Female Fitness: Thinner, Leaner, Stronger

From the Show: Talk Fitness Today
Summary: Getting into awesome shape isn’t nearly as complicated as the fitness industry wants you to believe.
Air Date: 4/18/18
Duration: 26:56
Host: Lisa Davis, MPH
Guest Bio: Michael Matthews, Founder of Muscle for Life
Mike Matthews is a bestselling fitness author and entrepreneur, and the creator of and Legion Athletics.

His simple and science-based approach to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy has sold over a million books and helped thousands of people build their best bodies ever, and his work has been featured in many popular outlets including Esquire, Men’s Health, Elle, Women’s Health, Muscle & Strength, Elle, and more, as well as on FOX and ABC.
  • Book Title: Bigger, Leaner, Stronger & Thinner, Leaner Stronger
  • Guest Facebook Account:
  • Guest Twitter Account: @muscleforlife
Female Fitness: Thinner, Leaner, Stronger
Getting into awesome shape isn’t nearly as complicated as the fitness industry wants you to believe.

  • You don’t need to starve yourself with very-low-calorie diets to lose fat and keep it off. In fact, this is how you ruin your metabolism and ensure that any weight lost will come back with a vengeance.
  • You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars per month on the worthless supplements and fat loss pills that fitness models shill in advertisements.
  • You don’t need to constantly change up your exercise routines to “confuse” your muscles. I’m pretty sure that muscles lack cognitive abilities, so this approach is a good way to just confuse yourself instead.
  • You don’t need to toil away in the gym for a couple of hours per day doing tons of sets, super-sets, drop sets, giant sets, etc. (As a matter of fact, this is a great way to stunt your gains and get nowhere.)
  • You don’t need to grind out hours and hours of boring cardio every week to shed ugly belly fat and love handles and get the body you desire. (How many flabby treadmillers have you come across over the years?)
  • You don’t need to completely abstain from “cheat” foods while bringing your body fat percentage down to ideal levels. To the contrary, if you cheat correctly, you can accelerate fat loss.
Those are just a few of the harmful lies and myths that keep women from ever achieving the lean, sexy, strong, and healthy bodies they truly desire.

Listen as Mike Matthews joins host Lisa Davis to share more about female fitness. Next week, Mike will discuss male fitness (Bigger, Leaner, Stronger).

Female Fitness with Michael Matthews

This episode of Talk Fitness is in partnership with The Vitamin Shoppe, where knowledgeable health enthusiasts are standing by to help you thrive every day.

Lisa Davis (Host): So glad you’re listening to Talk Fitness Today. If you are looking for a book, ladies out there, that is going to give you everything you need to build the ultimate female body; I have go the book for you. It is Thinner, Leaner, Stronger, the Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Female Body. It is by Michael Matthews who joins us now. Heh Michael.

Michael Matthews (Guest): Heh Lisa, how are you?

Lisa: I’m good, how are you doing?

Michael: I’m good. I’m good.

Lisa: Good. I have to say Michael, I’m super impressed. I get about four to six books a week and when I got your book, I though holy cow, you cover everything. It’s really impressive. You start out in the book, you have got these amazing before and after pictures, you have your own; I like this not very impressive, something had to change picture of you and too wow, you are stunningly handsome and ripped and strong and fit. Talk to us about your evolution and then I want to talk about the women out there and what we can do.

Michael: Yeah absolutely. So, I started lifting weights. If got into it when I was like 20, I think I was 17 turning 18, so I grew up playing sports. I played a lot of hockey and when I stopped playing hockey, I wanted to continue doing something with my body and honestly, I mean I was 17, and I was like hmm, I like girls and girls like muscles so I’m just going to start doing that. And so that’s how I got into it and in the beginning, I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just picked up some body building magazines and did whatever kind of workouts were in those magazines and it went on like that for years. Something I kind of stayed with my friends and honestly, I didn’t take it - I guess I could say I didn’t take it very seriously in that I wasn’t – I wasn’t very educated, but at least I knew I wasn’t very educated. And eventually, I decided to get a bit more serious about it and see what could I really do with my body just for the sake of why not. Let’s see. What’s the best shape that I can possibly get in and what does that require. Because I had picked up various things along the way. A lot of things that people still kind of -are still very commonly believed today like for example, if you want to get lean, you have to do a bunch of cardio or you have to eat a bunch of “clean” or healthy food and you can’t eat “unclean” or unhealthy foods and you should be training certain ways with weights like really high reps to really feel the burn if you want to bring out the striations and just a lot of things like that.

And when I really got down to educating myself and learning the kind of like I went to a – I wanted to go learn the first principles. I wanted to learn the – what are the laws of if we are talking about diet. How does the human metabolism really work? I didn’t want to just learn about random fad diets or diets that revolve around usually like restricting or emphasizing one particular food or one type of food over another. Again, I wanted to understand the machinery of the body and then from there, turn that into more practical kind of guidelines. And so, that was probably about six or seven years into my fitness journey I guess. And at that point, I looked okay and I had made decent progress simply because I was consistent, and its years and years of consistent work is going to produce something. But, it wasn’t exactly what you would expect for like 1500 plus hours of exercise and so, yeah from there I educated myself and went first and foremost to just the scientific literature and that was particularly fruitful on the dietary side of things because we have over a century of metabolic research now that is just easily accessible and because of the amount of not only clinical trials but the amount of reviews and metanalyses that are out there; you really don’t have to do that much reading to get a good general understanding of what matters most in terms of losing weight, maintaining weight, gaining weight and also you can break that down into losing fat and not muscle, gaining muscle and not fat and so forth.

On the training side of things, it’s a bit more complicated, the science which is a bit more contradictory and it’s more nuanced, but there are a handful of books that I started with that broke it down, in a pretty straightforward manner and made arguments that really spoke to me in terms of the importance of focusing on strength training over everything else as opposed to more traditional I say like “body-building” training. And so, from that point, again that was probably year sevenish, over the next three to four years of educating myself and then putting what I had learned into practice; I was able to dramatically transform my physique. I was able to lose a lot of body fat and get very lean and then subsequently actually stay very lean, but also put on a fair amount of muscle in the right places on my body that gave me the type of look I guess that most guys are going for. I don’t think I look like a body builder per se, I say maybe a little bit more like an athlete or fitness model kind of look. And so from there, that was kind of my personal transformation and then I decided to start educating other people and I had always been interested in writing so, I thought that would be a good place to start and that was 2012 when I wrote my first book and it’s been kind of a rocket ride I guess since.

Lisa: Well, I’m not surprised. Because you have so much great information in the book. you know one of the questions that I have has to do with a woman and her curves. So, I’m curvy. I like it. And my fear is if I do too much, I’m going to lose – because you end up, you can’t just lose weight and spot reducing, right, there is no such thing as spot reducing. So, if I want to get leaner overall, then there go the boobs, there goes the butt, it seems like. So, what do you say to that because I’m at this point where I’m definitely not as lean as I’d like to be; but I don’t want to lose weight right now. I just want to firm up, but I don’t want to get too lean, so like how do you access all that. Because I think there are other women out there especially now because curves are very popular, and I know it should just be because they are popular, but I like mine. So, what do you say?

Michael: Yeah, yeah and you know, to give just a hundred percent honest answer, is it kind of depends on your body. Genetics are going to play a big role in that. Especially if you are talking about boobs, that is very much a genetic thing. Some women will get very lean and yeah, they may lose a little bit of size, but not very much while other women will lose more than they want to. But as far as butt goes, that you can manipulate through training. So, you know like you can definitely – let’s just say that – I have worked with thousands and thousands of women over the years via the internet virtually right and I have stayed in touch with a lot of women over the course of really their like in some cases, it is multiple years now; and you can definitely like the look that most women seem to resonate best with most women is about let’ say eighteen to 20 percent body fat with anywhere from fifteen to probably twenty pounds of muscle in the right places and that’s for most women seems to be the sweet spot because at eighteen to twenty percent body fat, you are not super shredded. You don’t have things coming out everywhere but you have clear abs, and again depending on your genetics, it might be even as much as like a six pack, but you are going to have clear stomach definition, you are going to look tight, you are going to have muscle definition in your arms and you also though are going to have enough fat to have boobs and to have a butt and then again in the case of butt, you can also – you can kind of manipulate that through training.

So, in my program for women, it is more lower body centric than upper body whereas my program for men has more work on the upper body than the lower body. We are not neglecting the lower body, but the reality is for most women, you are going to have – you are going to be happy with your upper body fast than your lower body for most women. It’s going to take more work to get he lower body that you want than the upper body and for men it’s usually the other way around. Most guys are going to be happy with their lower body development sooner than their upper body, so you have to kind of program for that. But with the butt in particular, like in my program for women; you’re training it three days a week, two day are kind of more indirect – well I wouldn’t say indirect, but you are doing things like squatting and you are doing glut specific training and that’s about the most you can get away with as a natural weight lifter is taking a major muscle group and training it two to three times a week is a lot and you can do it as long as it’s set up correctly. More than that probably becomes a bit counterproductive.

So, in your case, the question would be – I would be curious to see like what you would think if you were at about twenty percent body fat and you had trained in a way that’s specific to the body that you want. Now, for example, if you are talking about your chest; training the chest muscles can help a little bit because the fat is on top of the muscles, so it can kind of move it up a little bit and perk it up a little bit. But that is harder to – you are not going to be able to influence that as significantly as you can influence your butt for example where you can be very, very lean and actually have a very round and noticeable butt simply because it’s muscle. So, yeah I mean again I would say you have to kind of see how does your body respond and the good thing about it also is the worst case scenario, is let’s say you were to do that and you were to get to twenty percent body fat which again if you are like most women, is probably where you would – as far as just pure body fat percentage goes, my guess is that you would be pretty happy with that. And then you have to access your body and you have to look and you have to be like, you know what, honestly, I don’t like that I don’t have enough boobs at twenty percent, so I’m going to go up a bit. I’m going to go up to twenty two percent and I’m going to see and so then over time, you eventually find your sweet spot and you go okay cool, this is where I am happiest with everything and then the game is of course, you can maintain it and then you look at how can you improve very specific things so at least you are keeping it interesting. You are not just kind of going through the motions everyday because that does get a bit boring.

Lisa: Yeah, that is true. Alright, well I want to jump into some of these. You have so much good information as I mentioned. Okay I love this; five biggest fat loss myths and mistakes. The first one is watching calorie intake is unnecessary. Talk to us about that.

Michael: Yeah, so I know this is pretty trending these days and I understand from a marketing perspective, yeah, it makes sense to kind of be one contrarian like contrarian positioning is always good marketing because it gets people’s attention. And this also plays into what people want to hear and what they want to believe because tracking calories is annoying. If you are going to even if you use an app like My Fitness Pal, it is still kind of annoying and in meal planning can be kind of annoying. It can also be a little bit confusing if you don’t know what you are doing with meal planning and it also generally means a little bit less variety in your diet. But, the long story short is there is something called energy balance. This is kind of a technical term, a scientific term and it refers to the relationship between the amount of energy that you are eating, and this energy is measured in calories or kilocalories, right that’s how we generally measure it versus the amount of energy that you are burning. And that relationship is called energy balance. So, your body, in its natural state assuming that there is nothing particularly wrong with your metabolism or hormones; it basically wants to maintain a neutral state of energy balance. It doesn’t really want to gain weight, it doesn’t really want to lose weight; it kind of just wants to stay the same. So, if you are eating unprocessed nutritious foods and you just kind of listen to your natural hunger and satiety cues to eat when you are hungry, and you eat until you are satisfied. You don’t stuff yourself. If you do that, and anybody that has done that over time, you probably notice that your weight doesn’t really change. It probably fluctuates let’s say anywhere from one to three pounds and that’s it. And that’s good. That’s how your body is meant to work.

Now, if you want to lose weight and of course when I say lose weight, really what I mean is if you want to lose fat and all body fat is, is it’s just energy stores for your body to tap into when it doesn’t have energy from food. You are going to have to restrict that energy intake. You are going to have to again, scientists refer to it as a state of negative energy balance which means that you are going to have to intentionally give your body a bit less energy than it’s burning. Now, if your body didn’t have a way to get the energy that it needs; so again, let’s put real numbers on it. Let’s say just for a simple number, let’s say you are burning about 2000 calories a day. That’s how much energy you are burning because it requires energy to just stay alive, every organ in your body of course requires energy to just operate, the brain requires a lot of energy. So, if you were just to lay in bed all day, you are still burning a fair amount of energy. Then of course you add on top of that physical activity, right so exercise, but not just exercise, every physical activity; walking around, even fidgeting, right? So, there’s research that shows that some people are just very high activity types and they are always kind of moving. They are always – if they are reading something, they are bobbing their leg, or they are playing with their hands and this expresses itself in many ways and that actually can add up to quite a significant amount of energy every day. Like in some studies, they have shown that that alone in some people is like three to five hundred calories a day of just kind of fidgeting and just moving around, right.

But if we just want to put a simple number on it, right, let’s just say it’s 2000 calories. Let’s say that’s what you are burning in a day and you ate 1500 calories, so your body was short 500 calories for the day. If it didn’t have a way to get that energy that it needed; you would just die. Because of course, our cells, they need a constant supply of energy. They can’t just sit around and wait like everything can’t just shut down and go well we don’t have any energy from food, we ate food like three hours ago and we are done processing that, so where’s the energy going to come from? Of course, the body’s primary source of energy is body fat. When it doesn’t have energy from food, it goes to body fat. So, when you underfeed your body by let’s say 500 calories in let’s say a 24 hours period; most of that energy is going to have been pulled from body fat.

So, essentially what has happened is, in that 24-hour period, you have a little bit less body fat because your body had to go to its body fat stores to obtain the let’s say 500 calories give or take that it didn’t get from food. And then when you rinse and repeat that day after day; that is of course what adds up to fat loss over time. And when you look at it day by day, it’s not that much. A pound of fat contains approximately 3500 calories and it actually requires quite a bit more – you have to burn quite a bit more than that to actually lose a pound of fat, but my point is these changes are pretty small, so you don’t see them day to day. And again, that is an undisputed fact of science. Every clinical trial that you can find on PubMed that demonstrated significant weight loss relied on the manipulation of energy balance. It requires an energy deficit. There is just no other way to do it. And some diets that are highly restrictive for example just force you to be in that caloric deficit. You know if you are not allowed to eat half of the foods that you actually like to eat, and if you have to eat foods that are relatively low in calories but relatively high in volume, so they are very filling; you are naturally going to eat quite a bit less and you are naturally going to be underfeeding your body.

So, that’s why we can never get around the fact that calories matter. Now, a calorie is not a calorie in the sense of when we look at it in terms of body composition; not all calories are the same, yes that’s true. But if we are going to gain control of our weight and if we are going to really know how to lose weight or maintain weight or gain weight as desired; we have to understand energy balance and how it affects the body and how we can use it as a tool as opposed to having it work against us or work mysteriously.

Lisa: Oh yeah. I completely agree. Now there’s some other mistakes in there. People have to get the book. you have got myth and mistake, chasing fad diets, doing tons of reps brings out muscle definition, trying to spot reduce fat which I mentioned earlier. Let’s jump into the thinner, leaner, stronger workout routine. Give us an idea of what we gals will be doing.

Michael: Yeah, so it is really what it is – it’s in the weightlifting lingo, it’s kind of like a push-pull-legs program, if people have heard of that type of programing where you are working your push muscles which is obviously like your upper body, it’s your pecs, it’s your triceps, it’s your shoulders, you are working your pull muscles, your biceps, your back and you’re working your lower body, your legs and it’s strength training type of program. It’s not a hard core strength training program in that I’m not asking women to lift tremendous amounts of weight, but it is a lot heavier than most women are used to lifting because many women that get into resistance training of any kind, usually are told that you are supposed to use very little weight and you are supposed to just do a lot of reps because if you do anything else, you are going to get bulky, right so that’s the – probably the primary concern at least in my experience of women who are getting into resistance training. Yes, they want to have muscle definition. They want to have muscle tone. They want to be lean. They want to have curves, but they don’t want to be bulky. And I understand. And the – I think it’s worth just talking on that just for a minute.

Because the key here is because bulkiness does not come from – well first let’s just say that strength training, the reason why I am focusing on strength training and why I want women to focus on strength training one of the reasons at least in terms of body composition is it’s the most effective way to gain muscle. It just is and there’s – that’s a whole other discussion if you wanted to get into the science of that, but if you want to and again this applies to men too: if you want to gain muscle as quickly as possible, then you want to be focusing the majority of your efforts on strength training and that involves exercises that are difficult.

Exercises that involve multiple joints, multiple major muscle groups, right called compound exercises so like for example the squat is a great exercise. Difficult exercise whether it’s a barbell on your back or a barbell in front of you, the barbell squat is a strength training exercise. The dead lift, where you are picking a barbell up off the ground, sounds simple. It’s hard. And it involves pretty much every major muscle group in your body. You have stuff like the bench press and the overhead press. Now again, many women they hear these things and they think well isn’t that more like what guys are supposed to be doing? Because guys want the big muscles and yes, that is true that is what guys should be doing if guys want big muscles. But it is also what women should be doing because women need to gain muscle as well.

And they need to gain muscle in the right places to have the look that they want and coming back to the bulkiness point now, gaining muscle is not what makes women bulky. What makes women bulky is having too high of a body fat percentage. So if your body fat levels are too high, and you start adding muscle, then yes you can start to get that kind of bulky just bigger look, because of course, muscle does have size and if you are adding – if you take a woman who maybe is – her body fat is already higher than she would like it to be, and you start adding muscle underneath the body fat; of course now she just looks bigger and that’s not the goal. I haven’t met very many women that say I just want to be bigger. However, if you add muscle in the right places and reduce body fat, now all of the sudden the whole landscape changes. Now you don’t get bulky, that’s how you get that kind of athletic, I wouldn’t say muscular, but it is more like a lean, toned. Because for a woman to truly look muscular, to be like low body fat, high amounts of muscle mass; it takes a tremendous amount of work. I mean it takes years – I would say three to five years of really deliberate dedicated hard work for a woman to truly look bulky if she also has a relatively low body fat percentage.

And again, I keep on coming back to this twenty percent level because that is generally the level where – like most high-level athletes for example are – I can’t say most, but many high-level athletes have a body fat percentage of let’s say sixteen to eighteen to maybe twenty percent. That’s that athletic look and when your body fat is relatively low and you add again coming back to that number; most women if you add fifteen to twenty pounds of muscle in the right places and a lot of that is in the lower body; so a lot of that is going to be in the legs, it’s going to be in the gluts and a fair amount is also going to be in the upper body in the arms, in the shoulders and the back and combine that with that lower level of body fat percentage, not – there is no woman that looks bulky with that combination.

Lisa: Yeah, and you can get there not to like the body building competition level where you have to spend like you said three to five years, but you don’t have to spend a ton of time because you are doing the higher reps. So, in the last few minutes, talk to us about the time commitment for this to get to the twenty percent and to get that extra muscle.

Michael: Absolutely, I would say for and this is again now I have worked with thousands of people. Let’s say that in my experience, most women can go from wherever they are and even women that start out very overweight or in some cases very underweight; can go from that to the type of body that they have always really wanted in let’s say their first year to two. And the reason – I know it’s a big range, but I would say if you are starting out in a normal place as a woman, you are not particularly overweight, you are not underweight you just look totally normal I would say a year of hard work is generally enough. It does again, depend on how well your body responds to the resistance training because there is variability there and that’s just genetic but if you respond fairly well; let’s say it’s a year of three to five hours per week. That’s it. You don’t need to be in the gym two hours a day six seven days a week. You don’t have to be doing tons of cardio. Cardio is good for you and I do recommend under certain circumstances, but I would much rather see people focus their efforts on strength training because strength training delivers a lot of the same cardiovascular benefits and metabolic benefits as cardio, but it also provides the body composition benefits and other benefits even related to like longevity that you don’t really get from cardio. So, three to five hours per week, let’s say a year. A year to a year and a half and most women are super happy with their body at that point and of course, being humans, we are never satisfied, regardless of what we have. We always now have to go to he next thing and that’s fine, but yeah that’s generally and for someone that wants to be like oh my God fit, that wants to be ready to go on a fitness – on the cover of a fitness magazine let’s say realistically probably three to five years.

Lisa: Alright. Wow. There is so much great stuff. We only just skimmed the surface. Again, the book is Thinner, Leaner, Stronger, The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Female Body. Michael Matthews. Michael tell us all the places we can find you and your great work on social media.

Michael: Yeah, so I guess my central hub is my website and that’s just And then on social media you can find me on Instagram muscleforlifefitness and muscleforlife on Facebook and also muscleforlife on Twitter. Although I’m not too big on social media, honestly, but I’m there.

Lisa: And last question, do you work with people via Skype. Like I want to bring you into my home and have you help me, but I don’t know if that’s something you can do. Or how does that work?

Michael: I actually do a little bit of coaching. I have a coaching service, but I don’t coach people myself. I work with coaches. I Mean I would be happy to after we – if you have questions, I would be happy to help you out, but the reason why I don’t do it myself is while it would be fun to spend my time just talking with people and helping them through their various obstacles and whatever; it is just I have so many other things between – I am working on a new book projects , I also have – I have a supplement company as well and so it’s just I can’t – I just don’t have the time to do it myself and so that’s why I set up the service where I have trained coaches and we have worked now with hundreds and hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances and we have some really, really cool success stories actually because it’s not just about losing some fat and gaining some muscle and getting abs or something like that. But it really – when people get into really good shape it inevitably just changes their entire life for the better. So, it’s pretty cool.

Lisa: Oh, that is so true. Well I want to thank everyone for listening to Talk Fitness Today. You can find this show and Talk Healthy Today if you go to .Check us out on social media, TalkFitness2dayo on Twitter and Snap Chat. Thanks for listening and stay well.

This episode of Talk Fitness was produced by The Vitamin Shoppe where trusted health enthusiasts help you thrive every day. Visit one of 800 stores across the country or head to Vitamin for all your wellness needs.

Audio / Radio Segments