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GENERAL STRENGTH TRAINING
Strength Training 101
By Staci on February 28, 2013 162
Strength Training 101
Eat clean and lift heavy.
If there’s one constant thing we say across Nerd Fitness, it’s that if you want to lose weight, gain muscle, or just look better than ever for an upcoming event, the one thing you must absolutely do is eat clean and lift heavy.
But what exactly does that mean? And how do you get started? And why does this work so darn well? We’ve touched on it a few times before, gone over your diet, and shown you some people it’s worked for, but we haven’t really gone into great detail.
Today that changes.
This is the first in a series of articles from NF Team Member Staci, covering all things strength training. Today we’ll be covering the basics before we tackle each movement in more detail.
Note: If you’re new to fitness, this series might be information overload. Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Getting in Shape and the Beginner’s Bodyweight Workout.
Why strength training?
First of all, lets face it: Putting everything else aside, life is EASIER when you’re strong. Carrying groceries? One trip. Children to carry? No problem. Car stuck in the snow? Push it out with ease.
Plus, whether you’re 100 lbs overweight or just need to lose the last 15, strength training is one of the most effective ways to burn fat and build muscle.
Lifting has been shown to halt and even reverse sarcopenia – the reduction of skeletal muscle that occurs as we get older – which helps us stay independent (and out of a nursing home) and live longer.
But in addition to making life easier, strength training has a lot of great benefits right now. Here are just a few:
Look Good Naked: Strength training helps you lose weight (and body fat) in a few different ways. First, it helps you retain the muscle you have while eating a calorie deficit and losing weight.
Second, strength training has a much greater level of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption than aerobic exercise. What does this mean? When you finish a workout, your body needs to do a lot of work to replenish itself in order to bring itself back to a normal state (the way it was before you worked out). This takes a lot of energy, and some studies have shown that it can boost your metabolism for up to 38 hours after you finish your workout.
Not only that, but strength training can help increase your metabolism by speeding up your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). This is because it takes your body more calories to maintain muscle than it does to maintain fat. Estimates are that for every 1 lb of muscle you gain, your RMR goes up 30-50 calories!
Makes You Healthier: If you’re looking for a workout in which you get the biggest bang for your buck, strength training is it. Strength training increases bone density, builds a stronger heart, reduces your resting blood pressure, improves blood flow, halts muscle loss, helps control blood sugar, improves cholesterol levels, and improves your balance and coordination (turning you from this, to this).
You’ll Feel Better: Not only will you find yourself with more energy and confidence, less stress and anxiety, and a better overall mood, but you’ll actually begin to think better (resistance training has been proven to help increase cognitive function). And while training too close to bedtime can be a bad idea, exercising earlier in the day has been proven to help prevent sleep apnea and insomnia. I even improved my posture – when I started lifting, I was 5’4”. Now I’m 5’5.5”.
Prevents disease and degenerative conditions: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women; Strength training helps correct issues relating to cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and inactivity – all factors for heart disease. Cardiologists are even starting to recommend strength training for people who have suffered a heart attack as little as three weeks after the attack. Who knows, maybe one day your cardiologist will tell you to do some “cardio” and he’ll be referring to strength training!
Strength training has also been proven to help manage and improve the quality of life for people with Arthritis, Osteoporosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Down Syndrome, Lymphedema, fibromyalgia, who have recently had a stroke, have had a spinal cord injury, cancer survivors and clinical depression.
In addition to ALL of the above, strength training is fun! Whether you are looking for the most effective 20-30 minute workout (to stay fit and look great naked), or are looking for a competitive sport that you can really get into, strength training can help you meet your goals. It’s easy and fun to see progress as you strength train, almost like leveling up. And if you’re looking to improve in other areas (a sport, traditional cardio, or an activity like rock climbing), strength training is an easy choice!
Ok, ok. Enough already. Is there anyone who SHOULDN’T strength train?
Honestly, I did a lot of research on this one, because I wanted to find a single group of people who should not strength train. I even found studies on how strength training can be beneficial for paraplegics. Not to mention it can be safe for children, adolescents, and pregnant women. Obviously, you should take a break from strength training if you’re injured, and always check with your doctor before you start any sort of strength training program, but it’s natural for us, as humans, to move around and carry things.
Primary objections to strength training
But I’m so old! This can’t be safe!
We hear this from 30 year olds and 60 year olds alike…and, like “I don’t have time,” it is a big fat lie! Even for the frail elderly, studies have shown that drastic results are possible in just 10 weeks of weightlifting (for both men and women in their 70s through their 90s). In fact, weight training has also been shown to delay Alzheimer’s and stave off dementia. So, if you think you might be “too old,” you’re probably the exact type of person that SHOULD be strength training!
But my focus is on (running) (basketball) (quidditch) and I need to stay slim!
Studies have shown that strength training actually increases the endurance of your muscles.
In fact, resistance exercises not only help to tune up an out of shape nervous system and increase the activation of motor units within your muscles, but also helps increase their overall endurance.
If you’re worried about overall size, remember: there are many types of strength training, and size and strength don’t always go hand in hand. We’ll get into more detail on this in a minute.
I don’t want to get bulky
Ladies! The images of “bulky” women that you are conjuring up are from bodybuilding magazines. This is one of the biggest myth surrounding strength training. When I started strength training, I didn’t get bulky, I got lean And I’m no outlier, I’m just one example of the rule: Women who strength train get strong and lean, not bulky. Like Veronica, who got damn strong and certainly lean.
Or Bronwyn, who turned into a powerlifting super mom.
That “bulky” look in women does not happen by mistake or overnight – we simply do not have the hormones necessary to get there on our own. To achieve this look, women have to eat incredible amounts of food and consume incredible amounts of drugs. When we strength train normally, without these supplements, we end up looking like athletes.
We’ll be talking more about strength training for women in a later article, but for now, just remember that everything in this article applies to both men and women.
I’m fat. I need to lose weight first.
Great! Start with strength training 🙂 When you’re overweight, my guess is that you want to be preserving the muscle you have while losing the majority of your weight through fat. With strength training, your overall weight loss may seem slower, but you will lose inches faster. Strength training increases your metabolism; as long as you’re still eating in a deficit, you’ll lose weight.
We’ll be talking more about this later, but for now, just give it a shot! In strength training you can see your progress so clearly that as you can do more and more, you’ll also be rewarded by seeing your strength progress from level 1 to level 50! If you aren’t a fan of the downtime, put on a book on tape or throw on your favorite playlist while circuit training to ensure you’re always moving (instead of sitting and waiting in between sets).
Is that enough for us to convince you? Awesome. Lets get started.
Muscles and strength training
Before we start actually lifting anything, the first thing we need to do is have a basic understanding of how our muscles work.
Our muscles are made up of many smaller muscle cells, more commonly known as muscle fibers. They’re long and cylindrical, and about the size of a single strand of hair. Muscle fibers are comprised of myofibrils surrounded by sarcoplasm. (This is the super short version – if you’re looking for more detail, check out this page.)
We’ve got about 642 skeletal muscles, and they all work together to help our bodies move. For example, when you bend your arm, your bicep contracts and your tricep does the opposite (elongates) in order to let your elbow bend. Every muscle in your body works alongside the other.
We also have different types of fibers within our muscles, which help determine what type of training we respond best to.
The most common fiber types are:
Slow twitch (or Type I fibers) are used for aerobic exercises where we need to convert oxygen into fuel over long periods of time. They are very resistant to fatigue, but do not move very quickly. These help for things such as running long distances.
Fast twitch (or Type II fibers) fire very quickly, but also fatigue quickly, so they don’t last long. It gets a bit more complicated, because there are actually two types of fast twitch fibers. Type IIA fibers have some endurance qualities (used for things such as longer sprints). While Type IIX fibers are our “super fast” fibers, used only when a super short burst is needed (like a 100 m sprint or a really heavy lift).
Every person has a different percentage of fast twitch and slow twitch fibers, which is why some people tend to be naturally better at running distances than sprinting, or better at longer sets than short ones.
What is hypertrophy?
Most people believe that we can increase the amount of muscle fibers we have by weight training. In reality, we’re only born with a specific amount of muscle – by strength training, we don’t actually increase the number of muscle fibers, but we increase the size of them, increasing overall mass. This is called hypertrophy.
Now, there are a few types of hypertrophy. When someone normally just says “hypertrophy” they are most likely referring to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy focuses on increasing the amount of sarcoplasm, the non-contractile fluid found in your muscle. Up to 30% of your muscle’s size is attributed to the sarcoplasm, so focusing on this type of hypertrophy helps build overall size.
Myofibril hypertrophy focuses on strengthening the myofibril, the contractile part of the muscle. In this type of hypertrophy, you are strengthening the actual muscle fiber, so it helps you build super dense, strong muscles.
Transient hypertrophy is the temporary increase in muscle size that happens during and immediately after weight training due to fluid accumulation in the intracellular space, that you probably know as “the pump”.
So in summary, if you want to focus mainly on building super strong dense muscle, you want myofibril hypertrophy. If you only care about your muscles getting bigger, focus on sarcoplasmic. Transient hypertrophy is temporary and will appear alongside with both types.
When you strength train you’re basically doing two things to your muscles:
Breaking down the muscle tissue so that your body will heal and rebuild the muscle back stronger. You see, our body hates being told it can’t do something. When you break down your muscle fiber it comes back stronger; when you try to do that thing again, it will succeed.
As you start to increase the repetition (rep) range, you increase the glycogen storage in the muscle. This is where you get your increased size from.
What does this mean for me?
It means that there’s a lot more to do with strength training than just lifting things. You need to be training differently, depending on your specific goals.
Now I don’t want you to go into information overload and not end up in the gym. So, we’re going to break it down for you here:
NOTE: This chart is from Practical Programming for Strength Training by Rippetoe and Kilgore.
Rep (Repetition) – One movement through a range of motion and back again. One full squat, dropping below parallel and standing back up again is “one rep.”
X Rep Max – The heaviest load you’re able to successfully complete for X reps. So for example, a 1 Rep Max (or 1RM for short) is something so heavy that you can only complete one rep of that weight. A 10RM you can only complete 10 reps of – you would fail on the 11th.
Looking at this chart, if you want strength (myofibrillar hypertrophy), you’re going to want to keep the reps low and the weight heavy.
If you’re looking for size, which you get mainly from sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, you’re going to want to keep the weight lighter and the reps higher.
Now, one thing to understand is that each of these elements are NOT exclusive – when you train in a higher rep range you’re not JUST getting size, you’re also getting strength.
This is why I never understand why girls who don’t want to “get bulky” are told by trainers to do 3 sets of 10-12 (or 5 sets of 1,000 reps of bicep curls with a 1 lb pink dumbbell). While it’s difficult for women to gain any sort of size lifting in ANY rep range, if we were trying to gain muscle size, that’s EXACTLY what we would want to do (as it would be causing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy).
Have you ever heard anyone say that your muscles aren’t built in the gym, but in the kitchen?
That’s because when you’re in the gym, you’re breaking apart the muscle fibers. When you’re out of the gym, you’re healing (and getting stronger). So it’s important to take adequate rest days as a part of your strength program.
The general rule of thumb is to wait 48 hours before working the same muscle group again.
One thing to remember with this is that our muscles work together – so when you’re working on your “chest” you’re probably also working all of the muscles in your shoulders, along with your upper arms.
Recovery is different for everyone depending on many different factors such as what the actual workout is, how old you are, your sleep quality, diet, and other recovery elements (such as massage and stretching).
For a basic strength program, working out 3-4 days a week is plenty. This is one of those situations where more is not necessarily better.
Why Do I Get Sore? What’s DOMS?
DOMS is an acronym for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. It’s soreness that you feel in your muscles that doesn’t show up until a day or two after you work out (hence the ‘delayed onset’). It’s a normal part of the process of repairing your muscles from the damage to the fibers you created while exercising.
Expect to be more sore a few days after doing an exercise for the first time, or after not doing it for a while. As your muscles get used to that movement (and adapt to being put under stress), they will get less and less sore every time.
So, one way to make the soreness go away, at least temporarily, is to continue to exercising. This increases blood flow to the muscles and helps them heal. However, remember that we still need them to heal. So if you’re sore from heavy squats, don’t turn around and do heavy squats again. Try doing squats with no weight or yoga/stretching to help bring the soreness down.
Ok, I get it. Can we start lifting now?
We’ll be going over specific exercises, program design, and everything else you need to know about strength training. If you are eager to start out, I would highly recommend following a written program until you get a better feel for each movement and how your body reacts to them
There are a lot of really great programs out there for newbies. Starting Strength is probably the most well known beginner lifting program and the book is highly recommended. We also have a beginner’s strength guide that can be found here.
Whatever program you choose, make sure:
It’s simple to follow
You have all of the equipment available
It focuses on compound, full body movements
Congratulations, you just made it through the first class of Strength Training 101!
Could Stanford’s Conditioning Program Be the New Face of Fitness for 2014?
Strength and conditioning coach, Shannon Turley, emphasizes flexibility and balance over bulk lifts.
Stephen Walkiewicz | January 2nd, 2013
Could Stanford’s Conditioning Program Be the New Face of Fitness for 2014?
Think of a high-powered collegiate football team hitting the gym and what comes to mind is probably a frenzy of massive weights, grunts, and sweaty red faces of NFL hopefuls. If Stanford’s strength training coach Shannon Turley has his way, that all might change industry-wide in 2014.
In 2006 Stanford went 1-11. This year they finished 11-3. According to a New York Times’ report, since 2007, when Turley joined Stanford as its director of football sports performance, injury-related absences from games have dropped by 87% and this season only a single player had to undergo major surgery for a serious injury. How did this miraculous Cinderella story happen?
5 Ways the World Got Worse in 2013>>>
Much of Stanford’s success can be attributed to Turley’s innovative conditioning program that favors injury prevention and balance and stability over brute strength, or what they call “real-world applicable man strength.” The idea being that the guy who has more control over his body, more mobility and stability, can get lower and overpower a more formidable opponent.
Borrowing techniques from a variety of training styles, from CrossFit to powerlifting, Turley focuses conditioning on joint mobility and overall stability. The Functional Movement Scores (F.M.S.), a durability index that measures the quality of an athlete’s movement, is the pivotal tool that Stanford uses to measure its players’ progress. Success is seen in the development of the agile, stable body, not necessarily in the number of plates added to the bench bar. While weight training is still a crucial part of the program, Turley tells his athletes to focus on technique first, develop symmetry and movement before you amp up the weight. Copious amounts of stretching, calisthenics, plyometrics, and even hot yoga have become staples of off-season conditioning. You’re more likely to run into a Cardinal athlete struggling through planks and lunges than maxing out on squats.
Turley’s approach might seem unconventional, but the bigwigs over at the NFL are paying attention, and even international sports trainers have been rumored to drop in to learn from the man many are quickly beginning to see as a visionary. Whether or not Stanford’s program revamp could signal the new measure of fitness is still up for debate, but for the moment, the team’s stats seem to speak for themselves.
The 7 Top Fitness Trends for 2014
Last week the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal released its worldwide top fitness trends survey for 2014, and I was surprised at the lack of any Hollywood-type exercise fads or celebrity videos on the list; in fact the trends revealed were a refreshing look ahead at not just fitness, but overall health. 2013 was the year of arguing over one mother’s seemingly taunting self-portrait of her toned & fit physique, and hashing out why Kim was worrying so much about losing the baby weight. We even got to see what a hot soccer-wife looks like just 5 days postpartum, thanks to Instagram. The news would have us believe that 2013 fitness goals were very much about working out to look good, instead of working out to be healthy, but despite what grabbed national headlines, according to the journal’s vast survey, people truly are focused on fitness for health and healing. Click through for the top 7 fitness trends for 2014! -By Andrea Howe
Photo by: Andrea Howe
1. Strength Training
Strength training, that is, using some form of weight lifting in your exercise routine to gain strength, isn’t just limited to body builders and pro-athletes. Young and old alike are seeing the benefits and results from weighted strength training, and even many medical professionals are prescribing it as a way to heal and become stronger after ailments and illnesses including cardiovascular disease and arthritis.
High-Intensity Interval Training
Photo by: Andrea Howe
2. High-Intensity Interval Training
This type of workout usually involves short bursts of high-intensity reps of exercise followed by a short period of rest or recovery and routines typically take less than 30 minutes to perform. Because they yield good results in short periods of time, they have grown in popularity. However, high injury rates may be involved, especially with individuals not in the best shape to begin with.
Body Weight Training
Photo by: Andrea Howe
3. Body Weight Training
This form of exercise uses your own body weight as a form of resistance training, and is much more than just push-ups and pull-ups. Body Weight Training uses minimal equipment, which makes it an inexpensive way to exercise effectively, making it a popular choice across the globe.
Educated, Certified, and Experienced Fitness Professionals
Photo by: Andrea Howe
4. Educated, Certified, and Experienced Fitness Professionals
After years of seeing little to zero results from solo gym workouts, many individuals are seeking the help of certified professionals to help guide them into the best shape of their life. This trend has grown in strength because of the vast offering, not just at huge gyms, but at small community centers, colleges and personalized studios, and park bootcamps.
Exercise and Weight Loss Programs That Involve Nutritional and Diet Coaching
Photo by: Andrea Howe
5. Exercise and Weight Loss Programs That Involve Nutritional and Diet Coaching
The days of just dieting your way to skinny are slowly fading out, and taking its place is the very valid notion that only through a healthy combination of both diet and exercise will one lose weight. Not only that, but the two working together is what will help participants actually keep the weight off.
Fitness Programs for Older Adults
Photo by: Andrea Howe
6. Fitness Programs for Older Adults
My mother-in-law, pictured above, has been instructing senior citizens in the art of Tai Chi and Longevity Stick for many years now, and as she nears 80, she continues to be flexible, nimble and strong, serving as an inspiration to hundreds of students each year. These types of programs are predicted to surge in popularity and availability, as educators and medical professionals continue to see the importance of keeping adults active as they age into retirement and beyond.
Children and Exercise for the Treatment/Prevention of Obesity
Photo by: Andrea Howe
Children and Exercise for the Treatment/Prevention of Obesity
Between the continued abundance of overly processed junk food and fast food, and the proliferation of electronic devices and game consoles, today’s kid faces exercise and dietary challenges no other generation has ever been faced with. Programs that foster an excitement and love for exercise will help with the treatment and prevention of childhood obesity, as well as the increasing numbers of children with Type 2 diabetes.
11 Beginner Strength Training Tips for Women Image
I don’t devote many articles to beginner strength trainees, and this is a mistake on my part. To make up for my lack of beginner trainee information, this article is devoted to women who are just starting out strength training or want to get serious about it. (UPDATE — be sure to check out The Women’s Beginner Strength Training Guide to Lift Like a Girl & Look Absolutely Awesome for everything you need to start working out properly and achieve amazing results).
Please note that “beginner strength trainees” can also include those who have worked out with machines or even with free weights. A beginner is someone who hasn’t learned proper technique or trained consistently with a few simple, but basic barbell and bodyweight exercises.
Even if you’ve been going to the gym for years and doing triceps kick-backs, Smith machine lunges, and used many exercise machines, you’re still a beginner. As another example, if you can’t properly perform (or aren’t sure if you’re properly performing) lifts such as squats, deadlifts, push-ups, inverted rows, vertical and horizontal presses, lunges, chin-ups, and other basic compound movements, then this beginner information is for you.
If you’re an experienced female trainee (or a man), I hope you’ll benefit from this article. If nothing else, I ask that you please pass it along to women who could benefit from the information.
Now let’s get into the 11 Beginner Strength Training Tips for Women.
1. Learn Proper Form
This is crucial; you need to devote some time to learning proper exercise form from the very beginning. It’s much easier to learn proper form initially than to develop poor habits and try to break them later.
I highly suggest working with a knowledgeable strength coach or learning from reputable demonstration videos. For this reason I included instructional videos in the Train to be Awesome Guide because it’s important to use proper form if you want to get the best results possible and train safely short- and long-term.
As an example, if you perform a squat improperly by only doing a quarter-squat with the weight primarily on your toes for instance, you will not get the full effects this exercise has to offer, and you risk injury. By learning proper form (squatting to or below parallel, keeping the weight centered on your feet, pushing out your knees, etc) you’ll also work your glutes, hamstrings, and other muscles you wouldn’t have otherwise with the quarter-squat variation, and you’ll also be performing the movement in a much safer manner.
2. Stick to the Basics
If you’re just getting into strength training (or finally getting serious about it) you will be better off sticking with a few exercises for the first few months. Why? Think about it this way – what would be easier for you to memorize in the shortest amount of time: 7 different riddles or 20? Obviously the fewer would be easier and quicker to memorize.
It’s the same with your body when you just start lifting weights. Your body will remember/memorize a few movements much more quickly.
Do yourself a favor and master the technique and improve your strength on a few basic exercises. Some favorites for beginner female strength trainees are as follows:
Squat (or squat variation)
Deadlift (or deadlift variation)
Push-up (or a similar horizontal press)
Inverted row (or a similar horizontal pull)
Overhead press (if mobility allows)
That is a total of 9 exercises. You could simplify that list even more by removing the lunge, glute bridge, and plank and focusing on just 6 exercises.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you need a ton of different exercises to “keep your body guessing”, to “shock your muscles”, or that you must work every muscle individually with isolation exercises. In the beginning you should focus on a few basic compound exercises (primarily barbell and bodyweight exercises), master your form, and get stronger (more on this point in a minute).
3. Use Acceptable Alternatives
You may have mobility issues that don’t allow you to safely and properly perform certain exercises, or you may not have the equipment available to perform the recommended exercises. Either way, you should use appropriate exercise substitutions. In fact, you can find many of my favorite exercises and variations in the free tutorial Train to be Awesome.
For example, I’ve heard numerous women say they can’t perform a barbell back squat because they have bad knees, or for some other reason. The majority of the time these women aren’t properly performing a back squat (see the quarter-squat example mentioned in number one) but this can be corrected by learning proper technique. However, some people genuinely have trouble performing a back squat and think squatting on a Smith machine is a good alternative.
I understand the logic, but a Smith machine squat is not an acceptable alternative to a traditional back squat. Instead a more appropriate substitution would be a goblet squat or a front squat.
As another example, if you don’t have the mobility to deadlift a straight bar off the floor, you shouldn’t dismiss deadlifting all together. You could try trap bar deadlifts, rack pulls, or even single leg deadlift variations.
4. Focus on Getting Stronger
Dang near everyone should focus on getting stronger no matter what their primary goal. It’s especially important for beginners because they need to develop a base level of strength.
Focusing on building strength is the best way for a beginner to get results, and it’s highly motivating and a great way to love your workouts. Beginners make fast initial strength improvements due primarily to neural adaptations. It’s not uncommon for someone to be able to add weight to the bar for weeks in a row when they just start lifting weights. These strength gains aren’t a result of increased muscle, but from the nervous system. Getting stronger week after week is very motivating because you experience positive progress.
Another reason to focus on getting stronger is because beginners lack the necessary strength to make some popular boot-camp or circuit type workouts productive. A beginner is better off keeping the reps fairly low so they can use as much weight as possible. Many boot-camp workouts call for high reps and multiple exercises performed one right after the other with minimal rest.
A beginner with little strength won’t be able to use an appreciable weight for sets of 10 plus reps, and so the impact won’t be nearly as effective as using a heavier weight for sets of 5-8 reps.
As an example, if a woman who can deadlift 95 pounds for 5 reps was to perform a circuit-type workout that called for 12 or more reps, the weight she would use for the high reps would be so low that is wouldn’t elicit a strength response or even challenge her to an appreciable degree.
Here’s a visual to make sense of that scenario:
This would be a more appropriate deadlift workout for a beginner, assuming her work weight is 95 pounds for 5 reps.
95 x 5 x 5 (95 pounds, 5 sets, 5 reps each set)
Total work load: 2,375 pounds (95 pounds x 5 reps = 475 pounds. 475 pounds x 5 sets = 2,375)
Here is the work load if a beginner performed higher rep sets, assuming a work weight of approximately 60 pounds for 12 reps.
60 x 3 x 12 (60 pounds, 3 sets, 12 reps each set)
Total work load: 2,160 pounds (60 pounds x 12 reps = 720 pounds. 720 pounds x 3 sets = 2,160)
That’s a difference of 215 pounds.
The beginner would have a higher work load with the lower rep workout (5×5). In addition, lower rep sets are better for beginners because they are more likely to maintain proper form on each rep. When a beginner performs higher rep sets, their form is more likely to break down as the set goes on because the smaller, weaker muscles fatigue before the larger muscles.
5. Know that You will NOT get “Big ‘n Bulky”
I’m sick and tired of telling women that lifting weights won’t make them “big ‘n bulky”, but it’s necessary because that myth is still thriving. I’ll keep this point short and simple – excess body fat is what makes women appear “bulky”, not having muscle. (Obvious exceptions are women who use anabolic steroids).
Strength training will allow you to build muscle, increase your metabolism, burn body fat, and ultimately help you achieve the lean and “toned” appearance you desire. (Suggested reading — Stop Weighing on the Scale).
Tell you what, if you start strength training per the recommendations in this article and end up all “big ‘n bulky” despite having a healthy level of body fat, give me a call and we’ll meet up so you can scissor kick me to the head. That’s how confident I am you won’t bulk up into a she-man.
6. Be Consistent and Don’t Give Up
We want results, and we wanted them yesterday. Our culture is all about obtaining instant gratification; believe me, I am no different. For example, it has been my goal to achieve a triple bodyweight deadlift for years now. That is a goal I have had for years and still haven’t reached it.
Granted, I have set smaller and more quickly achievable goals along the way, but the point is that you must be consistent and keep working toward your goal, and celebrate the smaller ones you achieve along the way.
Don’t expect to start strength training today and witness results overnight. However, most women who just start strength training notice some changes the first week. They feel better, have more energy, build confidence, and get more motivated to keep training.
Don’t start strength training for one or two months and then stop. Make this a lifetime habit.
Embrace the lift like a girl manifesto and strength training will be an enjoyable, lifetime habit.
7. Set Motivating Goals
The goal of spending an hour on the elliptical machine three to four times per week is not motivating, and it’s one of the reasons why long duration cardio is inferior to strength training when it comes to building a stronger, better looking and healthier body.
Maybe you currently can’t perform 10 push-ups or deadlift more than 100 pounds. Set motivating, performance oriented goals like “perform 15 push-ups” or “deadlift 1.5 times my bodyweight”.
Even if you just want to lose body fat and look better in your clothes, I highly recommend setting performance goals. By setting performance goals – like performing 10 push-ups, 5 chin-ups, deadlifting 1.5x your bodyweight, etc – you will be more motivated to train consistently. It may sound odd, but all of my clients with the primary goal of losing body fat focus solely on getting stronger and improving their performance in the gym.
They have more fun, enjoy training, increase their confidence, and within a short period of time realize their clothes are too big and they love the way they look.
If you want to be motivated to train week after week and month after month, set positive training goals.
8. Don’t be Intimidated
I receive numerous emails from women who ask how I first mustered up the courage to lift weights in a gym filled with men. Personally, I never had this problem, but I’ve helped others who have.
Please, don’t be intimidated to go in the weight room. You don’t have to be squatting double bodyweight or be able to perform 10 chin-ups to deserve to be in there. All that matters is that you do your very best and you get in there consistently.
My advice on this topic? Just suck it up and get in there. Focus on what you’re there to accomplish and nothing else. Before you know it, you’ll feel at home in the weight room.
Reject the degrading fitness-gone-back messages that tell women to be weak – get in there and become more awesome.
9. Follow a Beginner Training Program
If you’re a beginner, you need to train like a beginner – this will be the simplest and quickest way to get results. Don’t make the mistake of following a training program for an intermediate or advanced lifter. While it may sound like a great idea, I can promise that you’ll get far better results by following an appropriate training program.
Because of this fact, I recommend the Beginner Training Program in the Train to be Awesome Guide or another tried and true beginner program, such as Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll achieve faster/better results with some advanced or technical training program.
10. Be Excited!
You hear it from strength coaches and experienced strength training individuals; everyone would like to go back to the beginner stages because that is the time to make the best and fastest progress. Hell, I wish I could be a beginner again and use the knowledge I now possess because my results would’ve been awesome!
As an example, I worked with a male client recently who consistently “worked out” but had never done basic barbell lifts like squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and rows. After only a few short weeks of following a beginner program, he was squatting over 200 pounds and deadlift over 300 for reps.
Maybe you can’t perform a chin-up or squat more than an empty bar, but you will experience tremendous progress in the beginning as long as you follow the information in this article. In just a matter of weeks you’ll be amazed as the progress you achieve.
11) Start Today
Don’t say, “I’ll start tomorrow” or “the New Year”. You need to take action today. What does your first step need to be? Perhaps you should find a local strength coach who can teach you proper exercise technique. Maybe you need to get a great training program. Or perhaps you just need to get in the gym.
Whatever first step you need to take, do it today.
For more beginner strength training information check out this beginner tutorial.