Strength and Weight Training for Women

Women doing a plank

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Even though this article is written to target women, the strength and weight training exercises mentioned here can be also applied to men.

Should weight lifting replace cardio workouts?

The simple answer to this question is NO! The two types of exercise should be done in combination, as this will give you the most effective workout and will burn the greatest amount of fat. Cardio alone will lead to the loss of muscle mass, but if you focus purely on strength training, there are many benefits that you will not see.

Cardio exercise raises your heart rate and gets blood flowing around the body much more efficiently, working the muscle tissue in your heart. Overall, this will have the long-term effect of reducing your blood pressure, and therefore reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and many more “lifestyle conditions”, as they are now known.

The most effective way to achieve a lean, healthy figure with toned muscles rather than flab is to use a combination of weight training and cardio exercise. If you and a gym instructor have devised a program for you to follow, that’s great, but not everyone has the time to get to the gym several days a week.

Consider an Exercise Class

You may want to consider an exercise class instead of using the gym equipment. The most effective type of class would be one that combines weights and cardio. This is something you should consider because it will be a professionally designed routine, intended to have the maximum effect, so you will see results more quickly than you otherwise would.

As the class will be led by a trained instructor, they will be able to ensure that your technique is correct. Classes also provide extra motivation to work hard at your fitness, which can frequently be a problem when you are working out alone.

Interval training is one of the best ways to tone your body. Start with a class that incorporates interval training, and then you will be able to do something similar on your own.  This technique of training involves a brief period of high intensity exercise, followed by a longer, low intensity recovery period.

For example, running as fast as you can for up to one minute, followed by a few minutes of jogging at a slower pace, and then repeating, would be a cardio form of interval training. If weights are incorporated, then the high intensity time would probably involve lifting them as quickly as you can, for either a brief period of time or a set number of reps. Start with a low weight and build up as your strength increases.

Strength training exercises to get you started

If you are looking to do some strength training at home, then you will need to buy a set of dumbbells first. Choose some that are reasonably light, but be aware that as your strength increases, you will need to replace these.

Training with ones that are too light will not have the effect you are looking for. These are some ideas for simple exercises that you can do at home, whenever you have a few minutes available.

  • Chest press
    Ideally, you should be lying on a bench for this, with your feet flat on the floor.  However, if you don’t have a suitable bench, you can simply lie on the floor instead, knees bent and feet flat. Hold a weight in each hand, level with your chest.  Reach upwards with both arms, extending them towards the ceiling until they are straight, then lower back down. Do ten reps, then rest and repeat.
  • Step ups
    Stand facing a bench or step (the first step on a flight of stairs will be absolutely fine for this), one weight in each hand, raised to shoulder height. Put one foot on the step and push your body up. This will cause your other leg to lift off the floor.  Hold for a count of three, then lower back down and repeat with the other leg.  Do between ten and fifteen reps on each leg.
  • Forward lunges
    With one weight in each hand, stand straight with your hands at your sides and your feet hip width apart. Step forward with your right leg and lower your body down, while lifting your right hand. Hold for a count of three, then return to the start and repeat for the left side. Do ten on each side.
  • The final exercise is taken from Pilates, and is the Plank. You may think that this is not really weight training, but it does help to improve the strength of your core muscles, which are a group that will often be neglected. Start on your elbows and knees, then straighten your legs so that your weight is supported on your elbows and the balls of your feet.
    Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Make sure you do not arch upwards or sag downwards. As a beginner, you may not be able to hold this position for longer than thirty seconds, but as your core muscles and the abdominal region become stronger, try to maintain it for up to a minute at a time. Then rest, and repeat up to five times, if you can.

There are many other simple weight and strength training exercises that you can try, but start with these, and you will soon see an improvement when you are performing them regularly, at least three times a week.

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