Side Effect: Girl Power

This week, I decided to call upon my fellow fitness females and ask a few questions via our Facebook group.  The first question I posted was about what exercise move they enjoyed the most.  Surprisingly, more than one of them noted an upper body movement.  This was unexpected to me for some reason.  But it did get me thinking…for the first time in my life, I have upper body strength that is considered to be better than average for a female.  And here all I asked for was a workout program that promotes fat loss, but I’ve come out of these workouts with an awesome side effect, doing 10 full range of motion push-ups, 6 rep chin up sets and yesterday I attempted my first overhead barbell press max — and got to 75 pounds.  I’m feeling some major GIRL POWER right now.  And clearly my fitness friends are too.

To kick this off, here is my first Girl Power moment…chin ups (at home):

Now.  What other benefits do you get out of full body moves that you THINK are just upper body work?  Let’s discuss:

  1.  Most upper body exercises can be full-body work if you want it to be.  For example, overhead presses entail engaging your core for stability and you are standing, requiring your lower body to also remain stable.  You don’t just willy-nilly throw the bar up with a decent weight on it without engaging your entire body.  Chin ups require a similar amount of stability and it is very taxing on a female, which means you are exerting a lot of overall effort (read: burning calories).  Push ups — that’s definitely an overall bodyweight movement that requires a lot from a chic.  I could go on and on, but you get my drift.
  2. Strength (aka – Girl Power) without bulk.  I’m strong.  And I love it.  But if you looked at me, you wouldn’t know how strong I am.  My biceps aren’t bulging and my traps aren’t the same size as my boyfriend’s.  I’m not saying that is not attractive on a female, but it is not my goal and it is not the goal of a lot of other females in my “circle” [to have large muscles].
  3. Aesthetics – although I don’t look a female bodybuilder, I do have a more developed upper body now.  My arms and shoulder have leaned out and some muscles has developed to make me look more balanced with my genetically pre-disposed muscular legs.  Some of my tops squeeze my biceps tighter now, but I’m into it!  My back is my most lean and muscular part of my body right now.  Hello, backless tops, I’ll be seeing you this summer!

Okay, we’ve gone over some brief and MAJOR benefits of working on your upper body strength, but let’s discuss form and programming.  Luckily for me, Matt is my boyfriend but he is also a personal trainer.  He has ensured that I have stopped focusing on “how many” of [exercise] I can do, but to be patient and put in the work to be able to do 1 rep of each exercise with proper form.  Once you do that, then you work on increasing the reps.  For example, let’s take push ups.  Push ups are not easy and are commonly done with improper form (both men and women).  A push-up is not a half way to the floor and back up movement, it is a full-range of motion movement where your chest should basically tap the floor and you press full back to an extended starting position.  This is NOT EASY FOR FEMALES (average females, not professional trainers/athletes).  Therefore, if you cannot achieve the full push up on the floor, you should start on an incline — use a step, bench, even the back of a couch or kitchen countertop.  But start with that, be able to fully lower yourself to the surface and press back up.  Work your way down your incline (example – from a kitchen countertop to a park bench) until you can get to 1 rep full on the floor.  This can take time.  Not just weeks, but sometimes months.  BUT IT WILL HAPPEN if you keep working on it.

Let’s look at where my push ups are at right now — I did these slightly fatigued between sets up bulgarian split squats (my excuse for pausing and being out of breath):

So although I’ve always understood the importance of lower body work and knew that there had to be some upper body exercises in my program, I never understood the full benefit.  Nor did I understand that I would actually LOVE getting stronger in my back and arms.  The feeling of pulling myself up over the chin up bar is just really empowering and cool.  I’ll always be able to squat quite a bit of weight, I’m built for that.  But I never knew the positive “side effect” of diligently training my upper body.  Girl Power is cool and comes in many, many forms.  This is just one of them.

If you need help with upper body exercises, form or how to incorporate them properly into your program, please feel free to comment below OR go to www.mattcetta.com for expert advisement.  He’s a pretty good trainer, if I don’t say so myself.

Enjoy your day, everyone!

~Melissa*

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