When Rita Catolino says she's working out less and enjoying life more, without losing an ounce of muscle, we listen. Hard.

Rita Catolino's top 5 fitness tips - Women's Health & Fitness


At 34, fitness model Rita Catolino has never looked better. And contrary to common assumption that women’s bodies peak in their gravity and hormone-assisted 20s, the March WH&F cover model says science favours the opposite thesis.

“My methods and movements have evolved from a strict bodybuilding regime to a more functional, hybrid style of training,” says the trainer. Older women also have learned from experience what works for them and don’t waste time on what doesn’t.

“I have already experienced many changes in my own personal goals in my training and how to attain them.” The best part, Catolino says, is that rationalising her workout schedule to honour commitments as a mother and motivational speaker hasn’t adversely impacted her fitness. “It is amazing to know that my fitness is still optimal, with some changes and restructuring from my younger days.”

Swipe her hard-earned wisdom here.

When she started out in the fitness business as a green 20-something, Catolino was one-eyed. “My primarily goals for getting involved were to lose weight, tone up and look hot in a bikini.

My targets were focused on one end result – physical appearance alone. And, how I achieved those goals really didn’t matter – doing endless cardio, yoga, lifting weights, eating salad alone for weeks on end, or having to spend hours at a time in a gym didn’t matter. In my mind, all of the extra effort was worth it and I was going to get into that bikini no matter how big the sacrifice.

My priorities have truly shifted from the purely aesthetic to primarily functional and sustainable. I still care about how I look and how my clothes fit, but more important is how my body responds to daily stress. My 20s were about instant gratification while my 30s are about sustainability.”

It’s important to pay more attention to how your body’s responding – not just in terms of body fat and muscle mass, but aches and pains. “As you assess your own goals, ask yourself this question, ‘Will I be able to maintain this lifestyle and these workouts for the next 10, 15 or 30 years?’,” Catolino suggests. To ensure your workout stays aligned with your goals, check markers like your 1RM.

“If you are still using your former boyfriend’s bodybuilding routine from 1990 and are spending more than half of your workout resting between sets to get enough strength to make the next set of four reps, this definitely needs to change,” Catolino says. Likewise, if you’re doing the hours of steady-state cardio your Year 9 sports teacher taught you – and seeing little or no results – it’s time to move on.

In the old days, when Catolino powered through hours-long workouts chasing the vision of the perfect bikini body, she’d bookend lengthy session with 30 minutes on a stepper (you know, drive out any stubborn fat). Now, spending two hours in the gym sounds ludicrous, Catolino says.

“Less than an hour in the gym with the right routine still leaves me with enough energy to tackle the rest of my day.” It also minimises injury risk, meaning less time on the sidelines. “When I reflect, it seems I have won the fitness lottery.”

Training with free weights can save time. “In my functional training routine, instead of my ‘leg’ day, where all sets are completed before moving on to the next, I like to incorporate either an opposing muscle group (push-pull) or some anaerobic intervals in between each set, making the most of my time.”  Moves like thrusters, skipping, box jumps, ball slams, prowler runs and kettlebell swings are Catolino’s go-to.

“They ensure you are getting a full functional workout, with heart rate raised, endorphins firing and multi-joint movements, all within a limited time frame.”

A mistake Catolino says she and many women make is working out on machines. Now she favours free weights (dumbbells, barbells, cables), and body weight resistance.

“This method allows me to work in a three-dimensional manner, using my core for balance, and the whole body for stability, which affords me a greater range of motion. When sitting on a machine, you are mostly working the muscle being used to push, press, or pull while ignoring your core and the rest of your body. Machines compromise range of motion. One magic move, she says, is squatting with an Olympic bar.

“Your legs get a great workout, your core needs to fire, and if you go down as low as possible, you contract your gluteus muscles. At the same time, your upper body needs to have the necessary flexibility to hold the bar properly. Finally, with this one move you are following the natural movement pattern of your body without the confinement of a machine.”

“Thank goodness the hours people spend on the treadmill, like a hamster on a wheel, are finally getting the flack they deserve,” Catolino says. Unless you’re training for an endurance sport, you can get results in as little as four minutes of high-intensity interval training cardio (the TABATA method). Efficiency is key, Catolino says.

”Circling back to my goals of saving on time and not ruining my joints so I can age pain-free, a 10-minute HIIT session three times a week post weights is all I need to keep my goals, mind, heart, and body on point.” Better yet, it can be done anywhere, with no equipment or gym visitor’s pass – think on a machine, outdoors, with a skipping rope or with body weight (push ups, jumps, knee highs, etc).

Rita Catolino is a certified personal trainer, online coach, motivational speaker, fitness columnist and cover model. After battling with weight all her life, she committed to fitness after giving birth to her daughter in 2007. Now she’s passionate about inspiring others to transform their obstacles into advantages. Visit her at ritacatolino.com.

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Photo credit: Paul Buceta