Can You Build Muscle After 35?

I recently had an enquiry from a 30-something dad about something I get asked about A LOT.

He had been roaming the Internet for information (always a dangerous move!) and found discouraging articles.

His question was:

“Can You Build Muscle After 35?”

The short answer is YES YOU CAN.

I’ve done it myself and I have Online Coaching clients, busy people over 35, who’ve done it too.

In fact, you can build muscle at any age.

There are, however, many caveats.

Building muscle is hard work…no matter what your age.

Apart from the 0.01% of males (randomly generated statistic alert) who are genetically gifted and can put on muscle with only minimal training, most of us need to work for muscle.

Oh sure, it’s easy at the beginning.

You will see most of your muscle gain in your first year of weight training, a phenomenon we call “newbie gains”.

It’s why some people get incredibly keen about training early on and then have a hard time maintaining that enthusiasm later on.

Gains slow down.

You don’t see those big changes happening anymore.

And yes, it may be harder when you’re over 35.

Are Hormones Involved?

Hormonal changes are often blamed, but it’s not clear how much of a problem they are.

Sure, testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, decreases with age.

Because there is a wide range of normal testosterone levels (T) in normal healthy men, lower testosterone levels over time don’t necessarily matter that much.

Let’s not forget that women don’t tend to have nearly as much testosterone to begin with, part of the reason they find it harder to build muscle at any age.

Other Issues That May Be Involved

For both genders, other factors, like higher rates of medication use and disease, may also affect muscle gain as we age.

Not to mention the stress of having a busy career, young children, and taking care of aging parents, which tend to happen in the 35-45 years.

All of those things can affect hormone levels, and as a result, our ability to build muscle.

Women don’t have much testosterone to begin with.

And testosterone’s role for muscle building and fat loss is less clear in women.

Women’s ability to put on muscle at all is actually a good argument for the lower testosterone levels of many older men not mattering very much.

What muscle-building DOES require is consistent, progressive resistance training.

You need to keep pushing yourself harder and lift heavier weights over time to see further muscle development.

Your nutrition plan is also a big part of building muscle.

You need to be in a calorie surplus to put on muscle.

That means you’re consuming more calories than your body needs just to sustain itself as it is.

Your body needs the right nutrition, from additional calories, as the raw material for building muscle.

Protein intake needs to be adequate, around 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, to repair damage from training and rebuild.

Do the right workouts 3-5 times a week and eat to recover properly and you’ll be able to build muscle after 35.

Recovery Plays A Role

Managing stress and getting enough sleep and recovery is valuable too.

And if you’re going to tell me that you don’t want muscle, you just want to lose fat, then you should know that those two things go together.

As you get older, you want to maintain as much muscle as you can while keeping yourself lean.

Higher muscle mass is generally associated with lower fat mass.

Months of consistent, progressive training with adequate nutrition will build the muscle that you need for a great shape and to stay lean.

That means a stronger, tighter, firmer look to your body.

Muscle is the key to staying strong and having a great body as you age.

It should be everyone’s focus.

Ivana Chapman


Three Weight Training Mistakes You Need To Avoid


You probably already know that weight training should be the main part of your exercise plan.

Training with resistance improves your strength, bone density, posture, and mood.

If you want to build an athletic body, weight training to build muscle is the way to get there.

Want a leaner midsection? Weight training has been shown to reduce waist circumference over time.

So weight training rocks…we know that!

There are, unfortunately, a couple of places where weight training programs consistently go wrong.

Whether you design your own plan, found one on the internet somewhere, or are getting advice from someone who is – AHEM – misinformed, there are some ways that things can go astray.


So if you want to maximize your time in the gym and avoid injury while building your best physique, you need to focus on some key basics.

Be Careful Of These Weight Training Mistakes:

1) Changing Your Workout Plan Too Often

There are a few popular workout programs that involve doing a different weight training routine EACH TIME you hit the gym.

That’s ridiculous.

It’s well known that muscles need a certain amount of repeated stimulation to ensure growth.

“Muscle confusion” is a made-up marketing term, NOT a scientific principle.

Your muscles do respond to change, after a period of time, but it’s not as short a time as most people think.


A complete beginner could get results doing exactly the same workout program for months.

The more experienced a weight trainee you are, the more often you should change your workout to keep seeing improvements.

There’s also some individual difference in response to exercise change.

Some people’s muscles respond best to more frequent changes and some do better with less frequent changes.

Let’s also not forget the psychological side.

I’ve had Online Coaching clients that preferred to stick to a similar program (or at least program structure) for a few months and other clients that get bored easily and prefer to have their workout plans changed every month.

The main thing is, there should be a structured workout plan…not just going into the gym and picking up and putting down some weights.

I’m not saying it’s a completely useless training session, but the people who always go into the gym without a plan don’t tend to see their bodies change over time.

And that’s what you’re looking for, right?


So make sure you change your workout program about every 4-8 weeks, depending on your experience and preference.

That way you’ll maximize your valuable time in the gym.

2) Not Having The Right Balance Between Training And Rest

A key area that many weight lifters ignore is the ratio of workouts to rest.

If you’re going from couch to 6 days a week in the gym, you’ll burn out quickly.

So if you’re starting a weight training routine for the first time (or coming back after several weeks off), take things gradually.

Start with 2 or 3 workouts a week and increase to 3-5 workouts after a few weeks.

Adding to your training gradually gives your body a chance to adapt to the new training load.


That way you’ll get stronger and feel fitter, rather than run yourself into the ground.

Even if you’ve been training consistently for months/years/decades, it’s important to look at the balance of work to rest that you’re performing.

We measure weight training workload in volume, which is generally described as the number of sets per body part or per week.

Training volume is the WORK and we have to get adequate rest to recover from that physical stress.

For those of us who are 35+, our need for rest increases.

Even if you did well with 2 hour workouts 6 days a week in your 20s, you’ll probably find that you need more rest in your late 30s and 40s (and beyond).

That means you have to train smarter and not necessarily harder.

You don’t want to overwhelm your body’s recuperative ability, and that ability tends to go down as we get older.


That ability is also reduced when we’re under stress or if we aren’t getting enough sleep.

So it’s almost guaranteed that parents of young children will have their recovery abilities reduced, particularly if they’re also over 35.

As a 35+ mom, I try to give myself more rest between workouts and I keep each session short (45-50 minutes right now) so that my body can recover properly.

Since I’ve made that adjustment, I’ve found that I’m built more muscle, gotten stronger, and feel better.

And I imagine that’s what you’re working towards too.

For general health and physique purposes, I recommend working out with weights 3-5 times per week.

If you’re doing five days a week, ideally you’d be doing one day off in the middle and not doing all five days in a row of weights (and then taking the weekend off).

I confess, however, that that’s often what I tend to do!

If the workouts were exceptionally demanding, I’m pretty wiped out by the end of the week.

I generally try to squeeze in a martial arts workout after I’ve done two or three weights sessions most weeks.

This change helps my muscles recover better.

Better recovery means more progress.

Remember how we said that was our goal?

3) Not Training PROGRESSIVELY.

When you do weight training, you want to increase your weights as you get stronger.

Too many people do the same exercise, for the same number of sets/reps, with the same weight, for too long.

Once your strength is enough to lift a heavier weight (for the required rep range), it’s time to move up.


As you get older, building muscle should be your primary concern.

The more muscle you have, the stronger you’ll be.

You’ll build the shape you want and your whole body will burn (slightly!) more calories all day long.

Hypertrophy (that’s muscle growth!) is produced by three things: mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.

The main mechanism through which we build muscle is mechanical tension, so that means we need to keep pushing the weights up as we get stronger.

More weight = more strength = more muscle

And no, you won’t bulk up massively as a natural (drug-free) person working out a few times a week.

You’ll just look leaner and more “toned” (not a fan of that term, but soooo many people use it!).

The Ideal Plan

No weight training planning is perfect.

You just need to find the right workout for your current state.

I provide my Online Coaching clients the best plan possible for their goals, genetics, age, level of commitment, injury/health status, physical strengths & weaknesses, experience level, job/family obligations, and preferences.

Making Progress

While there are a lot of factors that determine the right weight training plan for you, making sure you don’t make three key mistakes is a good start.

Change your workout program at the right frequency, make sure you’re getting enough rest (but not too much!), and progress your weights as you get stronger.

That’s how you build a fit, strong healthy body.

Ivana Chapman


The Trick To Building Muscle After 35


I don’t want to get too dramatic, but after 35, muscle loss should be a MAJOR concern to you.

Really MAJOR.

Loss of muscle, termed sarcopenia, is a big problem for people over 35.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine is fond of saying that you’ll lose 0.5-1% of your muscle mass per year after age 35.

That muscle loss means that even if you keep your calorie intake stable, you’ll start to put on fat after 35 because your body is less metabolically active.

The good news is, that muscle loss likely only applies when you don’t do anything to prevent it.

And you must do something to prevent it!

You probably already know that weight training is the answer.

A minimum of 2 sessions, but ideally 3-4, per week of resistance training will help you build and maintain your muscle as you age.

When my clients do Online Coaching, I design workouts to help them do just that, in the limited time they have available.

To maximize your workout benefits and build that coveted muscle, you need to plan correctly.

It’s not just about heading to the gym, pushing and pulling a few machines around, and then going home (although that’s what most people I see at the gym actually do!).

When you’re over 35, the trick to building muscle is to find the right balance of hard training and rest.

You need to challenge yourself progressively, increasing your weights as you get stronger.

Put in the work with dumbbells, barbells, and cables a few times a week.

THEN you need to get the right amount of rest.

Your muscles are broken down microscopically by exercise and they need time to repair and grow.

As you get older, this recovery process can take longer than it did in your 20s.

Two hour sessions, 6-days a week might be ideal for a young athlete, but they’re not practical or optimal for someone older trying to build muscle and get lean.

Not to mention that you have a busy career, a family to raise, and don’t want to commit to spending all your spare moments in the gym.

So make sure that you’re spending your time in the gym wisely (you’ll learn how HERE), and getting the rest you need to promote good recovery.

Finding the right balance between training and rest will maximize your muscle retention and growth after 35, and probably help you feel a whole lot younger.

Ivana Chapman


Why You’re Not Building Muscle

He can dream, but if he doesn’t change his routine he’ll never get those muscles.

Ahhh, muscle gains! The holy grail of the seeker of the fit, athletic body. Many dream of looking like they belong on the cover of a fitness magazine, but they can’t seem to get their muscles to grow. After months or years of regular training, is it possible that some people really just can’t put on muscle?


Although there can be significant genetic limitations with respect to muscle gains, everyone is able to put on some muscle mass. Even elderly men and women (in research) have shown improvements in both strength and, to a lesser extent, muscle size with appropriate weight training programs.

I was able to put on muscle as breastfeeding mom (definitely not optimal hormones for muscle building!) in her late 30s.

I’m convinced that just about anyone can put on muscle with the right training program and nutrition.

Still, many people have a tough time building muscle because they don’t have an effective strategy in place for achieving muscle gains.

If you’re struggling to put on muscle, here’s what you might be doing wrong:

1) You Don’t Progressively Increase The Weight You’re Lifting

Fooled by the “muscle confusion” nonsense, many people bounce around from workout to workout without a definite plan to build muscle. The body responds to progressive overload, increasing the weight you lift over time. To stimulate the muscles to grow, you need to increase the work that they’re forced to do.

Initially you’ll make progress with just about any workout routine. If you’ve been fairly inactive, just getting to the gym and doing some bodyweight exercise is going to give you results. That doesn’t mean that it’s the most effective way to get results, or that you’ll continue to make changes to your body that way.

Working in the 6-12 range is most useful for muscle hypertrophy (growth!), which is what you should be aiming for. If you just keep using the same weight over and over then you won’t see any changes to your physique.

Your body ADAPTS to the training stimulus that you give it, but probably not as quickly as most people think. The longer you’ve been working out, the more quickly your body will adapt.

Beginners (less than one year of training) can keep doing the same workout for a couple of months before their bodies stop adapting. There’s some individual variation, but if you’ve been working out for 4 or 5 years (or longer!), you will probably need to change your workout program every 4-6 weeks to keep seeing improvements.

So if you’ve been shoulder pressing 20 or 30 pounds in each arm for a few weeks, then you need to start working with heavier weights to build those delts further.

2) You’re Not Eating Enough Calories

‘Tis the season for gains, my slender friend! While all your friends are avoiding the extra food lying everywhere at this time of year, you should be rejoicing if you’re looking to gain muscle. Putting on muscle mass requires that you get your body into a calorie surplus. Many people are worried about eating too much because they’re afraid of putting on fat while trying to gain muscle.

Check out THIS BLOG if that’s your concern.

Other naturally-slim people just aren’t used to eat the amount of calories it takes to make gains.

If you don’t get enough calories in, or just meet your current nutritional needs (keeping things in balance), there won’t be anything left for your body to build muscle with. A lot of “hard-gainers” just don’t eat enough to build muscle size.

Years of not eating enough can be tough to get over. Eating more calorie-dense foods, like nuts, meat, and higher-fat dairy products, can be a big help for getting those extra calories in palatably.  

3) You’re Not Getting Enough Protein

Along the same lines, muscle gain requires that you have adequate protein for muscle recovery and growth. Many active people aren’t getting the 0.8-1g per pound of body weight that’s ideal for maximal muscle growth. You can only build muscle when your body is taking in enough fuel to repair and build new muscle tissue, in both quantity (calories) and quality (protein).

If you want to put on serious muscle mass, you often need to eat on the clock. You need to eat when you’re not hungry. Sometimes you need to eat when you think another chicken breast or potato will make you puke. As a side note, if you’re eating a lot of protein you should also be eating lots of vegetables. The antioxidants and micronutrients in a variety of vegetable sources will impact your long-term health. Vegetables also provide necessary fibre to keep you full and keep your digestion running smoothly.

4) You Don’t Work Out Hard Enough

Building a decent amount of muscle requires consistent effort in the gym. Sorry bud, but 10 reps followed by 5 minutes scrolling through your Facebook feed isn’t going to cut it. If you actually want to make progress, you need to be focused on your workout when you’re at the gym. No chatting to your gym friends about your weekend or debating the latest political controversy. Don’t be “THAT GUY”:

Many people who come to me for coaching will tell me that they’ve been weight training for years. They do one session with me and realize that they haven’t really been pushing themselves.

Most people go through the motions at the gym, doing 3 sets of 10 of the same exercises over and over again.

A lot of the time, they’re doing a weight that isn’t really pushing their muscles to adapt and change.

Again, at the beginning you’ll see results from doing practically anything at the gym. After about a year of solid training though, you need to push yourself harder to get results. So if you’ve been doing the same weights for months you won’t see progress.

And if you’re doing 10 reps with a weight that you could do 20 reps with, you’re far from maximizing your potential.

Two things are important to maximizing your workout efforts:

  1. Are you lifting heavy enough? Is the weight you’re doing the most you can do for the rep range you’ve chosen?
  2. Are you taking the right rest period? For hypertrophy, 30-90secs is generally accepted, although up to 2mins is also effective. More than that and you’re not maximizing your muscle growth and focusing primarily on strength gains. And you’re wasting a lot of time too!

5) You’re Cutting Carbs Too Much

While going low carb can be a great initial strategy for getting lean, carbs are needed to optimize your muscle recovery and to replenish your muscle glycogen stores between weight training sessions. If you’re falling short of carbs you’ll never get the most from your weight training sessions and that means you’ll limit your gains.

If you’re a true hard-gainer, and are pretty lean (under 15% for men and under 20% for women), then you’ll need more carbs than your heavier friends.

The best time to have those carbs is around the time you’re working out. A small amount of carbs, perhaps 50-100g, for a lean individual looking to put on mass can be used before your workout, in conjunction with a lean protein.

Another serving of carbs post-workout, high-glycemic sources like potatoes, white rice, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, or perhaps some berries, can help replenish your muscle’s glycogen stores and make sure that you have the strength for your next weights session.

6) You Spend Too Much Time Foam Rolling, Stretching, Mobilizing, Etc. And Not Enough Time Weight Training

If your time were unlimited, it might be useful to spend 30 minutes a day on stretching and foam rolling tight areas. A little bit of pre-workout stretching (after a dynamic warm-up, preferably) is ok, but don’t spend half your workout time lying on the floor breathing in and out slowly trying to loosen up your hamstrings.

He’s been on the floor for 45 minutes…maybe time to actually WORK OUT?

For most people, it’s not necessary to spend a long time working out. One hour, on the floor and then back out the door, is sufficient and most people will do well with only 40-45 minutes. I actually set a timer when I start my workout so that I don’t get carried away.

Use your time wisely!

Allowing 5-10 minutes for warm-up and stretching a couple of tight areas at the beginning and perhaps 5 minutes at the end to stretch tight areas, gives you 45-50 minutes of QUALITY workout time. Make sure you’re spending that time pushing weights with the right intensity (weight) and rest periods. Maybe squeeze in 10 minutes of foam rolling at night before you go to sleep!

7) You Do Too Much Cardio

If you’re working out to build muscle you need to limit the amount of cardio you do. By “cardio” I’m referring to steady-state medium/high intensity cardiovascular exercise such as jogging, cycling, and using the elliptical machine.

Cardio can interfere with your ability to put on muscle. Not only are you affecting your energy levels and recovery for your weight training sessions, where your muscle growth is coming from, but you’re also requiring even more calories to sustain yourself. You’ll just be forcing yourself to eat more to try to get yourself into a calorie surplus.

If you overdo cardio, say 40 minutes to an hour 4 times a week or more, you won’t optimize your hormonal balance for muscle building. Your testosterone levels may drop from excessive stress (T-levels control your ability to build muscle AND stay lean) and your thyroid function may be impaired. The thyroid, by the way, controls the rate of all your bodily functions…essentially your metabolism. So you don’t want to mess with your thyroid!

This doesn’t mean you should freak out about walking 20 minutes to the local grocery store, especially if you’re going there to pick up a case of chicken breasts and some lean beef.

Walking is actually a great way to maintain your cardiovascular fitness while minimizing muscle breakdown.

Yes, it’s ok to move around; and you should.

Spending too many hours sitting behind a desk can put a serious damper on your energy levels (you need those to push hard at the gym!) and can contribute to tight muscles that don’t perform well during lifting.

8) You’re Not Resting Enough

Many people assume that to build more muscle you need to train several hours every day. That’s what the pro bodybuilders do, right? Well yes, but they have the benefit of endogenous hormones that not only help them build muscle but also recover quicker.

Actually, your potential to train with the intensity needed for maximum muscle growth starts to dwindle after just over an hour or so of weight training.

And muscles don’t actually grow during your workout session (despite the blood-engorged pump you feel during a great workout), they grow when you’re resting afterwards. You tear down those muscle fibers and then they repair themselves and getting bigger and stronger.

So how often should you train as a natural athlete? It’s important to have at least one day off a week, and for more muscle mass I normally recommend training 5 days a week. If you’re over 35 or so, it may be helpful to stick to 4 weight training sessions a week (with a gap after 2 days in a row), since older lifters tend to need more recovery time for growth.

There are a few other limitations that could be working against your ability to build muscle:


I suppose I could have thrown in genetics as a reason why you’re not building muscle, or at least the muscle you want. Everyone has the potential to muscle.

How big those muscles ultimately are is genetically-determined, to a significant extent.

Still, there are lots of natural bodybuilders out there who overcame inferior genetics to have very impressive physiques. Even natural ectomorphs (the body type normally described as long and lean) can put on significant muscle with the right training and nutrition.

So don’t use genetics as an excuse.


Your potential to build muscle decreases as you get older. According to the National Association of Sports Medicine, we lose 0.5-1% of our muscle mass each year after age 35.

Keep in mind that estimate is on the condition that you don’t do anything about it (i.e. train with weights). It’s still possible to make some muscle mass increase in your 40s and 50s, and beyond, with the right training methodology and some consistency.

Most people don’t train effectively for most of their lives so correctly those issues will bring new results.


I’ve left perhaps the most impactful criteria to last. Being female does in fact limit your ability to build muscle.

Testosterone, the primary androgen (male hormone), is at least 18x higher when comparing a female with the highest level of normal testosterone to a male with the lowest level of normal testosterone.

A male with high normal T levels can have 70 times the testosterone of a female with low testosterone!

So yes, being a female significantly impacts your ability to build muscle. It’s one of the reasons we tell women not to worry so much about “bulking up” from weight training.

Even those of us who try often aren’t able to!

What about those massive fitness ladies you see competing in bodybuilding shows?

They start off with great mesomorphic genes (the muscular body type) and often have higher natural levels of testosterone.

They also train their butts off for years, and often decades. And at the higher level, in the professional bodybuilding scene, they’re also using performance-enhancing drugs to help build and maintain their muscle.

With the right training and nutrition approach though, women can see a visible increase in their levels of muscle.

What Can YOU Expect?

I’m a strong believer that practically anyone can build more muscle than they already have. Most people don’t optimize their training and nutrition to maximize their muscle gains. If you’re following all the guidelines I’ve mentioned, you’ll be on your way to building the muscle you’ve been aiming for.

Have patience and be consistent.

Gains are on the way!

Ivana Chapman


Building Lean Muscle Without Adding Bulk


Are you aiming for a lean, athletic look like this one?

The whole idea of “lean muscle” is really a bit silly, when you think about it.

Muscle is either there or it’s not there, in its various sizes.

When people say they want to build lean muscle (and I hear this ALL THE TIME, from both men and women), they mean that they want to build muscle and reduce their overall fat levels.

Body composition, my friends, is what it’s all about.

And I totally get what people mean.

They want muscle.

They want to see it, without a layer of body fat on top  of it.

The traditional bodybuilder in the off-season is probably the source of this desire/fear:

IFBB Pro Gunter Schlierkamp with his “off-season” lookbodybuilder-lean-muscle

Yup, this guy has lots of muscle, but it’s obscured by a layer of fat and his ab development isn’t visible (although they’re definitely there underneath).

There are a couple things that you need to be aware of.

A professional bodybuilder is the extreme of the muscle spectrum.

They maximize their muscle mass for the purpose of competition and take around 3-6 months to gradually drop the fat so that they have impressive levels of both muscle and extremely low body fat as well.

Performance-enhancing drugs, including testosterone and growth hormone are involved, to get that large amount of muscle and then reduce body fat.

What does that mean for YOU?

Let’s say you’re looking to put on some muscle naturally and get lean.

Don’t fear putting on too much muscle “bulk” by pushing your muscles with adequate intensity (that’s the weight you’re lifting) and volume (how many sets and reps you do over the course of a workout and over the week).

Most people won’t build muscle easily and it will take time to see progress.

You’re not just going to blow up like a big muscular balloon after a few training sessions!

Sometimes when I hear the “lean muscle” argument from the skinny guy at the gym I just want to groan.


Trust me dude, you’re not going to bulk up like a bodybuilder with all those lame body weight exercises and 8 pound bicep curls you’re doing.

Bodybuilders push to extremes for months and years at a time with calculated focus and intensity to get the levels of muscle they achieve.

If you’re training 4, 5 or 6 days a week for an hour you probably won’t be getting “bulky” anytime soon.

Still overdoing it with food when you’re trying to build muscle can have undesirable effects.

In the past, many bodybuilders (and others looking to getting more muscular) ate outrageous amounts of food to maximize their gains, without considering how much additional fat they were adding.


They didn’t care.

They just wanted to get MASSIVE.

And for those hard-gainers among you, who struggle to put on size, they may be an effective way to add muscle.

You need to force yourself to eat more than you ever have before.

But if you’re the person (male or female) who wants to have a bit more muscle and get leaner in the process then you can train heavy and hard without fear of adding added fat as long as you keep your eating in check.

The key to maintaining leanness as you put on muscle is to carefully monitor what you’re eating.

Add regular weight training and keep eating the same thing and you’ll get more muscular and leaner as your body uses those calories to help the muscle recover and build.

Adjust your nutrition plan so you’re eating a better balance of macros and micronutrients and you’ll speed up both the process of muscle gain and fat loss.

And then you’ll end up with that lean muscle that you’re looking for, without any added bulk.

That lean, athletic look will be yours if you follow the right strategy.

You’ll add plenty of muscle, without that bulky look you’re trying to avoid.

Ivana Chapman


The Best Workout For A Lean, Athletic Body

Yesterday I got randomly asked by someone at the gym about what the best workout is.

You might as well ask, “How long is a piece of string?”

It all depends on who the person is, what genetics they have, what their exercise history is, and what their goals are.

There’s not really one specific workout that will help everyone achieve what they want with their body.

I guess many people are thinking of pre-packaged workout programs like practically every unqualified Instagram fitness “star” offers for about $10 these days.

And I can’t say that those programs are completely useless.

In fairness, I don’t even know much about them.

And when the alternative is sitting on the couch with a pack of Doritos then just about any workout program will do – at first.

And there, you’ll soon see, is the big problem.

While nearly every workout will initially get you a bit leaner and maybe even build some muscle, it’s not long before the benefits diminish and eventually disappear.

There’s also the risk of injury with doing a workout program that isn’t at the appropriate level for you.

Whoa, bud! Are you really ready for that plyo push-up? (Actually HE probably is…)

Doing 20 burpees every other day might work for some highly-trained individuals, but the average person buying into a pre-packaged program will eventually get injured doing excessive amounts of high impact activities that their muscles, joints, and tendons aren’t conditioned for.

This is one of the criticisms of Crossfit workouts.

They may very well be good for people who are already relatively fit, but people are often pushed to do exercises that their bodies aren’t ready for.

That whole, “your grandma can do this” business isn’t reality.

Sure, maybe your grandma is a former professional athlete who’s still working out with vigor in her 70s.

But she’s probably not.

And even most people half her age aren’t prepared for the high-impact challenges that many packaged workout programs advise.

So what’s the one workout that really works for everybody?

Progressive resistance training!

So training with weights, or perhaps even starting with your bodyweight with many exercises, before moving on to heavier weights.

That’s what makes a workout progressive.

And that’s what you want, isn’t it?


A complete newbie to exercise will get a benefit from nearly any physical activity.

Hey, if you haven’t exercised for months or years, even yoga or Zumba classes 3 times a week will have you feeling more “toned” and will even get you leaner (more calories out, y’all!).

But after a few months to a year, you’ll find that your progress stops.

What are you going to do then?

More Zumba classes?

I guess that’s an option, but definitely not the right one if your goal is a lean, athletic physique.

I realize that not everyone can afford personal training or an online fitness coach to design a workout program specifically for their strengths, abilities, and goals.

But even a pre-packaged workout program (yes, I do them too!) has to have some allowances for people of varying levels of ability.

Progressive weight training programs offer that benefit because they automatically adjust to the person’s current level of strength and fitness.

One person might do the program with bodyweight squats and the other person might squat 400 pounds.

Squats are on the menu for everyone…at whatever level they’re currently at.

And if someone goes from bodyweight to squatting 400 pounds, that’s an amazing achievement.

Through that process their body changes, adapts, and gets stronger and looks better.

It’s gradual and incremental, but it’s the best method for never-ending improvement.

And taking it one step at a time means that your risk of injury is lower than just bouncing around maniacally from random program to random program.

Progressive weight training offers continuous results.

Who doesn’t want that?

Ivana Chapman

P.S. Yup, I’ve got a workout program that gives you all the weight training guidance (and personal support from me!) you need. Check out the details for Lean365, my online membership program, HERE!


How To Stay Fit As You Age

We’re all getting older. How do we keep getting fitter?

There’s no particular age at which the question first appears. Some people start getting concerned about the affects of aging when they approach 40, and some when they’re staring down at 30.

I’ve actually heard a 27-year-old complain about getting old!

Come on…seriously?!

With the current life expectancy at about 82 in Canada, where I live, and about 78 in the US, it seems a bit ridiculous to me that people panic about things “going downhill”, often before they’re halfway through their estimated lives.

And let’s not forget that these ideas can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You start to think you’re too old to ride roller coasters or play a pick-up game of basketball or bungee jump or still have a 6-pack and you stop trying to do those things.

People stop being active after college and start eating out regularly and travelling for their stressful job and then blame the extra fat around their midsections on getting older.

The truth is that many of the side effects we normally associate with aging are more the result of a change in lifestyle than they are of the passing years. Now, I’m not saying that you’ll keep your 21-year-old line-free face without a boatload of botox. Or that your skin won’t be a little looser and more wrinkly as the years pass.

But why the hell does that matter when you can squat your bodyweight, do 20 full push-ups, feel great (and not broken!) after a day running around with your kids, or have 10% body fat?

When you focus on what matters you’ll feel proud of what you’re achieving as you get older.

So what’s the most important way to maintain fitness as you get older?

As you might have guessed, it’s the same thing I recommend for my clients in their 20s:

Prioritize building and maintaining muscle mass.

While people in their 20s can more easily maintain muscle mass because of higher natural levels of testosterone and growth hormone, muscle hypertrophy becomes slightly harder to achieve and maintain as you enter your mid-30s and 40s.

The more muscle mass you’re able to attain, the more you can afford to lose when the slight and (somewhat) inevitable decline that comes with the passing decades.

So weight-training, 3-5 times per week is the key to healthy aging.

And jumping around doing different exercises every day isn’t going to cut it.

Progressive weight training, where you increase your weights on foundational exercises as your neuromuscular coordination and strength improves, builds muscle predictably and keeps your injury rate down.

In order to make the most of all that training, you need to fuel yourself with the right quantity and quality of food. Make sure you’re eating enough calories so that you have something to build muscle with. Prioritize protein, at about 1g per pound of bodyweight, and try it get it from to a variety of sources (chicken & other poultry, fish, lean red meat, some dairy, nuts, beans, legumes) so that you’re also getting plenty of micronutrients.

Without protein, your body won’t be able to repair and build muscle…and we’ve already established that’s what you want.

So whether you’re 29 or 49, more muscle mass will keep you healthy, young, and fit.

So it’s time to hit the gym!

Ivana Chapman

How to Build Muscle Naturally After 35

man lifting barbell in gym

Building muscle mass and strength is possible after the age of 35

Before we get started, check out my FREE e-Book on “How to get lean after 35” and BONUS 6 Week Workout Program. My program lays out the exact steps and strategy to build muscle and get lean – fast!

You might have heard that it becomes harder to put on muscle as you get older. That may be true, but we don’t know at what age that begins and we can’t be sure the degree to which it occurs. These types of things are very individual anyway, so it’s hard to figure out how it might relate to you. If you do the right things, it’s possible to build muscle and be in the best shape of your life after 35.

Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle tissue, strength, and function, is generally associated with aging, but there’s evidence to indicate that lack of activity could be a greater factor in the way this occurs.

As a natural physique athlete over 35, and a coach to many lean and muscular people who are 35 and better, I have a vested interest in the ideal way of building muscle in the middle years.

With some small adaptations, the best way of building muscle after 35 isn’t really that different from muscle growth in the 20s and early 30s.

Here Are Some Guidelines To Build Muscle Naturally In The Post-35 years:

1) Weight Train 3-5X per week

The National Association of Sports Medicine says that after 35, you lose from 0.5% to 1% of your muscle mass per year. That may sound scary, but the catch is that you’ll lose muscle at that rate if you DON’T exercise. Any form of exercise can reduce muscle mass loss, but it seems likely – since weight training builds more muscle than jogging or tennis, for instance – that weight training is the best choice because it optimizes muscle growth. Keep in mind that if you were able to maintain your muscle mass in your 20s with only a couple of weight training sessions a week, you may now need 3 or 4 days of weight training to maintain and build muscle.

Very heavy, low-rep (1-5) training has a place if you enjoy powerlifting, but moderately-heavy, moderate-rep (6-12) training is where the most muscle hypertrophy happens. Normally 30-90secs rest is ideal for muscle growth, but some athletes, especially older ones, may benefit from longer periods of rest to maximize strength and mechanical tension (provided by the load of the weight you’re using). Occasionally using a 2 minute rest period may help you build your muscular potential.

2) Rest More

As we get older, we usually need more rest and recovery from training sessions…and the harder your sessions the more rest you’ll need. Training with weights seven days a week – hard – isn’t beneficial for any natural athlete (steroids allow more frequent training because they enhance recovery). Your muscles need rest in order to recover and grow. You want to stimulate your muscles, not annihilate them.

Men tend to need more rest anyway, since they have more muscle mass than women, so an older man particularly might need to take longer breaks between weights sessions. Two days of lifting, followed by a day off, and then another couple of days, is probably better than trying to do 3 or 4 days in a row.

The other important aspect of rest is sleep.

Additional responsibilities (work, family, kids, aging parents, a mortgage) that the 35+ crowd have, can be a factor is having less sleep and poorer quality of sleep. Prioritize getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night so you can optimize your growth hormone levels and give your muscles a chance to repair and grow.

3) Eat More Protein

Maximum muscle anabolism (growth) happens only when the body’s protein requirements are met. Current research suggests that meeting a minimum of 30g of protein per meal can help maintain muscle and control body fat levels.

My recommendation is generally 1g of protein per pound of body weight per day (so a 170 pound person should eat around 170g per day). Yup, that’s the standard bodybuilding recommendation, and it’s pretty sensible. Getting more than 1g per pound probably isn’t necessary though.

Protein is especially important in older trainees, because it appears that the need for protein for muscle repair and recovery increases as we age.

If you feel like you struggle to digest protein, it may be because your levels of the stomach acid HCL are low. This also tends to happen with age, as levels of HCL tend to decline.

That may be why you don’t have the iron-clad stomach of your 20s anymore!

4) Take Care of Injuries

While this is important at any age, older weight lifters need to pay closer attention to signals their body is giving them. If you feel a twinge in your knee or your shoulder when you’re training, make sure to make adjustments or even stop the exercise you’re doing altogether. Injuries tend to take longer to heal as you get older so prevention is key. Although you might have “gotten away” with wrecking your body with training in your 20s, listening to what your body’s telling you pays big dividends when you get older. Fewer injuries, and injuries treated quickly, means more time spent back training and working towards that coveted muscle.

5) Warm Up Thoroughly and Stretch as Necessary

A warm-up, preferably with a progressive dynamic one, is a good start to any workout. As you get older, a longer and more thorough warm-up may be beneficial for getting the most from your strength workout, and for preventing injuries.

Stretching after your workout is also useful for preventing tightness in the areas you’ve worked and preventing muscle imbalances. That’s not to say that you should do a yoga class (unless you really want to) or spend 45 minutes stretching at the end of a weights session. Most people have tight hamstrings and hip flexors from sitting all day, and can benefit from stretching those muscles after a lower body session. The chest and neck muscles can also become tight from exercise and poor sitting posture, and benefit from stretching at the end of a session when muscles are pliable.

The Evidence For Building Muscle

We’re not sure how much muscle mass loss over time is due to aging and how much is due to a reduction in frequency and intensity of physical activity.

Research with masters athletes in their 60s showed that their motor units (skeletal muscle plus the motor neuron innervating it) were comparable to active adults in their mid-20s. These athletes were runners. Think about how much more muscle you can gain and maintain if you do weight training, since running doesn’t maximize muscle gain.

A very inspiring study by the University of Oklahoma, compared 24 college-aged men with 25 middle-aged (35-50) men during an 8-week split-routine, linear periodized training program. Strength increases occurred in both groups, but interestingly, the older men actually lost significantly more fat mass and decreased body fat mass (through building more muscle) than the college men.

The Truth About Building Muscle

You may have already found that building muscle after 35 is more challenging than it was in your younger years. Various factors can be part of this, including increased responsibilities, more stress, less sleep, and hormonal changes. Still, it’s starting to look like what was considered inevitable aging may be more to do with a reduction in physical activity. Follow the plan above to build muscle naturally after 35…and keep it as you head into your golden years.

Ivana Chapman


How To Get Ripped Naturally

muscular man lifting white shirt to show abs

Pretty sure this guy counts as ripped.

Before we get started, check out my FREE e-Book on “How to get lean after 35” and BONUS 6 Week Workout Program. My program lays out the exact steps and strategy to build muscle and get lean – fast!

Getting ripped is something that only a few people aspire to. An even smaller group of people is actually able to achieve a physique that most people would consider ripped. There’s no consensus, but for our purposes let’s define “ripped” as having some decent muscle mass and having a low body fat percentage. For women, that percentage might be below 14% and for men it likely starts around 10% and goes into the single digits. The important distinction will also be visible abs that have definition.

This guy is ripped:

ripped lean man naked upper body

This guy is NOT ripped (even though he’s skinny and may have a low body fat percentage):

skinny guy flexing arms white bandana glasses

You CAN do it Naturally

It’s possible and it’s sustainable to be ripped naturally. It’s easier if you’re using chemical enhancement, of course, but I’m a lifelong natural athlete and bodybuilder and I’m only going to address the natural methods I know. There are plenty of bros out there that can help you if you want to get ripped with drugs. Getting ripped naturally is a challenge and it takes hard work to get there. If you’re into chicken wings and plenty of beer every weekend then getting ripped probably isn’t an appropriate goal for you. Aim to get lean instead.

Still want to get ripped?

Here’s how to do it:

1) Train Heavy with Weights

In order to get ripped, building as much muscle as possible while retaining as much muscle as possible as you get leaner should be your primary goal. You’re probably already doing weight training (if not, you need to start NOW), but are you doing enough to get ripped? Although 3-4 days a week is ok if you’re trying to get lean, you’ll probably need 5-6 days a week, about an hour each, of training to get ripped.

Muscle growth is what you’re after, and you’ll develop that best by arranging your workouts like this:

  • Number of reps – Focus on the 6-12 rep range, which is where maximum hypertrophy occurs.
  • Number of sets per exercise – More muscle growth normally requires at least 4 sets of the same exercise in experienced trainees. Five or six sets might be needed to get extra hypertrophy.
  • Volume – This is a way of describing the work done for a particular exercise or body part in each workout or each week. The amount of volume that an individual can tolerate varies widely, but if you’re looking for more muscle you probably need more volume. If you’re already working in the higher rep range of 8-12 and doing 4 or 5 sets then you’ll have a fairly high volume of 40 or 50 reps for each exercise, which is ideal.
  • Rest Period – To achieve maximum muscle, the 60-90 second range normally works best.
  • Time under Tension (TUT) – TUT refers to the amount of time that your muscle is working for one set of an exercise. Optimal muscle growth seems to happen when TUT is about 40-70 secs. Do your reps slowly and with good control and you’ll increase your TUT and reduce your risk of injury from flailing the weights around.

2) Start Your Day with Protein and Fat

You’ve probably been sold on the idea that you need carbs in the morning to have energy. For most people, that’s NOT true. We’ve got plenty of energy stored in the fat in our bodies…and you want to burn that off. Keeping your carbs to a minimum in the morning can help train your body to use fat for fuel. Reducing your carb intake in general forces your body to rely on fat stores more frequently.

Treat breakfast like any other meal and don’t just rely on traditional breakfast foods (pancakes, oatmeal, waffles, toast, muffins), most of which are high in carbs. Eggs can be great, for a while, but if you’re getting bored then try a turkey burger (minus the bun), a chicken breast or two, a salmon filet, or a lean cut of sirloin steak. Add 1/4-1/2 cup of nuts, like almonds, pistachios, macadamias, walnuts, or cashews, and/or an avocado, and you’re set. You’ll probably find that you’ll stay full for longer and be less likely to “crash” in the afternoon if you start your day off with a breakfast of protein and fat.

3) Skip the Medium-Intensity Cardio and Just Walk

Spending hours jogging or cycling mindlessly on the stationary bike isn’t likely to get you ripped. Doing too much long-duration, moderate intensity cardio can actually reduce your ability to get leaner. This may be because too much cardio may reduce your muscle mass (we know we don’t want that!). The other reason may be that your thyroid hormone production is reduced when the stress of too much cardiovascular training is inflicted upon it. You should be active, for sure, for the sake of your health. Stick to walking regularly and you’ll get some fat loss and minimize muscle breakdown.

4) Change your Carb Strategy

If you’ve gotten lean, you probably initially did it by reducing your carb intake. That’s fine, and is normally a good way to start. As you get leaner, your insulin sensitivity and your tolerance for carbs is likely to increase. Which means…more carbs!

Rather than having carbs in the morning for “energy”, use carbs to help you recover from your intense workouts. Carbs help to replenish your glycogen stores, which become depleted after challenging workouts of higher volumes. Introduce your post-workout carbs in 50 gram increments, and see whether you start to get leaner. Keep adding more post-workout carbs until you stop losing body fat.

5) Up Your Protein Intake

Protein is needed to build and repair muscle, and if you’re training hard regularly then you’ll need more than most people. I generally recommend 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (i.e. If you’re 180lbs you take in 180 grams of protein) per day. When you start to reduce your calories to get leaner, it’s important to maintain a higher protein intake because this helps preserve your muscle mass.

6) Address Lifestyle Factors

If you want the optimum muscle growth and recovery that’s needed to get ripped, you need to sleep 7-9 hours a night consistently.

Take a close look at your stress levels too, because chronic stress can increase your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is catabolic, and breaking down muscle isn’t what you want if you’re trying to get ripped.

The Hard Truth

Getting ripped naturally isn’t an easy task and it requires consistent effort and plenty of sacrifices. It CAN be done, but prepare yourself for a challenging journey with a few frustrations along the way. If you’re committed and you follow the guidelines above then you’ll soon be on your way to a ripped physique that you love showing off.

Ivana Chapman

How Cardio Makes You Fat

How Cardio Makes You Fat

Hi, I’m Ivana Chapman and today I’m going to talk to you about how cardio makes you fat.

Okay so when I’m talking about cardio, I’m talking about steady state things like cross trainers for like half an hour or biking and the main one of course is running or jogging. So you’re jogging quite slowly for about 30 minutes. Some people do it for an hour or two hours, that kind of thing. So this type of cardio makes you fat in a couple different ways.

The first one is that it burns your muscle mass away and muscle is a very highly active metabolic tissue so it’s burning a lot of calories all the time so it’s making your body very efficient. If you start burning that away with cardio, then you’re basically slowing down your metabolic rate, you won’t be able to eat as much and then you’re going to find if you continue eating the same amount, you’re going to get fatter and fatter.

Now the second way is that in the running community in particular, there’s this real thing about eating carbs, carbs, carbs and making sure you fuel your runs. Well that’s not really what you want to do if you want to burn fat. You want to get leaner so you want to get your body to actually burn the fat. So if you’re fueling yourself with a lot of carbs before, during and after your run, which is usually what they recommend for recreational runners, then you’re basically not giving your body a chance to burn any of the fat that’s there because it’s busy burning away all those carbs that you’re taking in and also if you’re doing excessive cardio, it’s going to make you very, very hungry so you’re probably going to eat a lot more in the way of calories and in the way of carbs than you really need to.

So if you want to get lean, drop all that excessive cardio. Not to say you can’t do it at all, but the best thing to do is weight training, high intensity interval training and sprint training. That’s going to get you lean. Hopefully that helps you out.

Check out my website, for more great fitness and nutrition tips. See you next time.


Why Yoga isn’t the Way to Get Lean

three people stretching in yoga class

Can you be doing something better for your body than yoga?

Ahhhh, yoga. That time-honoured practice of physical and mental discipline. Also, the inspiration for all of Lululemon’s sexy booty-enhancing pants.

The History

I’m not going to claim to know anything about yoga history. I could certainly copy and paste the info from the Wiki page, but if you’re really that interested then you can do that yourself. Yes, yoga has a long history. It’s been practiced over the millennia by everyone from children to the very elderly. Is that enough reason for you to take it up? That’s totally up to you.

The Benefits

Depending on the type of yoga, you have a range of physical and mental benefits. Certainly if you’ve never done any exercise then yoga will be extremely challenging. Many people think of yoga as a great way to deal with stress. Maybe. If you enjoy a workout it’s a great way to deal with stress, whether it’s yoga or weight training or skiing.

What are you trying to achieve?

If you’re primarily interested in physique benefits like muscle gain and fat loss, then yoga wouldn’t be your first point of call. That’s not to say that yoga won’t do those things, but unless you’ve been sedentary for a while yoga won’t be the best way to achieve those goals. You probably guessed that weight training is the best way!

The Yin to Weight Training’s Yang

Some people (myself included) are naturally drawn to more intense exercise like weight training, martial arts, and sprinting. In Chinese philosophy, the harder physical elements are considered “yang” and the softer elements are “yin”. Yoga is generally a yin practice and can help balance the harder training that you do. Sometimes you feel frazzled and overwhelmed and yoga can indeed provide a welcome reprieve from the tougher workouts you’ve been doing.


I’m not saying that yoga is useless, by any means, but if you’re pressed for time and only have 2 or 3 days a week to work out – and your primary goal is physique-based – then yoga isn’t the best use of your precious time. I try to incorporate some elements of yoga/stretching into my workouts when necessary or desired, but I just don’t have the time to do an hour (or even 90min, as in Bikram!) yoga class.

That’s not to say that I haven’t done it before and that I won’t do it again, but right now my goal is to maintain my physique in an enjoyable way in the shortest time possible.

If you love yoga, great! Do it, enjoy it, and get all the happiness you can from it.

If your main goal is to get lean and ripped, yoga a couple of times a week just isn’t going to cut it.

Ivana Chapman 


Why Weight Training IS for Everyone

Woman with muscular body lifting weights

Weight training will get you the lean and toned body you’re looking for.

I’d like to think that the days of weight training being associated with tree-necked bodybuilders and giant-sized powerlifters are over, but sometimes I fear the images won’t die. There are so many benefits to weight training that it’s a shame there are some negative associations with it.

I cringe when I hear women say they just want to get “toned” (add muscle and lose fat and you’ll look “toned”!).

If only I could have shook some sense into the 5’3, 200ish pound woman I overheard at Starbucks, telling her friend she didn’t want to do weights because she would get “too bulky”.


Her current obese state was already “bulky”, and certainly not in any positive way. I’m sure she’d find that if she started weight training she would actually slim down rather than bulk up her body.

I wish she’d give it a chance. I wish everyone would give weight training a chance.

Strength Training Rules!

It doesn’t matter if you’re a 17-year-old teen or a 72-year-old retiree – strength training is the way to go. I’m not saying that either of those people should be doing maximal deadlifts on a regular basis (unless that’s a goal they set for themselves), but developing strength will benefit everyone.

Keep in mind that, for some populations, strength training can just mean bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, and push-ups.

Full-body exercises are particularly beneficial for those groups, as they help to develop functional strength (ie. strength for day-to-day life).

Strength training builds bone mass and density.

So unless you want your bones to get porous and prone to fracture as you get older, you’d be well advised to hit the weights regularly.

Let’s not forget that if you build muscle mass then your body will burn more calories all the time. At the same body mass, a body with a higher percentage of muscle and lower percentage of body fat is going to look a lot more appealing.

More “toned”, shall we say?

Don’t Forget to Progress

It’s fine to start off with bodyweight exercises if you haven’t worked out before, are recovering from injury, or haven’t been exercising for a while (Hello – post-partum ladies!). Once your body adapts to the exercise though, you need to add a little resistance (ie. weight) to continue seeing benefits.

Don’t Fear Getting “Bulky”

Don’t fear heavier weights. You need to work extremely hard and eat consistently to put on large amounts of muscle, which may eventually become your goal. You’re not going to “accidentally” put on tons of muscle and get “bulky” (sigh!) without a hell of a lot of work.

The fitness models you see in magazines didn’t get that way by accident. Most of them have been training HARD for years, 1-2 hours a day, 6 days a week to get the amount of muscle they have. And yes, some of them have even taken drugs to enhance their muscular development.

It’s not going to happen with a few weight training sessions a week, even if you try.

Strong Wins

One of the greatest benefits to weight training is how strong it makes you feel. Don’t overlook that key advantage. If you feel physically strong you’ll feel stronger mentally. Nothing beats the feeling of being happy, healthy, and ready to take on the world.

Weight training can be the start of an amazing journey for you. Don’t let preconceived notions stand in your way.

Ivana Chapman


Do you have to Choose Between Being Muscular and Being Strong?


You don’t need to pick a side. You can be both muscular and strong.

Do you really have to chose between being muscular and being strong? It’s the great battle between powerlifters and bodybuilders. Powerlifters are trying to achieve explosive power and tend to perform reps in the 1-5 range, while bodybuilders try to achieve maximum muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth) in the higher rep range, generally 8-12.

Does it have to be Strong OR Muscular?

There’s the impression, mostly tossed around by guys who spend more time trolling the Internet than at the gym, that powerlifters are strong, but don’t have great physiques, and bodybuilders are weak, inflexible weaklings that just have a lot of steroid-induced useless showy muscle.

Are powerlifters developing their talents at the expense of developing an impressively muscular physique? Are bodybuilders just pumping up size without having any strength?

Getting Massively Muscular

For every thousand or so wannabe bodybuilders doing forearm curls when they can’t even do a chin-up, there’s 8-time Mr Olympia Ronnie Coleman who regularly deadlifts 800lbs and bench presses 500lbs. There does appear to be a trend in the bodybuilding community to do more powerlifting exercises like squats, deadlifts, dips, and chinups rather than just use machines or dumbbells to isolate body parts.


Because doing full-body exercises is an efficient way to build maximum muscle mass all over your body. The body responds with greater growth hormone and testosterone production with those “big lifts” compared to isolation exercises like triceps extensions.

So bodybuilders benefit by developing more overall muscle size.

Bodybuilding moves are not for Powerlifters

The use of isolation exercises like the leg extension, leg press, or pec dec machines is still valuable for building mass, particularly when used at the end of the workout when the stabilizer muscles are fatigued and don’t allow full body exercises like squats at their maximal weight anymore. These machine exercises cause muscle damage and metabolic stress, which promotes hypertrophy (muscle growth).

Powerlifters and most athletes don’t need isolation machines and should probably stick to barbells and dumbbells, but for bodybuilders the metabolic damage that occurs when repping out leg presses at the end of a squat session will likely result in enhanced growth of the leg muscles.

The Benefits of Strength and Muscle Size

So let’s say you want to be strong AND muscular. Keep in mind that most powerlifters are muscular, but they don’t follow the strict eating patterns that lead to a ripped physique because it isn’t a requirement of their sport. They don’t diet in the same way to get lean so they don’t usually have the lean physique that bodybuilders do (at least on show day!).

Powerlifting exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses are great overall muscle builders and do a lot of metabolic work for you in a shorter period of time.

Periodizing Your Workouts

In general, if you want size, you need to do more reps (8-12) and sets (4-6) than if you want to build strength. You could certainly maintain that rep range all the time, but you’ll get better hypertrophy results if you cycle from the high-rep range to a lower-rep range over time. It’s useful to periodize your program from preparatory to hypertrophy to strength to power (1-2 reps). That way you’ll have maximum muscle growth and get consistently stronger.

Strength = Size ?

Genetics certainly play a role, but to a certain extent strength and muscle size are correlated. It’s not a perfect correlation; plenty of strong guys don’t have a lot of muscle and a lot of muscular guys are relatively weak. It doesn’t hurt to work for strength if you want size, but size won’t necessarily give you strength.

Yes, there is a way of training to be strong and muscular. Take some tips from powerlifters and a few from bodybuilders and you’re all set.

Ivana Chapman


How Rest Helps You Build Muscle

man sleeping in bed

Getting the right amount of rest helps you recover from training and build muscle.

Building muscle mass is the best thing you can do to improve your body composition.  If you’re slim and want more muscle mass you need to be strategic about packing on those muscular pounds.  Even if you’re looking to lose weight, building muscle will make your body more metabolically active so that you’re burning more calories all the time.

Most of us are looking to reduce our body fat percentage and shape our bodies, and the best way to do that is to add muscle. Many people believe that the more time you spend in the gym, the more muscle you’ll put on.  To a certain extent that’s true, but the time that you spend away from the gym also helps you get the gains.

Your muscle repairs and grows when you’re resting, not when you’re working out, so if you don’t take time off your muscle won’t have a chance to recover and get bigger. Training twice a day, 7 days a week isn’t the best way to achieve maximum muscle mass.  While some professional bodybuilders train that frequently, they normally use the assistance of drugs that speed up the recovery and growth process.

For a normal healthy individual (or a natural bodybuilder), regularly scheduling rest will optimize your muscle growth and avoid overtraining, which also hampers your progress. The more muscle mass you already have, the more rest you’ll need.  Men tend to need more recovery time between weight sessions than women do, partly because of the muscle mass issue.

The heavier you lift, the more time you need between sets as well. If you’re working in the 4-6 rep range you’ll need more rest time than if you’re using the 10-12 rep range.

Don’t overlook the power of rest!  Proper training and adequate time for recovery is the key to getting the muscle you want.

Ivana Chapman 


Stop Wasting Your Time in the Gym!

businessman checking his watch

Your time is precious…make the most of your time in the gym.

There’s a misconception that in order to have a great physique you need to spend several hours every day working out.  Certain goals, such as competing in a professional bodybuilding contest or at the Olympics, require more than an hour or two nearly every day to achieve.

For the average busy executive who doesn’t make a living from athletics, spending hours in the gym every day doesn’t make sense…and only adds to the stress of an already overstretched life. So how often and for how long should you work out?

That depends a lot on your goals. 

If you want to walk around looking like you belong on the cover of a fitness magazine, you’ll need to spend a bit more time than if you’re happy just to pull yourself out of the “overweight” category and avoid a heart attack. If you’re strict and consistent with your diet (yes, that’s hugely important!) and have reasonable genetics, then an amazing physique can be obtained with 4 or 5 gym sessions a week.

We’re not talking 2-3 hour sessions either. Although the levels vary significantly by individual, testosterone (a muscle-building hormone) decreases and cortisol (a stress hormone) increases as a workout progresses.  If you spend too much continuous time in the gym the benefits progressively decrease and you’re less able to keep at the higher intensity needed to produce benefits.

40-50 mins is a great for most people. 

It’s also a lot easier to squeeze into your workday!

So what type of training should you do if you’re limited on time?

Weight training, of course! 

Building muscle means that your body becomes more metabolically active, burning more calories throughout the day no matter what you’re doing.  Exercises that work multiple large muscle groups simultaneously (like squats, deadlifts, or pull-ups) are more efficient at producing physique changes than bicep curls or flys. If you’re going to commit to spending some time in the gym, make sure you’re making the most of it.  Don’t waste your precious time peddling slowly on a stationary bike for hours!

Choose the right exercises and keep your workouts short and intense for the most time-efficient physique improvements.

Ivana Chapman 


Have we got it all wrong about CARBS?

pancakes with maple syrup and bananas

Can carbs be a useful part of your diet? It depends…

One of the best things the average overweight sedentary person can do for their diet is cut down on carbs.  For most of those people, carbs are coming in the form of French fries, greasy noodles, squishy white bread, and maybe some fried rice.  It’s hard to argue that eliminating those foods will cause weight loss! Grouping all carbs together in the same category is where most of us have gotten into trouble.

Sure, reducing your intake of any of the above mentioned carb sources will assist with weight loss, but much of the trouble with those foods is the additional processed fats and sugars that are added to them.  This results in a big increase in calories and affects how your body copes with the food.

It’s not as easy to vilify other uncomplicated carbs such as plain potatoes & sweet potatoes, plain rice (white or brown), or fruits and vegetables.

All of those other foods are also sources of carbs, but will the effect by the same? Probably not. Keep in mind that we started off this message by saying that cutting back on carbs is useful for the overweight and sedentary.

What if you don’t belong to those groups? 

What if you exercise several times a week or you’re a hard-gainer who’s trying to put on muscle mass?

In that case, carbs are going to be an important tool for helping you achieve your goals.

Everyone also has an individual tolerance to carbs and this needs to be accounted for to determine what amount of carbs you need to be eating. In any case, timing of carb intake is important.  The best time to have carbs is immediately after your workout, so that they can assist with recovery, repair, and muscle growth.  This is also the time when those carbs that some people consider “bad” (like potatoes, white rice, and juices) are actually better than low glycemic carbs as they raise insulin and assist with muscle building.

This won’t work for everyone though, and if you’re overweight or very intolerant to carbs you may not need them at all post-workout.

Carbs are not evil. We all need some carbs, but the amount varies considerably from person to person. Many people can’t function well without high levels of carbs and some find they need very few carbs to feel good and have the physique they want.

Find out what works for you!

Ivana Chapman 


How to Build Muscle

man flexing muscles of back

Building muscle takes hard workouts and good nutrition.

Fat loss and weight reduction gets a lot more attention, but when it comes to weight training it’s building muscle that really gets my juices flowing. You can achieve initial weight loss and fat reduction through dropping your calorie intake or changing your macros (ie. usually through limiting carbs).  If you want to build muscle though, you need a consistent system of training and nutrition to get results.

Want to know how to build muscle?


If you want to pack on some serious size efficiently, using big multi-joint movements (ex. Squats, lunges, deadlifts, pull-ups) is the best place to start.  Not only are you training your body to be strong and functional, rather than just to look good while performing a double-bicep in front of the mirror, but you’re also working many muscle groups simultaneously. To do a deadlift, you use your quads, hamstrings, glutes, adductors (for stabilization), back, and forearms. And let’s not forget your abs, which work hard to maintain stability of the torso during this big lift. Looking for a great ab exercise? Try deadlifting or squatting – HEAVY.


Any basic Personal Training course is going to tell you that maximum hypertrophy (muscle growth) is going to happen within the 6-12 rep range, endurance will be developed at about 13 reps+, and power/strength at less than 6 reps. Sure, those generalisations are a good place to start, but there are other factors that you can take advantage of.

If you’ve been training consistently and progressively with weights for several years, you may be able to get muscle size maintenance or even increase through lower rep ranges. Also, if you’ve been working in the same rep range for a while (let’s say 3 sets of 10 – YAWN) you’re likely to get muscle growth by working at a higher rep range for a period of time.

MAXIMUM MUSCLE STIMULUS The most important stimulus to build muscle is intensity. By that I don’t mean running around the gym doing circuits of push-ups, chin-ups, and Burpees (sorry Crossfitters!), but the generally accepted strength training terminology that refers to percentage of your 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM).

“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody want to lift no heavy-ass weights.”

8-time Bodybuilding Mr Olympia Ronnie Coleman

Ronnie certainly has a way with words (even if his grammar needs a little fine-tuning). What you want to do with your training is work with a large mechanical workload (“heavy-ass weights”).


When you work with heavy weights, you create more of a metabolic stimulus for your muscles to change. More Testosterone and Growth Hormone (GH) is produced and these hormones are anabolic (muscle-building).


Many people forget that if you break down muscle tissue through hard weight training you need to repair and replenish to rebuild and grow. The most important time to refuel is post-workout, within 1 hour, when you want to take advantage of elevated insulin levels to drive carbs and protein into the muscles.

How much protein do need?  About 0.5g of protein per Kg post-workout is optimal, so if you weigh 80Kg (176lbs) you’ll want about 40g of protein. Most whey isolate protein powders deliver about 30g per scoop so you might need a bit more than a scoop. In terms of carbs, you’ll want a ratio of 4:1 or 3:1 carbs to protein. If you’re not very lean, you’ll be better off with 3:1 (using the same example you’d want about 120g of carbs). Carbs higher on the glycemic index, such as bananas, grapes, juices, potatoes, and raisins, can be ideal. Unlike your other meals, you want high-glycemic foods so that the carbs are driven into the muscle with elevated insulin levels. Insulin is the most anabolic hormone so you want to take advantage of it. Having fats in the post-workout period slows down this process and should be avoided.


If you’re a traditional hard-gaining ectomorph and you want to build muscle, eating needs to be your new hobby. You need to eat good quality protein, fats, and carbs consistently to avoid losing the muscle you’re trying to build. Make sure you get the calories in, primarily through whole foods and the occasional protein shake as necessary. Nuts and seeds can be a great way to add in calories, as they’re calorie-dense. Protein recommendations vary, but the standard bodybuilding recommendation is 1g per pound of bodyweight. Some people will need a bit more, but those concerned with muscle gain probably don’t want to get less.


It’s important to get enough sleep to promote recovery and promote muscle growth. Growth hormone (GH) repairs your muscle and other tissues when you’re sleeping. If you’re sleep-deprived, GH doesn’t have a chance to do its work. Just in case you needed another reason to get more shut-eye…


Long periods of steady-state cardio increase your cortisol levels, which is catabolic (breaks down muscle). Even moderate levels of cardio work can reduce your ability to maintain your peak muscle mass.  If maintaining leanness is important, do it through appropriate strength training, precise nutrition, and the occasional bout of sprinting or interval training.


Building muscle starts with an effective weight-training program. The right nutrition and plenty of rest will ensure that you don’t waste your time in the gym.

With a consistent plan, you’ll be able to build muscle and be the most muscular version of yourself.

Ivana Chapman 


Advanced Training Advice in Strength & Conditioning

Ivana with two muscular guys

Ivana with Ryan Faehnle and Derek Woodske, top strength & conditioning coaches.

After completing my theory and technical for levels 1 and 2 of the Poliquin International Certification Program (PICP) online in late 2011, I was finally able to complete my practical component of the program last month. For those of you who aren’t informed in the strength & conditioning world, Charles Poliquin is one of the world’s premier strength coaches, having successfully trained professional athletes and Olympians worldwide.


I believe in learning from the best in all areas of skill development, so the PICP Program is a natural choice. For the practical component, I spent five days under the skillful guidance of two esteemed Strength Coaches of the Poliquin faculty – Ryan Faehnle and Derek Woodske – at the well-equipped Dynamic Conditioning Centre facility in Toronto.

Although I obviously won’t be sharing the substance of the course (since I legally signed away my right to do so and if I do large muscular men will be dispatched to crush my neck with their biceps), I thought it might be valuable to share a few of key takeaways from those five brilliant days of learning.


The Poliquin method of assessing upper and lower body structural balance was a large component of the course. In simplest terms, structural balance is the expected strength in a particular lift (ex. Chin-ups, Dips, Reverse Curls) as a percentage of the strength in the main lift (ie. Bi-Acromial Bench Press). The data for these tests was acquired through decades of work that Charles Poliquin did with his athletes.

When structural balance values are within the expected range, the athlete would theoretically have a lower risk of injury when placing his/her body under the extreme stress of training and competition. Identifying weaknesses (including which muscles are particularly tight) should be the first step in designing an effective program for an athlete.


We discussed how to progress exercises throughout the strength training program. In each phase of the athlete’s program (normally 4 weeks), the athlete is normally progressed to the next level of the exercise. Program planning generally occurs on a 12-week basis, one of the main reasons why I recommend people undertaking personal training make a minimum commitment of 3 months.


Although not strictly part of the PICP course, one of the most valuable pieces of information I picked up from Ryan & Derek was about program design. They both believe that some coaches change athletes’ programs too frequently and just jump from one advanced training method to another (from German Volume Training to 6-12-25 to Cluster Training).

They stressed that minor changes in program variables are all that is necessary to achieve a training effect (ex. Rep range, rest period, Time Under Tension, etc.).


The volume of information in PICP 1 & 2 is huge, and it lays the groundwork for a successful programming strategy for the strength coaching of athletes and motivated people who just want to be stronger and more functional. With a reading list of at least a dozen books, the PICP course gets the strength coach more inspired to learn more about optimal strength development.

I highly recommend the course to coaches and trainers, and strongly advise that athletes and clients find a trainer who possesses these qualifications. You’re likely to be in safe hands.

Ivana Chapman