If you read my last article you know that women should absolutely include strength training in their fitness regime. Now we need to talk about the dos and don’ts.
In fitness we use the ‘F.I.T.T.’ formula for designing programs: Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type.
Strength training should be performed two to three times per week for new exercisers, and not on two consecutive days as your muscles need at least 48 hours to recover from their workout. Advanced programs can be more often as long as the same rule is applied.
Exercises are completed in groups called sets. Each set consists of a number of movements or repetitions. A female strength training program typically will be one to three sets of ten to 15 repetitions. Intensity is dictated by the amount of fatigue felt during the final few repetitions of each set. Don’t mistake fatigue for pain. You should definitely not feel any sharp pain at any time during your exercises. Fatigue is a feeling of not being able to complete many more repetitions with good form. If you feel like you could continue forever you need to increase your weight. Bear in mind that over time you will become stronger and you will need to adjust your weight accordingly.
Repetitions of exercises need to be completed with control and not momentum or swinging. Try counting two seconds up and two seconds down. You should breathe out on the hard part of the exercise (i.e. breathe out as you perform the up phase of a biceps curl). If you are completing more than one set of your exercises, you should rest 45 seconds to one minute between sets. A beginner strength training program should take between 45 minutes and one hour to complete.
Strength exercises do not necessarily need to be machines in a fitness facility. Some other examples are: balls, tubing, dumbbells, BOSU’s, and even just your body (as in push ups or squats)! The trick is to perform a balanced program that addresses all the major muscle groups and that the exercises are challenging enough to cause fatigue. Don’t perform exercises that you aren’t sure of or that are too advanced for your fitness or experience level. If in doubt ask for assistance. Machines are generally safest as they hold the body in a set position and isolate the muscle group being worked. Free weights such as dumbbells and barbells require more control and core strength. You can try incorporating a few free weight exercises gradually over several weeks/months for variety and challenge.
If you would like ideas of different free weight exercises try a group fitness class such as a ‘sculpt’ where a fitness instructor will take you through a full body workout. It’s a great way to get ideas for your own workout and it can really be fun in a group for motivation and support.
Remember to always warm up prior to strength training. Just hop on any piece of cardio equipment for a minimum of five minutes. When you finish your workout, cool down and stretch all the muscle groups that you worked. Hold your stretches for 20 to 30 seconds each. That might seem like a long time but it can be a great time to reflect on your workout and truly relax – enjoy it!
As with all fitness programs, always talk to your doctor prior to beginning.