*To kick-off our new Saturday Interview series where I interview inspiring experts, I have recruited the help of one of the top fitness models and trainers in the industry… Kellie Davis.
One of the questions I get asked most often by women is… “Todd, I want to lose fat and get lean, what should I do?”
After I cover the importance of nutrition for fat loss (1. Treat processed carbs as if they were the Devil 2. Consume one-ingredient foods and 3. Eat primarily nutrient-dense, caloricly light foods) I usually tell them something that they don’t want to hear…
Strength train if you want to get LEANER.
“What?! Todd, no you didn’t hear me correctly. I want to get leaner not get big and bulky.”
Yes, my sweet adrenalina. Strength training WILL help you get leaner and you should have NO FEAR of getting big and bulky like your boy friend does after stackin the weights.
This article is a shout out for all you women out there that desire a beautiful, strong body but don’t know how to get it. You may have tried endurance exercise like running or biking and have not seen the results you were looking for.
Yes, Strong is the new Sexy. And it doesn’t mean that you will have heaping biceps or a v-back that would make a Silverback jealous. You can strength train “like a man” but have a body like the goddess Aphrodite
1. Let’s start off with a little background. How has your fitness journey progressed over the years? Where did you start and where are you now?
Growing up, I was always a busy kid. I played outside from sun up to sun down, joined sports at a young age, and had my first gym membership at age 14. I was an avid exerciser until my first pregnancy, when I felt too tired and sick to workout. I kept up with cardio during my pregnancy, but after my daughter was born, I was reluctant to return to the gym.
I am an all or nothing type. I felt really uncomfortable in the gym because I wasn’t in as good of shape as I was prior to my pregnancy. As time went by, I would join the gym on and off, but never really go consistently. Two years later I became pregnant with my son and I had stopped going altogether.
I packed on a good amount of weight during my pregnancy, weighing 170 by the time I entered the hospital—up 50 pounds from pre-pregnancy weight. After I had my son, I felt hopeless. I thought that I was stuck with that body and gave up ever trying to get back in shape.
When he was two I’d had enough of feeling out of shape. My self-esteem was at an all time low and I figured I was the only one who could do anything about it. I joined the YMCA and started taking classes. I went consistently, making it through about 20 minutes at first and finally getting through the whole class. Soon I was standing at the front of the room, when previously I cowered in the back so I could slip out early.
After a few months of taking classes, I ventured back onto the gym floor for the first time in about 5 years. Slowly over time I grew stronger and lost the extra weight I’d gained from my pregnancy.
This eventually led me to another goal: competing. I’d always admired competitors growing up and finally had the guts to get on stage. I chased that goal, the goal of looking like a competitor, and soon I found myself worn down and undernourished. I was doing what the industry taught women (and even men) to do: training for hours and hours, eating low calories, and obsessing about my looks.
I got on stage for the first time weighing 117 pounds. I hadn’t weighed that since 10th grade. I felt terrible. I had low energy. My skin was a mess, and I was moody—okay, I was a plain b***h. I was going after the wrong vision. I wanted to be healthy and have energy to play with my kids. I knew that I was going down the wrong path.
So I switched gears and started looking more into strength training rather than bodybuilding. I read a ton about lifting, sports nutrition, and started investing a good deal of time getting to know these fields.
I competed again a few times, but with each show I focused more on getting stronger and improving my health rather than looking good for stage. I began to understand that it’s about feeling amazing, and the physique is just the reward for hard work.
I don’t compete any longer, but I still spend my weeks lifting heavy, taking my dog for runs, and riding bikes with my kids. I’m always active and it’s more like a lifestyle habit than a means to a goal.
Phew, that was a long answer.
2. What is the major hurdle that women have when it comes to strength training?
Even though things have changed tremendously in the past decade, it’s still very intimidating for a woman to enter the weight room. Speaking from experience, I felt so uncomfortable in that space of the gym when I was out of shape and new to resistance training.
I think it in part because weight rooms in most gyms are filled with men, and in part because we don’t inherently know how to structure weight lifting programs for us. We receive so much misinformation regarding resistance training that it may turn us off or send us headed in the wrong direction.
It’s hard to interpret the information or know exactly which pieces of information suit us best. My clientele is primarily women and I feel that for the most part it’s very hard for women to initially identify with the weightlifting culture.
That being said, there is a tremendous movement in the fitness world that is helping women succeed in the weight room. New online communities are forming, women who promote strength training have more of a presence in the media, and an entire culture is forming around the idea of growing strong and healthy.
So, those initial steps are always the largest hurdle to overcome. Knowing who to trust, where to begin, and how to move forward. I always tell my clients to do what they love and feels right to them. If you love the idea of lifting weights, then don’t let anything stand in your way.
It also helps to become immersed in a community that supports women in strength training. Whether it’s a local group, a small group of friends, an online community, or just you and a workout partner. The more support you have, the more likely you will be to stick with your goals.
3. Will women get bulky muscles if they strength train? Why or why not? What about the Arnold-like women I see in pictures?
There’s no definitive answer to this because it’s quite a complicated question. First, I’d like to address the idea of bulky. Like any other physical feature, bulky is such a subjective term. What’s one woman’s bulk is another woman’s beauty.
That being said, the tremendous health benefits of strength training are so crucial and so compelling, that I couldn’t imagine steering anyone away from weightlifting for the sheer fear of growing too much muscle.
I think that strength training has a place in every program regardless of the goals—health permitting. The determining factors of whether or not a woman can get bulky are largely based on genetics, how much body fat a woman carries, and the programming she uses and for how long she uses that particular program.
As far as women with bodybuilder physiques, that doesn’t happen overnight. Women who body build train for a substantial amount of time in a particular way to achieve those results. For the most part, a typical strength program greatly differs from a bodybuilder program. A quality strength program will be comprised primarily of compound exercises that utilize multiple joints, and also use large muscle groups—which is more metabolically taxing (using a lot more energy in a shorter amount of time).
Bodybuilding workouts generally consist of movements targeting individual muscle groups (though, technically isolating single muscles isn’t possible) and use rep ranges that are key for growing muscles larger. In other words, these women put a lot of attention to detail into those particular muscles to get them to grow that way—and do so over an extended period of time.
I think for the most part we all know what desired look we want to achieve. If ever we felt our muscles were growing too large, we would notice before things got out of hand. That sounds silly, but it’s true. If this were the case, then at that time the program used can be re-evaluated and adjusted to stop putting so much focus on whatever muscle group was growing too large.
For instance, many women experience quad dominance—where their quads grow large and tend to take over during lower body movements. If this were the case, a good trainer could look at her program and see how to adjust it so she focused more on her posterior chain and less on her quads—to create more balance in her strength and muscle mass.
I sort of beat around the bush with that answer, but I honestly believe that A) Strength training will not cause women to become overly muscular right away, B) Over time some women may experience an increase of muscle mass that is not desired due to program design, and C) bulkiness is subjective and should be determined by each individual woman.
4. What is your current workout routine (weights? cardio? bodyweight?)?
I have a home gym with a power rack, bumpers, kettlebells, bands, a Jungle Gym XT, and a few dumbbells. So I get to have fun! I typically do full body training sessions that consist of a glute dominant, hip dominant, quad dominant, upper push or pull, lower push or pull, and core exercise. I also throw in a glute accessory exercise, too.
Not all of my workouts have all of these exercises, but I attempt to get in between 4-8 exercises per workout for different rep ranges and set numbers. It all depends on what my focus is for that day, how much time I have, and what I did in my last workout.
I used to consistently work in progressive overload, but since my physique is where I want to it be I’ve been in a sort of maintenance mode for quite some time. Just trying to keep up my strength and keep my body on par.
For cardio, I run with my dog, ride bikes with my kids, do track drills, conditioning workouts, or whatever comes to mind. I don’t really structure cardio as I would rather it be fun and spontaneous than planned. Secretly I’m not a fan of it, so if I feel like I have to do it I dread it. But if I feel like I’m just getting out to have a good time, I don’t think about it as an actually cardio session.
A little brain trick, I guess.
5. What type of nutritional philosophy do you have?
I’ve practiced intuitive eating for a few years. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. I’ve really become in tune with my hunger, what my body needs, and how food makes me feel. I’m not always 100% in check and I do have those days where my eating is way off—but I can tell the next day and I get right back on track.
It took me a long, long time to associate my general well being and mood with what I put into my body. I battled a life-long sugar addiction, and kicked the habit about 3 years ago. I could not go a single day without eating something sweet, and sometimes that sweet thing was a box of cookies or a 1-lb bag of candy.
Now I learn to enjoy my treats, but also recognize that they are not a staple in my diet. They do not provide nourishment or sustain energy. They are just a little pleasure in life. I think it helps to recognize what your food does for your body, your energy, and your mood. We are so used to being on auto-pilot all the time that we forget everything we put into our body directly correlated with how our body functions.
Not to say that it’s a quick fix. I know food and dietary issues are so hard to get over. That’s why I always advocated taking small steps that eventually lead to big changes over time. Do one thing a week to improve your eating habits. That one thing tends to have a snowball effect—in the right direction.
6. If a beginner came to you and said, “I want to develop a body like yours.” What would be the exact steps you would tell them to follow.
I get so many emails that start with this sentence. In a sense, it makes me want to pull down all of my photos because I feel like I am making the wrong impression. But then I realize that it’s my calling to serve as a role model for women of all backgrounds.
My answer to this question always addresses the fact that I’m an individual and so are you. What results I achieve may not be the ones you achieve, but if you work hard and trust the process, you will see great changes.
The first step in all of this is to get in the right place mentally. Physical transformations are such mental process. If you hold onto this ideal of wanting to look like X actress or Y cover model, you tend to overburden yourself with unwarranted stress.
The most important part of your journey is to take care of yourself inside—mentally and spiritually. If anything about the process has you completely stressed out, then you tend to wreak havoc on your body, inhibiting your ability to create change from within.
So, let go of the perfect body concept and go for the perfect health concept. Think of it as a journey to a greater life. What is it that you truly want? What’s important to you and what you do you envision yourself being able to do?
Has your dream always been to fit in a size two dress or to have the energy to chase after your kids and grandkids? Do you really want to just look good in a bikini, or do you want to be able to take the stairs at work and not get winded?
You have to think about how exercise changes your entire life rather than just how it can change your body. Once you make that shift, the beautiful body is just a bonus.
7. Yoga and Pilates are normally considered the most effective ways to get lean. Would you agree or disagree with this? Why or why not?
I am never one to push aside any form of exercise. I think all exercise, if it’s safe, has a place in anyone’s fitness regime. Before I even advocate weight lifting, I always advocate doing what you know you will love. If you love yoga or pilates and it motivates you to get moving, then go for it!
However, I think that having more than one form of exercise in your pocket will really enhance your ability to achieve great results. They all can certainly serve as complements to each other. I have clients who love yoga and practice it daily, but they say the best results when they used it to enhance their strength programs—as more of a restorative form of exercise rather than a power exercise.
Both yoga and pilates have their value and limitations—just as strength training does. If you are looking for a transformation with your body, then I think you may find this form of exercise limited in many ways. Neither is known for hypertrophic effects, nor have either forms of exercise been show to promote fat loss over time.
8. Tell us a little about your new book Strong Curves!
Strong Curves released on April 2nd, and it’s such an exciting event in my life! I partnered with my good friend and former trainer, Bret Contreras, to create the ultimate resource for women’s fitness. We’ve gotten incredible feedback so far and we hope it becomes a centerpiece in many fitness programs.
The book really is more of a guide that an exercise program. We tackle tough topics like understanding how the glutes work, understand pelvic floor dysfunction and how to reduce it, and the how’s and why’s of hypertrophy. In addition, we offer a sensible nutrition guide, a detailed warm-up, four 12-week exercise programs complete with complete tutorials and colored photos, step-by-step guides, an exercise index detailing over 200 exercise, insight and stories from clients, and so much more.
As Bret says, it’s his Magnus Opus and I am so lucky to be a part of it. He’s really the expert in all of this. He’s spent the past 15 year decoding the glutes and coming up with the best system training for women. I served as his voice in the book and helped translate his incredible scientific mind into a timeless text. Oh, and I just happen to be on the cover and in all of the exercise tutorials.
Thanks so much for speaking with me. I appreciate your support and your effort to promote strong women!