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Ask Nat- Working Out Advice

Diet / Exercise / Fitness / Food / Healthy / Lose weight / Nutrition / Training / Working out / Workout plan / April 6, 2010

Get Lean Program by Belinda Benn

My dear friend Nish wrote me a while back for my opinion on how to tighten up for the summer.  Check out this Q & A.

Working out

Agnieszka to Natalie

Hey! How are you? How’s LA? I’m so happy and excited that you are following your dreams. It’s inspirational.

I wanted to ask you about working out and figuring out the best workout for me.

Here’s what I’m doing right now.

  • Keeping a food journal. Actually on an app called Lose it!.
  • Calories 1200 -1500 (sometimes over…)
  • The days I work out my net is usually closer to 1200 or less.
  • Eating well most of the time…. 3 meals and then healthy snacks in between. Can give you more details if that would help.
  • Drinking… nothing crazy… vodka + soda or white wine maybe 2 – 3 x a week. = )

Working out:
  • Personal trainer 2x a week for 55 mins.
  • We do circuit training… lots of weights, resistance, bosu ball, core stuff, abs, lunges with weights, that kind of stuff.
  • Then I do about 30 mins of cardio (1 min on / 1 min off) after.
  • I’ve been trying to do cardio kickboxing 1x or 2x a week and / or cardio 2x a week.
  • I also tried a bodypump class (circuit training with a barbell and weights).

My goal:
Bikini hot!!! Since I starting working out with the trainer (back in Oct) I haven’t lost any weight but I have trimmed down in the core area and everything fits better. I was able to get into pants that I haven’t worn in a year- that was awesome!! I have a lot more definition overall which I really like.

I want to continue trimming down my belly (goal being a flat stomach- I know food is the major contributor to this) and build more muscle overall. I really want Michele Obama arms!! I want a long, lean, muscular look.

What do you suggest I do to amp this up? Heavier weights with my trainer? More reps? Weight train more often? How many days and how much cardio should I really be doing?

Write me back when you can… I would love to hear your advice.


Nish – you are on the right track.  Looking at your calorie count and workout schedule you sound like you ticked off most of the major things that you could do to clean up the habits.  I also used Lose It! in the past and it’s helped me be accountable for what I’m eating (I recommend everyone keep a food diary).  Reeling in the alcohol also makes a big impact on your physique as well since it’s just added calories to an already slim diet.


If your physique is as I remember, a long slim physique at 5’8 without much muscle definition, then you should definitely consider working to put on more muscle.  The main thing to remember is that as women we cannot put on muscle like a man because we have 1/20th the testosterone levels; therefore, women would have to supplement with steroids in order to achieve such a look.  Also, having a lean body (<18% bodyfat) keeps the overall frame nice and tight while being able to show off the muscle tone.  We want to avoid the skinny fat look and go for that tight body that has curves!  The muscle is what creates the curves and the skin lays on top of that frame.  You can literally reshape your body by understanding which muscle groups to grow while maintaining your ideal bodyfat levels.

I can speak from experience that I have trained and ate like a bodybuilder for the last three years (so much food) in order to reach the ideal muscle mass for me.  That meant on a 5’4 frame, I put on 15lbs of muscle while keeping to a bodyfat level between 15-20% depending on where I was with dieting for a show.  It sounds like alot and you’d think that I’d be huge but 1lb of muscle takes up 1/7th the space of equivalent weight of fat.  So pay attention to your bodyfat levels intead.

Regarding your diet.  I think that keeping below 1500 calories is good.  I would take a look at your protein – carb – fat ratios now and tweak this so that your body is getting the right mix.  The easiest way I’ve handled this (although I’ve done the math and weighing of my foods in the past) is to –

Avoid eating fats as much as possible.  Yeah yeah, I know we need fats in our diet but the reality is when people are just learning to tweak their diets, usually they don’t realize that fat usually make up >30% of their total caloric intake.  A fat is a fat, whether it comes from animal meat or olive oil.  And there’s 9 cal/1 gr. fat vs. 4 cal/1 gr. carb or protein so you can see how it’s easy to spill over your calorie intake.  When cooking, use water to avoid sticking or spray oil.  Bake and steam whenever you can.  You will find that you’ll get fats in from other areas of your clean diet and it’s just easier to avoid wherever possible.

  • FYI: You want your around 15% of your caloric intake to be from fat… makes sense if you want your physique to be close to a tight 15% bodyfat.

Keep your protein intake high and keep it to very clean sources such as fish, chicken breast, super lean cuts of beef, seafood.  I have protein with every meal, about 100g of meat, 4x a day.  The rule of thumb is to have 1gr. protein for every lb. of lean body mass.  So if I’m 120 lb. and have 25% BF, then my lean body mass = 120lb x (1 – 0.25) = 90 lbs and therefore should consume at least 90gr. of protein/day.  90 gr of protein is not meat weight but the protein macro within the food. Rule of thumb: there’s roughly 25g protein per 100g of meat.  When I was working to pack on muscle, I ate 180g protein a day.  I swear to god I was so bored of eating baked chicken and fish but it got the results that I needed…. curves!

Putting on muscle increases your metabolism.  For every lb of muscle you put on, your body burns 60 additional calories!  If you feed your body with good food at a controlled caloric intake, you don’t have to worry about getting fat.

You are going to be hungry.  It’s called a diet for a reason.  Get used to the feeling of hunger and find ways to keep your mind busy by drinking water, chewing gum, sticking to fibrous veggies, drinking plain green tea.  I’ve been known to plow through baby carrots, cucumbers, and guzzling water while sitting at my desk trying to distract a growling stomach.

Here’s the steps that I take when I’m tightening up:

  1. Perfect the diet. 80% of the hard work is right there.  You trained your dog to wait for that treat, show that same discipline to food as well.
  2. 30 min cardio + 45min weight training for starters. Then over time as endurance grows and show is around the corner, bump this up to 30 min cardio in the morning, 30 min HIIT cardio (1 min sprint/1 min normal pace) + 45 min weights.  I only do this in the last month before a show, otherwise it’s the 1st part year round.  This is 4-5x a week.
  3. Take alot of vitamins such as the multi, calcium, E, recovery supplements such as glutamine, omega oils.  Your body will be using a higher than normal amount of nutrients because you are tearing your muscles to rebuild stronger, burning through food while trying to be lean.  Lance Armstrong did not reach his levels by drinking only orange juice.  Just sayin’.  There’s a point where trying to get all of your nutrients from food will not be achievable while on a limited calorie diet.
  4. Eat fibrous foods. I say this again because hunger’s a bitch and fiber is the best way to combat that feeling.  It also keeps your system nice and clean.
  5. Big breakfast, veggie + protein snack, moderate lunch, veggie + protein snack, smaller dinner. Go to bed feeling empty.

Now on to the training.  You’re on a good program with the focus on your core, diversified training.  How heavy are your weights?  When I want to reshape my body, it involves either putting on or tearing off muscle.  Put on muscle – going super heavy weights.  Tearing off muscle – cardio bunny for long periods and no weight training for that muscle group.

If you want Michelle Obama arms with nice shoulder caps, biceps, triceps it can be achieved through heavy weight training to build each muscle group while keeping your bodyfat in check so that you can see the definition.

Shoulders: dumbbell side, front, and rear lateral raises and dumbbell shoulder presses with 12 reps x 4 sets.  Go really heavy.

Triceps: Tricep dips, kickbacks, tricep cable pushdowns. 12 reps x 4 sets.  Go really heavy.

Biceps: Bicep curls, hammer curls, cable pulldowns.  12 reps x 4 sets.  Go really heavy.

I don’t like to work my forearms because I don’t like that look.

When I was developing my body, I worked every muscle group a week in order to be balanced.  That meant for me:

Monday: Quads/Calves
Tuesday: Back
Wednesday: Cardio Only or Rest
Thursday: Chest/Shoulders
Saturday:  Cardio Only or Rest
Sunday: Hamstrings
Abs Workout Everyday

So somehow take a look at your program and see if you are developing muscle where you want for your ideal look.

I used to weight train my legs/glutes twice a week because 1) huge calorie burner and 2) always could use a better butt.  It’s a diet trick for when us fitness people overeat…

This was a little long winded but you can see that the volume of my writing was focusing on the diet and then getting to the exercise.  If you need some fresh ideas on working out, check out magazine websites such as and for more inspiration.

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Natalie Minh

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1 Comment

on July 7, 2011

Hey Natalie, I’ve trained women for figure competitions.  Great advice.  However, I believe each pound of muscle burns about 6 calories  per day at rest and not 60.

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