Women's Strength Training Tips

Read these 17 Women's Strength Training Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Womens Fitness tips and hundreds of other topics.

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What shouldn't I do when starting a strength training program?

The Don'ts of Strength Training

There are many things to be wary of when starting a strength training workout. To make sure you get the all the benefits of your exercise routine, watch out for these things:

  • Don't hire an unqualified personal trainer. It is important to get information on exercise and fitness information from a qualified personal trainer who has a degree in kinesiology or is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
  • Don't overdo it. If you are starting fresh from the beginning with a new weight and cardio workout make sure you don't take on too much at one time. This will not only cause injury, it can also be discouraging. Recognize your fitness level and build from there.
  • Don't expect immediate results. Though you may see an initial immediate improvement in your strength, it takes time to build and tone your muscles. After four to six months you will start to see a change in your fat and muscle ratios. Changes in bone density take up to 12 months.
  • Don't favor one side of your body. Don't ignore your butt and thighs just because you want to get rid of arm flab. For balance and strength you need a symmetrical workout that will develop both sides of your joints.

What are the benefits of strength training?

Benefits of Strength Training

There are a myriad of benefits you can get from strength training. Not only do arm exercises, back exercises, leg exercises and core exercises make you stronger, they also increase bone density, which decreases your risk of osteoporosis. As you do more strength training and start to focus more on exercise and fitness, your basal metabolic rate, or the amount of calories you burn while inactive, will increase. This means that you will burn more calories all day long. Each pound of muscle gained is a pound of fat lost. You also burn between 35 and 40 more calories per day for each pound of muscle gained, so if you gain three pounds of muscle, you will burn an extra 120 calories per day. This can add up to a weight loss of 10 to 12 pounds in one year!

The most important aspect of strength training is the self-confidence you gain. When you know you can lift those groceries or move that furniture around on your own, it is empowering. If you feel good about yourself, your overall outlook on life is more positive and rewarding.

Am I lifting enough weight?

Make it Worth Your While

As a woman, you don't have enough testosterone to get the big bulging muscles that body builders get. So stop worrying about bulking up and pick up some heavier weights at the gym. Weights that are too light for you will not magically shape and tone your body. To find out what weight is right for you, start by picking a weight you know you can lift 10 times, but no more than 12 times. As you get used to this weight and you can start to do more repetitions and sets, move the weight up by a few pounds. If you want to see results, you need to choose a weight that will tire out your muscles within 10 repetitions.

Don't be intimidated by the equipment that men traditionally use. You pay for that barbell with your gym membership just as much as he does. Use a barbell to do squats or try lifting for your arm exercises twice per week with one of your friends as a spotter.

What exercises can I do to strengthen my legs?

Sexy Summer Leg Exercises

Leg exercises are just as important as arm and back exercises. Strong legs support your core and can actually help eliminate lower back pain. Here are some exercises that will tone your legs and get you looking sexy for summer:

Mountain Climbers: This exercise can double as a cardio workout. Start in a push-up position and then lift your right foot, bringing your knee to your chest. Touch your right foot to the ground and return to start position. Repeat with your left leg. Do this move at a high pace for a certain amount of time rather than a certain amount of reps.

Buddha Lunges: Stand with your feet together and step forward with your right leg and bend your knee until your front foot forms a right angle. Hold this position for five seconds and then push off your forward leg back into your starting position. Repeat 10 times on each leg.

Step-Ups: You will need a bench or sturdy chair to do this exercise. Stand in front of the chair and simply step up onto it with your right foot. Let your left foot touch the top of your right foot and step down to starting position. Repeat 10 times on each leg.

Weighted Squats: Using the stairs or another type of step (you can use a sturdy chair if you are tall), step up with your right foot. Bring your left foot up to touch the right foot and then step back down to start position with both feet on the floor. Repeat with your left leg. Do 24 repetitions on each side.

How many days a week should I weight train?

Progression and Frequency in Strength Training Programs

Progressive resistance is crucial to any women's strength-training program. Once your muscles adapt to a given exercise, you need to increase either the resistance or the number of repetitions to promote future gains. Begin with a weight that allows you to do a minimum of eight repetitions of a particular exercise. Once you are able to complete 12 repetitions with that weight, you should increase the weight by about five percent. At this point, drop back to eight repetitions with the heavier weight. Once you've worked up to 12 repetitions with the heavier weight, you increase it by another five percent.

The recovery process between training sessions takes at least 48 hours. Because of this, your strength -training sessions should be scheduled no more frequently than every other day. If you enjoy training more frequently, avoid hitting the same muscle group on consecutive days.

I'm a skier. Should I do squats on a stability ball for mogul training?

What is Functional Training

Now that we have established that a well-designed fitness plan works all of the muscles in the body while encompassing all aspects of fitness, there is something else that needs to be considered. Today, everyone is talking about "functional fitness." But what does this mean? Unfortunately, the phrase is often over used. Many programs that are called functional training simply involve exercises that can only be described as "stupid human tricks."Standing on a stability ball is a good example of this type of "trick."

Exercise programs that are truly functional serve to support and enhance the movement skills that we use in daily life and athletic pursuits. This form of training is solidly grounded in movement science research that tells us that our brains think in terms of entire movement patterns. It's a far cry from theories that tell us that we need to isolate individual muscle groups in order to improve movement skills or rehabilitate from injury. In fact, we once thought that all we needed to do to improve motor skills was to strengthen muscles that were weak, and stretch muscles that were tight.

However, physical therapists and sport coaches were dissatisfied with the results of this form of training. They found that even if muscle imbalances were corrected, many faulty movement patterns had become habitual. The functional training movement was developed as a means of teaching people new movement patterns that were more efficient.

There are specific criteria that allow a program the honor of being designated "functional."

  • It involves an integration of muscle groups as opposed to an isolation of a single muscle.
  • It makes used of multi-directional movements, instead of exercises that are performed in a linear plane of motion.
  • It uses your deep core stabilizers, as opposed to seat belts and artificial stabilizers.

Today, many weight-training programs make use of the functional training technique. In general, you will be using lighter weights, and performing movements that mimic real-life activities.

I am a marathon runner. What type of muscle fiber are predominant in my body?

Muscle Fiber Types

Your skill at specific activities is partially determined by your ratio of muscle fiber types. Slow-twitch fibers (Type I) are resistant to fatigue. They are associated with long duration aerobic activities. Fast-twitch fibers (Type IIa) are capable of quick muscular contractions. These fibers are moderately resistant to fatigue. Fast-twitch fibers (Type IIb) also produce quick muscular contractions. However, they are associated with activities requiring quick bursts of energy, such as sprinting. In general, marathon runners have a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers, whereas sprinters have more fats-twitch fibers.

The ratio of muscle fiber types is genetically determined. Therefore, it will vary in each individual. However, both types of muscle fiber can improve their metabolic capabilities through strength training. Keep in mind that your core muscles are considered slow-twitch muscle fibers, since they are responsible for maintaining posture and balance against the forces of gravity. As such, training the core is an important part of any weight training workout.

How can I keep up with my strength training program while traveling?

Elastic Resistance Equipment: Take it on the Road!

The concept of elastic resistance training is a basic one. As you stretch the elastic band, the resistance will increase. The increased resistance provides a progressive stimulus to the muscle, which in turn builds strength and help increases muscle mass. Elastic resistance training has some unique benefits. It can work single or multiple joints at one time. This makes the exercises more functional and efficient. With traditional exercise equipment such as machines and free weights, gravity is the force that opposes the resistance. The user is sometimes limited to one specific exercise for each machine. In contrast, elastic resistance does not rely on gravity. Instead, its resistance is dependant on how far the band or tubing is stretched. Additionally, a variety of exercises can be performed with a single band or tube. You can progress the resistance by moving to a thicker band.

Unlike traditional machines, elastic resistance exercises can be performed in many planes of movement. This makes them more functional, especially if you are developing a sport-specific training program. Additionally, unlike most exercise machines, elastic exercises provide resistance in both the eccentric and concentric phases of muscular contraction.

Elastic tubing products include resistance tubes, which have handles, therabands, which are flat bands without handles and smaller ankle bands for leg exercises.

Which should I do first? My triceps extension or the bench press.

Speed and Sequence in Women's Strength Training Routines

When you perform any series of strength training exercises, make sure to perform exercises that involve compound movements for the larger muscle groups prior to performing isolation exercises for the smaller muscle groups. For example, if you fatigue your generally weak triceps prior to performing a bench press, your form will be less than optimal while performing the bench press. This is because the triceps assist the pectoral in performing the press.

The speed of the lifting movement is also an important factor to consider. For best results, count one to two seconds for the lifting portion of the exercise and three to four seconds for the lowering portion of the movement. Avoid fast, jerky movements that rely on momentum, as opposed to muscle.

What is an example of a closed chain exercise?

Chain, Chain Chain: Open and Closed Chain Exercises

Strength training exercises are classified as closed or open kinetic chain. In closed chain exercises, the end of the chain farthest from the body is fixed. A good example of a closed chain exercise would be the squat. Your feet are fixed and the rest of the leg chain moves. In contrast, when your perform open chain exercises, the end is free, such as in a leg extension machine.

Closed chain exercises promote joint compression, which will make your joints more stable. In contrast, open chain exercises create shearing forces, which, in some cases, such as the leg extension machine, can actually cause instability.

Closed chain exercises usually engage more than one muscle group. For example, the leg press or a squat will work the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals. In comparison, open chain exercises like the leg extension machine usually involve muscle isolation.

Consider this: The hamstring/quadriceps strength ratio should be approximately 60-75%. In other words, your hamstrings should be 60-75% as strong as your quadriceps. Many women come nowhere near this ideal strength ratio. So when you plan your strength-training workout, avoid too many exercises that isolate the quadriceps.

What are adductors and abductors?

Strength Training: Lower Body Muscle Groups

When devising a strength-training program, it is important to be sure that you cover all of the major muscle groups of the body. While women may want to focus on what they consider to be their "problem areas," since we now know that there is no such thing as "spot reduction," it behooves you to work your entire body. These are the major lower body muscle groups that should be included in any women's weight training program.

  • Gluteals: This muscle group includes the gluteus maximus, which is the large muscle that covers your butt. Exercises for this area include the squat, lunges and the leg press machine. Some gyms that focus on strength training for women include a machine called a "butt buster."
  • Quadriceps: The quadriceps are the muscles in the front of the thigh. They are responsible for extending, or straightening your leg. The best exercise for the quadriceps is the leg press machine. In general, women are much stronger in their quadriceps than they are in their hamstrings, which is the opposing muscle group. For this reason, they should be careful not to overwork this muscle group. You might see a machine called the leg extension. This exercise causes what is called "shearing force," which can make you susceptible to knee injuries.
  • Hamstrings: These are the muscles in the back of the leg. The hamstrings are involved in flexing, or bending the knee. Any weight-training program for women should involve a detailed hamstring routine. Machines include the prone leg curl and the seated leg curl.
  • Hip Adductors and Abductors: These are the muscles of the inner and outer thigh. The inner thighs are called adductors, because they being the leg towards (think add) the midline of the body. The abductors are the outer thigh muscles that bring the leg away from the midline of the body. Most gyms that feature weight-training programs for women feature an abductor/adductor machine. If you gym does not have one, you can use the leg attachments on the pulley machines.

How can a female weight training program reshape my body?

Reshape Your Body with Strength Training for Women

Perhaps the most dramatic changes in a women's body can be brought about by a female strength training program. How does this work? Consider this: Many women think that they have large hips. What they actually have is a narrow shoulder area. In women, the bones of the hips are often significantly larger than the bones of your shoulders. As a result, they are often buying shoulder pads to make the body look more balanced. But what if we told you that you could develop a permanent set of shoulder pads?

By practicing women's weight training exercises such as the lateral raise, the military press and the front deltoid raise, you can re-define your shoulders, which will in turn make your hips look smaller! But let's not stop here! How much money do you spend on Wonder Bras, push-up bras, etc.? Do you realize that by performing exercises such as the bench press and the chest fly, you can create a sexy cleavage, and even make your breasts appear bigger and firmer? But wait! It gets even better.

Would you like a smaller waistline? When you work the muscles of your upper back known as the latissimus dorsi, they create a "V "shape in your torso, which in turn makes your waistline look smaller. The Lat Pulldown Machine is the best exercise for this purpose. While you are at it, since you've already created a cleavage in the front, why not balance it out with a cleavage in the back? Exercises such as the rear deltoid raise will define your upper back, making you look fabulous in low-back dresses and halter tops. Working your upper back will also improve your posture. Guess what? When you stand up straight, your stomach looks flatter!

These are just some of the benefits of a weight training program for women.

What is a good triceps toner that doesn't require weights?

Tone The Triceps

New moves to tone the triceps consistently top the list of requested arm exercises for women. Toning the triceps can be tricky, but the right moves can help you avoid that jiggly arm look and carry kids or groceries with ease.

Try this triceps toner that doesn't even require weights: the One-Arm Triceps Dip.

  • Sit with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Place your hands about a foot behind your butt, with fingers pointing towards your feet.
  • Be sure that your hands are shoulder-width apart.
  • Straighten your arms so your butt is off the floor.
  • Keeping your hands and feet firmly planted, bend your left elbow and lower your butt to about 2 inches from the floor.
  • Press your left arm back to a straight position.
  • Repeat with the right arm; alternate arms for about 60 seconds.
  • Don't rush. Lift and lower with a smooth, controlled motion. Don't jerk or bounce.

Why do women need strength training?

Give Your Bones A Boost

Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but strength training for women is especially important. Studies have shown that working out with weights twice a week improves bone density in women later in adulthood (when they are at risk for osteoporosis) if they strength train consistently over time. You don't need to lift heavy weights, either. Just one to three sets of 10-15 repetitions that feel moderately difficult will make a difference.

Make strength training part of your workout routine and you'll not only build your bones, you'll also reap these benefits:

  • Joint protection. Strength training for women builds up your muscles, which protect the joints from injury.
  • More stamina. Strength training makes you stronger, of course. You'll feel less tired by daily activities.
  • Less fat. Building muscle strength helps your body burn fat more effectively, which can help you control your weight.

What's are some good upper arm exercises?

Strength Training: Upper Body

One of the most commonly asked questions by novice exercisers is "What are the best arm exercises for women?" As you begin to learn more about your body, you will realize that muscle groups work together. So, in considering a workout that focuses on "arm exercises for women," you need to take a holistic approach and work the entire upper body. These are the major muscle groups to focus on:

  • Latissimus dorsi: These are the large muscles of your middle back. When you work them correctly, they give your torso a beautiful "V" shape, which in turn makes the waist appear smaller. Exercises for this area include pull-ups, chin-ups, one arm bent rows, dips on parallel bars, and the lat pull-down machine.
  • Pectorals: The pectorals are the muscles of your chest. Exercises for this area include the chest press and the chest fly.
  • Rhomboids: These are the muscles of the upper back. They are important for any woman who works at her desk. Working these muscles create symmetry in the upper body. Exercises include bent rows and any movement that pulls the shoulder blades together.
  • Deltoids: The deltoids are located at the top of the shoulder. This muscle has three parts: The anterior deltoid is at the front of the shoulder; the medial deltoid is at the middle, and the posterior deltoid is at the rear. The anterior deltoid is worked with front dumbbell raises. Lateral dumbbell raises target the medial deltoid. Rear dumbbell raises, which are performed while seated and bent at the waist, or lying face down on a flat bench) work the posterior deltoid. Warning! Rear deltoid exercises are very challenging! Start with a light weight.
  • Biceps: The biceps are located at the front of your arms. They can be worked by performing bicep curls, either with free weights, or on a bicep curl machine. Important: When working this muscle, make sure to keep your elbows in a stable position.
  • Triceps: When people ask about "arm exercises for women," they are usually talking about the triceps, which are the flabby part of the back of the arm. Exercises include tricep dips and tricep extension

Are there any special details I should know when starting a strength routine?

Training Techniques

There are some basics you should know when starting a new strength training workout. Take heed of these tips especially when starting new back or arm exercises.

  • Make sure your body is in proper alignment.
  • Do not use your back or hips to help you lift weight with your arms. Avoid arching your back.
  • Do not lift too fast. You can lose control and injure yourself or others.
  • Breathe in through your nose out through your mouth. Exhale when exerting force and inhale on recovery.
  • Don't use weights that are too heavy. If you can't manage eight reps, choose a lighter weight.
  • Perform exercises with full range of motion. These will make your muscles stronger, faster.
  • Use progressive resistance instead of jumping from a low weight to a high weight. As a rule increase your weight by five pound increments.

How often should I do strength training?

Weight Train in Intervals

If you are starting a strength training routine for the first time, it is important to remember that you need to allow your muscles to rest and heal after doing any resistance or weight training.

Here is a sample training schedule for a person who does a moderate amount of exercise each week:

  • Monday & Thursday: Upper body strength training. Do three sets of eight repetitions of things like arm exercises and back exercises. When you are done, do 10 minutes of low to medium intensity cardio, such as jogging on the treadmill.
  • Tuesday & Friday: Lower body strength training and abdominals. Do three sets of eight repetitions. Do a 20 minute, moderate intensity cardio workout.
  • Wednesday & Saturday: Do a 30 to 40 minute cardio workout at a high intensity.
  • Sunday: Rest!

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Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.
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