last comment: 19/03/08

'12' Is Your Lucky Number!

There is one thing I never got to the bottom of: Ladies are always told to train less intense than guys although they grow muscle tissue less well due to lack of testosterone.

In any other discipline, at school or at work the person who is less capable or qualified is encouraged to work harder and more to achieve the same goals like the others. Only in weight exercises women are told to use flimsy weights although they would well be able to use bigger ones, and they are not taught how to approach their limits.


I always trained the same way as hubby, and I have to work as hard if not harder to achieve what he is achieving. That doesn't mean that I get muscles of his size and that doesn't mean that I'm lifting the same weight. It means to develop the proportionate amount of muscle tissue and the same quality in shape. I'm more than 2/3 of his weight and my shoulders are probably half the size of his.

I have rather big shoulders for a woman. They build up easily and I have them because I need them to balance the bottom bit where the fat sits tight and doesn't go away that easily. By putting a lot of focus on the shoulders I can develop a nice hourglass figure quickly while giving the more difficult bottom bit more time.

While hubby had a bit of a sagging bum problem due to sitting on it for too many years. So he focused on the rear end which in his case responds quickly. So he has a fast improvement for the whole appearance as well not looking that top heavy anymore.

Now after two years we became jealous of each others good bits. We still keep good maintenance going in our previous focal areas, but now he is cracking on with the shoulders and I take care of my bum. We use the same exercises and the same technique and it works perfectly well for both of us.

This means that achieving has nothing to do with comparing weights or sizes with other people. 'Achieving' means getting the best possible result for you.

Sometimes friends see me train with huge weights and they turn away saying:"Yeah well, that is you - I couldn't do that! This is not a sport for me?"

Duh?! Yes it is me! Training for two years and hence using the appropriate weight to get my muscles tired. I started with small weights, approaching my limits over and over again - thus the weights getting bigger. And there will be a time where I will reach a maximum and there will be a time where it will go downhill again. But nevertheless: I will always do what I am capable of. Anything else would be a waste of time. If you go shopping you won't buy only half the stuff you need. You always would make the trip worthwhile and get as much finished as possible. So why would one change clothes, drive to the gym, drive back, have a shower, have to wash the clothes, pay a lot of money and then not make the training session as effective as possible.

Weight training is a very self centred sport. This is something else I can't fathom: When doing meditation or Yoga it is okay to be self centred - it even is the whole idea of the matter, but when I ask the gym staff to turn down the volume of the music because I need to concentrate they look at me as if I were a bit mental.

For me body building is very close to Yoga in the way the exercises are performed. That might be the reason why it has such an impact on the mind as well and not just the body.


The similarity to Yoga starts with the breathing. Breathing is essential for good and healthy performance. With every exercise displayed on this site I will explain the appropriate way of breathing. Although there are basic rules:

Breathe out when it's getting heavy!

Breathe consciously!

Don't be afraid to make noises when it is getting heavier. It shows that you are reaching your limits.


The need to concentrate means as well to avoid distractions. When I started with my training two years ago, loud and hectic music was a real killer. Gym staff always think that the atmosphere has to be very hyper and inspired and 'we are all so young and active and in party mood'. But when the task is to breathe slowly and to actually reduce the heart rate to the rhythm of the repetitions then some 180 beat heavy metal music doesn't really help. I had sessions where I had to stop because the weight just wouldn't move.

Now I'm a bit more experienced and to a degree I can detach myself from the environment - what as well shows the strength in mind which I have developed over the years. However, if possible I get the volume turned down or choose a spot without music altogether.

I'm not wearing jewellery!

Firstly it might get scratched and secondly one might get hurt from it. The bars are touching the body in so many angles - I just don't want to bother if there might be a necklace in the way or not. And it's just not nice to have a permanent indentation of your pendant on your chest.

Furthermore I'm wearing gloves. They avoid the bars to slip and they prevent callus building at least to an extent. Those just don't work well together with jewellery.

It is just not possible to perform well when you are not feeling safe. It is nice when you find something that is safe and looks pretty, but if you can see the one or the other roll or wobble in a tight shirt - doesn't matter! You are DOING something about it - That's why you are there!

So let the others look, they will see you improve and they will get jealous very quickly.

Another great distraction is clothes!

In the training pictures you will see that I'm wearing very tight stuff that doesn't move a lot but stretches. You will see as well that the posture for some of the exercises is rather awkward. When I was still round-ish I wore wider T-shirts and when kneeling on a bench bending forward I could see my feet through the openings of the T-Shirt. Looking up realising that there are mirrors around all over the place and that not only I could see straight through.

Hair - another thing with which one can look very silly. But I don't mind.

I have my hair long now and I don't want to give that up for my sport. It turns out that the most practical hairdo is 'piggy tails'. A lot of exercises need bending forward, so they need to be tied away. But another lot of exercises need lying down, so they can't be tied at the back of the head. So I tie them into two little tails on either side of my head. At first people had a good giggle, now they are used to it and I don't have to bother anymore.

Handling the Weight

When taking up the weight always test how heavy it is. Never just rip it off the rack or the ground, however light it is. Even weights you are used to can do harm when you have a current weakness which you didn't realise you have.

So grab the weight, increase the tension until you almost lift it - that's when you know how heavy it feels at this particular moment. Then grab a bit harder and lift it. At the beginning that feels a bit silly, but this will become a habit which you won't even be aware of anymore.

It is all about a stable posture at all times. It's impossible to control the weights in your hands when you are wobbly on your feet. I usually see people standing with the legs dead straight. If you have a friend around try it out some experiments:

Experiment 1
Stand with your legs shoulder wide, arms crossed in front of your chest and tucked tight. Now your friend should give you a gentle push either from the front or back. You will find that very quickly you will want to un-tuck your arms or make a step forward or backward. Moving a weight, basically gives you this little push as you are changing the centre of gravity - so you will need to wiggle to balance out every move you do with the weight.

Now try this one:

Experiment 2
Stand with your legs shoulder wide, arms crossed in front of your chest and tucked tight.

Now make your knees soft and bend them a bit without bending forward. In order to hold that posture you will have to stick the bum out a bit as if you wanted to start sitting down - and you have to clench the buttocks and the upper legs. Looking from the side the shoulders, hips and ankles should be in one line.

Now your friend should give you a gentle push again. You will find that your posture is much more stable due to the fact that you lowered the centre of gravity and sort of widened the base by sticking the bum out. It's the same reason why a tall slim vase topples over easily while a short stout vase won't fall however heavy the flower heads are - ever tried to put a full lengh sunflower into one of these elegant long vases you usually see on the telly?

Another posture I see often is a half lunge (one foot in front of the other) usually with the legs bent and the main weight on the front foot.

I have a third experiment there:

Experiment 3
Take a step about the lenght of your lower leg, have the knees soft, buttox clenched and arms tucked in.

Your friend won't be able to make you topple to the back or the front. It is a very sturdy posture there. But now you should get a gentle push from the side. You will fall over to the side like a plank.

So the 'lunge' posture is only good for movements front to back, but not to the side. And even some of the front2back exercises are tricky because the one leg is positioned far to the front and thus can obstruct the movement of the weight - like in 'Dumbbell/Barbell Front Raise'. So only the 'squat' posture would work there, although in this case I even think the squat is NOT stable enough and hence I prefer other exercises like the 'Cable Front Raise' where the 'lunge' posture can be used.

Here is how you would lift a weight from the ground. The weights are actually lifted with the legs and the bum as they are the strongest muscles. Back, shoulders and arms are only holding the weight.

Lifting two weights from the ground

Go down on one knee and grab the weight. Shoulders are aligned above the front foot.

At that point only feel the weight. Lift the head, straighten your back and keep back, shoulders and arms under tension. You have to be sure that they are able to HOLD the weight.

Take a deep breath in through the nose -

Clench your buttocks and get up while shifting the pelvis forward while breathing out through the mouth. The shoulders stay above the front foot which in the end will carry the full weight.

Lifting one big weight from the ground

This time you will have to squat as closely to the weight as possible. The heels will come off the ground a bit as grown-ups usually are losing the flexibility in the ankles. So you might not be able to stay flat on the ground during a deep squat.

Grab the weight about shoulder wide having the arms around the legs.

Lift the head, straighten the back, clench the buttocks and feel the weight.

Take a deep breath in through the nose -

Then get up while breathing out through the mouth, keeping the tension in the rear and the upper body.

It is very important to keep the weight as closely to the body as possible. Don't lift the weight with arms and shoulders, but only guide it along your legs. The tricky bit is the knees. You can tell from the pictures that this is the moment where the biggest strain is on the lower back.

With continuously pushing the pelvis forward the weight slides over the knees and the upper body gets more upright.

When carrying a weight you have to feel in control of it at any moment in time. Have the arms slightly bent, what means the muscles hold a bit of tension and the weight doesn't hang from the joints.

This is the way to lift a weight however small it is!

If lift a weight by bending over with straight legs, without sticking the bum out and holding the weight away from the body the pull on your lower back is 3 times as big as the actual weight. That means that even the small weights I see Ladies using in the gym can do harm if not handled properly.

By only lifting 1 kg of flour from the bottom shelf you put a strain of 3 kg on your lower back - and now imagine how heavy your shopping bag is. Even if you only have one bag: Always step to it's side, kneel down as far as you need to grab the handle, feel the weight and balance the missing other side by using your tummy/waist muslces and lifting the other arm - and then LIFT it with your legs and bum. And always hold weights as closely to your body as possible. BTW: Whenever possible pack two small bags rather than one big one.

Another thing I see quite often in the gym is swinging the weights in order to use the momentum of the previous repetition. If you swing a weight it develops a huge force pulling your joints and it is cheating because the swinging of the weight is doing the work, not the muscles. I see this often when 'a strong boy' uses too much weight to show off. Move the weights slowly, then you do it automatically right.

Repetitions and Sets - The 'Three/12 Rule'

I often see that someone goes to a gym machine, does 20 or 30 repetitions and then leaves to do something else. I once tried to help a lady by telling her to increase the weight and to do less repetitions, to then take a little break and then to do it again. She looked at me as if I were some psycho and told me that she were doing it just fine as she were doing it without having problems for 2 years.


That might sound a bit nasty, but she actually looked as if she were not doing any sport, or had just started. She was young - She could have developed the figure of a goddess within two years!

Muscles are lazy little buggers, if they don't get teased they won't grow. Only if they get really tired they feel inspired to grow and get tighter. So the idea is to make them so tired that you couldn't possibly lift that weight one more time.

For beginners there is one rule of thumb with which you can't go wrong.

Choose a weight with which you can do the exercise 12 times.

Take a break (1-2 minutes)

Do it again - You might need to reduce the weight.

Take a break (1-2 minutes)

Do it again - You might need to reduce the weight.


This is called 3 sets with 12 repetitions

You will need two or three training sessions to find out the correct weight for each set. During the break the muscle will be able to recover a bit, but will be weaker than before. So usually you will have to use less weight to achieve 12 repetitions. After 3 sets your muscle will be pretty much down and you can move on to the next exercise.

This is a rule of thumb with which beginners should go with and only when you get more experienced and you want to put a focus on certain muscle groups you will want to start and vary that a bit. In the exercise sheets I will explain for every muscle group how to proceed when you are more advanced.

Training Plan

When all the exercise sheets are published I will write a proper article on that, but again: There are rules of thumb you can use when you are going to the gym already.

Start from big muscles work on to the small ones

Every movement involves more than one muscle. If you want to make a big muscle tired you have to make sure that the small ones that are involved in the exercise are as fit as possible. Otherwise they will give in too easily and you can't exhaust the big muscle.

That means for example: Chest before Back before Shoulders/Arms before Tummy

Work antagonist muscles in one session

Most of the muscle groups are working together. Every muscle that is bending a body part has an antagonist which is straightening it again. If you train one more than the other you will develop an awkward posture.

That means for example: Biceps/Triceps, Chest/Upper Back, Tummy/Lower Back

Training Diary

Keep a training diary. Although I basically knew my stuff I had to keep one to remember the changes in weights, and sets I had planned for the next session.



Training Plan

I have split the exercises into two units. Some exercises effect each other quite a bit. Working those on different days makes things more effective and easier. One doesn't have to stick to a particular order too much when equipment is not available. It already is an advanced training plan - it doesn't stick with the 'Three/12' rule anymore. But even then: Write down the exercises you are doing. Seeing it in writing gives a sense of achievement when you are finished.

My Way of writing it down

A typical Unit1 session:

It has the day and the start time at the top and then it lists the exercises with weights and repetitions. At the end is the end time and duration.

This is an example on how to write it down easily with reminders for the next session. I don't like the lists where everything is fixed in tables. I need a bit of freedom to add more info whenever I need to (e.g. headache, great day, too hot,..)

The exercise was leg press and as a warm up I did 20 repetitions with 88kg. I could have done more, but as a warm-up I never do more than 20 with a very light weight.

As this muscle is big I do 5 sets instead of 3 to get it really tired, and I'm increasing the weight with every set ending up with less than 12 repetitions. This technique I use for big muscles which can take really heavy weight. But it is impossible to use the highest weight straight away, it would tear the muscle. So the weight is slowly increased while the number of repetitions is reduced.

In the first set with 124 I could do 15 reps what is too much so I went straight to the 142. I could do 15 again but they felt very heavy. So I gave it another shot and only could do 12. Just to see what happens I increased again to 151 and only could do 8.

Then I underlined the weights I wanted to do the next time round.

88 for warm-up, skip the 124 (not much effect and spoil the muscle for heavier weight), keep the 142 as start weight and still do 2 sets and then do 2 sets of the 151.

And so I did. From the first set with 142 you can tell that I wasn't used to the heavy weight straight away (-2 reps) but I caught up in the second set, and because I didn't spoil the muscle with the 124kg set anymore I could do 2 more reps with the heaviest weight. This felt good so I didn't put any more recommendations and stayed with those weights until - the next session actually.

Well knowing that I can do the 15 reps in the first set I tried harder and there they were. So I skipped the second set and did 3 sets of the heaviest weight. And you can see that I'm already approaching the lucky number of '12' reps. That was on the 30th July. That is quite an improvement within 1 week which couldn't have been done without visualising the progress by writing it down.

So the diary not only makes you remember what you had planned, it actually shows you what you are capable of.

BTW: a good week later I did the 160 kg for the first time with 8 reps.

I learned this way of writing it down from hubby who learned it from the weightlifters with whom he started his weight lifting career back in his teenage years. They attended regional competitions and knew their stuff. He learned everything about handling weights from them. He only competed once and then felt that competing wasn't really for him, but was welded to the iron already. So he swapped over to body building. So actually we both learned our weight lifting from scratch. Now I don't have a diary anymore, although I would start immediately if I were to have a specific aim.

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An Experiment
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Being Strong
Women and Strength?
Why Muscles?
Lucky Number 12
Ladies are Stronger!

Being Fit
Rowing - Fantastic Sport

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Copyright 2007
Author: Rika