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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Myra looks amazing! Well done. I am constantly telling girls this stuff and they never listen to me!
Very timely! I was just talking to a female friend who’s been plateaued on her low cal high cardio (but with some weight lifting) diet/exercise plan about your various diets and weight lifting plans, and it was nice to be able to send her this before she got out the “but I don’t want to lose all my curves and come out with giant muscles like a man” statement. 🙂
Yeah, they love that one, JC. Gets on my nerves though 😉
damn!!! i wish i had calves like her!! great stuff guys!!
OK….I hear you… 🙂
Great stuff, as always! Congrats.
If anyone thinks that this woman isn’t on a myriad of pharmaceutical “supplements”, they are living in a dream world.
Nonetheless, amazing physique!
Great work and discipline in accomplishing yoir goals.
But I think you looked your best in 2009. Still feminine.
Nonetheless. Good work.
Hey Mark, another great post.
any idea of upcoming topics for blogs?
always eager to find your posts in my inbox
keep up good work champ
Mark this was an interesting interview. She’s a charming person for sure.
wow, she looks mean, now i would like to know what she did, it must be tons of work.
@Roi. Oh well, there’s always one *rolls eyes*. Look at the video at the bottom and note the difference between Myra and the other girl, body and face. Myra CLEARLY is 100% natural.
@Ekim. Next milestone is the release of the next version of Total Anabolism. Can’t wait for that!
After that I will be starting paid Personal Training (via a membership site) for those who have expressed interest.
First of all, I have to thank you for checking out my interview and the video. As Mark said, there are clearly visual differences between myself and enhanced athletes. I have been told by several people “if I didn’t know you I’d think you were on the juice” or “if you told me you used roids I’d believe you”. Other athletes have said that some women using steroids can’t acheive what I have being clean, especailly in only 2 years. I take these statements as compliments.
You can believe what you want, but I can honestly tell you, the most I supplement with is L-Glutamine, Creatine, and whey protein, and even at that the most Creatine my body can handle is 1/3 of a tsp. per day or I start to lose my voice and get an insatiable thirst.
At 5’0″ it doesn’t take a ton of muscle to look muscular, it takes leanness to expose it though. I do consider myself genetically fortunate to be able to put on muscle the way I do and as symmetrically as I do (which also comes from a pile of hard work!..thank you to Daniel for also pointing this out). I was able, thanks to the MANS Diet and my workouts, to be up 5 pounds on my previous stage weight.
If anyone could see my dad they would see where my muscle comes from. He hasn’t trained a day in his life but his legs are lean and ripped and huge! When he was an EMT his taper was amazing and topped off with huge shoulders, again from his job of lifting people on stretchers into the ambulance, not from weightroom training.
IDFA, the drug-free organization I originally competed with in 2008,(my pic. is in the results gallery) discontinued women’s bodybuilding this year. I had wanted to compete with them this year but upon learning that wasn’t an option, I decided to compete again with the ABBA since I had already qualified for Provincials in the competition 1 week after my IDFA 2008 show. My goal was to go to Nationals so I did. I competed with the CBBF in a non-drug-tested event and happened to place well. I will take any drug test you throw at me though and I guarantee you will not find anything in my system that shouldn’t be there.
I value my health and want my body to age as best it can. I am a certified organic farmer, building an off-grid home with my husband. We try to represent organics and eco-friendly, healthy living the best we can and set an example to others on how to acheive this as well. This would be a huge contradiction for me to make if I were using drugs, not to mention I can’t afford a trainer much less a drug supply. Furthermore, it totally goes against my moral beliefs, upbringing, and Christian perspective, to put these substances in my body.
So, I stand here now (actually I’m sitting), in my own defense, telling you that I bust my ass and I eat right. There is no “myriad” of anything hiding in my home, or anywhere else I frequent, waiting to enter my bloodstream. There never will be, and I am proud to represent natural athletes that show others what hard work and dedication can do.
Now I ask you, Roi, if you doubt what a human is naturally capable of, are you working hard enough?
I’m off to the gym but I must leave you all with Mark’s words and say:
Train with intensity.
Myra do you have a blog or anything we can follow ? I read that you post on the forum here. I’d love to see examples of your daily menu ( offseason vs precontest). Not that at 6 foot 3 and 250 lbs I would follow your diet calorie wise but there is much to learn otherwise. I’m really facinated that you don’t count calories although I’m sure you use some sort of eyeball method plus switchig to leaner cuts of meat to reduce calories. I guess I want to know evey detail I can !! Thanks
First, I have to say that I’m miffed by people who think that a woman’s attractiveness or “femininity” should be their foremost goal. Not only are both intensely subjective, I find such comments downright offensive and belittling. Myra is gorgeous in all of her pictures, but in her most recent ones she shines with accomplishment!
Myra, clearly you are both gifted and very dedicated. Getting a balanced physique can be tough for us petites (just over 5′ [154cm] myself), but you look amazing. Keep it up! (And kudos on the organic & sustainable lifestyle – I’m working toward the same myself.)
Kudos to Mark, too, for providing all the great info and busting the myth that women need some kind of extra-special program to get lean.
Hi Rob, I don’t actually blog, my schedule is pretty tight most days. I also haven’t written in the forum recently. I should post some of my meal schedules though, that shouldn’t take too long.
Off-season, no, I don’t count calories. I just eat if I’m hungry or look at the time and go “yeesh, it’s been that long since breakfast?” Seriously, the MANS diet has been a godsend for me in the eating department….
In-season is a different story. That’s all weighed, measured, timed, and yes, the fats decrease and eventually are not seperately measured and the protein gets leaner nearing contest. So then I eat for volume ie. 7 1/2 oz of white fish instead of 3 1/2 oz chicken breast, 3 1/2 cups cucumber instead of 1 cup of raw carrot, etc….
Off season I leave all the fat on my meat. I love fatty beef and pork. I also love to add coconut oil to fry my cream cheese crepes and will top them with more oil or butter…heavy cream in my coffee…mmmm…I could go on and on about the fats and I just made some homemade prok rinds for lunch….I’ll work on posting something soon.
Jennifer, I’m so glad to read a post on Musclehack from a “sister in iron”…YAY!! Sometimes I look in the forum and think “hey girls, put your hands up and shout out…” Then I hear a cricket chirping and that’s it….
We are not alone! You, me, and the cricket…we’re gonna spread the news and bring the women over here. 🙂
I appreciate your words of support and I agree with you that society can take their “desireable” frail framed girls and look the other way when a strong woman comes around!! That being said, every woman, every person for that matter, should be able to look the way that they are comfortable without being judged. For me that happens to be a little on the “sturdy” side, for others it may mean they want to look smaller, or even bigger. Good for you though, Jennifer, for being confident and willing to speak your mind. Good luck with your sustainable journey as well!
Thanks guys…and gals!
“We are not alone! You, me, and the cricket.”
That was hilarious, Myra! 😀
Awesome article! I found that really interesting, and Myra – you shouldn’t have to defend yourself but I’m glad you did so diplomatically and I think you are a superb role model in this industry and very inspirational for every athlete wanting to push their limits and maximize their body’s potential naturally. Congratulations on all of your success and my best to you in the future!
It’s always good to be able to “meet” someone, a fellow Canadian no less, who trains naturally and achieves such success. I’ve re-read the interview a couple of times just because you don’t get to read articles like these very often, folks! Mark did an outstanding job bringing not “just” Myra to MuscleHack.com, but he brought what makes Myra “tick” for weightlifting.
Congrats on your successes, Myra – and here’s to your continued success as a natural bodybuilder. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on the MuscleHack forums when you have the time to contribute.
North Bay, ON, Canada
Thank you, Adam and Tanis! Your words mean a lot to me. Mark obviously has some great “followers”. It’s nice to hear from you both.
Mark…don’t you ever just picture that cricket chirp? There really are times, ya know, you tell a bad joke and no one laughs….you say hi to the person working at the store that just doesn’t want to be there and they stare blindly at you with no response…the chirp…I love it.