Strength Trumps Conditioning for Body Improvements

Today I have a very exciting story to share! When Kristen, a Get Glutes member since day one, recently showed the forum her updated pics, my jaw dropped. I was blown away by her progress. I immediately asked her to write a guest blog for me so she could share her experiences and detail her journey. Kristen’s mental transformation has mirrored her physical transformation. I’m sure that many of my readers are frustrated with their lack of progress. So was Kristen. But she persisted and prevailed, and she learned to train smart, not just hard. So don’t give up! And Kristen, I’m damn proud of you!

2011 – The beginning of my fitness journey

I began my fitness journey in 2011 when I finished graduate school, weighing in at 162 lb and a size 12. I felt absolutely awful about my body. I had maintained the typical student diet of alcohol, processed foods and very little protein since 2004, and it showed. During my university life I dabbled in the gym, but it was mostly doing bicep curls with pink dumbbells and the 30 minutes on the elliptical. I was not consistent, I definitely did not eat to support my training, and I did not lift heavy. In April 2011 I started with a trainer at my local gym, lost a couple of pounds, but nothing drastic.

End of 2012 – Excessive cardio and carb restriction

Near the end of 2012 I discovered HIIT and began doing a combination of HIIT workouts, kettlebell workouts, spinning classes, Bikram yoga, and running 5 – 10 km 6 – 7 days a week. I was determined to lose weight/body fat and I would do multiple workouts a day and take 1 rest day a week maximum, which usually involved Bikram yoga, so I wasn’t really resting. This was total overkill and my body was hurting – I suffered from joint problems, ganglion cysts on my feet, nerve issues and constant numbness in my toes, sore wrists from an excess number of burpees – I was always in pain from exercise. At the same time I was eating extremely low carb and low fat (all whole foods, but just protein and ultra-low carb veggies) and binge-eating on crap on Saturday, and often Sunday too. I could easily put away 3000-4000 calories a day on the weekends since I felt so deprived during the week. It was like the weekend would arrive and I thought I’d never be able to eat again, so I would just eat ALL the food, and then shame myself for eating so much.

It was a mentally exhausting process and at the time I didn’t really understand that I was suffering from disordered eating and that this was drastically changing my relationship with food. Although I was binge-eating, I did lose weight during this time, but not many inches, so my clothing size didn’t change much and I didn’t look much different. I had lost a lot of muscle and my ass got really flat, and I was still “skinny-fat” despite working so hard doing a ton of exercise. I was frustrated and confused as to why these methods weren’t yielding the results I desired. In December 2012, I started reading about women lifting heavy weights, and I came across articles by Bret, about “advanced programming for glutes” – I dabbled in the prescribed exercises, but really didn’t have a clue what I was doing in terms of setting up a program.

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Jan 2013 – start of Get Glutes

In January 2013 I found Get Glutes through Marianne Kane. I joined when it launched and started the workouts to get in shape for my wedding in September, 2013. At this point, I weighed 132 lb and was a size 8-10.  I immediately fell in love with heavy lifting and increased my protein intake (I thought this was “eating to support my training”), although I still struggled with being afraid of carbs and fats. I continued to suffer from disordered eating patterns and was obsessed about what foods I couldn’t eat. Literally there were days when I would walk down the street and I remember hallucinating cheeseburgers for heads on people walking by. The deprivation during the week necessitated a binge day on Saturday, which while not as excessive as in the past, was not conducive to my fat loss goals or more importantly having a healthy relationship with food. I was always hangry and food-obsessed during the week, and shamed myself for being a glutton who couldn’t control her food intake on the weekend – I was not in a good place. I was also still clinging to my obsession with HIIT and excessive amounts of conditioning as I thought this was how to “tone” and lose fat, not to mention I felt very guilty about binge-eating and that I had to “work off” those calories. For the first 5-6 months on the Get Glutes program I didn’t see major strength or shape gains since I was still doing at least 30 minutes of HIIT before or after (often both) nearly every strength workout.

It was exhausting and my body was tired, but I was convinced that I needed to do this. Bret would always give me shit about it, but I really didn’t understand at this point that what I REALLY needed was just heavy lifting, more resting, and not trying to make up for binge calories with exercise, and that just not binge-eating in the first place was far easier. After many frequent big kicks by Bret, Kellie Davis and Marianne Kane, I dropped all conditioning work and maintained extreme consistency in the gym, getting 4 – 5 strength sessions in a week. To my complete surprise the magic started happening! (This is when I had to admit, that of course, The Glute Guy knows better than me). I quickly put 3 inches onto my butt, I got up to 3 x 225 x 10 my BBHT, did my first unassisted pull up with proper form, and I was gaining strength like a boss. I was losing dress sizes and bodyfat, although my weight was stable at 132 lb.

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October 2013 to April 2014

I slowly began to incorporate one conditioning finisher a week back into my training in October, 2013, after not doing any conditioning for nearly 5 months. I cleared it with Bret first, and he assured me he “trusted me now” as I had finally seen the benefits of prioritizing strength training. Now when I do conditioning, although infrequent, I do it right – keep it short (< 10 minutes) and keep it heavy (kettlebell swing ladders, barbell complexes). I also avoid anything that will make me overly sore and interfere with my next lifting session, unlike before when my goal was get as sore as possible.  Shortly after this time, with much encouragement from my friends on the Get Glutes forum, I decided to let go of my carb- and fat-phobia and started to eat like an athlete. I started tracking my calories and macros to make sure I was getting enough but not too much of the right foods to support my training. Eating this way restored my sanity and completely resolved my disordered eating – I no longer had the urge to binge since I was happy with my regular food – I stuck to 2 off plan meals each week, or one off plan meal and a bottle of wine with my husband.  Improving my macros also resulted in all sorts of gains in the gym – my BBHT was stuck at 3 x 10 x 225 for months prior, and it jumped to 3 x 10 x 255 and 3 x 3 x 315 out of nowhere. My deadlift hit 200 lbs. I finally got 4 unassisted pull ups for sets and did 12 singles.  Basically my strength increased across the board! I started losing more body fat, adding more muscle on my upper body and my ass started changing again. While the inches didn’t change on my glutes, their shape changed a lot during this time – they became much rounder and higher. My clothes were fitting looser everywhere, except in the butt, and I was now wearing a size 4, although I was still weighing in at 132 lb.  While I am closer to my “ideal”, what that means keeps changing for me, so it will be a never ending project of getting strong as hell and putting on more muscle. I look forward to this journey since I love training!

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What I’ve learned

My main focus now is building strength, and this definitely takes priority over conditioning. While I still add some accessory work (isolation work for upper body) a few times per week,  or a short conditioning finisher (< 10 minutes), I do not go overboard on either because if I do it will impact the compound movements in my next workout – I’ve tried the overboard approach and it fails. Every. Time.

I have learned to taper myself in the gym in order to ensure my next training session is a productive one, and to listen to my body when it needs to rest – why go for a workout when I’m really sore and tired if it’s just going to suck?  That’s not to say I don’t push it and train hard, because I do. I grunt sometimes and make faces, and they’d probably ring the lunk alarm on me for grunting too much if I trained at Planet Fitness. I still get sore, and I train if I’m a bit sore, but now I know the difference between slightly sore and able to train with good form vs. exhausted sore and needing rest. I know the value of being consistent with heavy lifting, the value of rest, and that my body requires both in order to build the muscle mass I desire.  I know now that if I beat the crap out of my body every session it won’t perform optimally and this will impact my strength and physique gains. I know that to perform well in the gym, utilize progressive overload and get stronger, and not to mention maintain a sane relationship with food, I need to feed my body well and not restrict entire macro groups.  I have learned too that like everyone, while I have my trouble spots, I also have things about my body that I love! Although my abs may never be 6-pack ripped, as this seems to be where I am genetically predisposed to hold on to fat, you could bounce a quarter off my ass and I can BBHT and BBGB more than any of the men at my gym.

So, with that, any ladies reading this who aren’t sure that heavy lifting is for you… well… heavy lifting is for everyone! Get Glutes style workouts will give you the body you only dreamed conditioning would give you – b/c conditioning won’t give you that coveted curvaceous, “toned” look, and it definitely won’t give you a sweet butt. You need muscle for that and you need to be strong.

30 Comments

  • Emily Steezy says:

    Great post Kirsten! You truly do kick ass (glutes)!
    And one of my goals in life is to set off the lunk alarm at PF. Maybe we should take a field trip there.

  • Barbara says:

    Well congratulations! This is like reading my own story, except that I still can’t drop the excessive cardio. I eventually will.
    Just one question, did you eat all your calories back or did you create a caloric deficit?

  • KN says:

    Awesome guest post Kristen! Thanks for sharing your inspiring transformation and all you have learned along the way

  • Cherie says:

    Such a GREAT POST Kirsten!! So many women can relate to this- and this type of training is a huge mindshift change for me, also. Great job inspiring women that lower body change can happen and be what they want, but maybe the method is different that what we have been conditioned to think! XO Cherie

  • kathy feige says:

    Great post Kristen.
    Very good read – i think your bod looks great in all the pictures!
    If my body were a little younger – i’d be trying to keep up with you. lol

  • Lola says:

    I’d like to see a typical workout?

    • Leeny says:

      Me, too!

    • Bret says:

      Lola (and Leeny), in Get Glutes we provide instructional vids where we go over the exercises but we also provide substitutions in case you don’t have access to certain equipment or in case you need an easier regression for the time being. We prescribe 3-4 full body strength workouts per week involving a couple of weighted compound lower body movements, a couple of compound upper body movements, and a couple of glute accessory or core movements. Each month is different, and we mix up the rep ranges and variations but try to stick with the basic movement patterns. An example workout would be something like 3 sets of 10 barbell hip thrusts, 2 sets of 8 dumbbell deficit Bulgarian split squats, 2 sets of 8 single leg RDLs with bracing, 2 sets of 10 dumbbell military press, 2 sets of 10 modified inverted rows, and 2 sets of 20 x-band walks. We also provide optional conditioning workouts each month. Hope that helps!

  • MIaay says:

    Inspirational-What a great post! Nice to see you kept your curves and achieved balance in your routine!

  • Erika says:

    Amazing Kristen, you rock!!! Thanks to you, other GG members and our coaches the program has done wonders for me. I truly believe that our coaches, Bret and Kelly really understand the female body and what most of us want. Not only I am shapiler, but I feel stronger, more confident and healthier. Oh, and my form is incredibly better and have not gone hurt once (knock on wood)!

  • Tara says:

    Kristen, your article is awesome! You look amazing! Congrats.

  • I love the personal transformation. That is where the true magic happens!

  • Isabella says:

    Amazing job girl! Thank you for sharing your journey :))

  • Teresa Garner says:

    Sign me up for the GetGlutes PF field trip! Love the blog post Kristen! You truly are a beautiful woman inside and out – and one who kicks bootay! You are such an inspiration to all your fellow GetGlutes sisters.

  • Marie says:

    Great post and great transformation and great strength achievements, Kristen!
    Your journey shows exactly that women need a paradigm shift when their goal is “toning”, let go the cardio emphasis and pick up serious weights 🙂

  • Roberta says:

    Great article. So inspirational! You did an awesome job Kristen and you look amazing. Well done! Thank you for sharing your story. You gave me hope!

  • Lucy says:

    Hi Bret,

    This is amazing result! I’m really at lost right now with my workout regimen. I do a lot of HIIT and some strength conditioning but really no rules apply. I have been peeking (reading on and off) about getGlutes and one thing that puts me off is I cannot afford to go to gym and another thing in my head is that I seem to think that I cannot do this (feeling intimidated) — I need guidance obviously as right now it feels like I’m totally all over the place. Should I get the book first? I live in Ireland (moved from US), I can order the books from US as I still have US address and will be forwarded on to me.

    Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Lucy

  • AWESOME story; very educational and inspirational!!! Your abs will be 6 pack if you want. Just do more bicycle crunches:) & Deactivate the hip flexors while doing other crunche! See it, believe it, achieve it. Despite never having a 6 pack even when I swam/ skated/ was very active as a kid. I now have abs that rival Bruce Lee.

  • Karim says:

    Great post! The fitness world is finaly comming around to what the bodybuilding and strength and conditioning camps having been saying all along , strength training should form the base of pretty much any program and your story serves as shining example of to that fact.

  • Kellie says:

    Love this post, Kristen! You embody everything GG is about. Thanks so much for sharing your story and inspiring other women to create positive changes for themselves. BTW, SUPER CUTE SUIT!!!

  • Stew Toal says:

    Had to share this on Facebook. I’ve told many people/clients to stop with the endless boring cardio and go lift some weights…

    Great work Bret and Kristen

  • This is exactly what I needed to read/see. I’ve recently been tempted to add a substantial amount of hiit cardio to my routine — to offset my insane sweet tooth. I’ve been doing Strong Curves for a couple of months and have seen the BEST GAINS… strength, definition, etc… OF MY LIFE. Hip thrust went from 40 lbs to 135 lbs in 2 months. Nuff said! LOL!
    However, my sweet tooth has been getting the best of me lately and I know it needs to stop. No insane cardio will be added. Healthy relationship with food and keep up my strength training and I’ll be good. Bookmarking this baby.

    Thanks for sharing your story Kirsten!!! Your body is bangin’!! So motivating!

  • Reilly Edwards says:

    I love this story! My wife is hung up on Tracey Anderson…I am going to share this story with her and finally throw that stupid DVD in the trash!

  • Bryony Eedy says:

    Thank you so much for posting this Kristen. I am exactly where you were at the moment, starving, bingeing and doing shed loads of circuit training and Bikram yoga to try and burn off the excess calories. I was marathon training too and have ended up getting a really nasty hamstring injury for my trouble. Have been trying to do some weights to build muscle and wondering why it’s not happening!
    I’m going to use your post as inspiration to change things and try and get some results.

  • Kristy says:

    Fantastic progress and I’ve felt your pain on the constant food merry-go-round! I’m trying to train for my first bikini comp at age 43 and it’s quite harder that I expected with my metabolism. This is all good info!

  • Sandee says:

    Awesome article! I’m wondering how you figured out how much you should be eating to correspond with your weight training? Not sure if I’m eating enough.

  • Matt Dragon says:

    Great article. I like your writing style and attitude. I think you should pursue more writing, your personality shines through.

    Hijack over

  • Joe says:

    Way to rock it Kristen! You look fantastic! I had one question: you frequently refer to “conditioning” and I wasn’t sure what kind of exercise that was– are you talking about Aerobics?

  • Jon says:

    Exactly! Lifting weights and placing a large part of your fitness focus there goes so much farther than running on a treadmill. I feel genuinely bad for the people who don’t know better and get discouraged from not getting results.

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