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Expert tips: Female body breakthroughs


Way back in March 2009, we profiled expert trainer Rachel Cosgrove. At the time, she was running a 12-week body transformation challenge for her female clients.

Like us at PN, Rachel uses a “90% compliance” rule. And she is strict.  Every 2 weeks, she only did body composition measures on the women whose food records demonstrate that they stick to the plans.

Guess what — it worked.

But this focus and dedication didn’t just transform the women’s bodies. It also transformed their lives and how they thought about their bodies.

Now Rachel’s shared those stories in a new book, The Female Body Breakthrough: The Revolutionary Strength-Training Plan for Losing Fat and Getting the Body You Want.

Here, she sits down with Lean Eating coach Krista Scott-Dixon to talk about her experiences with writing the book.

Rachel Cosgrove - do as she says AND as she does.

Q. Why another women’s training book? How is this one different?

This book was, in a sense, decades in coming. I grew up as a dancer, learned to teach aerobics, and eventually opened Results Fitness with Alwyn, becoming certified as a strength trainer.

Over that time I experimented with my own body and worked with over 1000 women in our gym.  We documented their workouts and nutrition closely, and used trial and error to figure out what worked best.

I also spent years going to seminars and conferences, reading books, and talking to other experts in the industry.

After all of this, I think I’ve found the answer for women looking to make the breakthrough to achieve the body they want. Everything in this book is based on years of careful research.

There aren’t many good strength training books for women. This is a shame, because we discovered that strength training is the form of exercise that changes a woman’s body long term.

Strength training develops not only a stronger body but a woman’s mindset.

She sees progress, feels herself get stronger, and feels empowered. The women who had the most success for the long term were the ones who really changed their mindset and became this fit female and let go of all of their negative mental chatter.

The book quickly went from being a book on strength training to a book on mindset along with the most effective exercise and nutrition to achieve the body of a fit female. So it contains a three prong approach that includes mindset, exercise and nutrition.


Q. Tell me about the female clients you see. What kinds of concerns do they come to you with? Where are they starting out? What are they afraid of?

Most of the women I work with fit into one of two categories.

Category 1

The women who have struggled their whole life and have lost weight more than once only to gain it back.

These women have really messed up their metabolisms and what has worked in the past doesn’t work anymore. They are usually intimidated to step in to a gym and are worried that everyone is looking at them because they are very self-conscious.

These women transform when I start to use our methods, because as they gain muscle their metabolism increases and they feel empowered doing exercises in the gym they never dreamed they would do.

Category 2

The women who want to lose that last 10-15 pounds and it won’t seem to go away.

Maybe it isn’t even that they need to lose weight, but they just want to get rid of their muffin top and feel firm and toned. In clothes they don’t appear overweight but they feel very self- conscious about certain parts of their body.

Q. It can be overwhelming to start out. What really matters for a female beginner, and how do you get clients to focus on those things?

What really matters is making progress every day. Baby steps in the right direction eventually add up. Clients look back and can’t believe how far they have come.

We start with a program similar to The Base Phase in my book and we stay on that program for 4 weeks. This is powerful because the first time a woman does the program it will feel tough. But she’ll be able to push herself a little harder each week, lift a little more weight, and see herself progress on that program.

By the 4th week she’ll think Hey I can do this pretty easily; let’s start a new program! Seeing this progress is a huge deal for these women.

Q. What advice would you give to a woman who wants to start but doesn’t know how? What should she look for; what should be her first steps?

Most women can get started at home with a body weight program, similar to the base phase in my book, but after about 4 weeks they will need to hit the gym to continue making progress.

So, they need to start to look around their neighborhood and see whether there’s a gym in their area in which they’d feel comfortable. It’s important to have a supportive environment.

The other important piece is to have a clear, progressive plan, which I offer in the book.

Q. Take us through an average day of eating for your female clients.

Most of the food journals I look at start off really well with some oatmeal and eggs, or maybe a protein shake or yogurt.

They usually then workout and have a post-workout shake at the gym.

Lunch is usually a salad or maybe a wrap.

For some reason, I find with my clients the hardest part of the day is the period between lunch and dinner. This is where they start to snack, so I always try to come up with strategies for them, such as planning to have almonds and an apple at that time of day.

Usually dinner is some protein and vegetables and maybe some rice or potato.

I also encourage them to drink half their body weight in ounces of water.

Q. What’s the big deal about compliance?

Compliance with a nutrition plan is essential. (See All About Measuring Compliance for more.)

I am very big on the 90% rule and allowing my clients that 10% to splurge and enjoy themselves.

Look, I have been around the block with nutrition strategies with my clients.

I have used Metabolic Typing, Food Allergy Questionnaires, written out exactly how many calories and grams of everything they need to eat, used the Body Bugg and programs such as Apex. I have pretty much tried everything.

I’ve come to two conclusions:

  1. They all need to stop eating junk food and start eating healthy “clean” food
  2. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated because when it is, they don’t stick to it.

Using the compliance grid, or what I call the splurge grid, was something I learned from John Berardi at Precision Nutrition. It was an “Aha!” moment with my clients because I could show them that they actually aren’t following my recommendations as much as they think they are.

Many of my clients will say, “I follow what you tell me to do… ‘most of the time.'”

Checking their journals after they tell me they follow my recommendations “most of the time”, I find that it is always consistently about 70% of the time… which to them is “most of the time.”

This is usually an eye opener for them. I need them at 90%.

So whenever I hear a client say “most of the time” I know instantly they are only doing what they need to do about 70% of the time, and that is why we aren’t seeing results.

Q. How do you tailor eating to individual needs? What are some of the considerations?

Beyond getting them to start eating healthy food and cut out junk food, which is something we start everyone off with in general, we use Precision Nutrition at our gym to get more individualized. It is an awesome program. We have nutrition coaches at the gym who sit down and get more specific with the clients who need that more individualized plan.

Q. Your client results are pretty impressive. Can any woman get these kinds of results? Is a lean, fit body something that’s restricted only a chosen few?

As you can see from the pictures in my book and on the website, achieving a Fit Female Body is something that is not limited to a chosen few. Many of the women in my book have had babies, were never athletes and never dreamed they had the potential to do what they have done.

So, YES, absolutely any woman can achieve a fit, fabulous body and feel confident and empowered!


Q. In this book you describe your own struggles with weight/fat and eating, as well as your experience doing large amounts of “cardio”. Can you briefly describe some of these experiences, and what insight they gave you?

I come from a family who struggles with their weight. For my entire life, I have been on a quest to figure it out for myself. Sometimes I’ve used extreme measures.

I have been close to 200 pounds at 29% body fat, and I have also been “ripped” on stage as a fitness competitor. I’ve run the gamut. I’ve tried every diet and exercise strategy myself.

Eventually I figured it out. I hit on what made me feel good about myself. I no longer obsess about food nor my body. And in so doing, I realized I had a story to share that would help other women.

Q. Why did you choose to share these struggles? Why did you go this route?

When I sat down to write the book I really wanted to be authentic. I have found that as I share my story with my clients, I am able to get through to them more and they listen to me.

For so long I didn’t share any of this and pretended that I was always perfect and never had struggles. But it isn’t authentic and my clients can’t relate to that.

I can help a lot more women by sharing my real story and my real struggles. I really connect with them on a level that they may not have experienced before, to help them to make the same breakthrough that I have made.

Q. For your clients, what have been some of the most important lessons — about life and fitness — that they’ve learned?

For most of them, that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.

It definitely translates into other aspects of their life. They have a new confidence that they never had before, and they’re now hooked on that feeling of being fit and empowered.

The best is when they tell me about someone that they inspired with their new lifestyle.

Q. What would you say to a woman who feels like she’s “tried everything but nothing has worked”?

Don’t give up! You deserve to feel your absolute best and there is an answer.

It makes me so sad when I see women who have given up hope. Especially when I know that there is a way for her to reach her potential and feel and look great.

Q. What were 1-2 of the most dramatic transformations — mental, physical, or emotional?

Oh gosh, this is tough. There are so many.

In fact, as I was writing the book, I had already sent in all of the pictures and stories and I keep asking my editor: Can I send you one more… I have another one… and right down to the very last minute I was trying to sneak new transformations into the book, because every week I hear an amazing story from a client about their transformation.

The biggest difference in all of them is their boost in confidence and the realization that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.

Rachel Cosgrove. The Female Body Breakthrough: The Revolutionary Strength-Training Plan for Losing Fat and Getting the Body You Want. Rodale Press, 2009.


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