For many women, not knowing how to begin is the biggest hurdle to strength training. For this reason, many women choose to work with a personal trainer, but even without one, you can be successful.
Start with incorporating two 30-minute strength training sessions into your weekly workout routine. After a few weeks, you can increase to three sessions a week on non-consecutive days. Women often think going on the treadmill is enough, but weight training is important for improving strength and building lean muscle. Results can begin to show as early as eight to ten weeks.
Four strength training guidelines
If you’re just getting started, consider the following tips:
- Target your large muscle groups. Focus your efforts on three main areas: your core, upper body, and lower body rather than individual muscles or “problem” areas. Here are some suggestions for working those muscle groups:
- Upper Body – Push-ups are great for targeting the upper body. If you can’t do the traditional ones, start on your knees. Make sure you use good form and push yourself to the limit.
- Lower Body – Squats and lunges can help tone up your lower body. When doing squats, make sure you keep your back straight and don’t let your knees extend past your toes. To do a lunge properly, lower your back knee to two inches above the floor, taking care not to let your front knee extend past your toes.
- Core – Ball crunches help strengthen your core. Sit on top of a stability ball while doing standard crunches. The stability ball helps engage more core muscles in an effort to keep you balanced.
- Lift enough weight. Many women gravitate toward smaller weights, even if they can handle more. To get the best results, you need to lift enough to work your muscles—and that may require 5, 10 or even 12 pound dumbbells. To find your limit, test different weights. You should be able to do three sets of 10-15 reps, with the last 2-3 reps of each set feeling pretty difficult. Don’t worry—you won’t end up looking too bulky, even if you challenge yourself with heavier weights.
- Use proper form. Especially as your muscles fatigue, it’s easy to compensate by letting your form slip, which may result in injury. Sign up for a personal training session or watch videos online that show proper form for various exercises. If possible, do your workout in front of a mirror so you can monitor your form.
- Improve your diet. If you want your hard-earned muscle tone to show, you need to make sure it’s not covered by a layer of fat. A lot of people exercise regularly, but eat terribly, which ruins the work they did at the gym. Try limiting processed foods and the number of times you eat out each week. Instead, focus on eating lean proteins, whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Don’t make the mistake of skipping a meal or snack post-workout. If you’ve put in a good strength-training workout, your body needs food to refuel and complete the muscle-building process. Aim to eat within an hour after working out, and make sure you’re fueling up with some form of protein.
Beyond muscle tone
In addition to getting stronger and leaner, strength training can benefit your overall health. It challenges your heart, helps maintain lean muscle mass, improves bone density, and improves your metabolism, causing you to burn more calories.
To help you get started, Shawnee Mission Health offers fitness classes at the Life Dynamics Health and Wellness Center.