Toned arms, sculpted legs, a stronger core—what woman doesn't want to feel and look good in the body she's got? The list of benefits of strength training for women is long, and research confirms again and again that women who maintain a consistent, moderate strength-training program are reaping the rewards. Apart from the aesthetic benefits, women need to start taking strength training seriously for the physiological changes that can occur, including:
- Increased resting metabolic rate. For every pound of muscle gained, you'll burn 35 to 50 more calories daily. For example, if you gain 3 pounds of muscle, that equates to an average of 120 extra calories burned per day.
- Reduced risk of osteoporosis. Research has found that strength training can increase spinal bone density by 13 percent in six months.
- Improved mental health. A Harvard study found that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than standard counseling.
There are many group fitness classes, at-home workout DVDs and videos that stream online that can provide you with a strength-training program. However, while these environments are within our comfort zone and convenient, they may not provide the necessary overload the body needs to increase strength and build muscle.
So, let’s get out of the comfort zone and explore this space called the “weight room.” Weight machines, dumbbells, racks, cables, benches, stability balls—all that equipment can be overwhelming if you have never used them before. It’s unfortunate, but plenty of people feel intimidated by the fitness floor space—a huge room, mysterious machines and what appears to be everyone knowing how to use the equipment, except you. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are eight helpful tips for navigating the weight room and reaping the benefits of strength training.
Tips for a Successful Strength Training Session
- Wear your favorite outfit. This might sound somewhat superficial, but when you look good, you feel good, and this small step can help boost your self-esteem and feel confident on the fitness floor. Get ready to work out—it's as easy as putting on your favorite yoga pants, that bright-colored tank top or your sparkle headband.
- Free training. When you join a gym, your membership often includes a free personal-training session. You may feel the pressure of an aggressive sales person or personal trainer to purchase additional training sessions, but don't let this stop you from taking advantage of a certified professional giving you valuable exercise information. Use this session as a live tutorial on how to use the cardio equipment (treadmills, elliptical, bike) and the plate-loaded and cable-pulley strength-training machines.
- Circuit to work it. One of the easiest ways to acclimate yourself in the weight room is to start using the plate-loaded machines. These machines are usually in a formation (rows or circle), with approximately one to two machines for each major muscle group. Each machine will have brief instructions that include a picture, exercise name, muscle group being worked and any adjustments (seat, handlebars) that can be made. Choose eight to 12 machines, perform one set of 12 to 15 reps on each machine, and repeat the circuit one more time. Move quickly from machine to machine and you'll have this workout done in 30 to 40 minutes.
- Small segments. Tackle each part of the weight room one day at a time, 20 to 30 minutes at a time. You don't need to master every machine, sit on every bench and pull on every cable on the first day. Instead, try working out your upper body with the dumbbells on one day, and then performing legs and core exercises on the Smith machine and benches on another.
- Have a plan/journal. Prepare yourself by having a plan that includes exercises to be performed, how many reps and sets, and the amount of weight to be lifted. Document your plan in some kind of journal, binder or phone app. Keeping track of your workout session helps you to utilize your time wisely and see your plan in action.
- Small-group training. This is such a great way to start working out. Enrolling in a group-training program has many benefits, including the camaraderie of breaking a sweat alongside other likeminded people. After all, it's comforting to know that you are with people who share the same interest. It's also a safe and inviting environment to slowly introduce you to the weight room.
- Hire a personal trainer. Without question, one of the best ways to learn new exercises, stay accountable and train for a specific goal is to hire a personal trainer. Determine how many sessions you want to commit to and be specific in your goals for each of your sessions. A trainer can provide you with instructions on proper form, technique and appropriate exercises, and help integrate you into the weight room one session at a time.
- Educational videos. Videos can be a great tool for learning new exercises. You can also browse the free exercise library for movements that target specific areas of the body, and then put these exercises to work in the weight room.
You're ready! You've got the tools, tips and insider information to venture with confidence into the weight room. I'll be wearing my favorite black capris, my pink tank top, and my sparkly sequenced headband and writing in my Wonder Woman workout journal. See you at the cable-crossover machine.