Many women are afraid of weights, because they think that it’ll make them ‘bulky’ or ‘manly’ looking – this is a big misconception. There are so many advantages of resistance training, both for men and especially for women.
Strength training keeps muscles stronger, preserves physical independence, limits the risk of diseases, such as osteoporosis (reduced bone density) and helps keep aging bodies physiologically younger than chronological age. It can also improve gait, leg power and balance and burn calories.
Up your calorie burning by resistance training
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Very often I’m asked by my female clients, “How is it possible that I am working out regularly and eating healthily, I run and do aerobics all the time, yet my body gets softer?” Well, cardio training and a good diet is not enough – you have to resistance train your muscles to maintain a firm and well-proportioned body.
Daily energy expenditure declines progressively throughout life. This decline equates to a loss of lean body tissue aka muscle, which in turn results in a lowered basal metabolic rate as we age.
A lean and beautiful body!
Greater calorie burning 24/7 will result from regular resistance training. This will make it easier to maintain or even lose weight. Muscle is metabolic dynamite, its ‘active’ tissue and burns calories all day and every day. A 0.45Kg/1lb increase could boost your weekly calorie burn by 300 calories.
Don’t be afraid of weights, you’ll not get huge and bulky, it’s a myth!
The most important reason guys get bulky and can significantly increase muscle mass is their specific metabolic and hormonal make-up. Testosterone, primarily a male hormone, muscle fibre makeup and biochemical changes constitute the real differences. It’s physiologically not possible for a woman to get huge and bulky like men – but adding firmness and strength to muscles is very possible.
If you want to look lean, sexy, and tight then free weight compound exercises are excellent. You can still do machine exercises but make free weights with dumbbells and bars your priority. Compound exercises work muscles across numerous joints, like the squat and consequentially create a greater training effect and calorie burn.
Specifically the squat works the muscles in the lower body and core, including the quadriceps, the hamstrings, the calves, the glutes, the lower back and the core. You’ll find numerous compound exercises in my workout plan. The best way to start training with weights is to do a series of full body workouts for several weeks. These should target all your muscle groups.
Before you develop your limbs, you should start with strengthening your core – a strong core is everything. Great core exercises are the plank, push-ups, and stability ball exercises .
How to get the most from your resistance training
The best way to train in order to burn more calories faster and shape a great body is to perform several compound exercises per workout.
More reasons to resistance train
The best way to strengthen bones is to stimulate the muscles that pull on them – and that’s what weight training does.
Strong muscles help to maintain a beautiful posture, that not just makes you look younger, healthier, and sexier, but could eliminate many orthopedic problems associated with the back, hips, and knees.
Strong and resilient muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and cartilage protect joints from potential injury.
What I call strong ‘armour’ helps us with daily tasks that may seem very simple, such as carrying grocery bags, picking up and playing with our kids, taking care of our pets and maintaining balanced energy levels through long working days.
Reps – Sets – Weight
– If you are new to resistance training: 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions.
– If your goal is to lose weight and define your lean muscles and are an experienced resistance trainer: 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions.
– If your goal is gain more muscle and are an experienced resistance trainer: 5-6 sets of 6-8 repetitions.
– Do the workout for 6 weeks, gradually increasing the weights you use.
The weight you lift should be chosen individually depending on your personal strength and condition. Make sure that you really ‘feel’ the resistance on the last two repetitions – but maintain good form.
The don’t resist – shape a great body workout
Muscle worked: Quadriceps, bottom, hamstrings, obliques abdominals.
How to perform: Position bar high on shoulders and grasp barbell to sides. Stand with feet shoulder-apart. Bend knees, keeping back straight and knees pointed in the same direction as your feet. Lower until thighs are just past parallel to floor. Extend knees and hips until your legs are straight.
Tips: Maintain an equal distribution of weight through your forefeet and heels.
Lunge with biceps curl
Muscle worked: Quads, glutes, biceps.
How to perform: Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your back straight. Your feet should face forward and be slightly apart. Brace your core. Step into a lunge position. Bend both knees slightly. Keep your front foot flat and pointing forward and lift the heel of your rear foot so that you are on the ball of its foot.
Squeeze your abdominal and bottom muscles. Bend your front knee and lower your body to the floor – aim for a thigh parallel to the ground position. At the same time lower your arms, keeping your palms facing upward – but don’t lock your elbows.
Keep squeezing your core muscles as you hold the lunge for two seconds. Then breathe out as you extend your thigh to push your body back up, curling your arms up towards your shoulders as you do so.
Tips: Keep your back straight – don’t lean forward or backward. Keep your front knee above its ankle.
Dumbbell shoulder press
Muscle worked: Deltoids, triceps, biceps.
How to perform: Hold the dumbbells above shoulders, with forearms parallel to the floor. Press the dumbbells overhead. Lower and repeat.
Tips: Keep looking forward and press the dumbbells in an arc.
Plie squat with dumbbells
Muscle worked: Quads, hamstrings, inner thighs and glutes.
How to perform: Hold a barbell or dumbbells at arms’ length in front of thighs and stand with feet wide and feet angled out. Slowly lower into a squat, keeping knees and toes in alignment. Next, extend your thighs squeezing your glutes on the way up.
Tips: Keep your feet at a comfortable angle and make sure your knees follow the direction of your toes to avoid knee strain.
Medicine ball abdominal twist
Muscle worked: Oblique abdominals.
How to perform: Sit with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Hold a medicine ball at arms’ length whilst leaning back so that your body is angled about 45-degrees. Keeping your lower body still, twist your body to the right and then to the left.
Tips: To increase the difficulty lift your feet about 3-5cm off the floor and hold them in the air during the entire set.
Muscle worked: Triceps
How to perform: Stand straight with a dumbbell in one hand. Raise the dumbbell up to your shoulder and then behind your head. Lift the weight using only your triceps, whilst keeping your elbow stationary. Slowly lower the weight to the starting position as shown.
Tips: Keep your core engaged throughout the movement. Don’t lock your elbows.
Medicine ball reverse crunch
Muscle worked: Lower abs
How to perform: Lie on your back and place a medicine ball between your knees. Take your hands behind your head or place next to your sides (as shown).
Exhale and slowly lower your feet towards the floor. Focus on keeping your abs engaged so that your lower back remains stable. When your feet are about 2cm from the floor, hold for a 2 count and then slowly return to the starting position.
Tips: Move in a slow, controlled manner and maintain good form to protect your lower back. If you are an advanced trainer and have sufficient flexibility and strength – lift the ball higher as indicated in the third picture.
Bench triceps dips
Muscle worked: Triceps
How to perform: Place your hands on the edge of a bench. Place your feet flat on the floor, toes facing forward. Bend your elbows to lower your body. Extend your elbows to lift your body.
Tips: To increase the difficulty of the exercise, place your feet on a stability ball (as shown) and/or hold a weighted plates across your thighs.
Muscle worked: Chest, shoulders and core
How to perform: Lie prone with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Extend your arms to lift your body. Keep your body straight and lower it by bending your arms.
Tips: Keep your abs tight and body straight. To increase difficulty, a training partner can place a weight plate(s)/powerbag on your back.
Chest dumbbell fly
Muscle worked: Chest
How to perform: Grasp two dumbbells. Lie supine on bench angled at about 30-degrees. Hold dumbbells above your chest with your arms fixed in a slightly bent position. Lower dumbbells to sides until your chest muscles are stretched. Then bring dumbbells together in a hugging motion until they nearly touch. Repeat.
Tips: Keep your shoulders internally rotated so that your elbows point downward at the bottom position and outward at the top position.
Chest barbell press
Muscle worked: Chest
How to perform: Lie supine on a bench. Take barbell from rack over upper chest using a wide overhand grip. Lower the to your mid-chest. Press bar upwards until arms are extended. Repeat.
Tips: Don’t take a too wide grip on the bar, as your range of motion will be compromised.
Muscle worked: Shoulders, upper back, abdominals.
How to perform: Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders and your knees slightly bent. ‘Sit down’ into your hips and engage your abdominals. Hold dumbbells in each hand just above shoulder level – your elbows should be bent close to your body with the dumbbells held with palms facing each other. From this starting position, turn your upper body to your left, pivoting slightly through your feet.
Punch your right arm straight from the shoulder, rotating your arm as you do so that your palm ends up facing downward. Once arm is fully extended reverse the movement by bringing your right arm back to the starting position. Then without pausing, turn your upper body to your right and punch with your left arm.
Tips: Engage your abdominal muscles throughout. Exhale as you punch and inhale as you take your arm back.
Muscle worked: Full body
How to perform:
Lower body: Bend your knees slightly to lower your centre of gravity – this will enable more rapid movement and flow into other positions. Keep your feet beyond shoulder-width apart and slightly turned outward.
Upper body: Keep shoulders square and relaxed with your back straight. Your hands should make an upturned fist and rest just your above your waist. Keep your elbows well back to allow for forward movement.
Tips: Your goal is to stay in this position for up to 3min. Start with shorter durations if necessary and build up depending on your fitness. “Trust me, although, it’s low impact exercise, it’s a tough one!” For increased difficulty hold dumbbells in hands.
Reverse lunges with barbell
Muscle worked: Glutes, quads, hamstrings
How to perform: Remove barbell from rack and position it on the back of your shoulders, grasping it to its’ sides. Extend one leg onto your forefoot. Bend front leg until the knee of your rear leg is almost in contact with floor. Extend front leg to return to start position. Repeat to other side.
Tips: Keep your torso upright. Your front knee should point in the same direction as its foot throughout the lunge. A long lunge (i.e. step) emphasises your bottom, a short one your quadriceps.
Stiff legged dead-lift
Muscle worked: Glutes, hamstrings
How to perform: Stand in a shoulder-width apart or narrower stance with feet flat on floor and beneath bar. Bend knees and incline your torso maintaining a flat back.
Grasp the barbell with a shoulder-width overhand, shoulder-width or slightly wider. mixed grip. Lift weight to standing position. Lower bar to top of feet by bending hips. Bend knees slightly during descent and keep waist straight, flexing only slightly at the bottom.
Keep your knees bent and lift the bar by extending your hips until you are upright. Pull your shoulders back slightly if rounded. Extend knees at top if desired. Repeat.
Tips: Begin with light-weight and add additional weight gradually. Keep arms straight throughout the lift. Knees can be kept bent throughout movement. Keep bar over top of feet, close to legs. Do not pause or bounce at bottom of lift. Do not lower the weight beyond feeling a mild stretch in the hamstrings. On completion of the set lower the weight with control keeping your knees bent and your lower back straight.
Glutes bridges with weights disc
Muscle worked: Glutes
How to perform: Lie on your back with your knees bent pointing up to the ceiling. Place a weights disc on your hips and hold it. Lift your pelvis up toward the ceiling to a 45-degree angle relative to the floor. At the top of the movement really flex your bottom for a one-count. Return to the start position and repeat.
Tips: Don’t arch your back. Use your bottom muscles to lift and control. Exhale on the way up, out on the way down.
Muscle worked: Obliques abdominals, lower abs.
How to perform: Assume a press up position. Keep your body straight and engage your abs. Slightly bend your elbows. Pull your right knee towards your right shoulder. Return to starting position. Pull your left knee towards your left shoulder and then away. Repeat.
Tips: Keep your core straight and abs engaged throughout. Do the exercise steadily keeping good form.
Stability ball russian twist
Muscle worked: Arms, core.
How to perform: Sit on a stability ball with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly lean backwards while walking yourself out along the ball until your head, shoulders and upper back make contact with it. Adjust your leg position to create a 90-degree bend at the knees with your thighs and torso at or near parallel to the floor.
Your thighs should be hip-width apart with your feet facing forward and your weight distributed evenly across your feet. Pull your shoulders down and back to make firm contact with the ball and maintain this position throughout the exercise. Extend your arms above your chest, fully extending the elbows and bringing your hands together.
Exhale, stiffen your torso by contracting your abdominal/core muscles to stabilise your spine and slowly rotate your torso to one side while keeping your shoulders on the ball and feet firmly secured on the floor.
Keep your hips and torso parallel with the floor avoiding any tendency for your hips to drop downwards (think about pushing your feet into the floor and your hips up towards the ceiling to help maintain stability and control). Inhale and hold this position briefly before rotating to the opposite side.
Tips: You can increase the difficulty by moving your feet together or adding resistance by holding a medicine ball.
Dumbbell biceps curls
Muscle worked: Biceps.
How to perform: Stand with feet parallel and facing forward. Hold dumbbells by your sides, palms facing in and arms straight. Keeping elbows to the sides, curl dumbbells to shoulders. Lower to start position and repeat.
Tips: Keep your back straight, abs engaged and chin up. Lower weights slowly.
Stability ball dumbbell hammer curls
Muscle worked: Biceps, abs.
How to perform: Sit on stability ball with your feet flat on the floor. Hold dumbbells by your sides, palms facing in and arms straight. Keeping your elbows to your sides, raise one dumbbell until your forearm is vertical and your thumb faces your shoulder. Lower to start position and repeat with other arm.
Tips: Keep your back straight and chin up. Hold your abs tight. Squeeze your biceps on the way up and lower the weight slowly.
Alternate front deltoid raises
Muscle worked: Front shoulders.
How to perform: Grasp dumbbells in both hands and hold them by thighs at arms’ length. Lift dumbbell until your arm is above horizontal. Lower under control and repeat with another arm.
Tips: Keep your elbows level with the dumbbells. Don’t lock your elbows.
Rear deltoids flyes
Muscle worked: Rear shoulders.
How to perform: Grasp dumbbells to each side. Bend knees and bend over through hips keeping a flat back, close to horizontal. Maintain a slight bend at the elbows with palms facing together. Lift arms to sides until elbows are shoulder height.
Maintain upper arms perpendicular to torso and a fixed elbow position (10 to 30-degree angle) throughout exercise. Additionally keep elbows above wrists, by keeping your little finger held up. Lower and repeat.
Tips: Maintain a controlled pace throughout the movement.
Bent over triceps extensions
Muscle worked: Triceps.
How to perform: Place one knee on an exercise bench and the other to the side flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in the opposite hand with palm facing your torso. Bend elbow to 90-degrees. Lean forward, keeping your back flat. Support yourself with your other arm on the bench.
Keep your head up. Fix your arms and use your triceps to lift the weights until your arm is parallel to the floor. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position as you inhale. Switch arms.
Tips: Go for a ‘second’ contraction when your arm is extended behind your body i.e. squeeze your triceps.