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Holly Sidell Headshot

Be Wary! Workouts Are Not One Size Fits All

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When I worked out in college, I pretty much just sped walked on the treadmill and copied what all the other girls I thought were in shape were doing. Once out of college, when I was doing the actor thing, I thought I should get a personal trainer -- I mean, from what I saw in People all the stars were doing it. I had never worked out with a trainer before, but I had always remembered one thing that both my Mom and Dad told me: "You may have a small frame, but trust us, you have your Bubby's broad shoulders, and she bulked up really easily. Be careful, or you will too."

So I told my trainer that. He laughed it off. But within weeks of starting reps with 8- to 10-pound weights, my arms and shoulders started getting very masculine looking. I felt like the Incredible Hulk or something -- I even got comments about it. I went to get new headshots and the photographer told me that it was nice to have shapely arms, but that I was looking pretty manly (I postponed the shoot). My trainer brushed off his surprise at my Hulkness and gave me all sorts of scientific exercise training facts about how it wasn't possible for me to bulk up, that this method of training was what would help me build lean muscle mass and lose weight. Okay, so I figured I'd just keep going with him and eventually it would just "even out." But it didn't. I felt so unattractive and man-like, even though my abs were tighter and my waist was shrinking. I stopped working out with him and on my own, moved down to 2- to 5-pound weights with higher reps, and began doing Power Yoga a few times a week. Through this, I reached my goal weight, leaned up, and got less bulky while maintaining the tone.

Now, as a personal trainer myself, I make sure to always listen to each client and plan their training programs specific to them. Everyone's body IS different, regardless of what the scientific training facts may say. There are two women I have been working with weekly for around two years who demonstrate this perfectly. Both are in their 30s and are relatively the same size. Both of them have the same goal: to develop lean muscle and tighten/tone up while maintaining their weight. One of them currently rocks 12-pound weights doing fewer reps, and the other uses 5-pound weights and does more reps. Both have beautifully-sculpted, strong, yet still feminine arms. When the latter began working with me she told me that in all her past experience training, she was very unhappy because she bulked up -- even though she told her trainers that. I SO related to that and thus formulated her training program accordingly. There's a similar thing with the spinning craze -- many people lose lots of weight and tighten and tone up, while others I know build very bulky muscles in their thighs. Every body is different, and your muscles and body type respond to stimuli differently.

Being a fitness teacher, I like to try out all different kinds of classes around town. Recently, I went to one of those boutique circuit training gyms in West L.A. Interval training is my favorite kind of training and what I use with my most of my clients. These types of workouts alternate high-intensity levels with lower-intensity effort alternating between aerobic and anaerobic training, for example: jumping rope or running for 1-2 minutes, then chest fly or military press for 1-2 minutes. It is highly effective in efficiently burning off fat and yields results quickly. I was excited to take the class. However, because it was a "one size fits all" class there were only two options for weights: one size for women and one size for men. The women's options were around 10-12 pounds. EEEK. For me, not good. I took the class and then later wrote the manager an email, telling her I really liked the idea of the class and wanted to come back, and that I am a trainer, and knowing the make up of my body, etc., asked her if they thought about offering lower weight options for women as well.

The angry response I got floored me. I was accused of not being a real trainer and not knowing what I was talking about. She cited scientific fact for this type of training and scolded that if I were a real fitness professional, I would know that I could only become masculine and "broad" if I ate a certain way. (Note: on top of being a certified fitness trainer, I am a certified natural health professional who had extensive schooling in diet and nutrition, so I know how to eat to obtain or avoid specific results. It doesn't matter how I eat -- I bulk up. Period.)

Scientific fact is all fine and good, but I have been working out at this pace for 10-plus years, while increasing strength and lean muscle, and consistently upping my workouts to match my growing stamina and fitness needs... all without bulking up. So I know my body, and for me, what she said, that's just not the case. And I have seen numerous clients' bodies each respond to the same programming completely differently.

An exercise training program must continually build, constantly offering the body and muscles new challenges so as not to plateau, and to continue to rev up the metabolism and build stamina. But how that is done is truly relative and specific to each client. For example, someone may keep at the same weight but add more reps and more challenge, like balancing on a Bosu Ball or adding lunges while lifting the weights, while someone else may go up in weight with fewer reps. It all depends on the person AND on the results the person wants to see (a man, perhaps, may WANT to bulk up and get "big"). Does a nutritionist just go around assigning every client the exact same diet? No! She has to listen to and learn about each client's specific needs, situation, and make up.

If you, like me, KNOW your body and how it responds to certain training methods, then trust yourself -- don't be bullied. Speak up. You are your own best advocate. Do not be intimidated by trainers who spout "scientific facts" at you and aren't open to hearing your concerns. Look for a trainer or group fitness teacher who will listen to your specific situation and apprehensions with an open mind while challenging you at your own level, based on your own needs. If you are just starting to work out and don't know how or what your body responds to yet, you are going to embark on a bit of a journey of trial and error... enjoy getting to know your body during this phase. Find a trainer who is willing to listen and support you on your path to fitness whilst bringing in their professional knowledge and expertise -- one who monitors your progress based on both your tangible physical results and on what YOU are thinking about how you look and feel.

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