1

votes

Starting Exercise for Women

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created September 02, 2010 at 12:33 PM

32 year old female 5'3" 99lbs, no muscle tone. Full strict paleo pulled the fat off her but she struggles with 10lb weights, she fragile and pale. I got her to start adding Vitamin D to her diet, but feel she needs some resistance training

What exercises can she start with? If she were a weak guy I'd start with bodyweight basics, pushup, squat etc

Any women start from very weak and give me advice for her?

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on April 22, 2011
at 05:55 AM

What on earth is a "men's diet"? Hope you don't mean red meat, we have enough stereotypes to overcome about that one in certain social circles.

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 18, 2011
at 01:58 AM

This is brilliant Jae. I wish you were just a bit closer to me!

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on September 03, 2010
at 07:29 PM

Sure! I've made a lot of mistakes in the past year and I'm glad someone else can learn from them. =) For further encouragement: I have a client around your age who, less than a year ago, could not safely do more then 5 push-ups on her kitchen counter. Now she's banging out 10-15 reps on the ground (on her knees) and has a 180-lb deadlift. Be patient, avoid injury, and spend MORE time working on mobility than working on strength and conditioning. http://mobilitywod.blogspot.com/ is a great, free resource if you're looking for a place to start.

E3267155f6962f293583fc6a0b98793e

(1085)

on September 03, 2010
at 12:01 PM

Thank you for posting this. I am 59 and have been very sedentary for the past 17 years. Before that I was quite active, lifted weights, horseback riding, bucking bales, cleaning stalls etc. I would like to start some strength training again but just can't quite put together a routine. This definitely helps.

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on September 02, 2010
at 02:37 PM

PS I wouldn't do anything much different for very deconditioned men, although men tend to make faster progress on strength and slower progress on mobility.

1c4ada15ca0635582c77dbd9b1317dbf

(2614)

on September 02, 2010
at 01:03 PM

Your bodyweight basics plan sounds ideal. There are variations that make them easier (pushups with knees on the ground rather than feet) if she cannot do the full exercises.

Frontpage book

Get FREE instant access to our Paleo For Beginners Guide & 15 FREE Recipes!

11 Answers

best answer

10
77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on September 02, 2010
at 02:33 PM

I've got a small number of clients, mostly women over the age of 40. Some are pretty deconditioned when they start with me. Here's what I've learned through trial and error (mostly error).

  1. Come up with a conservative workout plan that you think she can handle, then do 25% of that. As I get more and more experienced, I always think "Okay, this time I have a reasonable estimate of what my new clients can handle" -- and yet I've had new clients DNF assessment workouts like 200m row, then 15-12-9 air squats and ring rows (not for time). Don't be afraid to scale back mid-workout, either.

  2. It doesn't matter if she can't handle 10-lb. weights. If you have access to 5-lb. weights, or even lighter, start with those. Unfortunately I only have dumbbells in 5-lb. increments, so if coordination is good, I like to move to barbells as soon as possible (so that we can make smaller jumps in weight). Do you have access to a training barbell in the 10 kg. (22 lb.) range? Fractional plates? Essential for training clients like this. If you don't have these, use a milk/water jug and fill it with water in varying increments.

  3. Beginning push-ups can be performed on a wall (blech), on a kitchen counter (not bad), or on a bar set up high on a rack or power cage (good for wrist alignment). I have a number of clients who could NOT do knee push-ups when they first started with me, so don't assume that knee push-ups are a good starting point for everyone.

  4. Start with a box squat (or "sit on a bench and stand up") rather than going for a full air squat in the beginning. I have multiple clients with orthopedic issues, and they are invariably unable to get into a good bottom position with weight on heels, lumbar curve maintained, knees tracking over toes, chest up, etc. They also tend to be very quad-dominant, so get their hams and glutes going with some box squats. Keep the knee way back and allow them to have a more horizontal torso. The key here is glute activation. They will be shocked that they can't keep themselves from plopping down on the bench, but after a few workouts, they get better and better.

  5. Start with a ton of basic mobility drills for a few sessions before she even does a "workout." Dutch Lowy's warmup is almost a workout in itself for very deconditioned people (and in fact there are movements in it that I won't allow my beginning clients to do, such as the jump-to-squat). Most people have TERRIBLE mobility and not starting here is downright irresponsible IMO. Glute bridges are key, Samson stretch also. External hip rotation drills are a must, if the client has trouble keeping her knees out on the box squat.

  6. A la Cressey, Robertson, Hartman, I've been having my clients do planks with a PVC pipe on their backs. Make sure they maintain 3 points of contact -- back of the head, upper back, hips. This develops core stability, which most people sorely lack, and teaches basic alignment. Start at 30s and work up to 120s. You'd be surprised how many people find this very difficult.

  7. A client like this doesn't need metcon. She needs to get to a point where she can do an air squat and knee push-ups. Then she needs to put some time under the bar until she can deadlift her bodyweight (and beyond). The trick is that clients think metcons are sexy and that barbell training is not. So throw her a metcon bone here and there and use the metcons to develop her strength. Short, low reps, "heavy" weights done with good form, medium intensity and probably not timed or scored for the first month or three.

  8. Most of my clients can do deadlifts of some sort, even if they cannot safely air squat. If barbell deadlifts are too complicated, pick up any object (e.g., a dumbbell standing on its end) with good DL form. Sometimes a sumo variant works better. With very deconditioned clients, I like to start light and have them DL every session, adding 10 lbs. per session for the first few, then 5 lbs. after that. Learning movement patterns and neuromuscular efficiency is half the battle.

  9. Ring rows are indispensable, for shoulder stabilization and tissue improvement, as well as basic strength development. I think I may be starting clients on band pull-ups too early, when we could have been making the ring rows more difficult by elevating the feet.

  10. Be patient. With some of my clients it takes several months before they can even progress to knee push-ups. But they generally report that they feel good, their joints feel better, they can open jars that they couldn't before, and eventually they come around to finding barbells sexy.

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on September 03, 2010
at 07:29 PM

Sure! I've made a lot of mistakes in the past year and I'm glad someone else can learn from them. =) For further encouragement: I have a client around your age who, less than a year ago, could not safely do more then 5 push-ups on her kitchen counter. Now she's banging out 10-15 reps on the ground (on her knees) and has a 180-lb deadlift. Be patient, avoid injury, and spend MORE time working on mobility than working on strength and conditioning. http://mobilitywod.blogspot.com/ is a great, free resource if you're looking for a place to start.

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on September 02, 2010
at 02:37 PM

PS I wouldn't do anything much different for very deconditioned men, although men tend to make faster progress on strength and slower progress on mobility.

E3267155f6962f293583fc6a0b98793e

(1085)

on September 03, 2010
at 12:01 PM

Thank you for posting this. I am 59 and have been very sedentary for the past 17 years. Before that I was quite active, lifted weights, horseback riding, bucking bales, cleaning stalls etc. I would like to start some strength training again but just can't quite put together a routine. This definitely helps.

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 18, 2011
at 01:58 AM

This is brilliant Jae. I wish you were just a bit closer to me!

3
2c3a4e438d71775f45e98d1334b4e8d4

(495)

on March 17, 2011
at 02:36 AM

Oh thank you. This is an issue that is almost never addressed in the paleo community.

I'm F, 32, 215lbs, and have never really been fit and am currently embarrassingly deconditioned. I cannot do knee push-ups yet, can't hold a plank for 10s, legs are a little better (can do about 70 air squats)... but yeah, it's pretty sad.

And I've been looking at "what paleos recommend" and trying to figure out how I can do Crossfit or P90X or Olympic weight training and not injure or kill myself. Um. Or maybe it's okay for me to "start where I'm at" and work my way up via resistance and mobility training. (A thousand thanks to Jae for his reply!)

Another option for deconditioned women who don't have a personal trainer who can figure out how to scale things waaaaay down to our range is Curves. For people who are fit, it's boring and not very challenging. For people like me, it's a very good way to improve condition with less risk of injury and humiliation than most other methods. A year of Curves can help a woman get enough conditioning to be able to graduate to a more mainstream workout method... and not feel like she's being talked down to the entire time.

That's the other important caveat... be kind to her. When you're on the far left of the bell curve, it's easy to believe it's hopeless, and that everyone is just going to give up on you. Knowing I can't even do "girl push-ups" is humiliating, frustrating, depressing... it makes the thought of going to a mainstream gym intimidating, terrifying, and hopeless. I sometimes wonder if someone like me should seek a physical therapist instead of a personal trainer. Because they're used to people who can't do things yet. And they know how to accept that, be encouraging, and help people work up to a basic level of ability.

3
D31a2a2d43191b15ca4a1c7ec7d03038

on September 04, 2010
at 12:02 AM

Stephen, using a rebounder (a mini-trampoline) is the best way to become stronger, overall. The health bounce, whereby one does not jump high enough for the feet to leave the mat, is used for those starting out, and for those who are recovering from illness.

The recommendations I've read are to start with jumping two or three minutes at a time, a few times a day, and build up.

Rebounding strengthens every cell. It is very low impact and greatly improves a person's strength and immune system. It improves circulation and oxygenation. The lists of benefits seem endless.

NASA uses rebounders for the astronauts to reacclimate to gravity.

Here is some info on rebounding. Most are sites that sell rebounders, but they each tell something a bit different about the benefits of rebounding:

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1422823/the_fountain_of_youth_discovered.html?cat=5

http://www.healthbounce.com/33ways.htm http://www.healingdaily.com/exercise/health-benefits-of-rebounding.htm

http://www.urbanrebounding.com/benefits.html http://www.healingdaily.com/exercise/rebounding-for-detoxification-and-health.htm

http://www.reboundforfitness.com/ http://www.cancerchoices.com/Rebounding.htm

I can't say enough good things about rebounding. It's been of tremendous benefit for me.

Also, if she has a safe place to walk, taking short strolls can be a great boon.

After she is stronger, Callanetics is a form of strength and flexibility training that tones the muscles and increases poise. I have been doing them for many years.

IMO, Callanetics and rebounding are perfect exercises for us women who would like to be stronger and look our best. Not all of us women are inclined to the hefty sort of exercises that receive so much attention on these boards. And not all women need to or wish to do the sorts of exercises men do. Men's diets don't work for us, why would their exercise programs? It is a grand thing to have choices about how to approach fitness.

Hope this helps some.

F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on April 22, 2011
at 05:55 AM

What on earth is a "men's diet"? Hope you don't mean red meat, we have enough stereotypes to overcome about that one in certain social circles.

1
388637efb09568e7c1e2527de2a8bfd5

on March 17, 2011
at 05:41 PM

This is what I've done to go from a fat, weak couch-potato to a stronger, more capable physique: I started with walking, swimming, sparring, and bodyweight. Of course, I started at over 300 pounds, so my bodyweight was hefty. I love walking/running (barefoot or otherwise) if you have FUN at it and if your area is scenic. Swimming is resistance as well as toning - I could do underwater handstands w/ pushups as my strength and lung capacity increased, pushups/situps on the steps or side of the pool, laps to fatigue, throwing my children as far and high as I could, etc. Hubby and I bare-hand spar several times a week. Boxing/wrestling can be great fun and the competition is incentive. I have added sports equipment and things like bands, a pullup bar, and kettlebells to my collection. I also stopped cutting corners and asking for help on things like housework, errands/shopping, rearranging furniture, etc. The more I do myself, the more capable I see I am, and the stronger I get physically.

1
Cfccbcf3450ac4919311ded8ef162d49

(2312)

on March 17, 2011
at 04:02 AM

Weak guy or weak girl - doesn't matter, you start them the same. Teach them how to move their body - bodyweight squats, lunges, deadlifts, modified push ups, inverted body rows, planks. Their body is the only weight they need until they master the basic movements.

0
Cc2a43461ec5b2b7ba5d55215ea0f068

on March 18, 2011
at 06:17 PM

Being female and having started back to exercise about three years ago, I'm going to suggest beginner Stott pilates. That's where I started. Pilates was developed by a German physician, Joseph Pilates, in WWI with the end goal of getting injured soldiers on the battlefield. The system now has multiple brand names with Stott being the one most in tune with physiology and anatomy as well as conditioning. There is quite a bit of resistance training when using reformers and cadillacs. Mat work is mostly about abs - and believe me it's not easy.

Most people here seem to be into resistance training, but this is a good alternative. It's another thing I'm not giving up.

0
24fcc21452ebe39c032be6801d6bbadd

(9812)

on March 17, 2011
at 08:18 PM

I like the Primal Blueprint Fitness free e-book from Mark's Daily Apple; good guidelines for getting started with foundational movements & progression.

0
9e2180e7bfd688eb52d4f0c536172024

(2004)

on March 17, 2011
at 05:20 PM

I like the 4-H Body recommendation for getting started: kettlebell swings, once or twice a week. That's it. Add reps and weight as strength increases. For a weak person, its very doable and a very, very small time and money commitment.

0
A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

on September 03, 2010
at 01:38 AM

I was a bit like that lady. I am much heavier, but I was very weak and out of shape. I started with 3 and 5Ibs dumbbells, and it was tough! I could do only a few push ups... Slowly, doing simple body weight and dumbbells exercises I got stronger, now I workout with 12Ibs, and I am quite proud of it :) I love how my arms look, and don't need much heavy weights. I do push ups now with legs higher, and still do a lot of body weight stuff, which challenge me really well.

0
090f2b8054d2201cd3a2fbc6bfb6932a

on September 02, 2010
at 01:43 PM

Great thoughts from Stefani. If I may add my 2 cents worth: seems to me that your trainee is eager but de conditioned so I'd say to start out with only the broadest, multijoint and bodyweight movements to begin conditioning her joints and muscles for whatever might come along down the road. In other words, work from the gross to the fine. A push, a pull, and a squat -- plus a tiny bit of road work -- would probably do it. I've been working with some people who cannot do even knee pushups, or at least, not more than one or two. So, I have them doing higher volume against a wall or a bar on a squat rack if in the gym or, if at home, a countertop. The pull movement is harder to train at home unless the person has a TRX, for example, (which is worth the investment). But, even here, working from near vertical pulls to slowly working her way down to more horizontal bodyweight rows (under a table, for instance) might be a thought for her. Squats would be just air squats for the first long while. Depending on her flexibility one might vary the width of the stance. However, here too, my focus would be on quality of movement and conditioning the joints and the entire core region. All offered with respect and IMHO Juan

0
C90eecdd76cf57a387095fa49de23807

(960)

on September 02, 2010
at 01:18 PM

I can honestly say I've never been 99 lbs. But I am close, and fit, and I do do resistance training. Yet the only semi-useful thought I have is this: why is starting as a weak woman different than starting as a weak male? We don't have as much testosterone as men, and therefore build muscle more slowly and must lift lighter weights, but other than that I don't see how our training should differ. Especially at the beginning, when we're not striving for any particular sort of perfection.

I would first assure that she's meeting her protein and caloric needs. 1 g protein/lb of lean body weight is a popular number these days. Lots of calories. And the occasional carb to restore glycogen stores. According to practically every trainer on the planet, if one wants to put on muscle, she needs to EAT. In any case, nothing is going to give her more energy to dominate said 'weakness' than fuel for her body.

Something else I might do is try to include some impact training. By "weak" do you mean simply that she has little muscle mass, or that she suffers from malnutrition? It is important to build bone density, especially in someone malnourished or who was possibly on a crash diet before. And impact exercises can help with that, along with a proper diet devoid of grains/carbs/etc.

And then, since this woman was the one to initiate resistance training, I would trust that she wants to dig deep and build muscle. If she has to start with lower level weights with high reps, accept that. Set a rep number--say--8 or 12 or even as high as 20--and have her use low level weights until she can lift them without too much struggle up to that rep level. Then have her step it up to higher level weights. I remember that I started weight training with 5 and 8 pound curls. And now I do 20 pound curls without any problems. If dumbbells are what she and you want to be doing, don't worry about the fact that 10 pounds is heavy for her. If the exercise she's doing is appropriately strenuous, she WILL see results. And she WILL progress up to and beyond ten pounds, so long as she is diligent and eating well.

And if you/she wants to start with body weight exercises, do so, but just simply. Do knee pushups and lunges of all sorts. I would check out Mark Sisson's new e-book, Primal Fitness, here, for recommendations on easy body weight exercises: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/primal-blueprint-fitness/

I also want to note that even when starting with 8 lb weights I began to see a difference in muscle size and tone almost immediately. Note, too, that I'm 105 lbs, 5'2, and certainly muscle-y. The effects are definitely within her reach. Good luck to you both.

Answer Question


Get FREE instant access to our
Paleo For Beginners Guide & 15 FREE Recipes!