One of the more frustrating aspects about running MuscleHack is receiving emails or comments from female readers telling me that my site isn’t for them because I don’t write articles specifically for women.
It’s true that I don’t do so, but for a very good reason: there are no female bodybuilding “secrets”. Neither does lifting weights make a NATURAL female bodybuilder bulky. So I refuse to write those sorts of articles.
Muscle physiology is muscle physiology. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. The stimulus for triggering muscle growth is universal. While there will definitely be varying levels and speeds of growth between men and women, the stimulus itself is the same.
So thank goodness for Myra Marshall!
Myra is a Canadian natural female bodybuilder. She’s also a MuscleHack reader who has used the tips shared freely on this site much to her success!
She’s kindly agreed to an interview to reveal the tools she has used to succeed and also help obliterate some of the myths about female muscle.
Here’s a little background from Myra herself before we get started with the actual questions…
When I started training (July 2008) for my first bodybuilding show (Oct.2008) my contest preparation diet was very old school, basically balanced “healthy eating”. Low fat, moderate protein, high carb.
I just watched the calories and gradually tapered them back as I got closer to the show, keeping macro’s in the same percentage. At the same time I was increasing my cardio. By never previously training to this level or dieting, my body responded well.
I went into both of my shows, only one week apart from each other, with pretty tight conditioning and a surprising amount of muscle. I took 1st in my class in my first show and the overall prize the following week.
After a couple months passed I was still very lean but not gaining muscle, recovering from workouts, or sleeping worth a crap, and to top it all off I didn’t “look” like a bodybuilder anymore, my lines all smoothed out. I was afraid to vary too much from my contest diet so I basically just increased calories and kept the macros the same and continued hitting the cardio for 30mins a day, 6 days a week.
While visiting my cousin in January 2009, I went with her to an appointment with her trainer (an olympic coach and nutrtionist). He asked me what I was eating and how I was training. He didn’t say too much at that time but I knew he had my cousin on a low-carb plan and hardly any cardio at all and she had tons of energy, slept like a rock, and was shedding fat and increasing strength like crazy.
He knew I was visiting my cousin again when she had another appointment in April so he asked me to come too. After asking again what I was eating he said it was amazing I had built any muscle at all, even though he could see I had since the last visit. He also told me if I could get my hormones straightened around by eating right I could “be a monster”.
He recommended a low carb plan to me with way more fats and proteins than I was currently eating. I was afraid at first but had taken it as a sign that it was the right way to go because 2 days previous to that I had 2 other health appointments in which both my doctor and a naturopath said I was not eating enough fat and I was consuming too many carbs.
There began my “internet journey”. I searched through tons of websites, blogs, and forums and then I found MuscleHack.com and started reading every article I could get my hands on.
I used the recipes and food lists and just started eating. I never counted a single calorie on the MANS diet. My hunger “switch” came back and I ate whenever I was hungry, not emotionally or out of boredom. Within about 2 weeks I started sleeping through the night, my muscle recovery was way improved, my mood improved, energy levels were up, strength increased in the gym.
After a few more weeks I got a waistline back, partially due to the fact that my taper was increasing through the lats but also because my midsection fat was decreasing. For the first time in my life I had a normal mentstrual cycle. Even my hair and nails started growing faster!
My refeeds or carb-ups generally were not the whole week-end, just Friday night to Saturday night, that’s all it took really. Most times I would make myself a pan of Rice Krispies squares and snack on them through the day, but sometimes it would mean I would have oats for breakfast, sandwiches on whole wheat bread, or a pasta meal for supper, once I ate an entire watermelon in a day. I’d get the odd Slurpee from 7-11.
I really didn’t make a plan for my carb-ups, I’d just let myself have what I was craving mostly. I love cold cereal and milk so that was common. I never really drink that much but if I was going to have a beer or something it was only on a refeed. I usually found I hated how I felt the next day after my refeed but a couple days later my energy was back up and my head was clear.
As I got closer to contest preparation I cleaned up my diet, trying to get rid of any processed foods. Then once I began contest prep. I started to decrease calories, mostly taking them out from fats. The closer I got to the show date the “leaner” my meals were…..egg whites, chicken breast, tons of salads (never measuring vegetables though). Cardio stayed about the same for my prep. as it did in my “off-season”, only about 15-20 minutes. For Provincials my conditioning was not as good as it had been in 2008. I held a lot of water in my legs especially and could have been leaner as well. I still took first in my weight class though, so I was ecstatic.
After only a 2 day break from the gym, I had to get back to the weights to prep. for Nationals. I followed the MANS Diet for this time as well, only no refeeds. My goal was to put some weight back on so as not to lose muscle, then cut again.
I never would have thought I could gain muscle in that time but I am sure that I did because of how close my weight was at Nationals compared to Provincials 6 weeks earlier. I trained harder and heavier than I ever had in my life. I was so blessed to have a spotter for my heaviest days for chest and back. I was exhausted after my training sessions.
In my last 2 weeks before the show I was sponsored by an amazing trainer who set up my diet for me. This consisted of lean protein and fibrous vegetables (tapering the fiber as contest drew nearer). He regulated my water intake for me and gave me a few tips to get rid of water without diuretics (as I am all-natural I will not use prescription diuretics either).
I got to fat-load with a 10oz fatty steak Thursday night and Friday night (no carb load for me, again because of the likelihood of me holding water). The day of the show I was hard and lean, more ripped and striated than I had ever seen myself, even striated glutes!
I weighed in at Provincials at 108.6lbs. 6 weeks later at Nationals I was way more cut and not holding water, I weighed 108lbs!! I am convinced that during that 6 week period, even while dieting but using the MANS Diet principles, I was able to train like crazy and gain some lean muscle while cutting!
Myra touched on a few important issues above. Firstly, that you can trust your hunger signal when not overconsuming carbs i.e. your body will tell you exactly when and how much to eat without you having to worry about overeating. Secondly, that underconsuming dietary fat is bad news for your anabolic hormone profile, this is a fact! Also, she reports simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain – many MuscleHackers have also experienced the same results.
Now to the questions…
Do you believe in different training for men and women?
No, the human body is the human body, male or female. We are just as capable of doing the same exercises as men and we should do the same exercises that they do. I do.
So you don’t use pink dumbbells and perform sets that last a few minutes at a time?
Who has time for that? I feel that is a total waste. Given, there are times that I will super-set or even tri-set exercises and then I use a bit lighter weight and aim for 15 reps per exercise, but generally this is so I can work my muscle in different ways and tear different fibers than I do with my heavier exercises, shape and striate a bit more too. For the most part though, no, if you can do a better job of breaking down that muscle in way less time, why wouldn’t you?
Do you train to muscular failure?
Always! My friend and weight room mentor, Gerry, always says “if you can do the same amount of reps with the same weight in every set then your previous sets were a waste”.
I always lift until I can’t complete another rep. In fact, on my last chest day I was the only one in the weight room and I didn’t ask the girl at the desk for a spot for my bench. I ended up having to roll the bar down my chest, over my stomach, and onto my lap so I could sit up and take the bar off of myself. I couldn’t even lift it back up to the safety rack only a couple inches up. Not a nice feeling, but today, 2 days later, my chest really feels worked! I didn’t get hurt so I’m kinda’ laughing about it……
Before I ask the next question, I just want to say that Gerry is 100% correct and a rare voice of reason in the bodybuilding world. I loved that quote! 🙂
Now, how about cardio? Women always say that they want to “tone up” only, not get bulky. They therefore perform lots of cardio and just a little weight lifting. From your pics I’d say you’re pretty damn toned! Do you do cardio all year round? I personally only recommend my clients do cardio when on my cutting program, not when bulking.
Cardio….I hate it! For the most part I do about a 10-15 minute warm up on an elliptical trainer or the stair climber, then I stretch for about 20 minutes before lifting any weights. The lifting portion of my workout will usually be about 45 minutes to an hour.
During contest prep. I need to do more cardio for the sake of conditioning but I still can’t overdo it. It seems a lot of competitors end up doing 2 x 45 minute sessions 6 or seven days a week by the time the contest arrives. I was fortunate enough to get away with 45 minutes total, 6 days a week, and that was only the last 2 weeks. This “cardio” to me was little more than going on a walk on a high incline treadmill.
It is key to not overdo the cardio. When the goal is a faster metabolism, let’s face it, that is achieved by greater muscle mass giving you that increase 24/7, not running your brains out for an hour or more and only reaping the calorie benefit while you are doing the activity.
I have talked to so many women (and even some men) that say “I just want to lose X number of pounds and then I’ll do weights. I don’t want to get too bulky”. Then they say “I just want to get rid of this jiggle and then I’ll do weights”.
Well guess what…that “jiggle” is there because you lost X number of pounds without doing weights. You also are even “jigglier” because you have successfully burned off a bunch of muscle too, therefore ending up even less firm at your new starting point; congratulations on achieving the “skinny fat” look.
I’d rather weigh a few extra pounds and have some substance to my body than have bingo wings hiding my triceps and knobby knees and soft thighs. Break society’s mold and forget about the numbers on the scale, focus on being firm!
Precisely correct, Myra. Body COMPOSITION is what is important, not scale weight. People are obsessed with what the scales say. Trying to “lose weight” with cardio and diet, then “toning up” with weights afterwards is backwards and inefficient. Have intense weight-lifitng BE your exercise strategy while you watch your diet.
Are women going to get bulky from lifting weights?
Women are incapable of getting bulky lifting weights naturally. We do not produce the testosterone necessary to get “man mass”. I have been told by several veterans in the bodybuilding industry that I am genetically gifted and they have seen me put on more mass these last 2 years than some women that have been training for longer and using steroids.
I trained heavy, 6 days a week for those 2 years and carefully monitored my diet. I pushed hard and got great results. You’d have to train really heavy and really hard to keep up with me in the gym. Do I look “bulky”? Don’t worry, you don’t just lift a dumbbell and muscles pop up out of nowhere. Women are quite the opposite. We need to work hard to see growth because of the lack of male hormones that cause muscle growth.
Now to your recent competition. How was your training and diet for that? How did you do?
I have to start by saying I had never used a trainer or diet coach until after Provincials this year. I had been given some plans from my friend, Gerry, who I mentioned earlier, but did all of my own researching, trial and error, diet plans, etc.
In preparation for Provincials, June 26th, 2010, I was still going hard 6 days a week with a 6-day, 3-day split (chest and tri’s, back and bi’s, legs and shoulders). My cardio was only about 20 minutes a day, heavy emphasis on my legs, so the stairclimber or spin bike intervals. My last 2 weeks I had a heavy day and a light day for each muscle group. I dreaded the “light” days because this meant tri-sets for basically everything. The burn was near unimagineable and it brought out a lot of emotions, usually leaving me sobbing for a few seconds between each set.
My diet could have been cleaner for sure. I feel I left too many carbs in, though it was only fibrous vegetables at the end, and too much fat. Ididn’t drink enough waterthrough the whole season and when I tried to cut my water back at the end I just held it, in my legs especailly. My carb load didn’t help with the water retention either. I still came in first in my weight class at that show so I was very pleased!
The next show was Canadian Nationals, 6 weeks later. I came in 3rd at this competition. Again, I was ecstatic about this placing. My goal was top 5, so 3rd felt like a dream!
3rd in the country in only 2 years of training and competing! I had a trainer help me out for my last 2 weeks before this show (Bobby Tang, Dollz Image) and he brought me in with my best conditioning yet. I trained the same as I did for Provincials, but I had to up my cardio to 45 minutes (high incline treadmill, steady state) 6 days a week until I was 3 days out from the show, then there were no workouts from that point to ensure my legs cut up and stayed defined.
My diet consisted of lean protein and fibrous vegetables. Previously I hadn’t weighed vegetables, I considered them “free foods”, what a science this proved to be though, and they gradually got cut back as well. Instead of a carb load I got to eat a nice fatty 10oz rib eye steak 2 nights before the show and another one the night before! I also got to eat whole eggs for breakfast the morning of the show and throughout the day, as well as a few almonds and some chicken breast, to keep my muscles full. The fat load filled me out without the water retension that my carb load had caused at Provincials.
Also, during my last 2 weeks before Nationals I was drinking 8-10 litres a day. If I woke up in the night, which happened a lot to use the loo, I would drink more, usually having anywhere from 500mL to 1L total.
I’m sure you’ll inspire many women reading this, Myra. What would you say to them to help them achieve their goals?
Thanks Mark, I am so glad that I found your site because it really inspired me! With that, I have to add that I am honoured to be able to be featured on your site as I really look up to you and respect you for all of the research you do and share with your followers, and for being a natural athlete and providing information to other natural bodybuilders interested in achieving the best results possible without being “enhanced”.
What would I like to say to the ladies out there? Train hard, lift heavy, and forget about society’s idea of “the perfect woman”. Focus on feeling good, being fit, and doing it in a way that makes you happy.
Don’t overdo it on the cardio. Eat lots of protein and don’t be afraid to eat fat. You are capable of more than you think when it comes to the weightroom. I have had times where I lose concentration in a set and can’t do as many reps then, or I get scared because I upped my weight and all of a sudden I feel weaker than ever.
I then will picture myself completing the set with perfect form and more reps than the last time and then I can actually do it. Your mind is very powerful, one of your strongest muscles, so put your mind to anything and you can achieve it!
What a powerful interview! And what an inspiring woman!
I found this video on YouTube for you all to check out. Such a beautiful woman with a lovely personality to match!
To top it off, Myra is also lead singer and guitarist in the Myra Marshall band. Check her out!
I hope that BOTH my male and female readers find inspiration from Myra’s words. Specifically, I hope the girls find not just motivation, but knowledge that can be put into use right away! If you want to look like Myra, train like her.
Yes, MuscleHack is very much for female bodybuilders. MuscleHack is for ALL PEOPLE who either want to build muscle or lose fat, or both!
MuscleHack is logical, non-contradictory, and best of all….it works! 🙂
Myra, thanks so much for doing this interview. It was a pleasure!
Stay Motivated Guys!
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