Every year around the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, fitness Instagram lights up with trainers' and models' #trainlikeanAngel posts. Lucky for us, they offer insight into the way Victoria's Secret models work out. Although one's appearance doesn't necessarily reflect a person's health or fitness, the truth is, many models do work hard in the gym—and angel Barbara Fialho is one of them.
Fialho's trainer Ben Bruno recently shared a post on Instagram of his golden ratio of strength training-to-cardio for the model, explaining that 70 percent of her workouts are strength-driven and 30 percent are cardio-focused. If you've ever heard the assertion that weight training will make women "bulky," Fialho is evidence that the claim isn't necessarily true.
SELF caught up with Bruno, a strength-training expert based in Los Angeles, to dispel some myths about women's strength training and "bulking up."
Before we go further, let's clarify that there's absolutely nothing wrong with a muscular physique on a woman.
Some women love a more muscular look, and that's great. Other women want to avoid that look, and that's fine too. Other women don't have a physique goal at all and just want to be healthy and stay fit. It's all good. The key is that your goals should be healthy and realistic for you.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone has different fitness goals," Bruno tells SELF. "I'm a personal trainer, and the personal part refers to their goals, not my goals, so I basically see what people are looking to do and program accordingly."
Whatever your body or fitness goals may be, strength training should be a part of your fitness routine.
There are countless health benefits to strength training, including increasing bone density, warding off age-related muscle decline, improving insulin sensitivity, and maintaining a healthy metabolism. Being strong also helps in day-to-day life, whether you're carrying your toddler, hauling groceries, or climbing the stairs of a four-story walkup. (For more on that, read The Health Benefits of Strength Training All Women Should Know.)
Despite all of these benefits, there are still some women who avoid strength training because they don't want to get very muscular. The truth is, it is possible for some women to put on a lot of muscle, but it takes a very specific training and nutrition program to do so, and genetics also play a role. If you're not looking to gain muscle size, but you want to get stronger—or if you're only looking to add muscle to specific areas of your body—strength-training is a great way to achieve those goals, too. In other words, wanting to avoid a muscular look shouldn't keep you from lifting weights or doing other types of strength training.
For women who want to get really strong without building lots of muscle mass, Bruno says it comes down to exercise selection: He emphasizes hip-dominant work (exercises that focus on the glutes and hamstrings) and does less knee-dominant work (exercises that work the quads). "I'm a big believer in pushing strength gains, but I don't push strength gains on everything, just certain exercises," he says. It all depends on his clients goals, he says.
Most of Bruno's clients spend a majority of their time strength training, but they also do some cardio. Both types of exercise are important, he says.
"70 percent of Barbara’s routine is comprised on heavy strength-based circuits consisting of deadlift variations, hip thrusts, sleds, chin-up variations, and core work," Bruno writes in the caption to his Instagram post about Fialho. "The other 30 percent is a mix of high-intensity interval cardio on the ski erg, endless rope, and Airdyne bike mixed in with some lower-intensity cardio in the form of hiking outside in the sunshine. The analogy I like to use is to think of strength training as the entree and cardio as the side dish."
Bruno emphasizes that the meal analogy only works when you look at it holistically. "Sometimes people take that to mean I don't like cardio, which isn't true. That analogy works because thirty percent of a workout is still a chunk. The side dishes are important. If you just ate a slab of steak, that's not a good dinner. The vegetables are important." Cardiovascular exercise helps keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, and also burns calories (if that's something you're looking to do), among many other benefits.
To take the meal analogy another step further, Ben's workouts would resemble a protein-packed stir-fry, in that he aims to mix cardio and strength training as much as he can. "I have a lot of my clients wear heart rate monitors while we strength train, just to show that it's cardio, too. Doing a set of 10 challenging deadlifts gets your heart rate up like crazy," Bruno says.
"No matter what that goal is, it's important to incorporate strength training into your routine in some capacity," he adds. "Being strong just helps for life."