Ohmygosh. I can't believe the flood gate that I've opened by sharing video clips of some of my strength training workouts lately. I think the question about my current strength training program has quickly become the #1 thing you all are asking for, so I finally sat down to write this out.
Please know this: the point of this post is not necessarily to have you go sign up for the exact program I am following!
I'm going to give you context here, explain where I came from and how I landed on the program I'm doing now, and all of this matters – a lot!
My life, my situation, and my choices are mine.
If you get something from this post, let it be my thought process and the way I have approached taking care of myself, and you can choose what will work best for you along those lines.
In other words, my current workout choice may not be the best workout choice for you now, or ever.
Lots of you have been following along with my recent changes in nutrition and training programs. Last winter I completed a 12-week macros based meal plan that I enjoyed and from which I learned a lot. At that time, I also began working out fasted (meaning without eating beforehand) first thing in the morning.
Creating the habit of early-morning fasted training was the single best thing that came from my meal plan experience.
While I did lose body fat on that program, I simply didn't want to eat that way for the long-term of my life. Most of the changes I saw while I was on the program hit at around weeks 2-8. After 8 weeks I wasn't seeing much change.
I have taken some cues from that program to rebalance my plate, but for the last 6 to 8 months I haven't' been following any specific meal plan, nor was I tracking or counting anything. I have been eating mostly Paleo but also include some gluten-free items (white rice and some gluten-free pasta or bread here and there). I include goat dairy as well.
I have found that these things work for me after years of eating strict Paleo, then reintroducing foods.
If you want to learn more about how to figure out what works best for you, I cover all of this in the 2nd edition of Practical Paleo.
The next experiment I'm going to do nutritionally is a lower carb approach while completing my current training plan. I do think that the training I'm doing it very well suited to a lower carb intake, so I'm curious to see how my body responds to that.
I promise to talk more about my own personal approach to low carb when I know how it goes this time around, but I'm sure I've talked about it on past episodes of the Balanced Bites Podcast.
As a general rule, if you're looking for my thoughts on current topics, the podcast is the #1 best place to get them or to submit questions.
I may bounce back to a meal plan at some point in the not so distant future if I feel like my training program is not helping me reach my goals without changes to my nutrition. I currently have little desire to measure my food, but who knows when or if that'll change. Sometimes I wake up and want to do it, sometimes I hate it. Ah, to be a rebel.
Now, on to my training…
Last year I started doing fasted morning cardio, and I would often tack strength training on to that immediately after, or I'd return to the gym later in the day for a strength session. The whole idea of lifting heavy in the morning was a total turn off to me at the time. So I was happy enough to just get to the gym, turn on some music, and sweat a little while I zoned out on an elliptical machine.
It sounds mind numbing, I know. It sort of was.
But you have to realize this: I was coming off of several months of not training much.
I had a really hard year in 2015.
I hurt my back in the winter of 2014, was nursing that injury, was totally bummed out about winter in NJ in early 2015 (our last winter there, if you can believe that), and the rest of the year was really busy and fairly stressful.
We moved, got married, and my grandmother died all within a matter of two months (August & September) in 2015. I was in no emotional state to “diet” before my wedding.
And I honestly was feeling like it was a terrible motivation – for a single day of my life – to create healthy habits and try to lose the weight that crept on in that year. My best guess is that it was about 10# that I gained over the course of the year in 2015.
So, once we were here in San Francisco, and after we got married, I started working with my friend and trainer Dave Engen, and in November 2015 I started the 12-week meal plan.
The training I did for the next year was varied and all over the place, both on my own and with my trainer, but I was consistent in getting it done regularly – and finally got back to feeling like the athlete I have always been.
My training right now – late 2016 to 2017
After the Practical Paleo 2nd edition tour in September (during which Cassy and I were active and worked out most days), I spent the month of October feeling like I simply didn't want to lift heavy.
I considered signing up for various workout programs because I was feeling sort of lost. I wanted to feel strong, but I didn't want to run.
I considered Beachbody, and I even signed up for a trial since my friend Danielle Natoni (aka Fit & Funky) is a coach and is amazing and super motivating.
There's also Noelle Tarr's new program Strong from Home that could help a ton if home workouts are your jam…
But when I really thought about it, I don't do well with at-home workouts.
I need to go to the gym.
I like being surrounded by people (even if it's just a few) who are also getting their workout on. I like leaving the house and separating that time and space for myself and my workouts.
I also didn't see myself bringing my iPad or setting my phone up at the gym to make that happen (which you can totally do). It just wasn't going to be my jam though I know it's an amazing program with tons of options.
I considered trying BBG or the Tone it Up program. I think the communities created by both of those programs are amazing and welcoming. I've been a TIU fan from afar ever since their Bravo show was on (“Toned Up”). I think they're just the cutest and are such positive role models. And I have friends who have completed and loved BBG.
Alas, I'm a weightlifter at heart.
I love picking up heavy things and putting them back down.
I love the baby head rush I get from a heavy dead lift.
I love the pump from some bicep curls.
I love lifting and pushing my muscles pretty hard, and then basically hanging out and resting for a few minutes.
And I hate running. I try to like it. If I do it often enough I hate it less. But I still honestly hate it.
Sometimes, we simply have to go with our strengths, and mine is not doing only body weight or light weight training.
I'm a workhorse.
I'm built to move heavy things many times.
And, so, that's where I am right now.
I'm currently using a basic bodybuilding style template, which can also be called figure or physique training, or hypertrophy training.
And there are a variety of programs out there, one created by my friend Jen Sinkler and her coach Kourtney Thomas who created it, The Bigness Project (which we recently chatted all about on an episode of the Balanced Bites Podcast). This program isn't exclusively for women, but it's created by women and I think if you're looking for something a bit more hand-held and with the energy that these ladies put into their work, then it's a great way to go.
The plan I am using is the Female Physique Training Template through RP Strength (Renaissance Periodization).
Read to the bottom of this post for a special offer on all RP templates for my readers!
RP offers options that vary depending on what measurement you want to train in (kilos or pounds), how many days per week you want to train (2, 3, 4, 5, or 6), the number of years you've been weight training (.5-5 years or more than 5 years), and your current bodyweight (under 160 pounds or over).
The RP plan I follow was selected with the following options as they pertain to me:
weights listed in pounds
5 days per week
5+ years experience
under 160 pounds (I am 5'4″ FYI)
Continuing my #girlsgetpullups series, pictured on the left is a clip from a few weeks ago, and on the right is from today. . I did 7 neutral grip pull-ups in each of these, yet it seems my general ease with the reps has improved over time. On the left it was also the first of only 3 sets whereas on the right it was the first of 5 sets. . My reps for 5 sets of these were as follows today: 7,5,5,5,4. Ideally I would be more consistent across all sets, but it is what it is. I also would love to do pull-ups as my first exercise of the day (which I recommend if you're new, after you've warmed up), but they come after two other heavy lifts for me, so they aren't as purely strong as they otherwise might be. . If you're working on getting pull-ups, don't be afraid to take some videos to see how you're moving and what you're doing. It's fun to see progress, however small. . Also, I realize that my back looks a lot more muscular on the right, but that's misleading- it's really just my shirt that's covering less so it's showing more. Those muscles didn't develop in 3 weeks, more like 3+ years 😉 . Note: my workout posts are not open casting for my next personal trainer. In other words, no IG coaching please, thanks 😘 . #flipslifts #girlswholift #fitspo #bodybuilding #pullups #crossfit #notcrossfit
Why I chose this strength training program.
First and foremost, my friend Jenny Castaneda of Paleo Foodie Kitchen and Meal Prep Genius has been using RP training templates for over 6 months with success. She has been enjoying them and, most importantly, the fact that they didn't involve any cardio.
When I asked Jenny about her training in late October, she explained how the RP templates worked, and showed me a bit about how hers worked to play around with one for myself for a week or so.
I tried out a couple of days of sample workouts, then quickly went online to purchase a template that was appropriate for me. I was hooked!
I'll also note that I also had previously tried out the RP nutrition templates as a test, but I find that unless I'm in a very hectic place in my life, I don't like having a meal plan to follow. Eating 5-6 times per day pretty much never works for me. I never feel full from a meal and begin to get extremely tired, light headed, and all around feel terrible. When I did go down the path of lower fat/higher carb in the past with the macros plan I followed at the end of 2015 into early 2016, I ended up balling meals together to eat more like 3-4x/day so I wouldn't feel so weak. And, I'm just not feeling into that way of eating right now. (If you skipped the earlier part of this post, go back up there to read about my current nutrition.)
What I love about this strength training program.
It isn't running. (Did I mention I don't like running?)
It doesn't even ask you to do cardio before, after, or on your off days. It's just lifting. (Swoon.)
I have input into which movements I do on which days, but overall I feel very guided and organized. The way the templates work, you get to select the specific movement you'll do from a drop down option of anywhere from 4 to 8 or so in a spreadsheet.
I know what I'm doing each day, I do the movements, I log my reps, I set a clock, I wait, then I lift again.
I feel really great while I'm at the gym as well as after training. AKA: this program is tiring my muscles out but not my adrenals.
I don't feel wiped out and exhausted after even a hard leg day. I feel like my muscles got a lot of work done, but I am not feeling drained. Note: If you are looking for a comprehensive plan to support you if you are dealing with adrenal fatigue, there's one in the new edition of Practical Paleo. It's a meal/lifestyle plan, but this training program would work well alongside it.
Oh, and on upper body-only days, I barely sweat. Now, that may not be an upside for a lot of you, but if you're like me and washing your hair once or twice a week is a max, it's a good thing to keep the excess sweat to a minimum. On leg days, however, I definitely work up more of a sweat!
Here's the totally boring truth about my current workouts: they're not that fun to watch or share about on social media. . Why? Because I'm basically walking around the gym, going station to station doing anywhere from 3-5 sets of one exercise with 1-3 minute breaks in between. And that's not very interesting. . But guess what? I don't care. It's the reality of what I am totally loving right now. I absolutely love not doing cardio. I love not moving that fast except when actually lifting the weight. I love feeling sorta chill in terms of my adrenaline response but getting an awesome pump in my muscles. . What's the secret to staying motivated and training/working out regularly? DO SOMETHING YOU ENJOY. . And don't leave it up to a decision of whether or not to do it each day. Just go. Show up. If your body isn't feeling it, then pivot and change course that day, but SHOW UP FOR YOURSELF. It's the only way. Don't rely on motivation or willpower. Nike has it right: JUST DO IT. (The pants are @nikewomen btw.) . Today was bent over barbell rows, strict presses, bench presses, and more… I skipped pull-ups today because my neck feels weird so I'm letting it go. I'm in it for the long haul, not for the day, week, or month. I'd rather skip a move today and be back tomorrow than have to sit out a week or two because I did something that was going to hurt. . Note: my workout posts are not open casting for my next personal trainer. In other words, no IG coaching please, thanks 😘 . #flipslifts #girlswholift #fitspo #bodybuilding
What the workouts are like.
Since I train 5 days per week, I am training either upper or lower body each day, not usually together.
So, my training is organized as follows:
Day 1 – upper push: chest/triceps/rear medial delts/abs
Day 2 – lower: quads/hamstrings/glutes/calves
Day 3 – upper pull: back/biceps/rear medial delts/abs
off day/rest/active recovery*
Day 4 – lower: quads/hamstrings/glutes/abs
Day 5 – upper mix: chest/back/biceps/triceps/calves
off day/rest/active recovery*
*on my “off” days, depending on my schedule and if we are home, I usually do a very light CrossFit style workout with a very light barbell or light weights or bodyweight only to get some movement but not wear myself out
I typically follow with Day 1 as Monday so Day 5 is Saturday.
The templates ask you to enter a 10-rep max, and then assign you a weight and a number of sets based on the goal of the cycle you're in as well as the numbers you've entered. I find that sometimes I've underestimated my ability, so my plan may tell me to lift a certain amount, but I'm getting more reps than I really should, so I'll adjust my weight up in that case.
The templates are Excel files and they come with PDF ebooks explaining more on how to use them, so if you decide to get them be sure you read those first!
So, I show up at the gym, warm up a bit (more on leg days, admittedly), and then get started with my lifting. I complete a set of reps, then set the clock on my phone to countdown however much rest time I want between sets. This helps me stay on-track and not dilly dally too much at the gym.
I move from station to station, get it done, then go home and start my workday.
The guesswork is all taken out of this program for me once I choose my movements for each training cycle (which lasts for 5 weeks).
I can show up and complete my planned workout without hesitation. I love having a plan that is easy to execute in the space and with the equipment I have. Back to the point about selecting movements – this is a really big upside to this program that may not seem so major until you're in the gym!
Knowing where the equipment is, what's usually free or easy to use, and where you can batch movements together (as in two barbell movements in a row that won't require you to leave the rack) is super helpful for creating an efficient training session.
When I have tried to follow other plans in the past that were more specific about what exactly to do for each body part you were targeting, I found myself frustrated as I was unable to access certain equipment or it was too far away from what I used before that movement.
So, the template set-up of the RP program has been really helpful for keeping the workouts manageable in my gym. I can also change it up from cycle to cycle (the program includes 4 cycles that are each 5 weeks long – 4 weeks “on” and 1 week of rest/de-load), so that I'm not doing all the exact same movements month after month.
Why it may be the right strength training program for you.
If you have access to a great gym, know how to move, and want to see results but you simply aren't looking to create your own plan or don't want to work with a trainer, this may be for you.
If you love to lift but aren't feeling motivated, this can maybe help you get on a new track.
There are 4 different cycles within the one template, so you can move through them over the course of several months and then start over again. You have at least about 5 months total of strength training organized for you with the one template file, but it could be a lot longer if you repeat the cycle and change your workouts, increase weights as you get stronger, etc.
I leave the gym with tired muscles, not tired lungs and adrenals.
You may have realized by now that this is a huge reason why I love this program.
Why it may not be the right strength training program for you.
I think if lifting in a gym on your own is intimidating to you, this isn't the plan for you.
While there are awesome, quick videos showing the exercises, I think if you've trained on your own for less than a year, you may not feel that confident with all of these movements. Or, you won't feel confident with enough of them to make it interesting and vary it up.
That said, I think the templates geared towards those with fewer years of experience may be a bit easier and may include movements that are better targeted to you. So you can take a chance there if you're not sure.
If you like the idea of having a class or group in the gym with whom to train, this may not be right for you.
If you're looking for a plan that gives you more CrossFit or HIIT style workouts, this isn't the plan for you. It's straight up lifting, and most days I don't even sweat that much. On leg days I definitely sweat more, I repeat – I leave the gym with tired muscles, not tired lungs and adrenals.
Well there you have it!
That's about all I have to say about my current strength training program right now. If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.
If you want to check out the RP training templates, I'd love for you to use the links in my post. And, if you want to SAVE $10, use code “diane10” to do so off of any of the RP templates (nutrition or training).
If you decide to make a purchase, I will get a small percentage as a thank you. Please note that I've been following these templates for more than two full months and I waited a while before making the decision to share about this program because I wanted to be sure I loved it first.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this! I really appreciate your thoughtfulness. I’m definitely going to check out RP. I’ve been wanting to do an unassisted pull-up for years, YEARS and I just haven’t been able to dedicate enough time to developing my back strength. So, your IG post on pull-ups was also super helpful. Maybe one of these plans will give me enough direction and motivation to get it done this year.
Glad you found it helpful, Allegra!!
I love the idea of no cardio! I am 3 weeks into an online program that has similar focus – fasted workouts, lift heavy and only 2 days of light cardio along with IF and carb cycling. It’s all about getting your body to burn more fat! I can’t stand running either. Will definitely check out these RP when I’m finished. I was starting all over too and trying to get back into working out but my preference has always been strength training too. Thanks for sharing your workout.
PS – Your comments aren’t working on mobile. I clicked on the comments icon and it does’t do anything so I had to comment from my desktop.
Hmm I just clicked to reply to you via mobile and it worked! Glad you liked the post and look forward to hearing how you do if you try it.
Thanks for sharing all of this Diane! I think I’m an odd-girl out as I HATE running but love cycling and rowing (both on the water and erg’ing), so cardio is always part of my jam. That being said, I know I need strength training and am finally trying to do both. I have 90% of a full Olympic set-up at home so I actually don’t go to a gym – I’ve been using the StrongLifts 5×5 app and like it, but am starting to plateau and have heard rumblings from my husband about getting “too muscular”. I would love to find something that continues to keep building strength without adding mass but at the same time allows me to keep up my cardio training. Eating Paleo after a W30 has literally changed my life, but I’d still like to see some improvements (vanity??). Anyway, if you have any suggestions on how to combine a cardio + strength program, I’d love to hear them!
Well, for starters, if your husband has a problem with your muscles, I’d tell him that they’re yours, not his 😉 So he can worry about his own muscles and you can worry about yours.
I can’t really tell you what will help you build strength without mass. With strength comes muscles, so you’re probably going to have to change your nutrition if you want to cut body mass down. That said, it’s not fun, easy, or comfortable to do that. Training hard makes us hungry, and I personally find any type of dieting while training hard to be a disaster emotionally. It almost sounds like what you want to achieve are perhaps competing goals.
I don’t have input on the strength plus cardio approach, but I’m sure lots of fitness professionals would, so asking them may be a good idea?
I’m definitely not a physique expert, just sharing my experience and what I’m doing/loving!
Keep me posted!
Thanks Diane! Hubs isn’t concerned about my muscles except when my quads start popping out of my jeans and I claim I need a new wardrobe 😂 Otherwise he’s pretty secure about it…except when I remind him that I deadlift more than he does!!
You’re spot on, it’s the nutritional piece and body mass that I still haven’t figured out. Especially when you add in 10+ miles on the river or 40 miles on the bike…I get HANGRY. Pile on more muscle mass from lifting and it just gets so frustrating. Maybe my goals are in conflict and I’ll have to adjust something soon, but for right now I’m just trying to keep moving and hold off the desire to park on a couch in these grey, wet New England “winters”.
Thanks for all you do!
This seems like a great program! I hate cardio, and just like to lift weights. About how long do the workouts usually take? Also, which of the programs is it? There are a few on their website… Is it the RP Female Physique Training Template? There’s also a Renaissance Woman pack and a PL Hypertrophy Training Template..
The workouts take me anywhere from 45 mins up to 90 minutes depending on the day and how long I rest in between sets. I’m doing the female physique template as noted in the post! 🙂 The pack I believe has more than one template in it – training and nutrition I think.
This post was SO helpful in understanding what might be right/wrong for me. (PS I love that you considered BBG and Tone It Up!) A gym environment is super intimidating to me – I don’t think I’ve ever lifted weights in my life – but I grew up an athlete. I’ve always wanted to lift, but unsure where to start. Post-college, I’ve moved toward yoga and have seen great “results” from just being a bit more active. During my yoga teacher training I was taking classes 6 days a week, and noticed a definite increase in muscle tone, but not mass. Since that’s calmed down, I’ve tried bootcamp style classes, running, etc. and I’ve also felt so beat afterward (learning all about adrenal fatigue lately, haha). Listening to your podcast with Jen and Kourtney definitely opened up my eyes to the potential of something new for me. I know you’re a Jersey girl, could you possibly recommend any coaches, gyms, etc. in the Montclair area? I’d appreciate it so much! As always, thanks for all that you do 🙂
You could check out Brazen Athletics in Fairfield (a little drive from Montclair but not bad). My friend and former 1:1 coach there is Carolyn DeMiro. I’m not sure if she still does 1:1 but you can find out. They also have a ladies-only class but 1:1 may be better if you need to train without crazy metabolic conditioning/adrenal taxing stuff.
Thank you so very much for detailing out your thought process as well as where you were at in life that led you to the programming you are currently using. It was really well thought out and incredibly helpful. I’ve read it about 5 times to really get everything out of it!
I’ve been using the RP nutrition templates and really loving them which led me to toying with the idea of the FPT template. I currently do CF but am dealing with some adrenal issues which you also touched upon and how pure WF taxes the muscles not the adrenals which is what I’m looking for. I’m also interested in showing up at the gym and doing my own specific program and just lifting heavy things.
So I checked out a local gym that has all the equipment I need and just purchased the FPT template. I can’t wait to get started! Thanks again for all the work you put into each of your posts. I felt compelled to comment for this one because it really hit close to home…like you’d written it just for me (just let me pretend that’s actually true 🙂 hahaha). Have a great day!
Glad you found this helpful, Judi! 🙂
How long are your RP workouts usually?
They would usually take me about an hour – give or take. You can adjust your rest to make them faster or longer if you want. It also depends how hard you’re working and how much time you need to recover!