Description: Bit talks to a plant-powered body builder.
How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? Are you still procrastinating on joining a gym?
Why not start now?
Jaime Palma is the warm, soft-spoken expert who runs Amazon Strength, a site for female body-builders. She sat down with me last week to explain how to get started with a weight training program.
Q. Stereotype threat is a huge hurdle for me when I try to lift; if I feel like dudes are watching me, I freeze up and I can’t do anything. What advice do you have for women who are uncomfortable leaving the cardio area at the gym?
A. Venturing into the weight room for the first time can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. I think one of the best ways to curb this anxiety is to practice your form outside of the gym (with a PVC pipe, broom stick, anything that can substitute for a barbell, really) for a while until you are a bit more comfortable, and then move on to knock out some weights.
A lot of women also find it helpful to have a program written out and planned for, which removes the anxiety that can come from walking into a crowded gym and not knowing which lifts you are going to perform that day. A basic powerlifting program that relies on linear progression and compound movements such as Stronglifts 5×5 or Starting Strength is an excellent choice when you’re getting started.
If you’ve put in the time to dial in your form to a place where you are at least somewhat comfortable, and you’ve got a program written down that you’ve prepared for and are ready to follow, you’ll be much more successful at just walking into the gym and knocking out your sets with confidence.
If you’re still nervous about people watching you, put on your headphones and stare at nothing but yourself in the mirror. Keep your focus and your intensity, and try to let everything else in the gym melt away. This is your time for yourself and you deserve it.
Q. What would you look for in a good gym?
A. I personally prefer an old-school powerlifting gym. Loud music and iron clanging and people yelling as they hit PRs really pumps me up for a good session, and I think gyms like this tend to build a special type of comradery. I look for plentiful basic strength equipment (benches, squat racks, barbells), because I don’t like to deviate from my program and I don’t want to have to wait around for equipment. I always feel better if I see other women in the gym.
Q. What unique advantages do women have in regards to strength training? I feel I outpace men with my lower body strength; could I be right about that?
A. The pop science version is that women have higher volume work capacity and men have higher absolute strength capacity, which is really only partially true.
What is actually true is that individuals with more type 1 muscle fibers (generally females) will have higher volume work capacity and individuals with type 2 muscle fiber dominance (generally males) will have higher absolute strength capacity. In general this means that women will be able to do higher reps with a higher percentage of their 1-Rep-Max (i.e. 6-8 reps at 80% of their 1RM) than men, who will generally have a higher 1RM relative to their bodyweight but will have lower volume capacity (i.e. 3-5 reps at 80% of their 1RM).
Leverages also play a large role in the amount and type of strength that someone will be able to develop, which can translate into the perceived stronger lower body that you’ve referenced. In general, and individual with proportionally shorter legs will have a slight advantage deadlifting and a slight disadvantage squatting – but these leverages really affect one’s overall strength capacity so minimally that it’s almost not worth worrying about.
Mostly, the individual who is able to work to find the best positioning for their own leverages will be the strongest individual regardless of what those leverages are.
Q. You train (used to train?) while eating a completely vegan diet. What’s the most important thing for vegetarian and vegan women to know when starting a weight lifting program?
A. I think one of the most important thing for vegetarian and vegan women to know in general is that you need to be concerned with your protein intake – the idea that vegetarians/vegans get plenty of protein without trying is absolutely a myth for 99% of people. I am sure that there are a handful of folks who eat meat- and dairy-free and get adequate protein without having to put much thought into it, but for most of us, it will be essential to have some sort of handle on how much protein you are consuming.
A lot of women will find it helpful to track your food intake for at least a week or two to get a baseline for what you’re already eating, and then start to modify from there. It’s not absolutely necessary to drink protein shakes or deal in protein isolates, but a solid shake after your training session can go a long way towards preventing muscle soreness and speeding recovery.
The absolute minimum protein intake you should have is 1g/kg of bodyweight, but I personally shoot for closer to 1g/lb (1 kg = 2.2 lbs) of lean body weight (lean body weight = your body weight – the weight of your body fat as determined by your % body fat).
Vegans and vegetarians should also consider creatine supplementation, which is the only supplement on the market that has been shown scientifically to induce statistically significant lean muscle gain. It is especially important for vegans and vegetarians to supplement with creatine, because the dietary source of creatine is red meat, and creatine deficiency has been tied to intelligence deficits, speech problems, and epilepsy.
Q. What do you like to do when you’re not lifting?
A. I’m working towards making fitness part of my career and getting my personal trainer certification, so a lot of my time when I’m not lifting is spent reading about lifting/nutrition, watching videos about lifting, or writing about lifting and nutrition for AmazonStrength.org.
Outside of all that, I spend as much of my free time as I can with my partner and our menagerie of rescue animals, usually cooking together or playing outside. I also spend a lot of time organizing with other Lesbians and Feminists, and if I’m lucky enough to have a few more moments to myself I love gardening and playing video games.
Check out Jaime’s youtube channel for workout demos and more expert advice.