There is a common misconception in the fitness community that women shouldn’t lift or at the very least lift heavy. Take a look at a typical “strength training” class in most gyms and you are likely to see really light weights, 10lbs or less, being used in various ways, but mostly single joint, isolation exercises.
This is what “strength training” looks like for the average gym goer. However, that is not what true strength training consists of. If you are looking to get stronger, there are several key principles you need to follow in order to build strength.
Why would you want to build strength?
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Well, why wouldn’t you? Completely ignoring the fact that strength training will make you more confident to pick things up (like a big bag of dog food or a child or even furniture) it has a tremendous impact on the way your body moves, feels, and performs. Add to the fact that, if you follow a proper nutrition plan, you’ll look awesome from throwing some weight around.
To help you get started, here are some essential tips to strength training:
Don’t be afraid to lift heavy
Ok that’s all the tips. Tips 2 through 9 are would be to repeat the first one.
All joking aside, this is pretty much essential to build strength. The weight section of your gym can be intimidating if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve seen it & I’ve heard it from many clients.
In addition to that intimidation factor, there is a genuine fear that if you start picking up any sort of heavy weight, you’ll instantly bulk up and turn into She Hulk. Let me squash that like a bug. It’s not going to happen. That aesthetic requires a lot of volume in terms of exercise along with a nutritional strategy meant to put on weight.
Once you get over that initial fear, get out of your comfort zone of doing exercises for 15+ reps which typically builds muscular endurance over muscular strength. Since this an article focused on strength, let’s get you using a weight that will keep you in the 1-5 rep range or the 8-12 rep range.
With all that said,
Have a plan
When you go to the gym, make sure you have a plan for what you are doing that day. Having a plan or a program in place ensures that you stay on task and you don’t waste time.
In addition to actually having a plan as to what exercises you are doing, program in what rep ranges you want to do so you know how heavy your weights should be. Not every exercise has to be done super heavy as it is important to work within different rep ranges, but each set should be a challenge.
The lower the rep scheme, the more weight you will want to work with. Conversely, when working with higher reps you will want to decrease the weight appropriately. Therefore, always have a plan even if you find it may need adjusting while you carry out your workout for the day.
Warm-up & mobility
Incorporate a warm-up routine that includes mobility exercises as well as movements that will prepare you for your workout that day. Think dynamic movements like squatting or lunging instead of static or ballistic stretching and walking/running on a treadmill. The most important areas to make sure you include are the shoulders and hips.
Focus on the basics
Once you start your strength training routine, you’re going to want to do exercises that look “cool.” That’s the last thing you need, especially as a beginner. Simple exercises can be the most effective, and depending on how you load them or how intense you make them, you can certainly add strength. The best laid out programs incorporate the basic movement patterns of the body.
This ties in to the next tip,
Multi-joint over isolation
If you notice in the last tip, there was nothing that said “triceps kickback” or “leg extension.” Isolation exercises do have their place, however the bulk of your workouts should be made up of movements mentioned in the last tip. Exercises that are going to use multiple joints and multiple muscles will increase your strength a lot quicker than doing isolation exercises.
– Chin-ups vs. Bicep Curls
– Bench Press vs. Triceps Kickbacks
– Squats vs. Leg Extensions
– Deadlift vs. Leg Curls
The more muscles you use, the more strength you can build and in turn, the more calories you end up burning.
Doing exercises that work on balance is important, but this tip has more to do with your approach to strength training. The most common exercises you’ll see in the gym end up working the “mirror” muscles, meaning that you’ll see exercises that only train areas you can see in the mirror.
This is an ineffective and potentially hazardous approach as it can lead to compensation patterns and dysfunctional movement patterns.
Make sure your strength training program has a balanced approach. If you’re going to perform a pushing exercise like push-ups, make sure there is a pulling exercise to compliment it. In addition to doing exercises that have a balanced approach to your muscles, you want to make sure you don’t go hard or heavy every single day. There are so many rep ranges that you can incorporate into your strength training program.
Don’t kill yourself
This is an important tip that is often over looked. You don’t have to crawl out of the gym to think you got a good workout. Repeat that to yourself.
“I don’t have to crawl out of the gym to feel like I got a good workout.”
Likewise, soreness does not necessarily indicate a good workout nor does it indicate progress. What it means is you trashed your body and your muscles quite possibly too much. Soreness isn’t a badge of honor, nor is throwing up, and following a “no pain, no gain” attitude can and usually will end in disaster.
You may feel “hardcore” today, increasing the pounds, increasing the intensity, but if you can’t walk or raise your arm above your head the next day, how did you get stronger? How do you expect to get the most out of your work out the following day?
The key is to use intensity wisely. Find a delicate balance between going all out all the time and taking it easy all the time. It’s ok to be uncomfortable, but you’re going to have to get used to how your body feels day to day, week to week. Learning those subtle cues, sensations and signals can help you figure out when to go hard and when to back off a little.
Following one of the important principles of exercise science called the Overload Principle can help guide you. When you strength train, you want to put a larger than normal stimulus on the body to get an adaptation to take place.
Once the body has adapted to the stimulus, you’ll then need a different stimulus to continue the change. In order for your muscles to increase strength, it must be gradually stressed by working against a load greater than it is used to. So each week, each workout, you build weight and intensity gradually.
Consistency and perseverance conquer all
Similarly, Benjamin Franklin once said “Energy and Conquer All.”
Strength training isn’t something to take lightly. Building strength takes time. With each workout, your body has to adapt to the new stimulus. The more patience you show and the more consistent you are, the bigger the reward you will see in the end.
It can be very easy to give up. Plateaus happen and stagnation in strength pops up out of nowhere. We’ve all been in that situation where you just don’t think you can get any stronger or any better. When you hit that point, push on. Adjust your plan and avoid that little voice inside that says to quit.
The body adapts at its own pace.
Recovery, recovery, RECOVERY!
Progress in the gym can only come from what you do once you are out of it. Gaining strength not only comes from the demands you put on your body, but also on how well you recover from your workouts. In order for your muscles to build strength, they have to repair the damage done from your workouts.
This means taking time in between sessions to utilize some self-care techniques like foam rolling, TP Therapy, and Massage. These will keep your muscles happy and functioning at optimal levels.
Another aspect to recovery that is overlooked tremendously is sleep. Restful sleep is where the body does all its repairing and regrouping. Getting a great nights rest in between bouts of exercise can make the difference between having a great workout and a poor workout.
Lastly, EAT! Eat to perform. It’s easy to get hung up on restricting calories, but to build strength, your muscles need fuel. Avoid restricting your food intake so much to the point that your workouts suffer. Not only will that hinder your recovery, but your ability to gain strength as well.
Your muscles need fuel to perform, especially when it comes to strength training. Your body is a machine, you have to fuel it as such. And hydrate yourself!
Strength is the ability to do today what you previously couldn’t do a week, a month, or a year ago. Use these tips to help you not only start a strength program, but to maintain and gain more strength.