compensate for even the smallest increase of muscle girth. As mentioned above, it most individual seem to get lean in the peripheral first although fat is lost throughout the body at different proportions. Some people may feel this initial muscularity in the lower leg is not the look the want. Alternately, other individual's may either desire this look, will not have the potential of achieving an over muscular look, or may in fact prefer the other benefits of direct calf work like enhanced lower leg strength and joint integrity..

You could perform an additional set on quads/glutes if you wish, just realize the first workout set will deliver 95-100% of the benefits. With adequate muscle mass. I believe you are fine in just performing more aerobics, although you will probably have to perform more aerobics or watch your diet more closely than if you where performing some sort of anaerobics.

An alternative training methods may include HIIT like the cycling protocol in the study you shared with me or sprinting on level ground or on stadium steps. Sprint swimming can be performed by may not adequately condition the lower body muscles.
Realize though most beginners do not yet have higher levels of muscular endurance required for HIIT training. Even the anaerobic group in the HIIT scientific study had a 5 week conditioning period. Incidentally, unlike the original study which implemented a passive recovery between sets, I would recommend an active recovery between sprints; cycle on level for about 4 minutes. This should hasten recovery between sprint bouts. Since cycling is fast and repetitive, it is not recommended to lock out; 5° bend. If the seat is to low, or to close to the pedals, you will experience greater muscular fatigue due to this mechanical disadvantage.

For those with higher levels of body fat, diet modifications will play a very important roll in creating leaner and longer looking legs. Fat loss around the thighs and hips is critical in normalizing proportion and complimenting vertical lines throughout the legs. See: The Attractive Body


Q: Is there anything wrong with changing exercises every workout. Eg, barbell press on Monday, and Dumbbell press on Wed or Thurs.

Certainly this strategy can be used if the individual feels it will improve their compliance to a program. If you change exercise every workout it does become difficult to determine how much weight should be used on each exercise, particularly on "progressive resistance" base program. This is even more true for a beginner who can potentially move up on reps or weight almost every workout. If too much weight is used, form may suffer and injury is more likely. If too little weight is used, the body does not have to adapt to a overload. It is very difficult to use the ideal resistance if you change your exercises every workout. Systematic increases of repetitions and resistance can easily by achieved by performing the same exercises for at least a few weeks, although it could be argued a beginner will make progress in strength, endurance, and restoration on muscular size no matter what they do as long as they are consistent. Also see Weight Training Log and Restimulating Progress by Changing Exercises


Q: Does Lying Side Hip Raises for the Hip Abductors have a cosmetic effect if you have done 1-2 exercises of the quad/glute exercises above? In other words, can it be deleted?

Both direct hip abductor and adductor work can be considered optional on a full body workout. Exercising these muscles will not melt away fat in the hip area as Susan Summers has suggested on her exercise commercials. As explained earlier, exercising these smaller muscles may not significantly increase the metabolism. The adductor muscles could be consider a moderately sized muscle but it can also be exercised during quad/glute exercises with a wider stance. The gluteus medius and minimus is only worked with hip abductor work. The tensor fasciae latae is exercise during standing hip abductor exercises but not during seated abductor movement. The tensor fasciae latae can be exercised on hip flexion movement like leg raises or sit-ups. I only recommend working direct hip adductor exercises on a full body workout when the individual engages in a sport that may benefit from lateral motion or when these muscles may be particularly weak. The gluteus medius and minimus are involved in hip stabilization during locomotion, particularly running. Hip abductor flexibility and strengthening exercises can help iliotibial band syndrome in distance runners.


Q: If you have access to a gym and want wider calves with more shape, then wouldn't seated calf raise for soleus would definitely be a priority to include in a minimal program?

I would only recommend including an extra calf exercise on a split program (also see answer to your related upper chest exercise question below). On calf exercises with the knee straight, both the gastrocnemius and the soleous will be exercised equally. The gastrocnemius crosses the knee where as the soleus originates below the knee. With the knee flexed during as seated calf raise the soleus is indeed emphasized since the gastrocnemius becomes progressively in an unfavorable mechanical disadvantage (active insufficiency) as it approaches complete planter flexion.

Although the soleus can be seen at each side of the lower leg under the gastrocnemius. The soleus runs under the gastrocnemius and will contribute to both width and thickness as would the gastrocnemius. The width of the Soleus will be more distinguished just below the gastrocnemius where it attaches to the achilles tendon midway on the lower leg.


Q: Because most women want cleavage, wouldn't it be better to add incline press work as an essential exercise to include to target the upper pecs?

Basic chest exercises involve both the clavicular and sternal heads of the pectoralis major. This is particularly true for women who tend to have a shallower rib cage. Personally I would only include supplemental exercises like incline presses on a split program. Many beginners will already find it challenging to complete a single basic exercise for each body part on a full body workout (2-3 non-consecutive day per week). Some beginner's could consider a split program (push/pull) working out 4 days a week if they are highly motivated.

The utility (basic or auxiliary) of an exercise can be judged upon a couple of factors. Firstly, its ability to place a greater absolute or relative intensity on the muscles or muscle exercised. An exercise can be deemed an auxiliary movement if it targets a muscle that can be exercised on an alternative basic exercise that involves more muscles, or greater muscle mass. The utility of an exercise can also be determined upon it context. In a full body program, incline presses can be considered an auxiliary exercise. Alternately, in a split program, incline presses can be categorized as more of a basic exercise. Conversely, the exception could be a basic upper/lower body split. As with the seated calf raise question above, if too many exercises are executed in a single workout, the intensity of the workout can be compromised. In addition, longer workouts may be associated with lower program compliance and greater drop out rates. These beginning full body programs are for general conditioning. More advanced split programs can be used later after the exerciser's ability to recuperate between workouts is out paced by their increased capacity to push themselves more intensely.

Lower body fat composition accentuates the separations of the upper chest but may consequently decreases the girth of the breasts. Include a basic exercise for the general chest to maintain a degree of fullness throughout the entire chest. Also see answer to related question.


Q: My trapezius muscle easily gets overdeveloped giving me a thick-neck/round-shouldered look, yet I don't do shrugs or upright rows. Could my one set of lat-pulldowns be causing this?

When most people mention the trapezius they are commonly referring to the upper trapezius. I assume this is your problem area. Incidentally, the middle and lower trapezius rotate the scapula upward when the arm is raised as in the shoulder presses, upright rows, lateral and front raises. The Upper trapezius will act a stabilizer during these motions and other exercises that require holding a heavy weight. This may include exercises from any type of deadlift, Olympic type lift to even heavy arm curls. Pulldowns involve opposite muscles (levator scapulae, rhomboids, pectoralis minor) since the scapula downward rotates as the shoulder adducts or extends. It is possible the levator scapula beneath the trapezius can be developed from pulldowns.

If your shoulder width is narrow, you may attempt to further the develop the lateral deltoid within minimum stimulation of the upper trapezius. This may require you to perform side delt exercises like lying lateral raise and lever lateral raise. Front deltoid movements that involve minimal amount of upper trapezeus stabilization include cable front raises, triceps dips, or bench or chest press movements with the bar to the lower chest (Like powerlifter style bench presses with a slightly narrower grip and your elbows closer to the sides). Usually most get a sufficient front delt stimulation from basic chest work already so those movements would be optional or incidental.

If you have protracted shoulders you will need to strengthen the rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius and stretch the pectoralis minor and major.


Q: Is there anything wrong with behind the neck presses if what you want is to also develop the rear deltoids?

On a full body workout only one deltoid selection is necessary. A side deltoid selection is recommended since the front deltoid assists during chest exercises and the rear deltoid assist during general back exercises like rows.

The shoulder press, military press, and press behind the neck all target the anterior deltoids, although the assisting muscles may differ slightly on these exercises. The upper chest assists the front deltoid during the military press and shoulder presses with the torso positioned slight back or chest arched up. The side deltoid assists on the behind the neck press and shoulder presses with the torso positioned upright or marginally forward.

If you indeed do have protracted shoulders as mentioned above, combined with other biomechanical deficiencies you may have a higher than normal risk of shoulder injury during the behind the neck press. Also be cautious if you have shoulder external rotation inflexibility or have injured the shoulder in an overhead motion in the past. Also see deltoid exercises.


Q: What cosmetic effect does exercising the Hip Flexors have? Can this be deleted?

Hip flexor exercises may be omitted because they utilize a relatively small muscle group. Hip flexor exercises may also may be omitted if you have weak abdominals. To be on the safe side, I often encourage beginners to wait on direct hip flexor work until they can sufficiently strengthen the abdominal muscles.

Many people mistakenly buy into info commercials' idea of the lower abdominals. See lower abdominal myth. The major muscle involved in hip flexion is the iliopsoas which lies quite deep in the hip. Perhaps this is why there is confusion regarding the conjectured lower abs. Other hip flexor muscles are more superficial. The hip flexors are important in certain athletic movements that involve hip flexion like sprinting, jumping and kicking

Sit ups and Hip Raises are basic exercises that can be performed for more fit individuals for both the abdominals and hip flexors. Incidentally, direct obliques work is also optional since obliques are indirectly involved in abdominal exercises.


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