The weight room can be an intimidating place, especially for women. Filled with big, bulky men in vests and sweaty girls in sports bras, a beginner may well see this sight, shake their head and sprint back to the cardio machines. But with this guide in hand, you'll have everything you need to know to feel right at home in the 'gun show'.
Why Should Women Lift Weights?
Studies have shown that moving your muscles against any form of resistance helps to burn fat, increase bone density, increase muscle mass and strength, prevent injury and raise self-esteem. It takes a lot more energy for the body to hold onto muscle than it does to store fat. Building muscle will keep the body burning energy, even when you're not moving!
How Does Weight Training Work?
There are three main types of weight training- bodyweight, machines and free weights. Bodyweight training is perfect for beginners as there's little chance of injury, no equipment is needed and it’s incredibly effective for toning muscles and burning fat. Beginners are often uncomfortable with strength movements; doing bodyweight exercises will help you attune to how your muscles work and build a brain-body connection.
Another way to start strength training is to use the machines available at gyms. The weights used in these machines can be effortlessly adjusted and instructions are often clearly printed for ease of use. Machines can be valuable for beginners as your movements are controlled to prevent injury and heavy weights can be lifted with assistance. However, these movements are rarely functional- the movements prescribed by machines are rarely used in everyday life. Women often prefer to use the machines until they are comfortable in the weight room, and you will certainly gain the benefits of weight training through this method. Once you feel confident, move on to the third strategy.
The main type of weight training is the use of free weights. These are any items that add resistance or weight to your movement, and are not connected to a machine. The most common of these are hand weights (dumbbells) and barbells but kettlebells, resistance bands and medicine balls are also on the list. It is not advised to use heavy free weights until you have a good grounding in the correct technique for bodyweight movements. When you do move on to using free weights, you will find a great variety of exciting combinations and equipment to improve your workout.
Beginners Weight Training for Women
When you start training, it is best to do full-body workouts. This mix of exercises gets your heart pumping for the entire duration of the workout, without completely tiring out particular muscles.
Choose 5-10 exercises and do each one for 10-12 repetitions. Do 2-4 sets of each exercise. You can do all the sets of one movement and then move onto the next, or you can do one set of each movement and repeat the entire circuit. As you get stronger and fitter, increase the weights you use or increase the repetitions for each movement. This will ensure continual positive changes to the body.
Take 5-10 minutes to warm-up at the start of your workout and cool down at the end. Warm-ups prime the muscles and joints for movement, slowly increase the heart rate and are proven to reduce the chance of injury. Use your cool down to stretch and slowly lower the heart rate back to normal. Before you use heavy weights in any exercise, do the movement a few times without weight, or at a light load, to correct any postural errors.
Beginners Weight Training for Women (bodyweight workout)
All these exercises can be found as videos or descriptions online.
Warm-Up (Repeat for 5 minutes):
Swing arms forward 10 times, backwards 10 times; 10 of the following: Jumping Jacks, Squats, lunges, push ups, crunches, mountain climbers
2-3 sets of 10 repetitions for each exercise:
Inverted Pull ups
Bicycle crunches (20)
Plank (hold for 30 seconds)
Stretch your hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps, chest, triceps and back
Let's do this!
Now that you know how weight training works, why you do it and how to put it into practice, it’s time for you to tackle the weight room. Don't be intimidated, you have to start somewhere. Those scary looking people will often be really happy to help if you don't know what a machine does or where to find your equipment. Most importantly, by taking this step towards improving your health, you might well be inspiring other ladies to venture forth with you. Take it slow, have fun and enjoying reaping the incredible benefits of lifting heavy!