A man can learn a lot from observing women in a book club for five minutes. I would know because my wife is part of a one, and every time I spend a little time with those ladies I come away much wiser and more convinced that men and women could not be much more different—unless you’re talking about exercise.
You see, the exercise techniques that work best are universal to men and women. And yet most women wouldn’t dare approach the gym like a guy. How do I know? Because the 10 women at my wife’s book club told me so last night, and it’s the same thing I’ve heard for the last 10 years in the fitness industry. The reality is that training “like a man” will actually make you leaner, sexier, and have your friends dying to know your secret.
So forget gender differences for a moment. Here are three tips that are part of the foundation of my New York Times best-selling book, Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha. They work well for men, but like most things in life, by following these simple rules, the end result will look even better on a woman.
Rule 1: Stick to the Basics
Everyone loves to create exercises that make working out more fun. And that’s fine; your workout should be enjoyable. But thinking that Bosu ball balancing acts or one-legged plié jumps while holding a kettlebell will get you fitter faster just isn’t accurate. If you want results, you have to stick with what we know works. And that’s classic, multi-muscle exercises like squats and deadlifts. These exercises work because they force you to use multiple muscle groups at once. And the more muscles you activate, the more fat you’ll slash.
These may seem like exercises for guys, but not all squats are done with a barbell loaded with lots of weight. (Although women shouldn't fear heavier weights; they don’t make you bulky.) Variations of these exercises are timeless and extremely effective. Grab a pair of dumbbells and try Bulgarian split squats (Click here to see a how-to video.). Your legs and butt will thank you.
Rule 2: Less Cardio
More women perform cardio as a means to lose weight than men. This is not a stereotype—it’s reality. That’s not to say men aren’t equally guilty. (We spent part of an entire chapter in Engineering the Alpha busting the cardio-fat loss myth.) It's true cardio helps you burn calories… but so does eating. So that’s not the issue; you want to find the most efficient ways to burn calories and more importantly fat. And you want to build a body that makes it easier for you to enjoy the foods you love, right?
That’s why cardio isn’t the answer. Or, at least, it’s not the primary solution. Cardio will burn calories, and weight training is more likely to burn fat. If you’re going to do cardio, make it secondary to weight training. That means either doing cardio on separate days (if you have the time) or after a weight training workout. The best thing about lifting weights is that your body adapts to the new muscle mass you'll build, which means your metabolism will be higher, you'll burn more calories, and you'll change your hormones (like insulin) to be able to handle the foods you love.
Rule 3: More Intensity
I’ve spent enough time in the gym to know that making fitness social is a great idea. Few things are better than going to gym with friends or being part of group fitness, whether it’s bootcamp, Crossfit, or Zumba. What’s not okay is focusing on the social aspect more than the workout itself. Most guys go in with a “go big or go home” mentality. While this can lead to injuries, it's closer to the right mindset in terms of getting results.
When you go to the gym, you want to get in and get out. Longer workouts are not better workouts. Intense workouts are what works. Your heart rate should be elevated and you should be sweating and feeling your muscles work. Completely transforming your body does not take a lot of time—but it does take a lot of effort. If you want an idea of what all out effort feels like, try this simple two-exercise sequence. It's called a countdown. It might only take 10 minutes, but it might feel like the hardest workout you've ever performed. Use this as a baseline for how hard you should be pushing to get the body you want.
Perform 10 reps of a kettlebell (or dumbbell) swing
Without rest, do 10 reps of burpees
Still without resting, do 9 reps of the swings
Now do 9 reps of burpees
Continue this pattern until you do just 1 rep of each exercise, trying to rest as little as possible (or not at all) between moves.