Weight training is one of the best ways for women to improve bone density, balance and coordination. It also helps reduce weight, lower resting blood pressure, increase metabolism, improve self-esteem and, most importantly, improve the overall quality of daily life. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- CDC, adding strength training to your fitness routine can decrease the risk of developing arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, back pain, depression, and obesity.
It is a misconception that women will bulk up from weight training. Women generally lack sufficient amounts of the male hormone testosterone, which is responsible for muscle growth and building. Douglas Brooks, a leading expert in strength training, says that genetics also play a large part in determining your body type and shape. Genetics can determine how much muscle you have and the type of muscle fibers that make up the majority of your musculature. Therefore, it greatly influences the results you will get from your training program. Results will vary from person to person, so keep the focus on your own personal gains and do not compare yourself to those around you. Additionally, strength training cannot spot reduce fat from an area of your body. Cardiovascular training, in conjunction with weight training and nutritional and diet changes, is the only way to reduce weight and fat.
Designing a Program
Creating a program that will fit your needs is easier than you think as long as you adhere to a few training principles. First, select exercises that are effective and safe for you. Exercises should improve muscle function and at the same time not require you to move in unintended ways that will place too much stress on your musculoskeletal system. Be especially mindful of areas that are chronically or acutely injured. It is best to focus on selecting one or two exercises for each major muscle group: the chest, back, legs and core.
The easiest way to get started is by using the circuit weight machines at your local gym. A complete circuit will have at least one or two machines per major muscle group. Most gyms at the very least will have a chest press, back row, leg press, lat pull down, shoulder press, low back extension and abdominal machines. These machines simplify the process of performing the movement correctly and will give you the opportunity to learn how an exercise should feel before moving onto the more difficult dumbbell or free weight exercises. Most machines will have directions on them informing you how to set up the machine for you to use. If you remain unsure, consult with a fitness specialist or personal trainer at the facility.
The next step is to determine the number of repetitions and sets that you should perform to help you achieve your goals. The "Women's Health Big Book of Exercises" says to optimize fat loss you should do between 8 and 15 repetitions for one to three sets. For general health and endurance Douglas Brooks recommends between 12 and 25 repetitions for one to three sets. The goal with any type of program that you choose to do is to keep the muscles under tension while performing the movement. Aim for each repetition to take at least 4 to 7 seconds to maximize the amount of muscle tissue recruited during the movement. Complete between one and three sets.
Choosing the Weight
Once you have determined the type of training program you are going to do, muscle building or general health and endurance, you can then select the proper weight to do the exercises. A simple rule to remember: Higher repetitions require the use of a lighter weight; for fewer repetitions, use a heavier weight. Make sure that you select the heaviest weight that allows you to complete your repetitions, while still maintaining proper form. The best way to figure out the right amount of weight is through experimentation. If you can complete all your repetitions without struggling to get the last repetition, then the weight you are using is too light. If you have to change your body posture or alter the motion, then the weight is too heavy.
The warm-up and recovery periods are essential to any exercise routine. Always do at least 5 to 10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise prior to doing any weight training. Weight training should be done between one and three times a week with 48 hours of rest between lifting days. Also, make sure that you either take a rest break between sets, or move on to other exercises and return to do your final sets, otherwise known as circuit training.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity and Health
- Effective Strength Training: Analysis and Technique for Upper-Body and Lower-Body, and Trunk Exercises; Douglas Brooks
- The Women's Health Big Book of Exercises; Adam Campbell