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#FitnesswithKaren: Workout and Nutrition Tips for Your Body Goals

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Penn chapter.

Everyone has goals for their body, whether they be to gain muscle, get more toned, or lose a few pounds, but it’s difficult to know where to start or what workouts to follow. Here are some tips I’ve picked up from my experiences with fitness and health. 

A small disclaimer: these tips are ones I’ve found that work for me specifically. Workouts are not generalizable, and they’re dependent on your starting physical shape, metabolic rate, and other factors. Therefore, take these tips with a grain of salt, as they may or may not pertain to your body type. Personally, I have an athletic, lean build, and the majority of my weight is centered around the lower half of my body.

Before You Start 

An important thing to consider is that your muscles will change differently depending on whether you target sarcoplasmic hypertrophy or myofibrillar hypertrophy. These concepts are a little difficult to understand, but put simply, hypertrophy of the muscles means an increase in muscle size. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is when there is an increase of fluid in the muscle cells, which enhances cell cytoplasm. With myofibrillar hypertrophy, when you gain muscle, it is due to an increase of muscle fiber growth.

Since sarcoplasmic hypertrophy increases the amount of fluid in the muscle cells, it makes muscles look larger, but does not necessarily make them stronger; thus, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is associated with an increase in muscle size, while myofibrillar hypertrophy (muscle fiber growth) is more associated with strength training.

GOAL: Gain Muscle Size

Increasing muscle size requires training for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, as opposed to myofibrillar hypertrophy, and it involves a technique called progressive overload

Progressive overload is a gradual increase in volume and intensity to achieve rapid muscle growth. Volume and intensity refer to the weight you use while exercising, the number of times you perform an exercise (repetitions), or the number of cycles of reps you perform (sets) while exercising. Progressive overload is an important concept to understand. If you keep lifting the same weight for an extended period of time, your body will get used to it and it will no longer be a challenge for your muscles; you won’t see improvement in muscle mass or size. Progressive overload isn’t limited to just increasing the amount of weight you’re lifting; it can also include increasing resistance, repetitions, or even frequency of sets. Essentially, with progressive overload, you have to keep incrementally working your muscles more than what they’re used to in order to build up size. Personally, I increase the type of intensity (reps, sets, weight) based on the exercise I am performing.

However, in order to train specifically for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, your workouts must be designed to include high volume and short rest periods. For example, try upping the maximum weight you can lift by increments of 5 pounds per set. I recommend you do about 3-4 sets (of about 10-15 repetitions per set) with a 60 second rest between each set*. 

Try to incorporate a gradual increase in volume each week if you want to see marked improvement in muscle mass/size. It’s also helpful to try and train each muscle group twice per week; for example, I alternate daily between training my legs and glutes, and my back and arms.

*All reps and sets will vary depending on the person. Workouts are not, and should not, be universally applicable; therefore, your numbers could very well be higher or lower than the ones listed.

GOAL: Gain Strength

Gaining strength requires more myofibrillar hypertrophy training. The key to focusing on gaining strength instead of size is the increase in myofibrils, or muscle fiber growth. To achieve this, progressive overload is still necessary; however, the reps, weight, and sets during myofibrillar hypertrophy training are different than sarcoplasmic hypertrophy training. You need to use heavier weights and longer rest periods with less reps. A great workout to gain strength is swinging a kettlebell. Here is a more in-depth explanation, but essentially, you should use a heavy kettlebell weight with low reps over long rest periods. You should also choose a weight that challenges you, but doesn’t compromise your form.

GOAL: Lose Weight

If your goal is to lose weight, nutrition should be your main focus. All of these goals require being in a calorie deficit, meaning that you burn more calories than you consume. Only in calorie deficit will you start to see the results you want. In fact, from personal experience, I can say that nutrition is probably more important than working out. There is a popular saying that “abs are made in the kitchen,” and it’s basically saying that what you eat has a greater impact than how much you exercise. Therefore, a calorie deficit by itself will yield either weight loss or a more toned body. Personally, I aim to eat around 1400-1600 calories a day, since I know I burn around 2,000 calories each day. Each person will burn a different number of calories each day based on their muscle mass and metabolism. Lifting weights, for example, is a great way to maintain a calorie deficit. However, cardio is the most effective workout for burning as many calories possible.

This advice is, of course, specific to each person. My reps, weights, and calorie deficit splits are tailored to my goals and body type. Each individual should find what’s best for them to properly achieve their own goals. Ultimately, a positive mindset will go a long way.

Karen Pan

U Penn '22

Karen is currently studying Economics and Criminology at UPenn! Her favorite city in the world is Shanghai, she's addicted to Criminal Minds, and she lives for clean eating and pilates