Q: I’m here today with Nia Shanks, a fitness and strength training blogger, heavy lifter and author of Beautiful Badass [www.BeautifulBadass.com] and The Fat Loss Detour program. Oh… she also holds a world record for bench pressing and deadlifting. How are you doing these days, Nia? Did I leave anything out?
Nia Shanks: My record is for my division in push/pull with a bench press of 145 pounds and 300 pound deadlift.
I’m doing amazing! That only thing I would add to that introduction is that I’m also known for my moonwalking abilities. I think that’s how I will always enter a room from now on. **Cue the Michael Jackson music**
Note from Jonathan: Here’s an impressive video of Nia moonwalking. It’s the real deal:
Q: How did you get into strength training and heavy lifting?
Nia Shanks: I fell into training naturally because my Mom has been a person trainer for almost 30 years. Once I got a taste of lifting heavy and seeing what my body was capable of doing in the gym, I never turned back.
Q: What is your workout routine like?
Nia Shanks: Actually, I’ve been doing something quite different the past couple of months. I’ve been training almost daily, cycling upper and lower body lifts on each day. For example, one day I’ll do squats and glute bridges, and the next day I’ll do standing presses and chin-ups.
I cycle the intensity so I don’t push too hard on any day. This has allowed me to train at this higher frequency while also experiencing good strength gains. I should also mention that I have a power rack and barbell set in my house, so it’s super easy for me to train almost daily.
Q: Why should women do heavy lifting? What are the benefits that this provides?
Nia Shanks: I actually wrote an article recently – 8 Reasons Women Should Strength Train – that addressed this very question.
There are numerous benefits beyond losing body fat and building a better body a woman can be proud of. Most women also experience greater self-confidence, reduced stress, increased bone density, and a host of other phenomenal benefits I explain in that article.
I encourage women to at least give proper strength training a shot because, more often than not, they end up surprising themselves with their physical, and mental, capabilities that can be acquired from weight lifting.
Q: Many women are afraid that lifting weights, especially heavy ones, will make them bulky. Is there anything to worry about? What are some tips for women who want to build strength without building size?
Nia Shanks: Excess body fat is what makes a women appear big ‘n bulky, not lifting heavy weight on a consistent basis and building a little muscle.
Combine consistent progressive strength training with healthy eating, and you have a recipe that allows women to build the body they truly want – lower body fat, defined arms, legs, and midsection, etc. I’ve never seen it fail.
Most women can benefit greatly from building muscle and shouldn’t be fearful of it. However, if after a certain point they don’t want to add any additional muscle, they could train with lower volume. But, this is something that is very, very rare. Women simply don’t have the hormonal abilities to build large amounts of muscle.
Q: Is there a difference in the way men and women should train?
Nia Shanks: For the most part, no. Men and women can benefit greatly from getting stronger on a few basic exercises like squats, deadlifts, push-ups, rows, chin-ups, presses, or appropriate alternatives to these exercises.
Nia Shanks: By far the most common myth is that weight training will make women look like men, or get all big ‘n bulky. Honestly, I think it’s also a myth advanced by people who don’t want to work hard and would rather take the easy way out.
Think about it – squatting, deadlifting, and performing proper push-ups takes some effort. It’s more physically and mentally demanding then lifting a two pound dumbbell for 30 mindless reps.
This is where tough love could come in to play – some people just need to suck it up, get in the gym, lift some challenge weight on the basic exercises, and be consistent. (Of course, they need to perform exercises that are appropriate for them and work around any mobility issues, etc).
It’s been my promise for a while now that if a woman trains hard and eats smart, and if she get’s big ole manly muscles, she can scissor kick me to the head and call me a liar.
The myth that women should “only lift very light weight for high reps” is so damaging because, for one, it’s degrading; and two, it keeps women from getting the results they’re after. If lifting light weights truly worked, it’s what I would do and it’s what I’d train my clients to do. But, lifting the same light weight over and over doesn’t work.
Nia Shank’s Fitness Programs
Q: Let’s talk about the Beautiful Badass program. What kind of woman should follow this plan and what kind of person shouldn’t?
Nia Shanks: If someone is plagued with injuries, then I definitely recommend they get those issues fixed first. Other than that, Beautiful Badass contains 19 different training programs. So whether someone wants to lose fat, get stronger, or spend the least amount of time possible training, there are several programs they can choose from.
I also have a strict Beginners Program that many women should start with.
Q: What kind of workout routine does the Beautiful Badass program prescribe? What sort of equipment do you need for it?
Nia Shanks: There are 19 different programs, and most are either total body workouts or upper/lower splits. This depends on what the training goal is, and how many days per week someone can train. The only equipment that someone needs is a barbell set and their body weight.
However, I also provide appropriate exercise alternatives for people who only have dumbbells, or for those who have access to a fully loaded gym and want more variety.
I designed the programs with minimal equipment so people can train at home if they choose.
Q: What is the difference between Beautiful Badass and the Fat Loss Detour program?
Nia Shanks: Fat Loss Detour is a 16 week program that is designed with fat loss as the primary goal. Beautiful Badass, on the other hand, contains 19 different programs for various training goals such as gaining strength and losing fat. Other than that, you need minimal equipment for the BB training programs and a wider variety of equipment for FLD.
Q: In Fat Loss Detour you seem not to be focused on fat loss at all. It’s almost a by product of the program. Why is that?
Nia Shanks: Yes, in both Fat Loss Detour and the fat loss programs in Beautiful Badass, fat loss is not the primary goal – building strength is what we focus on accomplishing.
The reason for this is simple – by focusing on getting stronger in the gym, you have a much more positive, motivating goal to keep you going. Instead of worrying about burning calories, a woman can go to the gym with the goal of beating her previous performance.
Over the years this has proven to be very effective, and as women get stronger, fat loss and building a better body just becomes an amazing side-effect.
Q: Finally, what are your plans for the future? Do you have other programs in the work or records you’re trying to break?
Nia Shanks: I have several exciting things planned for the immediate, and distant, future through my website and involvement with Girls Gone Strong. My primary goal is to help as many women as possible achieve their goals in a stress-free, no non-sense way, and I’ll do whatever needs to be done to see that happen.
Nia Shanks is the perfect example of why women should lift heavy weights without being afraid of getting bulky. If you want to build strength and burn fat in the process, check out the Beautiful Badass program.