Strength without size 2: The thickening

December 25th, 2008  |  Published in Training art & science  |  37 Comments

By Geoff Girvitz, Bang Fitness

In the first part of this article, we discovered why lifting weights for strength is not going to turn you into a she-beast. To this end, I provided several ways to minimize size gains just in case there was any residual paranoia.  In the second part (you know, the one you’re reading now), I’m going to give you some concrete examples of how to put the theory of getting stronger into practice.

Safety first… information a distant third

One of the main barriers to mainstream advice about women’s strength training is fear. Not fear of angry Amazons roaming the streets and flipping over parked cars. Rather, a fear of litigation. After all, the potential for injury certainly can rise alongside the number of plates on a barbell. The amount of detail that goes into teaching proper lifts is substantial. In Starting Strength, Mark Rippetoe’s primer on core lifts, 40 dense pages are dedicated to the squat alone. Even with all that information, a whole bunch of supervision and guidance is needed for most people. It’s easier (and far less contentious) for magazines to include an adorable dumbbell complex that will let you hit those stubborn spots, you saucy, saucy modern woman. Saucy!

Well, guess what? I don’t want to get sued either. So, before you attempt to squat your bodyweight, you’re going to need to get things right with broomstick weight. Proper exercise technique is beyond the scope of this article, though, so if it’s still something you’re working on, please continue to do so until you (and your body) are ready to start lifting heavy.

The truth about program design

Designing custom programs for any one of you unique snowflakes out there is something I really enjoy. It’s an exercise in creative problem solving . . . one of my favourite things. That’s why it’s kind of a bummer to have to generalize for a wide audience. It’s like a lottery where I offer up six digits and you have to check your ticket (in this case, your specific physical status and goals) to see if they match. Some people will find the program template below closer to what they need. Some people will find it farther. For a tiny number, it might even hit their needs exactly. We all just hope it’s not some a-hole who already has a six pack and 400 lb push press.

The good news is that there are a few things we can do to ensure you’ve got most of those numbers right before you buy your ticket.

1. You need to have been lifting consistently for at least a couple of months. This foundational stage is necessary to help develop connective tissue and tendon strength, proprioception, technique and enough neuromuscular activation to even make this worthwhile. In other words, your joints need to be strong enough to take this, and your body needs to have at least a good working theory of where your arms and legs are at any given moment.

2. You need to know what muscular failure really feels like. Not muscular discomfort. Not muscular annoyance. Failure. The imaginary scenario I like to use is this: an eccentric man in a coonskin cap wanders into the gym as you finish an exercise. “I will give you $10,000 if you do one more rep,” he says. When your student loans go unpaid, that’s failure.

3. You need to have your technique down pat. If you’re still at a beginning stage, don’t worry. This is the perfect time for you to be practicing squat and deadlift technique with low intensity (just enough to keep you honest). Don’t rush things. Progressing at the right times will be the fastest long-term approach anyway.

4. Don’t be [a] baby. Think carefully about starting this program. If you’re going to start it, see it through. Don’t second-guess yourself every couple of steps. I can honestly say that you will get more out of sticking with a less-than-ideal program than faffing around with minimal consistency. In fact, learning (with confidence) what doesn’t work for you can be well worth the time investment over the long haul.

5. Understand that it’s impossible to get big overnight from lifting weights (unless you drop one on yourself). Give yourself a chance to maximize strength. Even if we wanted to get as huge as possible, it would still be a slow progression. So, know that if you’re unhappy with any muscle you might be putting on, you will be able to stop at any step of the way.

6. Know when to push yourself and when to rest. Session to session, this means sucking it up when you need to and leaving enough rest time for full recovery. Week to week, this means sticking with programming, but deloading when prescribed.

While many people fail to work anywhere near hard enough, there are always a few hardcore nutcases (if you’re reading this article, you’re more than likely to be one) that have trouble getting in enough recovery time. For the latter, if you do happen to feel very fatigued, you may want to either lighten the load or take a day off. Don’t be a tough guy until it’s time to be a tough guy.

Primary concepts

Here are a few basics to know.

Circuit training

The primary fuel your muscles use for contraction is ATP. How much gets eaten up is based, in part, on how long your muscles are contracting. For maximal work, you’ve got about 8-10 seconds worth of this stuff.  That in itself is an interesting fact.

Once your initial stores of ATP and CP are taxed, your limit strength drops to about 70% of what it was. Longer lifts, despite feeling like more work, do not help you maximize strength development. To keep your total time under tension to be under 11 seconds, sets have to be shorter. That’s why, as a general rule, sets for strength development are typically 5 reps or under. This is important for maximizing strength while minimizing the stresses that trigger hypertrophy (aka muscle mass gain).

The time requred for ATP/CP stores to fully recover is 4-5 minutes. Since we’ve all got better things to do than sit around admiring our guns in the mirror for 4+ minutes after every set (most of us, anyway), circuits are a great way to make use of this time. While we challenge one muscle group, another can rest.

Muscular failure

You actually won’t be going to failure on every exercise. That would be too fatiguing – especially for the frequency of training in this program. However, you should periodically push yourself to failure on different exercises (one per session is plenty) to give yourself a clear idea of whether or not the weight you’ve selected is adequately challening.


Try to change up the exercises you’re doing in a specific circuit every 2-3 weeks.

The fall of the machines

I promised myself I wouldn’t write an 18-page diatribe against machines, so let’s just say this: try to do as much as you can with free weights.

Boulders, leopards and dudes at clubs are all examples of things that need to be periodically shoved away from (or off of) you. Clearly, there is no fixed track or external stabilization to rely on when this happens. That’s why free weights offer better carryover.

Yes, there are some places where lifting with machines can be helpful. These are the exception, not the rule. Let’s just agree to stick with free weights whenever possible.

Compound exercises first

When it comes to real strength – the kind that carries over into our lives – training compound exercises are essential. Any single-joint movement that people may default to, from biceps curls to leg extensions is automatically integrated into a compound movement, such as pull-ups or squats. For those trying to minimize time spent in the gym, this is an essential fact.

Selecting the appropriate intensity on your primary compound exercises may be tricky. Knowing your actual 5RM (what weight you can perform 5 repetitions – and no more! — of) will help a lot. Ideally, you’ll build through your first three or four sets (including the warm-up) to find a weight that you’ll go to failure at within six or seven reps (even though you’ll only be completing five). Your final set should be closer to a true 5RM as long as you have sufficient safeguards in place.

Many people will start too low (or build too slowly). The result will be insufficient intensity. That’s no good, so you may want to add an additional set to bring you up to the appropriate level. At the very least, record your totals so you don’t make the same mistake twice.

Unilateral exercises next

Not only is it important to balance strength development from front to back (you’ll notice our primary and secondary circuits do just that), it’s important to balance things from left to right. Often if one side is lagging, the other side will pick up the slack, which maintains – and sometimes even exacerbates — the strength imbalance.

There’s absolutely no problem in choosing unilateral (one-sided) exercises for your primary lifts. However, this program ensures weak links are addressed by emphasizing this approach for the second circuit of each workout.

Single joint exercises later (if ever)

You can add isolation exercises to supplement strength development in your primary lifts. As a matter of fact, we do that in this program. However, there’s a reason that compound exercises come first: the type of neurological adaptations we want work best when you’re fully rested.

Single-joint exercises certainly do have their place. They can help clean up some of the weak links in a movement. However, for the reasons above, they need to come later in a session. In our program, they’re going to be integrated with energy system work. This will translate into more bang for your buck, both in terms of strength development and caloric expenditure.

If you’re ever stretched for time (on any workout, really), it’s the isolation movements that should go first. Many programs, in fact, do just fine without them.

What’s this energy systems training of which you speak?

Technically, everything we’re doing is energy system training. If we skip past my bitching about semantics, though, we can focus on what we’re really going to accomplish: burning through as many calories as possible. This isn’t the main focus of our program, but training in this manner will allow you to experience how increased strength translates to increased energy output (and efficiency). For those looking to lose weight, these strength gains will pay off hugely when translated to weight loss focused-programs.

The gist of it all

Now that we’ve gone over the details of what will emphasize or de-emphasize size gains, I’m going to give you the kind of program that I think will work best as a bridge to intermediate strength development. There are a few things here that prevent it from being ideally configured to stave off size gain so, if that’s still a concern for you, the next section will show you how to modify the program accordingly (pro tip: don’t bother).

I still fear the thickening!

If you’re still truly afraid of putting on any size, there are a few adjustments you’ll have to make to this program (review Part 1 for the logic behind them).

1. Ensure a full four minutes rest (anything over 5:00, however is overkill) before repeating the same exercise. I recommend starting a stopwatch after completion of the first exercise in a circuit and then waiting for it to hit 4:00 before starting a new circuit.

2. Maintain the same intensity for the exercises in Circuit 2, but drop the number of reps down to 6-8.

3. Maintain the same intensity for the exercises in Circuit 3, but drop the number of reps down to 8-10.

4. Skip either the second or third circuit OR do only one of each.

5. Don’t get a full eight hours sleep every night, don’t eat adequately (especially protein) and do let day-to-day stresses really get to you.

How to build

This program is designed for four workouts per week.  I’ve included a spreadsheet detailing a progression. You can download that here. (PDF)

The basic progression details are as follows:

  • Alternate between Day 1 and Day 2
  • Do two workouts a week for two weeks
  • On Week 3, you’ll begin building a third day, one circuit at a time (per week)
  • By Week 5, you’ll be up to three days per week
  • On Week 6, youll begin building a fourth day, one circuit at a time (per week)
  • By Week 8, you’ll be up to a full four day per week
  • Week 9 will provide a de-loading week (use it!)
  • After week 9, the four day per week program (as in week 8) will be repeated until week 14
  • Instead of de-loading in Week 14, you can try a different activity altogether, as long as it’s relatively light in intensity
  • If you wish to resume this program, you can simply repeat the cycle between Weeks 8 and 14

4 workouts a week!? Fuhgedaboudit!

If you are only able to work out three times a week, add one more circuit to the first two groups. This would add up to 3-4 x 5 reps (not including warm-up) for Circuit 1 and 3 x 7-10 reps for Circuit 2.

If you are only able to work out twice a week, add two more circuits to the first group and one more to the second. This would add up to 5 x 5 reps (not including warm-up) for Circuit 1 and 3 x 7-10 reps for Circuit 2.

Finally: the program

Day 1

Circuit 1

4-5 circuits: warm-up (8 reps) plus 3-4 circuits with 5 reps per exercise
A1: Deadlift variation
A2: Pull-up variation
A3: Overhead pressing variation
0-1 minute rest between sets for a total of 3-4  minutes before repeating any given exercise

Circuit 2

2-3 circuits, 7-10 reps per exercise
B1: Split squat, lunge or step-up variation
B2: Single-arm rowing variation
B3: Single-arm chest pressing variation
B4: Core work: reverse crunch variation
No rest between sets for a total of 3-4 minutes before repeating any given exercise

Circuit 3

2 circuits
C1: Sprint, push or drag (20-25 seconds) + core stability work (20-30 seconds) + elbow flexion
C2: Jumping variation (10-12) + rear delt or low trap work  + elbow extension
Record your total time for both circuits and try to beat it during your next workout

Day 2

Circuit 1

4-5 circuits: warm-up (8 reps) plus 3-4 circuits with 5 reps per exercise
A1: Squat variation
A2: Row variation
A3: Bench or dumbbell press variation
0-1 minute rest between sets for a total of 3-4  minutes before repeating any given exercise

Circuit 2

2-3 circuits, 7-10 reps per exercise
B1: Single-leg hip extension variation
B2: Single-arm overhead pressing variation
B3: Single-arm pull-down variation
B4: Core work: stability variation
No rest between sets for a total of 3-4 minutes before repeating any given exercise

Circuit 3

2 circuits
C1: Lateral movement variation (20-25 seconds) + side planking variation (20-30 seconds) + external rotation (10-12)
C2: Kettlebell or dumbbell swings (5 each hand) + crunching variation (10-12) + wood chopping variation (10-12)
Record your total time for both circuits and try to beat it during your next workout

geoff_girvitz_headshotGeoff Girvitz runs Bang Fitness in Toronto, which offers personal training, group classes and combat conditioning in Toronto. Bang Fitness is, like, totally sweet. It has tires and sledgehammers and an Olympic lifting platform and a dragging sled and freakin’ Astroturf! If you are in the west end of Toronto, this is definitely the place to train.

Geoff is a deceptively charming man who turns into a hardass when he’s training you. He enjoys yelling “Don’ be baby!” at people in a fake accent and then making puppy eyes. It really screws with your head. And it definitely gets results.


  1. Laura says:

    March 29th, 2009at 8:22 pm(#)

    I know I’m probably going to sound like an uber noob..but what do you mean by “4-5 circuits: warm-up (8 reps)”? What exactly do you do for that warm up?

  2. Geoff says:

    April 1st, 2009at 1:21 pm(#)

    Hey, noob!

    The warm-up set is the same exercise done with an easy weight . . . I typically like 30-50% of your 1RM. The warm-up set is not designed to make you look like a hero; it’s an opportunity to practice the movement with perfect form and is, as such, light enough to give you time to think about things.

  3. Jeannine Grube says:

    April 7th, 2009at 12:41 pm(#)

    I have a question???
    General background: I have been training with a trainer for over a year. I was 30% body fat in Feb. 2008 and then was tested at 19% fat in Dec. 2008. In January 2009 I started a strictly “get strong” program where I am lifting a %of max type of program. I started at 80% of max then 90% then back to 80% then 95% then 80% and so on. Each week I’d lift 5 days a week. Each week would be a certain percent of my max. The higher the weight the lower the reps. My training consists of basic lifts like the bench press, pull ups, curls, deadlifts, clean and jerk and snatch Olympic Lifts, squats -front and back. Also includes a few more to round things out–rows, tricep extension, calf raises, wrist curls, shrugs, push press.
    I got my bench press up to a 125 max, I can do pull ups on my own, and I can squat 185 pounds (all the way down to the ground). Anyway, my question is about body fat–I was just tested at 21% and am concerned with all the lifting I am gaining fat. I gained 5 pounds (130 to 135) and 2% bodyfat. Am I doing something wrong??? Should I have been doing some cardio along the way. Mostly for cardio I am doing is some plyometric drills a few times a week. (box jumps, striders, “hoop drils” etc.)
    I am wrestling with my own self concept of what is fitness for me and what should I do next for my training. My trainer says that this is great progress and while some fat came along the way my strength and muscle gain is far greater. What do you think? (OH yeah, measurements: I got bigger).

  4. Jeannine Grube says:

    April 7th, 2009at 5:26 pm(#)

    Me again…I needed to revise my email. Please note my second response has my proper email address. My mistake.

    In looking at your suggested work out curcuit. Your program is alot more “cardio” intense than just lifting. Am I right? I got down to 19% bodyfat using curcuit style workouts. Good Stuff.

  5. Geoff says:

    April 7th, 2009at 9:54 pm(#)

    Ok. First of all, congrats for getting from 30% to 19% BF. That’s no mean feat.

    So what is fitness anyway? That’s a pretty big effing question. In the interest of brevity, I’ll suggest that a baseline level of fitness will reduce disease and injury risks while increasing the ability to take on general tasks — anything from riding a bike to rescuing a drowning underwear model.

    Contrary to what some people would have you believe (*Crossfit, koff, koff*), any further development has to take a specific direction; even if it’s intentionally general (did I just blow your mind?). Here’s where your own goals and desires come into play.

    So what’s your concern? The 2.5 lbs of fat that you’ve gained back? That your training is moving in the wrong direction? All I can say is this: by increasing your strength and lean muscle mass, you have increased the efficiency with which you can lose fat.

    At my sweet-ass gym, we take a periodized approach to fat loss that includes a strength development phase prior to an intense fat loss phase. Why? Because having more strength/muscle is essentially like having a bigger engine. If your goal is to burn through as much fuel as possible, you’re better off as a Ferrari than a moped.

    If you decide that you’d like to lean out, you are now in a better position to do so than you were at the beginning of the year.

    If you decide that you’d like to take up a new sport — something that tidily sums up the types of physical abilities you’d like to have — you are in a better position to do that too.

    Increased strength opens up a lot of doors. Find a direction that interests you and pursue that.

    A few final thoughts:

    * I don’t know what your per-session volume is, but unless it’s really low, it seems to me that you’d want to both vary up your approach (check out Westside Barbell’s take on conjugate periodization) and take regular recovery weeks.

    * It occurs to me that you might be asking if lifting heavy weights has increased your bodyfat. That’s pretty much like asking if the toilet seat at the mall made you pregnant. A nutritional journal will answer a lot of questions.

    * If you decide to change up your training approach, please consider regular sessions for the purpose of strength maintenance. You’ve made some solid progress — make sure to hold on to it.

  6. Jeannine Grube says:

    April 8th, 2009at 6:28 pm(#)

    Thanks for your timely and sound advice. Its probably time to get some variety. Also, my new found strength has surprisingly given me awesome confidence and an inner personal power that I love. Certainly feeling more like a Ferrari than a moped.
    *I do understand that the heavy weight lifting did not increase my bodyfat. I am just grappling with how to set new goals at this point for leaning out and keeping up with good fitness. And by the way I have never been this fit in my life and I am a mom of a 2 year old in my early forties. I am pretty proud of myself.
    I get your thoughts on nutrition…I’ll take a closer look at that. I think I am pretty good about nutrition but then again?? Certainly fitness is a journey take not a place to reach.
    Thanks for your commitment to this website.

  7. Jamie Rose says:

    April 17th, 2009at 11:16 am(#)

    I read your article because I am specifically scared of bulking up. I have recently lost 40 lbs and am struggling to maintain. I do work out 6 – 7 days a week alternating between cardio and free weights (no machines for me). One thing I noticed in your article is the guage of protein to body weight. At 5’4 I weight 121 lbs and I each about 400grams of protein a day. With this cause me to bulk up?

    Thanks for the help!

  8. Mistress Krista says:

    April 18th, 2009at 5:50 am(#)

    Hi Jamie,

    These links may be useful: — follow the links to see both our workouts and Amanda on stage for comparison

    Let me be armchair shrink for a moment. Often I have clients who get to a certain point in their progress and get scared. Real scared. Suddenly their whole life lies before them and it seems like an impossible project. They’ve come a long way and they don’t want to go back. What you’re feeling is the fear of “Can I maintain all this hard work” and “What if I can’t OMG OMG?!”

    Relax. You’re training hard. You’re paying attention to your nutrition (although I’m not sure exactly how you are getting 400 g of protein daily, unless you are displacing other important things, in which case I suggest you adjust your intake to reflect the following pattern: You don’t need 400 g if that’s even possible to ingest — shoot for something more like 1 g per lb, so 120 g daily. Replace the rest with colourful vegetables and fruits plus some good fats. Eat till you’re 80% full at each meal.

    And most importantly, your hormones will take care of the muscle situation.

    Trust me: if you’re active and eating the right things (see above), everything will sort itself out. You’ll be fine, and you can maintain this progress.

  9. Jamie Rose says:

    April 29th, 2009at 2:14 pm(#)

    Thanks for the great advice! I know it is hard to believe, but I have been eating 400 grams of protein a day. 100 at breakfast, 150 at lunch, and 150 at dinner. I have cut back a little bit because I just felt like that was too much.

    I really enjoyed the articles you recommended and you are right, I am scared. I never want to be the way I was again and I want to make sure I am doing everything I can to keep my new and stronger body.

    Thanks again!

  10. Teresa Merrick says:

    May 6th, 2009at 1:57 pm(#)

    Hi Jamie,

    A little late to respond. One common misconception about protein intake is believing that you eating 4 oz (approx 112 g) of a protein food–say chicken breast–means you are getting 4 oz (112 g) of protein. It doesn’t. You are probably only getting 5-8 g of protein per oz (28 g) of food eaten. The rest is water, some fat, and other substances. You can validate this info in any standard nutrional reference that lists macronutrient counts (Netzer’s Complete Book of Food Counts is one).

    Keep watching your calorie intake so as to avoid “bulking up”. Even after you’re at your “maintenance level”.

    Teresa Merrick
    Bellevue, NE

  11. rox0r says:

    May 10th, 2009at 1:03 am(#)


    400g of protein a day is a crazy amount of protein a day. I’m a 216 pound male, and I dropped 14 pounds on a low carb restricted diet and my total calories were still in the 2000-2250 Calorie range. 400g of protein is 1600 Calories by itself, leaving little room for other macro nutrients.

    Many hard core body builders only go up (ie: upper limit) to 1.5g – 2g of protein per pound of body weight when they are bulking up. Your body is going to break down any excess protein and use it like carbs if you don’t have enough carbohydrates for your cardio.

    Also, consider that there are essential fatty acids that you should be consuming to be healthy.

    You need to write down everything you eat and keep track of the total calories and macronutrient breakdown. If you take in more calories than you burn you will gain fat.

    As Geoff says above about a “periodized approach to fat loss”, what he is saying is there are periods where your goal should be building lean body mass and periods where your focus is on burning fat.

  12. Rosanne says:

    May 14th, 2009at 8:16 pm(#)

    Hi, Geoff! I’ve been following your workout for two weeks and I already notice an improvement in my strength versus using machines. One question though: on Day 1, circuit 3, what kind of exercise is indicated by “Sprint, push or drag”? Sprinting, like on a treadmill? And what am I pushing or dragging?


  13. Maria says:

    May 27th, 2009at 10:03 am(#)

    New to lifting here…I feel kinda stupid asking this, but Geoff, you DID introduce these exercises here, as something to work on AFTER the initial stage of learning correct form, technique etc? It’s past 3am here, I keep reading and reading, and…not comprehending properly. Hehe. Heheh. Um. Thanks!

  14. Geoff says:

    May 27th, 2009at 1:34 pm(#)

    It looks like I’ll need to post a bit of a follow-up just to answer some of the more common questions. Bear with me in the interim.

    To give a quickee answer to the last two, though:

    Sprint: a treadmill certainly works — one method (more advanced) is to keep it moving and just jump to the side on the rest breaks so that you don’t need to worry about accelerating/decelerating. If you’ve got an outdoor place to run, great. Don’t forget that forwards is just one direction. The caveat with running is that it has a higher potential for injury, so it’s not usually preferable if you don’t come from that kind of background.

    Sprints can just as easily (and more safely) be performed on a bike. I’m not so crazy about ellipticals, but that’s another story.

    Pushing/pulling: Mostly this refers to weighted sleds, but I’ve had people throw weighted plates onto vinyl exercise mats and push them up and down the floors in commercial gyms. You can also push or pull a resistant friend for time. Fun!

    As far as training age goes, you should definitely have some experience coupled with good technique before getting into this program.

    To everyone else who’s been getting stronger from this, I only have this to say: awesome.

  15. Christina says:

    June 1st, 2009at 5:55 am(#)

    This is a little frustrating to me. Any site that has any type of targeting towards women who lift weights always stresses YOU WONT GET HUGE.

    What if you _want_ to get HUUUUUUGE?

    I read all these things but just lift very very hard and eat oodles of protein (its a scientific measurement you see) and if I am not getting strong enough, quick enough, I lift more. Harder. Faster. Switch the routine. Do negatives of some exercises. Try new fangled awesome things – explosive pushups are fun! but almost more cardio.

    All the sites with the guys whining about being unable to put on weight I read and eat what they should be eating. So far its working. I just wonder when it’ll stop because my girly bits are scared of awesome muscles.

    You should have a section with a focus on gaining muscle, though its really no different than for guys… just harder, apparently :(

  16. Mistress Krista says:

    June 1st, 2009at 6:37 am(#)

    Get thee hence:

  17. Eddie says:

    July 27th, 2009at 11:31 am(#)

    Thanks for the great article on this, but could you help out a visual learner? Do you have any illustrations on the different exercises so that I know to perform them properly and what equipment setup to use?

  18. Geoff says:

    September 7th, 2009at 8:04 am(#)

    youtube is a great help, as is Krista’s exercise details. If in doubt, post a link and I’ll confirm . . . or dis-affirm or just plain dis.

  19. Alan says:

    September 20th, 2009at 5:32 am(#)

    “400g of protein a day is a crazy amount of protein a day”

    Yes, pretty crazy. But not unheard-of. Some of the professional
    bodybuilders consume 500 grams per day; e.g. the recently-
    retired Marcus Ruhl. (500 grams protein, 500 grams carb,
    every day. So he said.)

    I’m not advocating such extremes; only mentioning that they
    have been done — and not without apparently beneficial
    results, in terms of muscle growth with minimal fat

  20. Priscilla says:

    October 17th, 2009at 8:39 pm(#)

    i think it’s cool that you’re demystifying weight training for women, but she-beast? really? maybe not all women are into building muscle mass, but some are. and they might get enough “she-beast” from everywhere else. don’t need it so much on a site geared towards women.

  21. Zoe says:

    October 30th, 2009at 6:47 pm(#)

    Hi Geoff,

    Im a naturally muscular woman (stocky!) and have been seeing a personal trainer for a few months. My percentage body fat has dropped from 27 – 22 but I don’t feel like I have gotten any smaller which is my aim.

    My muscle mass has increased which would be fine, except what I really want is to lose size.

    Is it possible that because of my body compostion Im just gonna have to deal with the fact that I will always look bigger than I want??? or should I be training in a different way???

    Help me..Im sooo dedicated and love to exercise, just not getting the results I want..

  22. Geoff says:

    November 4th, 2009at 2:57 pm(#)

    Hi Zoe,

    Let’s talk about the right way to do stuff for a moment. Let’s assume that, for one person, this brings about fast change. For another, however, it brings about slow change. It remains the right stuff to do.


    If the BF reporting is accurate (and I can make no promises), you’re doing great! Indeed, if you’ve upped your muscle mass as significantly as it sounds, you’re going to reap increased results from both metabolic training and from merely sitting around in your PJs. You’ve created a strong base and are in a far better place to make your body composition goals a reality.

    My biggest questions for you are not about the accuracy of your biometrics, but about your program and nutrition. If you want to provide some more information on those accounts, we can probably give you more detailed feedback.

  23. Caleb says:

    December 19th, 2009at 1:25 am(#)

    Hey Geoff, interesting article.

    I got into weightlifting several years back and I’ve done body building and powerlifting. Now I’m in boxing and even though most of the power of the punch comes from reactive strength, I still wish to get ALOT stronger.

    I do have a question though. So, from what it sounds like, are you saying or would you say that minimizing the lactic acids/stresses on your muscles would minimize the gain in muscle size all the while still getting stronger? Correct me if I am wrong. I may not be able to find this site again so if possible, send some feed back at the following email address.


  24. Geoff says:

    February 23rd, 2010at 5:56 pm(#)

    Caleb, I’m afraid, will have to find this site again.

    It’s a little over-simplified but yes; minimizing the buildup of hydrogen ions (and the lowered PH that follows) will take a big chunk of out putting on size.

  25. molly says:

    March 10th, 2010at 9:17 pm(#)

    you’re a welcome personality to the world of fitness geoff: smart, funny, encouraging, fit and a great writer!? who knew it was possible? (and you’re Canadian — which is JUST TOO COOL – i grew up in buffalo, ny.)

    thanks for all your advice on this site. i’m in a place where i really don’t know what to do next. i love to work out, but i have many choices at my disposal (i have a treadmill, an erg, an elliptical and a bowflex, along with dumb bells and a physio ball and i love yoga) so i can’t choose what to do.

    i’ve recently started with a crossfit-inspired group and that’s OK, but i’m not feeling the love. i’ve been doing this for 12 classes (3x/wk) and never leave sore (until we did 300 jumping jacks) and i’m pushing myself a lot but not feeling exhausted, rather energized after the workouts. so i take the classes because they basically dictate what i would do.

    before the CF classes, i’d been doing a rotation of workout DVDs but they seem to be the kind you would poo-poo because they’re low weights (8#/10#) but extremely high reps and pulses made by a fellow Canadian pro trainer named “jari love” (i hope that’s her real name). her videos are simply a ton of work — floor work, squats, dead lifts, presses, push ups — and it’s a lot of functional compound work done fast enough to keep me in 80% MHR (i wear a polar f55 heart rate monitor). i feel like i’m getting more work from the videos, truth be told, or on my own at home on the erg, etc., because my HRM counts calories and i always burn more with the DVDs or on my own than in the CF classes — compared side by side/minute for minute. so i work pretty hard on my own — a lot of HIIT when i do cardio; i don’t waste time.

    i do have a potential to get big, my biceps are about 11″ and that’s pretty much genetics as my father was a LWT olympic rower and i’m a female version of him; i’d like them to be a little smaller, so i think that’s why i like the DVDs and so i guess i’m bugging you because i don’t know what to do. i’m pretty disciplined and i can do this w/o a group…. i just need a plan.

    so… thanks? i hope i’ve not become a problem child…

  26. Tash says:

    March 31st, 2010at 4:30 pm(#)


    Your programme is almost spot on to what I am looking for. Strength is my number one priority, second is muscle tone. Was just wondering whether my endurance and stamina will also improve?

  27. Geoff says:

    April 3rd, 2010at 4:26 pm(#)

    Molly, you’re making me blush with that stuff. Get out of here!

    This program will work for you, but if you want something more personalized, you can contact me c/o

    Tash, will your muscular/cardio-respiratory endurance improve? For most people, it will. Lowering the intensity and keeping rest periods under one minute will shift the focus to more fat-burning and strength-endurance.

  28. Sebastien says:

    April 19th, 2010at 7:44 pm(#)

    Hey Geoff,

    Great summary and good use of training principals that anyone can understand! I certainly believe in circuit training, and using heavy loads in circuits are efficient for burning calories. Keep up the great work!

  29. Sher says:

    May 19th, 2010at 9:38 am(#)

    Hi – just wondering – when you say “variation” (e.g. deadlift ‘variation’) does this mean that you can basically do any variation of that exercise?



  30. Geoff says:

    May 21st, 2010at 11:13 am(#)

    Absolutely. I want to get you thinking in terms of movements, as opposed to specific exercises. When we look at a (bilateral) deadlift, for example, we can think of anything that emphasizes hip extension from two legs.

    In this case, anything from the deadlift family will generally work. Going beyond that, we might also choose something like a glute bridge in some circumstances. It may not look like a deadlift but it works the same movement pattern, albeit in a pretty stripped-down manner.

  31. Dana says:

    August 1st, 2010at 7:42 pm(#)

    Hi Geoff
    I am confused about circuit 3. Is it 25 second sprint followed by say 20 second plank then bicep curls (how many?). Is this followed by say 10 squat jumps, then rear delt flies (10? 12?) then some skull crushers? And repeat? Am I on the right track?
    Thanks :)

  32. Preeti says:

    August 8th, 2010at 4:02 pm(#)

    Is it necessary to ease into this regime or could I just start off with this routine 4x a week? I’ve been consistently lifting but my workouts have gotten monotonous and feel less effective. Also would you advise against adding some HIIT after lifting?



  33. Geoff says:

    September 16th, 2010at 12:30 pm(#)

    I don’t like to dramatically up volume for anyone. If you’ve already been working out consistently (at least two days a week), then you’re probably good to go. And we love intervals after lifting. Always a nice way to accelerate progress.

  34. Jennifer says:

    March 13th, 2012at 8:32 am(#)


    I have been strength training for about a year now. It was off to a rocky start at first because I wasn’t consuming enough calories to maintain any muscle. I’ve got that in line now, and have put on weight/muscle. But my thighs are getting huge!!! Like I should buy new jeans…which I don’t really want to do.
    I feel like the only solution is to just stop working my legs all together, but that would mean everything I did in the last year was a waste. Would you recommend this program to someone in my situation?

  35. Meghan says:

    March 15th, 2012at 11:34 am(#)

    Would the circuits detailed in “Slightly More Thinking, Slightly More Doing” be suitable for Circuits 1 and 2 here? I really love that workout because I don’t have to think about much, and it’s easy to remember. Should I be mixing up my exercises more? I’m on week two of the aforementioned program, but I’ve been doing more traditional (non-circuit) lifting 3 days a week for a few months prior. I’ve been mixing that up with light cardio on my days off.

  36. Meghan says:

    March 15th, 2012at 11:37 am(#)

    Oh, and I also noticed that the reps are lower for this workout. What is preferable?

  37. Asia says:

    May 22nd, 2012at 6:08 pm(#)

    Thanks for this info. I know I’m 2 years late, but I just started this program Yesterday and I loved it. :)

    I’m wondering if we decided to continue the program after the 14th week, do we still de-load on the “9th” week when we start over from the 8th and have previously de-loaded two weeks prior?

    I hope that made sense….

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