For any woman who hopes to get a stronger and more toned body, there are 10 opinions, 20 regime suggestions and an endless list of diet ideas. In the realm of exercise physiology, there’s no shortage of research examining what works for you and what doesn’t. But it is easy to get lost in the abundance of mostly unusable information that comes from unreliable sources. So, how do you determine your personalised workout routine and find out your path to fitness?

TC46 connected with Pallavi Barman who is the Head of Marketing & Operations at HRX (actor Hrithik Roshan’s brand). Pallavi is a fitness enthusiast herself, and her journey to good health has taught her the finer nuances of working out for maximum gains, tailored to the female body type.

How Working Out Helps Women

It’s amazing how we, the women, undermine ourselves most of the time. Despite being the strongest glue known to this world we doubt our flexibility, focus, strength, capability and capacity. There are a whole host of roles we play, and I am not reiterating those in this article, but while playing these crucial roles, we kind of forget harnessing our internal energy positively.

Women have nuclear reactors in them (my strong belief)—if you let a certain something become your passion, it will only multiply and spread. And this internal energy when channelized right can light up the world around.

I am all for internal health and fitness—more so for women because this is pure science and can be easily understood once broken down. Our female bodies are guided and governed by fatty substances called hormones. 

If an average study is conducted to understand the cyclical pattern of women, we will find that women who have healthy cycles (26-28 days) are in general happier, look and feel fitter (this includes hair, skin, nails, gut), are more energetic and productive. So in my theory, hormonal health management is very important for ensuring we women are at our fittest.

When we train, any amount of physical activity starting with a 30 min walk to an hour-long high-intensity workout keeps our insides self-mobilized and our body works like a well-oiled machine. It ejects toxins, burns fat, absorbs oxygen, and helps us stay able-bodied. In addition to this, mobilizing the spine, and fortifying our bones, joints and muscles have a huge pay off in the long run.

Needless to say, when you start your day or at least incorporate movement during the day, the body releases endorphins or the ‘happy hormones;, which uplift your mood, and we all know that a happy woman makes a happier family. Isn’t it?

As we age, the bones start to become porous. This is akin to erosion, which happens to metal surfaces over time. This increased friction between the bones and causes joints to crackle. Bone strength starts depleting over time clearly. When you start mobilizing your body, over a period of time, the oxygen intake enables regeneration of cells faster. When we have newer cells growing, it prolongs youth—so less saggy skin, good muscle tone, stronger limbs, shiny skin, and there are many more positive effects.

But please do not attribute all of the health benefits to simply burning it up. What goes into the system also matters a lot. So a good routine is one, which is always supplemented with a healthy junk-free balanced diet.

Types Of Cardio Exercises Best-Suited For Women

Moving on to understanding the various forms that women can practice on a daily basis to avoid monotony while making the most of their short workout window amidst the chaos of family rearing, work, children and more.

Cardio can be achieved by:

  • Walking (brisk)
  • Running
  • Spot jogging or jogging
  • Skipping
  • Cycling
  • Spinning
  • Zumba
  • Dance
  • Climbing the stairs up and down rapidly

I have developed the habit of running over the years because that’s the fastest way of burning some calories, but on days when one is pressed for time or days that are unsuitable for running, you can try skipping rope instead. Even certain exercises like jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and high knees, butt kicks can be turned into an interesting cardio routine. And let’s say we are having our worst day where none of this is possible. Remember to shun the elevator and climb up and down the stairs.

Cardio can be done 4-5 times in a week or combined with strength training. In my case, I run a 5k at least every day and follow it up with 15-20 min of high-intensity interval training. 

How Strength-Training Helps Women

What we need to be cognisant of is what each training method does to our body and hence what should be effective. Cardio is for burning fat and leaning out.

Strength training is for strengthening the muscles and improving your body tone. This involves lifting weights but again, weights should be chosen in a way to avoid muscle isolation unless you want to build a certain muscle.

When we do biceps curls with a dumbbell, it helps in stretching the muscles of the arm and making it achieve the shape. So if the objective is to shape up muscles in a certain way then we move to muscle isolation workouts for elongation and shaping of that muscle. In common parlance, this sounds like a “leg day”, “shoulders day”, “abs day” and so on. However if the objective is to achieve a good muscle tone overall, then deadlifts and barbell lifts, push-ups, and basic weight training that ropes in multiple muscle groups at once work wonders.

The latest in the world of out-of-gym techniques is callisthenics and personally, this is my favourite. It entails lifting your own body weight, hanging, pulling, stretching, thereby working all core muscle groups together and building skill, agility, balance and focus simultaneously. Plus the advantage of callisthenics is that it is done in the open air and there is abundant oxygen from the fresh air around.

How Often & For How Long Should You Workout

Different workouts suit people differently. Just the way dairy suits some while it doesn’t suit others, running may suit one but may not suit others. It’s absolutely fine to have weaknesses, but the idea is to spot the strength and hone that. 

So if you have a super flexible and lithe spine like a 16-year-old, practice Ashtanga yoga and reap the benefits. If your upper body strength is outstanding then get into callisthenics; and if you have a toughened core go for lifting. It’s not a one-for-all. A lot of trial and error goes into finding the spot where you are able to feel:

  1. Comfortable
  2. Confident
  3. Consistent
  4. Content

So remember the 4 Cs for making your own choice of what works for your body and keeps you hooked and motivated. It could also be “company”, in which case find the motivation, work out buddy or the coach who can aid your resolve.

How Sleeping Well Helps You Stay Fit

Conceptually a body gains good fitness levels when you balance the training with a good amount of rest. Let’s understand this with the analogy of a laptop. When you are done working the office hours, you should usually put it to sleep. But even while asleep, the laptop is working because it hasn’t shut down. And this pattern will make either your battery life poor or heat up the laptop, or cause some snag. So it’s advisable to reboot every few days. 

Now replace the laptop in the above example with our bodies. The body when put to complete downtime repairs itself. So when the usual rigmarole of activities shut down, the engineering department works in fixing the wear and tear and hence, good sleep is tantamount to faster recovery and actually bodybuilding!

Workout Tips For New Mothers

Ever thought why new mothers take a whole one-year cycle to start falling back in shape?

  • Sleep is interrupted and often of poor quality
  • Hormones are still finding and seeking the right balance
  • There is hardly any routine, discipline or time to work out

So in totality, when all these three things are aligned in an orderly fashion, you are able to start getting back into shape. Hence some new mothers who can achieve these sooner are back in shape faster and some who haven’t managed to get a combination of all 3 things going take a little more time.

The Correct Way To Measure Weight Loss

For one to lose weight—which isn’t my preferred matrix—but let’s use it for simplicity and general understanding (I would rather use inch loss and that’s when you start fitting in your original size clothes without extra bulges and effort). Or rather, let me replace weight loss with inch loss simply because it is a more positive matrix to measure. Weight on the scale is a dynamic number! Forever fluctuating owing to various factors. Hence don’t get bogged down by the oscillating scale. Stay focused on inch loss.

Now to lose inches you need to have your body burning fat. Fat burn happens when you can create a calorie deficit. Don’t be misguided, but calorie deficit isn’t achieved with fad dieting and starvation. It’s achieved by eating clean and right, and when needed. If your normal diet adds up to 2,000 calories, please be aware that fat burn starts only when your calorie burn in a day is above 2000. This calorie burn is the summation of internally consumed calories as well as external burn. The external burn gets created when you train to work out. If you manage to put your body cyclically in this direction, a fat burn zone is set up.

Let me elucidate with my own example—in a sedentary stage, for my age, I burn up to 1,800 calories every day. By training and running I add another 400 calories on an average every day, and with work at home, walking, kids another 400. So my calorie burn, internally plus externally, amounts to 2,600 daily.

Why Food Is Good For Fitness

My intake is usually 1,800-2,000 solid calories (and not empty, that is all my calories usually have nutritional value because I don’t eat junk and food is kept clean). Based on my daily burn of 2,600 calories, I have created a deficit of 600 calories for myself. This is my fat burning zone or the inch loss zone. 

Now let’s look at the weight matrix: The mornings after I have eaten a hearty dinner or even had a beer, the scale shows me a number that can be very demotivating but despite that, I fit into my favourite skinny jeans! So happiness is intact and there is no wavering from the mission of achieving this 400-calorie burn mark every day!

How You Can Tailor Your Workout Regime

Lastly, on training, follow your body’s cues. Go tough and push yourself on days when you are at your best and go slow and give yourself some TLC on days you aren’t feeling strong. But on those days, balance it out with good and clean food. 5 days a week is a very good training schedule. 45 minutes work as fine and 30 minutes of a good focused workout. Also, rest needs to be enough—a good 6 hours of sleep every day and a day off with some deep tissue massages will do you good by clearing up the lymph nodes and detoxifying the body and relaxing the muscles all at once.

Now the impact of the stage of her menstrual cycle a woman has a whole new set of meaning which when decoded will make you feel erudite about your own self, but that’s a new topic for our next read. 

Till then enjoy this, stay fit and be happy.