So, you wanna be a fit chick, eh? If you’re ready to commit to building a strong, fit physique, you first need to have an understanding of the very basics. The internet is saturated with contradicting information—WTF DO YOU BELIEVE? Well, this guide will break down the fundamentals to help you get started to looking (and feeling) like a badass.
First things first, you’ll need to accomplish two things: lose excess body fat (not necessarily weight) while increasing muscle tone. Combining the two is the formula for a lean, athletic shape.
One without the other will not give you the desired result. By only losing excess body fat, you’ll be a smaller version of your current self and by only increasing muscle tone, you’ll be a larger (as in more muscular) version of your current self. The tools you’ll need to accomplish both are…*DRUM ROLL* diet and exercise!
Ahh, yes! The two cringe-worthy words: D-I-E-T and E-X-E-R-C-I-S-E. If you’re going to commit to this goal, you’ll need both. I’m sorry? But before the post-traumatic stress of seeing those two words kicks in, let me explain what I mean by diet—it’s not as bad as you think.
Calories are simply a way to measure the energy stored in food. Weight loss is just a matter of balancing the calories you burn, and the calories you take in:
Eat more calories than you burn and you’ll gain weight.
Eat fewer calories than you burn and you’ll lose weight.
Eat the same amount of calories as you burn and you’ll maintain your weight (maintenance calories)
To figure out how many calories you need to eat to lose fat, you’ll first need to calculate your maintenance calories. An easy way to do this is to multiply your body weight by 14–16.
- Multiply by 14 if your activity level is low (about 2–3 workouts per week or less)
- Multiply by 15 if your activity level is moderate (about 3–4 workouts per week)
- Multiply by 16 if your activity level is high (about 5+ workouts per week)
Be honest about your activity levels. The more you move, the more calories you’ll need.
Now that you have your maintenance calories, you need to do some subtraction. Subtracting around 15–25% from your maintenance calories is enough for fat loss to occur without going too low. If you are comfortable with less food intake and desire faster results, subtract from the higher side of the range. If you would like to consume more food and are comfortable with a slower steady approach, subtract from the lower side of the range.
So, why not just avoid calories like the plague to get really fast weight loss results? Sure, in the beginning, you might shed fat quickly. However, your body is a crazy efficient machine. Your maintenance calories will quickly adjust, dropping down lower to compensate. Eventually, you’ll stop losing weight, but you’ll probably still feel miserable. Plus, consuming such a small amount will not properly fuel your training sessions.
Remember, food is fuel for your body. Without it, your workouts will suffer, and you’ll feel like crap. This is about building a healthy, strong, and lean body.
Here is an example of how to calculate the caloric intake for fat loss:
Let’s say you weigh 125 pounds and are moderately active (3–4 workouts per week):
First, we’ll estimate maintenance calories by multiplying your body weight by 15, the multiplier for moderate activity level.
125 x 15 = 1,875
We’ll assume you’re comfortable with a moderate caloric deficit; we’ll subtract 20% of your calories from your daily maintenance.
20% of 1,875 (.20 x 1,875) = 375
And then we’ll subtract 375 from your maintenance calories of 1,875.
1,875 – 375 = 1,500.
Technically, weight loss is not WHAT you eat; it’s HOW MUCH you eat. Yes, if you were to eat only 1,500 calories worth of M&M’s, you would lose weight. Does this mean you should treat your body like a human garbage disposal? Absolutely not.
Let’s continue with this example above and say you require about 1,500 calories a day to lose one pound in a week:
1,500 calories from source A:
- Quarter pounder–417 calories
- Large fry–510 calories
- Oreo McFlurry–560 calories
1,500 calories from source B:
- Two medium-sized eggs–140 calories
- Whey protein shake–120 calories
- One cup of oatmeal–158 calories
- Two slices of whole grain bread–138 calories
- One large apple–116 calories
- Skinless chicken breast (4 oz)–124 calories
- One tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil–120 calories
- One cup of 1% fat cottage cheese–164 calories
- One cup of chopped broccoli–31 calories
- One medium sweet potato–100 calories
- 97% Lean turkey patty (4 oz)–150 calories
- Half of a medium avocado (about 75 grams)–140 calories
Whether those 1,500 calories come from source A or B, you will lose weight. But AGAIN, this is not a reason to treat your body like a garbage disposal. Calories from source A lack essential nutrients and will fail to properly fuel you for your workouts. Additionally, consuming healthful foods means larger portions for the same amount of calories.
It won’t hurt to include some treat foods too. This is actually beneficial because it makes your diet more enjoyable, making it easier to stick to.
If you want to keep your sanity while losing weight, try to consume mostly healthful, nutrient-dense foods, and include occasional treats to avoid feeling deprived.
Once you determine a rough estimate of how many calories you should consume to lose weight, you’ll need to track them to make sure you’re hitting that approximate number. Forget about pen and paper! Just download the free app MyFitnessPal. The app makes it easy to search and log any food you have eaten that day. Once you get some practice, tracking calories will be easy as pie—which you can also track.
The app will automatically count macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat, displaying what percentage of your diet is coming from each one. Once you become familiar and comfortable with calorie tracking, you can set targets and track macros too. The chart below is a good reference for where to start with macros. You can easily set up those goals in MyFitnessPal.Where should you get your foods from? No, you don’t have to live on a diet of oatmeal, broccoli, and chicken breast. You’re allowed any other food not listed, as long as you’re hitting your calories and macros.
Lean Protein Sources:
- Chicken breast
- Turkey breast
- Lean red meat (look for “loin” in the name)
- Fish and seafood (salmon, cod, shrimp, tuna)
- Egg and egg whites
- Low-fat dairy products (1% fat cottage cheese, low-fat Greek yogurt)
- Whey protein powder
- Casein protein powder
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Coconut oil
- Sunflower seeds
- Natural nut butter
- Fatty sources of fish (salmon)
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
Maybe you have a “trouble” area you’d really want to focus on—booty, thighs, hips, and stomach are usually the areas women want to target. If spot reducing were effective, I would do crunches ‘til the cows come home to achieve a perfectly chiseled six-pack.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. You have to reduce overall body fat. Genetics are a real bitch, and they determine the areas that shed the quickest or slowest.
It is important to consider body type when creating your program. If you have a significant amount of weight to lose (about 20+ pounds), your diet and training may need to be slightly more aggressive compared to a person who is already very lean.
Let’s be clear, weight training will not make you bulky. You’re not going to outgrow all your clothes and need a whole new wardrobe. At the very most, button-down shirts will feel slightly tighter in the lat and shoulder area, and your pants will fit larger in the waist and a little more snug in the glute and quad area.
If you look “bulky,” it usually means you’re eating more. Women’s bodies do not produce the testosterone levels required to grow bodybuilder-like muscles. Female bodybuilders don’t just roll out of bed one day after a few months of lifting and magically look like that. It takes years and years of hardcore dedication, usually accompanied with steroid use.As mentioned, you cannot spot remove fat. Therefore, a full-body training program is generally best. However, your training program can focus on a particular area or body part where you’d like to see more muscle. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of having a booty that is worthy of starring in a rap video. Your program would have an emphasis on training glutes—Check out the best exercises for growing a booty and a sample full-body workout here.
Compound exercises work more than one muscle group at once: squats, bench press, lunges, deadlifts, hip thrusts, shoulder press, push-ups, pull-ups, and rows. These types of exercises will be an effective way to stimulate muscle growth and burn fat and should make up the core of your program.
As a beginner, for optimal results, aim to work each body part about three times a week. Training on non-consecutive days is best. However, in a pinch, it’s completely okay to have a few back-to-back training days.
Performing a variety of rep ranges is optimal for muscle growth: Lower rep ranges (4–6), medium (8–12) to high reps (15–30). To incorporate all ranges in a full-body workout, start with a heavy lift, and then perform several lifts in the medium range, and then finish the last two or three lifts in high rep ranges. As a beginner, aim for three challenging sets. Don’t be afraid to lift heavy with lower reps!
When it comes to cardio, it’s quality, not quantity. By alternating short bursts of intense exercise (working at about 85% of your maximum heart rate) with a period of rest or lower intensity, you’re able to get an effective workout in 20 minutes or less.
Depending on your fitness level, a high-intensity period can last anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds while rest or low-intensity can last from 10 seconds to a few minutes. Example: 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off, repeat 8x.
Don’t limit yourself to the treadmill or elliptical. HIIT can be performed with a multitude of bodyweight exercises: burpees, mountain climbers, and box jumps. Remember never to compromise form.
If you’re training two to three times a week, start with two HIIT sessions per week. Your HIIT session should consist of about three to five sprint intervals, lasting about 10–30 seconds each. Eventually, you’ll be able to increase number or sprints, duration, and/or decrease rest times. Achieving a strong, fit body definitely takes a little hard work, dedication, and consistency. If not, everyone would be doing it. You have to be patient! Greatness does not happen over night. Many forget that SLOW PROGRESS IS STILL PROGRESS.
The most important thing is to have fun! Don’t think of exercise as punishment. It’s amazing what the human body is capable of doing. I promise, once you start noticing small changes, it’s pure motivation. Keep challenging and pushing yourself; the rewards are so worth it.