I’ve always said that the fitness industry needs more female leaders out there like Rachel Cosgrove and Diane Vives educating fitness professionals. And, to also provide other female exercise enthusiasts with a familiar perspective on training that they can relate to. Well, Neghar Fonooni is quickly establishing herself as one of those strong female leaders we can all look to for top notch strength & conditioning information for women (and men)!
Neghar is a personal trainer, kettelbell expert and a motivated athlete who epitomizes what Nia Shanks calls “A Beautiful Badass.” She’s very smart, has amazing strength and a beautiful physique, which she credits to her dedication to training and eating well, all while being a working mother.
Neghar is a true inspiration! I’m proud to call her a friend /colleague and I’m honored that she was willing to reveal some of her personal workout secrets for women here at Nick tumminello.com.
Read on if you’d like to discover what Neghar has to say about:
– How women can get (and keep) six packs abs while working and managing a family.
– The Best Kettlebell exercises for Women!
– Common Workout mistakes most women make and how to avoid them.
– The Top 5 weight training exercises for women!
– What common exercises most women are using that may be a waste of time?
– A sample cardio routine for women. Neghar uses this paln to burn fat, stay lean and show off her six pack abs!
– A sample weight training routine for women. Neghar use this strength training routine to stay strong, toned and athletic!
Here’s Neghar’s interview on Weight Training routines for women – Kettlebell Workouts for Women & Six Pack Abs Secrets!
Who are you and why should women listen to you about fitness and exercise?
For the past 11 years I have lived and breathed the fitness industry. I am a full time trainer, running a successful small business that trains just about any demographic, from the athletes, to overweight and de-conditioned clients to Lacrosse Moms (we are in Maryland, after all!). I’m an RKC2 as well as a Functional Movement Specialist (FMS) and certified personal trainer. I read, write and study strength and conditioning and have taken a special interest in feminine strength due to my own experience as an athlete. What I feel holds more relevance than my professional qualifications is my personal journey, which has given me a unique and multi-faceted perspective. I am a military veteran, which has provided me with the discipline and work ethic necessary to dig deep when it seems like there isn’t much left to give. In addition, I have been a single mother for 4 years, which has provided me the mental and emotional strength to persevere through hard times as well as juggle a busy schedule while making time for training. Through my training journey, I have discovered a potential that I never knew I had, and it has given me self worth, confidence and purpose. I feel compelled to share that with others, and I feel as though I am at a place in my career where I can truly contribute in a meaningful way.
What do you do to get those six-pack abs of yours?
I saw this graphic print the other day that said “abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym,” and I had to laugh because it’s so true! Although my training has a great deal to do with the powerful “look” of my body, the leanness is almost completely dependent upon my nutritional regimen. For example, I trained hard and heavy last week and didn’t miss any sessions, but over the weekend I drank a few martinis and mimosas, ate Chinese food and bread, and had milk duds at the movies. I indulged a little too much…I’m human! But, it’s Monday now, time to train, and I feel bloated and kind of sluggish. That’s because my body is used to being fueled by lean meats, vegetables, fruits, eggs, legumes, and healthy fats like nuts, avocados and coconut butter! I feel better, look better and perform better when I eat to fuel my body instead of eating emotionally, socially and mindlessly. I am a foodie at heart, and being strict with food was very difficult for me at first because honestly…I just really like to eat! But as soon as I shifted my paradigm from eating for aesthetics to eating for performance, it was easy to commit. Every once in a while I fall off the wagon, and my performance suffers for it. That’s all the motivation I need to resume my mindful eating habits.
What are your top 5, must-do exercises for women and why?
1. Turkish Get Ups – Honestly if I had to pick just one exercise I could do for the rest of my life it would be the get up. It’s the perfect combination of mobility and stability, moving through every conceivable pattern while developing proprioceptive awareness, strength and control. It’s so graceful and intentional and can be used in so many capacities, including as a lift. I can’t think of another exercise more versatile and all encompassing than the TGU and women tend to gain a lot of confidence from progressing to heavier get ups. Not to mention, a woman performing a flawless get up is so beautiful to watch!
2. The Kettlebell Swing – Naturally, the swing must follow the get up. If I could pick two exercises I could do for the rest of my life it would be the swing and the get up. It’s such a powerful, beneficial movement that can be used to develop hip power, as well as create a metabolic response. Kettlebell swings performed properly produce beautiful glutes and lean bodies. It’s a total body movement that just about anyone can do, barring significant mobility restrictions, and there are so many variations that it’s impossible to get bored. I do swings twice a week, and I have seen not only tremendous results to my physique but immeasurable carry over to my Olympic lifts.
3. Single Leg Dead Lifts – I’ve been known to have quite the affinity towards this lift. I promise you, though, the obsession is not without grounds! The 1 leg dead lift is one of the most beneficial lifts for building hip stability and unilateral strength. It is unique in it’s ability to handle pretty significant loads. I can 1 leg dead lift more on each leg total than I can 2 leg dead lift. I’ve pulled 145 on each leg, and only pulled 250 on two legs. The numbers themselves are enough to convince me, but the grace and control necessary for the lift, and the benefits I see from it in all of my female clients are what put it at the top of my list.
4. Single Leg Squats – For much of the same reasons as the single leg dead lift, but a knee dominant pattern as opposed to a hip dominant patter n. The great thing about unilateral lifts for females, is that they can learn to really challenge their bodies without feeling as though they are “lifting heavy” since most people need a lot of work simply owning their body weight in single leg lifts. As much as I advocate and encourage serious, heavy lifting, some women are still going to be opposed to it, and teaching them the single leg versions of two essential lifts (the dead lift and the squat) are a natural progression towards eliminating this opposition.
5. Pullups/Chinups- I love pullups. Not just for the strength and physique benefits, but for how mentally strong they make me feel. I still remember pulling myself over the bar for the first time without assistance. I was astonished. It was the most overwhelming feeling of pride and accomplishment, and I see this in every other female I coach who does their first pullup. Performing a strict, unassisted pullup is a goal that a lot of my female clients have, and I believe it’s a great thing to aspire to.
What exercise do you think women are using, which may actually be a waste of time and why?
Any kind of fixed machine is a complete waste of time. We need to learn to own our movement out in space and the machines aren’t going to accomplish that, nor will they give you the lean, strong, functional body that you want-even if you don’t know you want it! I also think doing “ab work” like crunches and every variation of crunches is something a lot of women are still doing to no avail. I think it’s important to incorporate trunk stability into your program, but crunches are not it. Doing 100 crunches won’t give you a six pack, it will only take up time better spent on other things. I haven’t done a crunch in years, and I think I’m doing alright!
What do you think the biggest workout mistake is that women are currently making in the gym?
I think we live in our own little strength and conditioning bubble sometimes. We think women have embraced heavy, compound lifts, metabolic resistance and interval training. We think that because that’s what we see in our community, but it’s just not the norm yet. I’ve worked in a lot of commercial gyms and I still see the majority of women wasting their time in the gym, looking the same as they did the year before. The biggest mistakes they make are long, slow stints on cardio machines and light, sporadic lifting, or no lifting at all. This is obvious to those of us on this side of the curtain, but to the average woman an hour on the elliptical, some crunches and a few triceps extensions is a totally acceptable training session. That was me-for years-and I was never satisfied with my body from an aesthetic or performance standpoint.
Do you do “cardio”? Please explain your cardio/conditioning plan?
I do some type of conditioning 3-4 times per week, always in an interval fashion. Obviously I get a lot of my conditioning work from kettlebells, including snatches, swings, jerks and a lot of complexes and circuits. I enjoy them so much and find such tremendous results from them, that I do a Kettlebell based conditioning session twice a week. On the other days I use a variety of tools to accomplish a metabolic disturbance, but right now it’s a combination of sprints on the Woodway Curve and Airdyne, sled work, agility ladder and slideboard. Sometimes I’ll train based on work to rest ratios, but right now I am setting the timer for a set period of time (usually 20-25 minutes) and doing as much total work as I can in the allotted time, with as much or as little rest as needed. I find it’s helped me perform more optimally without feeling as though I have to start when I don’t feel ready. There’s no pressure and when I’m finished I feel beat, but energized at the same time.
Can you give me sample of one of your strength training workouts?
I lift 3-4 days per week, but the session I look forward to most in my program right now is this one:
1. Movement Prep and Activation
2. Chops and lifts on the Kaiser paired with rotational medicine ball throws
3. Single Leg Squats paired with Weighted Pullups
4. Single Leg Deadlifts paired with Kettlebell Overhead Presses
5. 20 kg RKC snatch test (5 minutes, 100 snatches)
6. 15 minutes of 2 arm 36 kg swings and 1 arm 24 kg swings
I almost always lift full body, and always go in this order: movement prep, stability/core, power, strength, conditioning.
I know you’re a Kettlebell expert. What are the benefits of kettlebell training – Neghar style – for females?
The benefits of properly performed and programmed, hardstyle Kettlebell training are numerous and immeasurable. As a female athlete, Kettlebell training has had three distinct benefits for me:
1. Noticeable changes to body composition – I trained smart and hard before kettlebells, but never got the type of results to my physique that I began to see after seriously training for the RKC in 2009. That summer I trained extensively with kettlebells, changed my nutrition to include more protein and less grains, and I dropped to 13% bodyfat. I had never been that lean before, not even in my early twenties before I was a mom. Kettlebell training is the truest form of metabolic resistance. It provides the greatest metabolic response I have found of any other conditioning modality, and there is even current research showing that snatching or swinging a Kettlebell for a set period of time burns more calories than most other activities.
2. Strength and Power gains – During the summer of 2009, when I leaned out like mad, I also saw constant strength and power gains. It was insane, because I was getting smaller and stronger at the same time. I felt better, inside and out, than I had ever felt about myself. There isn’t anything magical about a Kettlebell that suddenly makes you strong and lean, it’s just a tool like anything else. But because kettlebells were fun and refreshing, I was continuously excited to train. It allowed me to add “variety” (even though I hate that word in conjunction with training!) to my program without straying from my methodology and my training vision. Kettlebells and RKC principles integrated seamlessly into my training model, and gave me new goals to work towards. I am perpetually competitive, especially with myself, and Kettlebell training gave me a good outlet for that. Because it was such a gratifying and interesting addition to my training program, I worked harder and looked forward to training-hence the continuous gains.
3. Carryover to other lifts, particularly Olympic Lifts – The swing in and of itself teaches you to truly link your body and transfer energy in an efficient and powerful fashion. Kettlebell lifts helped me achieve better Olympic lifts even though the two are very different. In fact they are almost nothing alike, other than their names and the fact that one finishes overhead and one in “the rack.” My Olympic Lifts became more crisp and connected because of the kettlebell swing, and to some extent, the Kettlebell snatch, because I became exponentially more connected to my body. Also, due to my extensive Turkish Get Up Practice, I have become much more proprioceptively aware, which translates to all my lifts.
For female clients and athletes alike these could easily be reasons to engage in Kettlebell training. But if you look at the average woman, what is she looking for in a training program? Typically it’s something she can do in a short period of time, with considerable results, even if she has a busy day filled with a career, children, and household duties. This is kettlbell training. Kettlebells are versatile and portable, and if necessary, can allow the user to get a complete training session. I train with other tools as well, because I am fortunate to have them at my disposal, and because I believe that the tool used must be the BEST one for the job. But, I have often taken bells with me on beach trips and vacations, so that I could workout while away from home. I have been known to bring bells home from the gym over the weekend in case I couldn’t get away with my son in tow. If I was absolutely forced to choose one tool to train with for the rest of my life, it would be a Kettlebell, without a shadow of a doubt.
What’s your favorite kettlebell exercise and why?
As much as I think swings and TGU’s are two of the most beneficial and comprehensive KB exercises, my favorite would have to be the press. This is probably a result of being relatively good at pressing because my body is well designed for it, and people tend to enjoy the things they are good at it. I think I press well because my arms are so short that they don’t have very far to go! Honestly though, I love strict pressing, bottom up pressing, push pressing and bent pressing. There is something exhilarating about putting something heavy over your head. Plus I think the Kettlebell is the optimal tool for pressing because of it’s handle and offset center of mass.
On top of being an athlete, you’re also a Mother and a personal trainer. With being this busy, what nutrition and/or workout tips do you have to still stay lean and maintain such a high level of fitness!
If I sat here and told you that my training and nutrition never suffer due to my busy lifestyle, I would be a bold faced liar. It’s not easy, but I make it work because ultimately, it’s important to me. People commit to the things that they truly care about, and my passion is in fitness. Having a career and children is no excuse for being out of shape. I am a self-employed single mother. I work long hours at the gym and am responsible for not just my clientele, but most gym operations and business endeavors. I am the head of my household and am responsible for all household duties including cooking, cleaning and taking care of my son. I write often and attend educational events regularly. I see my girlfriends at least once a week and I even read for leisure and watch a lot of movies. Yet, somehow I still have time to train four times per week and eat to maintain my figure. Curious, isn’t it?
My best advice on training is to make it a part of your regular schedule, just like any other necessary duties. I train every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and most Saturday’s-unless I am out of town-and even then I try to exercise while away. I am that freak that goes to the YMCA to lift while on vacation in Hawaii. Yeah, that really happened.
The point is, if you make it a recurring part of your schedule, you’ll be less likely to flake on it. I honestly cannot remember the last time I missed a training session “just because.” It’s simply not an option. After I spent months waiting for knee surgery and barely being able to train, I gained a serious appreciation for the ability to move, and I don’t take that lightly.
It’s also important to make training efficient (hello, kettlebells?!) because no one wants to spend loads of time in the gym, even those of us who live to train. Saturday mornings I teach a 9 am Kettlebell class at OPTI, and then I train for about an hour, from foam roller to finish. I usually do some get ups and suitcase carries, bent presses, double KB jerks and then finish with double Kettlebell complexes or circuits. I’ve designed it to be my absolute shortest workout because I want to spend time with my son and my friends on the weekend and get things done around the house. Efficiency is key, and having a solid full body program focused on movements and not muscles is the best way to be efficient in the gym.
With nutrition, it can get dicey. It helps to be properly educated about nutrition and I think John Berardi and the Precision Nutrition team put out some of the most comprehensive, user friendly nutrition information and services out there. I highly recommend the site and the recipes!
My schedule is perpetually hectic and my five year old is obnoxiously picky. This combined with a strong love for all things food makes nutrition complicated. What I do to ensure I stay on track is PLAN AHEAD. Planning is integral to success. I usually know what I’m going to eat on Tuesday by Monday night. I eat all day, so I have lots of food stocked in the fridge at the gym, including greek yogurt, fruit, protein bars and nut butters. I am almost always prepared which keeps my hunger at bay and doesn’t give me an opportunity to eat something based on cravings. The funny thing is that my busy schedule actually keeps me on track with food. It’s the weekends when I’m not on a strict schedule and I’m more social, that I tend to get relaxed and eat what I want. But, if I never allowed myself to be free with food and enjoy a few cocktails, I probably wouldn’t be very happy. I’m not a figure/fitness competitor or model, so if I fluctuate here and there and aren’t always “shredded” it’s really no big deal.
Train intelligently and diligently, plan ahead and eat smart, then relax sometimes. It’s pretty simple and not very glamorous, but it’s the facts!
Neghar Fonooni is a coach, athlete, mother and Air Force Veteran. She played competitive softball for many years and has 11 years experience as a strength and conditioning professional. She is a certified RKC Level 2 Instructor and a certified Functional Movement Specialist. Currently she works as a Performance Training Specialist and the General Manager at Optimum Performance Training Institute in Columbia, Maryland.