By Nikki H. Huang

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Readers, if you remember, last week we talked about what is arguably the largest determining factor when it comes to achieving your physique goals: Diet. This week, my trainer Paul Garcia and I sit down to discuss the second most important factor: Exercise. We regularly get asked so many questions about how Paul trains me: What workouts do we do? Do we do cardio? And my personal (least) favorite: Won’t lifting weights make women bulky?

Here, we answer all your most pressing exercise-related questions in the most straightforward way possible:

What is my (Nikki’s) workout?

Weight training and High-Intensity Interval training (HIIT)! With Paul’s help, I’ve finally discovered the workout style of my dreams and preach it to everyone who asks. I’ve tried many forms of exercise: Yoga, dance, Pilates, horseback riding, running, biking, swimming, etc., and nothing has given me the chance to reach my physique, strength, and mental health goals the way my combination of weight training and HIIT has. Women are often marketed low-impact workout classes like Pilates, and while these types of exercise are definitely effective, the benefit of weight training is, likewise, undeniable. Weight training increases a person’s metabolic tissue because lifting weights strains our muscles and creates tiny tears in them. As our muscles recover, the fibers within them knit back together larger and stronger than before. Thus, metabolic tissue (a.k.a. muscle), is increased! Having increased muscle mass means that the body burns more calories, even at rest. This allows for the easier maintenance of weight, even when your physical activity is decreased.

Through weight training, I have been able to almost double the amount of food I’m able to consume without gaining fat, and doing so has done wonders for my mental and physical wellbeing!

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How much cardio do I do?

I don’t do conventional cardio, like running. Quite frankly, I find running extremely boring and painful due to old foot injuries. Contrary to popular belief, readers, dedicated cardio is not necessary to build the body you desire. Instead, I alternate my weight training with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT is a style of exercise that alternates bursts of intense exercises with low-intensity recovery periods ( The movements being performed during these high-intensity spurts are explosive and involve sprinting, jumping, pushing, and other bodyweight exercises, all intended to make your heart rate spike. As you can probably tell, one reason I love HIIT is that it burns a large number of calories in a smaller amount of time, making it perfect for those with busy lives. Many studies have also shown an increase in heart rate and overall metabolic rate for up to 24 hours post workout, and my personal experience supports these findings: I always find myself feeling super lean the morning after a HIIT session, despite the fact that I eat the most on HIIT days!

Favorite places to workout in Manila?

Kerry Sports Manila at Shangrila at the Fort. Kerry has become my second home and happy place. It’s luxurious, top-of-the-line equipment and facilities cater to every fitness enthusiast’s need, and it’s great team of trainers and staff are incredible. I highly recommend checking out the location if it’s near you and within your budget.

The workout that makes you feel the best, internally and externally, is the one truly meant for you, because it is the one you are most likely to maintain

How many days in a week do you work out?

Three to four times a week, depending on what my schedule permits. I’m a morning workout person, too. Nothing compares to a late morning spent at the gym followed by a big meal right after!

How can people get (insert desired body part/shape/size, such as abs/a butt/smaller/bigger/more toned legs, arms, etc.)?

A regular Resistance training routine (three to four times a week) consisting of mainly compound exercises and a healthy caloric deficit nutrition-wise. There are no shortcuts, and no secret formula. You can also spot-train certain body parts (for example, your glutes/butt) to increase them in size. This occurs when resistance training causes your muscles to grow back stronger bigger after the fibers within them are torn from exertion when you work to. Still, note that you can’t spot-reduce fat: Losing fat in a certain area requires overall fat loss, which results from burning more calories than you consume.

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Recommended exercise for first timers?

Compound exercises—those that involve more than one joint upon movement. More joints involved equals more muscles activated. More muscles activated equals more calories burned. Types of compound exercises you can learn and include in your workout regime include:

  • Squats ( a personal favorite of mine!)
  • Lunges
  • Push-ups
  • Overhead shoulder press
  • Rowing (dumbbell or barbell)
  • Deadlifts
  • Abdominal exercises that involve upper and lower extremity movements, such as modified planks.

Another way I’d like to answer this question: The workout that makes you feel the best, internally and externally, is the one truly meant for you because it is the one you are most likely to maintain. So while I swear by lifting heavy and jumping on boxes until I’m out of breath and laying on the floor, you might feel best doing yoga, playing basketball, or spinning—whatever works!

Go-to exercises?

Squats, Lunges, Hip Thrusts, Deadlifts, Push ups, TRX back rows, and abdominal exercises. As you can see, I love working out my glutes, legs, and abs! I find that training these muscle groups helps me feel strong, burn many calories, and gives me a physique I’m happy with all at the same time.

So there you have it! Paul and I hope that we have shed some light on types of exercise not commonly explored by women, due to a variety of myths, marketing, and social constructs. Ladies, go ahead and lift! Weight training is not a “men’s” workout. In fact, it might just bring you closer than ever before to your physique and fitness goals.

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