in your mind, ladies - men and women do not live in an equal
world when it comes to body fat. Men, with their taller bodies
and larger muscles and bones, lay claim to a faster
metabolism. At puberty, girls put on fat and boys put on
muscle. From fertilization to breastfeeding, women have and
need more fat than men. As you read on, keep in mind that
although the odds may appear to be stacked against us, we can
overcome stubborn fat and make improvements to our shapes and
health. First a brief explanation of the fat burning
challenges women face, and then the secrets to overcoming
Body Fat Distribution
Women bear almost double the amount of body fat as men,
primarily to help them carry and nourish babies. Fat is the
major energy source needed for fetal development and
protection. We have no control over where the fat cells decide
to swell and shrink.
The fat cells in the lower body, where women tend to put on
inches, are more prone to fat storage. The fat cells in the
upper body, where men tend to carry extra weight, are more
prone to releasing fat. Women who have dieted will notice that
as they lose weight, body fat starts melting away from the
upper body first, followed by the persevering lower body fat.
Yet the reverse is true when gaining weight. The fat cells in
the hips, thighs, butt and abs will enlarge first. Woman who
have yoyo dieted for years have an upper body that is
disproportionately smaller than her lower body.
During pregnancy and the menstrual cycle, hormones encourage
water retention in the fat cells. The excess fluid slows down
circulation and makes it even more difficult to mobilize fat.
The progesterone in women’s bodies affects appetite and mood.
It causes hunger during the second half of your menstrual
cycle and is responsible for the ravenous appetite experienced
during pregnancy. Progesterone also causes sluggishness and
sleepiness making one less inclined to exercise. Women who
take birth control pills gain on average 3 – 5 pounds as a
Throughout pregnancy, fat cells in a woman’s body not only
expand, but often multiply in number. When the pregnancy is
over, those fat cells remain and are always ready to enlarge
when the body takes in more calories than it uses. In
addition, the thyroid gland, which drives the metabolism,
becomes notoriously sluggish during pregnancy to help the body
hold onto fat. Not surprisingly, after two or three children,
the weight loss dilemma may be compounded.
During peri-menopause (the 10 years prior to menopause), women
begin producing less estrogen, which is a protective hormone.
We also begin to sleep less and our appetite becomes
stimulated. As peri-menopause begins, fat tends to accumulate
around the waist and chest, increasing our risk of heart
Beginning in the mid-20s, women lose an average of about 7
pounds of muscle mass each decade (compared to 5 pounds for
men). To make matters worse, non-exercising women typically
gain 1 -2 pounds of fat a year - for life. And the fat gain
number can be much higher depending on lifestyle choices.
So, by your mid-40s, you have probably lost close to 15 pounds
of metabolically active muscle and replaced it with over 20
pounds of lethargic fat – and that’s conservative! Your
metabolism has dramatically slowed and your body composition
has changed in unfavorable proportions.
To make matter worse, if you have dieted (I imagine you’ve
attempted one or two), you have accelerated the muscle loss
process. Dieting without exercise can lead to 25% to 28%
Aging also makes excess fat harder to hide. As skin begins to
lose its elasticity and sag, it has a harder time containing
fat cells, giving the skin a rippled appearance often referred
to as cellulite.
Why Men Have It Easier
Testosterone stimulates bone and muscle growth. Men don’t lose
testosterone as fast as we lose estrogen. Men have more
muscle, more bone minerals, and tend to eat about 35% more
calories than women. Men also respond faster to exercise
Although men don’t generally live as long as women, they start
and end with more bone, more muscle and more testosterone
compared to women. By the time a woman is 60 years old, she
probably has 20 to 30 pounds of muscle on her frame – IF she’s
Women also face many social and emotional challenges, which
can lead them to become a slave to the scale, avoid exercise
for fear of bulking up and fall for spot reduction and quick
fix solutions, all of which only compound the problem, These
fears, misconceptions and bugaboos, which hold so many women
hostage, could easily fill a book, but let’s skip over all
that and talk about solutions that DO work.
Now that you understand the special physiological challenges
women face, let’s talk about how to overcome them to attain
the strong, trim, fit body you really want.
Exercise is the key to fat burning. If you do one thing,
incorporate 2 – 3 strength and cardio workouts into your
weekly routine using the following 10 tips. The results are
Here are my top 10 fat-burning
secrets for women.
1. Warm up before a strength training session – Warming up
increases blood flow to muscles by about 55%, giving you
better muscle contraction. You’ll sweat earlier, which helps
to regulate your body temperature. It also jump starts the
neuromuscular connection which initiates the release of
carbohydrate and fat enzymes and hormones while reducing your
perceived exertion during strength training. Just 5 minutes of
walking or cycling will meet this requirement.
your cardio exercises – Alternate between two or more
cardiovascular activities like walking and cycling or
kickboxing and step aerobics, like you would during a
fitness boot camp program.
This will help to optimally develop your cardiovascular
fitness, maintain the element of fun in exercise, help you
avoid over-training, as well as injury. Bottom line, you will
expend more calories.
3. Incorporate several cardio techniques – Use a combination
of continuous, interval, circuit and Fartlek (speed play)
training. Changing techniques forces your body to adapt and
become more efficient. Vary the intensity and modify impact
styles. For example, if you have been walking the same path at
the same pace every day, begin to incorporate bursts of
acceleration intermittently. The underlying principle is that
change is what keeps the body progressing, making improvements
and burning fat.
4. Plan your workouts in Phases – Organize your workouts into
a cyclic structure. For example, for two to three weeks,
exercise at a lower intensity for 45 to 60 minutes, and then,
for the next two to three weeks, do 20 to 30 minutes at your
highest intensity. The following 2 to 3 weeks go at a moderate
intensity for 30 to 45 minutes. This system allows you to
maintain a high level of fitness and not over-train. This
cycling of workout structures will help your body become more
efficient at fat burning.
Train – Perform several strengthening exercises interspersed
with a short cardio segments - just like a
fitness boot camp
routine. For example perform a leg press, lateral pull down
and abdominal crunch followed by 3 minutes of cycling. Then
repeat another 3 strength exercises followed by 3 minutes of
walking. Circuit training has a lower dropout rate, is an
efficient calorie burner, increases muscular strength and
decreases body fat.
6. Strength Train with Multi Joint exercises – Choose
exercises that work compound muscle groups – meaning more than
one muscle group at a time. This will give you the most
mileage per exercise. Examples include squats, lunges, and
push ups. For every pound of muscle on your body you need 35
to 50 calories per day to sustain it, while every pound of fat
on your body requires only a modest 2 calories per day.
7. Exercise first thing in the morning – Morning exercisers
have a higher likelihood of showing up. Later in the day, the
odds that you’ll skip your workout increase as interruptions
arise and fatigue sets in. Morning exercise also helps
regulate your hormone response, telling your body to release
fat and jump start your metabolism.
8. Eat a “primer” meal prior to working out – Having a small
balanced meal prior to exercise will help you burn fat. After
you eat, your blood sugar rises and exercise acts like insulin
to help regulate blood glucose. Eating will also give you the
energy for a more intense workout – you will therefore burn
9. Eat 5 to 6 small meals a day – Food has a thermic effect,
meaning it takes energy (calories) for your body to digest the
food you eat. Eating several times throughout the day
increases the thermic effect, so you burn more calories.
Eating more often also keeps you from feeling like you are
being deprived of food and prevents hunger from setting in,
which can cause you to binge eat.
10. Train with intensity – To get the full benefits of
exercise, you must graduate from the “pink weights” and
moderate walking. Do not be afraid to increase your resistance
and challenge your muscles and cardiovascular system. In order
to change, you have to push your physical limits beyond what
you are accustomed to.
I am going to leave you with a bonus secret regarding
hydration. In order for fat to be metabolized, it must first
be released from the fat cell and then be transported by the
bloodstream where it is shunted to the liver and other active
tissues to be used as fuel. If you are in a dehydrated state,
the liver has to come to the aid of the kidneys and can’t
focus on it’s role of releasing fat.
To sum things up, you really can attain a feminine, firm, fit
and younger appearance regardless of your age or inherited
traits. You can overcome any weaknesses and trouble spots to a
certain degree with balanced and symmetrical strength,
cardiovascular and flexibility training, combined with making
nutritious food choices.
Focus on being the best you can be. A lean and healthy body is
both realistic and achievable.