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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.


I have been weight lifting and doing cardio for years now. I'm a 20-year-old female and my weight is 113. How can I get my muscles more defined and cut? I don't know if I should gain more weight or what.

This is nice to hear — a woman who is looking more muscle definition instead of worrying about getting too "bulked up." As you probably know already, most women don't have to worry about bulking up — in fact, you're clearly aware that getting any sort of muscle definition is not always easy! Considering your age and weight, however, it shouldn't be all that hard, either. It's just a matter of tweaking your exercise routine and keeping an eye on what you're eating.

(Article continued below.)

Let's tackle your workouts first. Since you say you have been weight lifting for years and you still lack definition, my guess would be that you are not training with heavy enough weights, or that you are not training often enough, or both. At this stage of the game, if you are using 3 to 5 pound weights for squats, lunges, chest work and bicep curls, you are cheating yourself and wasting good time in the gym. Weights this light are only appropriate for 1) absolute exercise beginners, 2) if you are using the weights in a cardio-based routine, or 3) if the exercises are Pilates, Lotte Berk or Bar Method-based, where a lot of attention is given to isometric moves. Five pounds might be okay for detailed shoulder work, but that's about it. Most young women who are weight training can and should go heavier. It doesn't have to be a whole lot — bumping up from 5 to 8 pounds can make a world of difference. (It can also make you surprisingly sore the next day the first few times you try it. Light stretching, ice and massage will relieve any DOMS — Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness — you may have. Don't worry — your muscles will adjust!) As a general rule, the muscles you are working should fatigue after 8 to 12 reps. Since you are looking for more definition, try for a weight that will fatigue your muscles closer to 8. Work different muscle groups on different days and give each muscle group at least 48 hours' rest between weight training sessions (you may already know this, but it bears repeating). It's not the actual weight training session that gives your muscles that cut look, but the rest time. While they are healing from the exercise, muscles are forming definition. Don't concern yourself too much with the cardio. Just make sure you get enough — at least 30 minutes 3 — 5 times a week, at an intensity that makes it hard for you to talk but doesn't make you completely breathless. If you want definition, focus more on the weights and the quality of your workout there. If you are doing both weight training and cardio in the same session, hit the weights first. You want the majority of your energy to go into your weight routine.

You will also want to make sure your diet is supporting muscle growth. Since you don't mention your height, I can only gather that, depending on how tall you are, your weight is either appropriate for you, or you are on the thin side. So you don't have to worry so much about the amount as you do the quality of what you eat. If you load up on a lot of junky fast food or starchy, highly refined carbs, this will not do much to promote muscle definition. You need a balance of protein, vegetables, fruits and whole grains and a minimum of sugary foods and refined carbs. Protein is especially important since it is crucial in building muscle. There is some debate on exactly how much protein is the right amount. You should try for at least .5 to .6 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That's the low end of the recommended scale. People who are very active or who are serious fitness competitors often eat one gram or more per pound of bodyweight. In any case, chances are you are probably not getting enough. Make sure that you get from a quarter up to a third of your calories from protein. And do make sure you are eating enough in general. Muscles need energy (calories) to grow and get cut. If your exercise routine seems to be right on and you still aren't getting very good results, make sure you're giving yourself enough nutrition to support the results you are looking for.

Got a question? Send it to us at editor@allspiritfitness.com.

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