Strong is the New Sexy: Intro to Strength Training for Women

Women need to lift. It’s as simple as that. Not only to look better and be stronger, but also because it’s good for our health. Resistance training strengthens your bones, increasing bone mineral density and protecting against osteopenia and osteoporosis. Lifting increases total body lean mass, which in turn elevates your resting metabolic rate, or the number of calories you burn in a day just laying around doing nothing. Weight training is also good for your self-esteem, and can improve both body image and overall perceptions of well-being.

So what is a girl to do who is looking to start a weight training regimen but has no idea where to start?  Well, for one, get off the treadmill and into the weight room! Check out what the guys in the gym are doing, at least the ones who look like they have a clue. Chances are, if it works for the guys, it will work for us too. But don’t worry, you aren’t going to get huge if you lift like a man – guaranteed. That’s just not how we are built.  We don’t have the testosterone levels and never will (unless you’re doing something to change that…but then you probably wouldn’t be reading this article anyway). You will get stronger though, and particularly if you squat regularly, you’ll end up with a firm, rounded posterior that will be the envy of all those cardio queens! If you want to be stronger than ever, have more defined muscles, and an athletic physique, then look no further. This 4-week intro to strength training program will put you on the right track, because let’s face it ladies, strong is the new sexy!

Below is an example of how you might train each week. You don’t have to do MWF, but you should lift on non-consecutive days since you’ll be hitting all of the major muscle groups each time you lift. 48-72 hours between lifting sessions is sufficient, but don’t be alarmed if you are still experiencing some muscle soreness from the previous workout, especially if you are a beginner. When in doubt, consult a certified personal trainer or strength and conditioning specialist to advise you on form and technique. Or just ask one of the gym rats, they’ve been wanting to talk to you anyway.

Start with a light warm-up set before moving into your work sets. That is, use the empty bar or a light weight you can easily lift for 10-15 repetitions just to get the movement pattern down and prepare your muscles to do work.  Mondays will involve sets of 10-12 repetitions of each exercise (for one arm row, that’s 10-12 per arm) with a weight that just allows you to finish the prescribed number of reps, but not more than that.  This will take some trial and error initially, but you’ll figure it out pretty quickly and build from there.  Rest 60 s between exercises/sets.  Core work will always be a higher number of repetitions (15-20 per set) for any given workout, as you want to develop local muscular endurance in this region that will improve core stability and help with the rest of your lifts.

Wednesdays are sets of 8 repetitions with 1-2 minutes rest between exercises/sets, using a moderately heavy weight that just allows you to complete 8 reps but no more than that.  Fridays will be your heaviest weight lifting days, don’t be afraid!  You’ll only be doing 6 repetitions, but it should be challenging (i.e., don’t use the same weight you used Monday). You get to rest for 2-3 minutes, which is plenty of time to recover even though the weight is heavy. Be certain to focus on proper lifting technique and breathing.

Use the 2 x 2 rule for increasing weight on a particular exercise (i.e., if you can do 2 extra reps with the weight prescribed for 2 consecutive sets, it’s time to move up!) so that you continue to build strength each week.  As long as you’re making progress (increasing the amount of weight lifted on a given exercise) you may choose to repeat this 4-week cycle using 3-4 sets once you’ve finished the initial one.  Want to mix things up?  Try switching between dumbbell, barbell, and cable variations of exercises. The key is to stick with it!

References:

Ahmed, C., Hilton, W., & Pituch, K. (2002). Relations of strength training to body image among a sample of female university students. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research16(4), 645-648.

Cunningham, J. J. (1982). Body composition and resting metabolic rate: the myth of feminine metabolism. The American journal of clinical nutrition36(4), 721-726.

Kelley, G. A., Kelley, K. S., & Tran, Z. V. (2001). Resistance training and bone mineral density in women: a meta-analysis of controlled trials. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation80(1), 65-77.

Kraemer, W. J., Ratamess, N. A., & French, D. N. (2002). Resistance training for health and performance. Current sports medicine reports1(3), 165-171.

Linnamo, V., Pakarinen, A., Komi, P. V., Kraemer, W. J., & Häkkinen, K. (2005). Acute hormonal responses to submaximal and maximal heavy resistance and explosive exercises in men and women. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research19(3), 566-571.

Pollock, M. L., Franklin, B. A., Balady, G. J., Chaitman, B. L., Fleg, J. L., Fletcher, B., … & Bazzarre, T. (2000). Resistance exercise in individuals with and without cardiovascular disease benefits, rationale, safety, and prescription an advisory from the committee on exercise, rehabilitation, and prevention, council on clinical cardiology, American Heart Association. Circulation101(7), 828-833.

About the Author:

Roxanne Vogel, MS, EP-C, CSCS, CISSN is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (NSCA), exercise physiologist (ACSM), and sports nutritionist (ISSN).  A former cardio queen, she has long since seen the error of her ways and adopted a heavy resistance training program that has allowed her to climb some of the world’s highest mountains.

 

 

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