The Female Body Breakthrough and my approach to strength training

by Laura Agar Wilson on February 6, 2012

in review

Back in 2010 I purchased a copy of Rachel Cosgrove’s Female Body Breakthrough to help me get my head around weight training. I used it for a while but eventually it ended up being lost in my collection of healthy living books.

The Female Body Breakthrough

After all the blogger buzz surrounding the New Rules of Lifting for Women, I bought it and gave the plans a try but I had found that the programmes in NRoL were not easily adaptable for the equipment available in my gym and did not provide me with a challenging enough workout. Recently I decided to re visit Female Body Breakthrough to see what it could offer me now (it might be worth noting that Alwyn Cosgrove that developed the programmes for NRoL is Rachel’s husband and business partner!)

What really comes across in this book is that it is written by a woman for women. The book includes chapters that help to address food and body issues, nutrition, the actual fitness plan itself and maintaining your results. Rachel has written the book in a very friendly tone which makes it enjoyable to read. She tells us that we should be aiming to be a BITCHBe Inspiring Totally Confident and Hot!

She does writes very convincingly about the benefits of strength training over cardio, especially running – with regards to creating that more muscle defined look. She encourages the focus to be on the strength aspect, only adding in cardio in the form of high intensity interval training (HIIT) if you have time. The nutrition plan suggests that you should eat 6 meals a day to keep blood sugar levels staple and to keep the body well fuelled. She also says that you should always eat before a work out – and within 15 minutes of waking up. Predictably, the nutrition programme focuses on clean foods with lots of protein – adopting a 90 / 10 clean and splurge spilt. The nutrition plan becomes more restrictive as you progress (if you choose to do so) introducing carb cycling and specific timing of consuming carbs with the aim of shedding excess fat.

The workout plan itself is split into 4 stages, each lasting 4 weeks for a 16 week programme. Each phase get’s progressively more challenging by changing the rep range, performing a more challenging variation of the same exercise and in the latter stages, by adding in ‘finishers’, ‘complexes’ and metabolic circuits. Each stage has two workouts mostly made up of about 8 exercises with some core work then upper body and lower body exercisers paired together in super sets. Each exercise is clearly shown and explained how to perform correctly. When you’ve completed the programme you can go back and repeat the stages as you wish but making sure that you continue to progress by increasing the weight over the last time you performed the stage and never doing the same stage back to back.

How I’ve made the plan work for me

I haven’t followed any of the nutrition plan – veganism doesn’t exactly sit that well with a more protein focused approach, however I do think with a few tweeks, the essence of the base phase nutrition plan would be achievable for a vegan. Plus I was never seeking to lose weight or fat.

I love my gym, but its really not that brilliant in the strength training department. It has a small area with free weights, a couple of benches, stability balls, bars of various weights up to 14lbs, a 5lb medicine ball, a barbell with weights plus a small range of stationary machines. It doesn’t have any squat racks or cable machines or any really heavy weights available (it is a ladies gym – still no excuse though!).

What I’ve done is use the plan as a loose framework sticking to it as closely as I can but then subbing in other exercises that work the same group of muscles when I don’t have the equipment available. Due to my other workouts which previously included lots of cardio (because up to now I never considered not focusing on cardio), I’ve just been performing these workouts twice a week (Rachel recommends at least 3 times a week) and over 5 – 6 weeks rather than the 4 weeks in the plan.

strength plan

This is my training log from the base phase

I’ve found that I’ve had to increase my rep range past the suggested range in the plans for some exercises to make them more challenging when I’m using the heaviest weight my gym has available (and therefore can’t increase it). I’ve also been doing these plans and adding on 15 – 20 minutes of HIIT which I actually based off the plans from NRoL: 1 minute hard and 2 minutes moderate repeated.

I feel like I have a reasonable knowledge of strength training but I like following an experts plan so that I know I’m not missing out any muscles or creating a muscle imbalance. This book has provided an excellent basis for that, however if I want to progress for the future then I’m going to have to get a bit more creative!

My future strength training plans

As I’m currently seeking to gain some weight I really want to make sure that I have some decent muscle there as well so that its not just ‘flab’. As I’m also looking to reduce my cardio down a notch, focusing on strength training right now makes a lot of sense. I think I’m going to re start the programme from the base phase and possibly start performing 3 of these workouts a week rather than just two. I was also planning on making sure I’m getting plenty of protein in (tofu, tempeh and protein powders) along with my increase in fats. I also need to consider how I can make them more challenging in ways that do not necessarily involve increasing the weight. I came across a great article in the February issue of Ultra Fit magazine about resistance training variables which basically describes a few of the ways in which you can increase the ‘stress’ on your muscles:

  1. Increase the weight
  2. Perform more reps with same weight
  3. Complete more sets
  4. Reduce rest period between sets
  5. Perform more exercises per muscle group
  6. Choose more challenging versions of exercises

Up to a certain point I think I’ll be fine with the plans in  Female Body Breakthrough and just increasing reps, sets and reducing rest, however after a while I like the idea of starting to perform more exercises per muscle group, which I think is how Jamie Easton’s LiveFit is structured so I may start looking into those plans.

Do you currently do any strength training? What’s your approach? Do you like winging it or following a plan? Have you came across Female Body Breakthrough and if so what did you think?

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