If you’re like most people, you know strength training is good for you. You see the results others have achieved. You’ve probably even tried it in the past. But let’s face it, short of pumping out a few bicep curls, starting a strength training routine can be intimidating and confusing. Walk onto any weight floor in the gym and it seems everyone there has a plan and knows what they’re doing but you! Of course, the truth is that everyone had to start as a beginner at one time. That’s why we created this beginner strength training guide.
You’re about to embark on one of the best decisions you’ve ever made for your body: strength training. So let’s get started!
- How Does Strength Training Work?
- Benefits of Weight Training for Women
- How to Get Started
- Strength Training for Women FAQs
- Strength Training Glossary
- Safety Tips For Strength Training Workouts
- How to Take Your Strength Training to the Next Level
How Does Strength Training Work?
When you stress your muscles during a strength training workout, your muscles micro-tear and therefore need to rebuild themselves. As the repair in the muscles micro-tears takes place, the tissue layers itself growing stronger than it was before.
This process lasts for 72 hours following a challenging weight training session. This is why we don’t recommend strength training on back-to-back days unless you work different body parts on consecutive days of the week.
It is during the rest time that your muscles repair themselves and grow stronger. A key part of this repair includes good nutrition.
Make sure after you strength train that you take in the proper amount of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fat so as not to starve your muscle.
Benefits Of Weight Training for Women
Strength training is more than just getting firm and tight! The health benefits of weights for women include a revved-up metabolism and curves right where you want them!
According to the Mayo Clinic, strength training can help you reduce body fat, increase lean muscle mass and burn calories more efficiently.
But the benefits go further! Strength training also:
- Builds muscle
- Speeds up metabolism
- Improves posture
- Increases bone density
- Decreases the risk of injury
- Decreases body fat
- Improves confidence and self-efficacy
- Improves quality of life
- Improves body mechanics including coordination, posture, flexibility and balance
Now, just in case that didn’t convince you to get going, we’re diving into our favorite reasons why strength training is SO important. Remember: it’s never too late to start!
Boosts Your Metabolism
It’s cruel but true – as you age, your metabolism begins to slow down. One great way to revive it is by weight training. Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is how many calories your body burns at rest; the more muscle you have on your body, the higher that metabolic rate is.
Essentially, the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism works. Let that sink in: more muscle means a faster metabolism. A revved-up metabolism is literally what keeps you slim and helps you lose weight!
Improves Your Athletic Performance
The stronger you are, the better your athletic performance will be across the board, whether on the tennis court, in a 5k, or on the ski slopes.
Strength training is one form of exercise that can help improve any other form of exercise you do. Particularly if you’re a runner, training your lower body with plyometrics and bodyweight training can help you run faster. If you play tennis, a stronger upper body will help you achieve a more powerful swing.
Incorporating a resistance training program into your weekly routine will make you more powerful in all your other workouts. How cool is that?
The stronger your muscles are, the less likely you’ll be to get injured during everyday tasks or workouts. How? Strong muscles protect your bones and joints when they’re in motion and make your ligaments better at absorbing the shock they endure during dynamic movements. To avoid random strains and sprains, incorporate weekly strength training into your routine.
Injury prevention is important, especially as you age—and it’s an often-overlooked benefit of building muscle.
Gives You A Toned Appearance
It’s a myth that weight training will make you bulk up. It will, however, help you achieve that coveted toned appearance everyone wants.
People throw around the word “toned” a lot, but what do we really mean when we say that? We mean long, lean muscles with a nice, sculpted appearance.
You achieve all of this through strength. Cardio workouts help burn calories and get your heart pumping, which is critical for your overall heart health and weight management.
But as that fat starts to melt off, you also need to strength train if you want any toned definition.
Boosts Balance and Coordination
Regular strengthening workouts improve your balance and coordination, which helps you do just about everything, from yoga and dance to daily tasks.
The concept of functional fitness is one that applies to strength work in particular—it’s the notion that you need to maintain the ability to simply do simple things and move in different ranges of motion.
Bending, lifting, balancing—all of these movements are actually very important as you age. If you can strength train, it will help you stay more coordinated and capable throughout the years.
Amazing, right? Strength training also reduces your risk of diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, back pain and depression. In short, strength training is for anyone who is looking to optimize his or her health and gain strength.
Men and women alike should be strength training. People of all ages—including and especially those over 50—should do it too!
Related: Strength Training for Women Over 50
How To Get Started
Lift the Right Amount of Weight
When you initially start it off with around 12-15 reps per set. Go for a weight that is strong enough to challenge you but not so stiff that you’re losing the form.
You should feel challenged at the end of your sets, but the goal isn’t to raise your heart rate as you would during a cardio or HIIT session.
Think of strength movements like you’re sculpting your muscles. Tune into the mind-body connection.
Nail Down Your Form
For strength workouts, it’s so important to master the form. It’s a good idea to lean on a trainer to help. The good news is you can find great guided workout routines online for this without the hefty trainer pricetag.
It’s also a great practice to start using the mirrors in the gym (or your home mirror) to watch your form. Don’t forget to give yourself body positive affirmations!
Schedule Regular Workouts But Don’t Overdo It
Doing too much too quickly is a common mistake in early weight training, especially for women. Women are wired to push hard and try to overachieve.
We are also used to the endorphin rush of cardio, so resistance training may feel like it’s not doing much right away.
Wait until a few days later. Your muscles will let you know! The soreness of weight training workouts sets in and you’ll know you pushed your muscles.
Types of Strength Training Workout Equipment
Strength training goes way beyond barbells and dumbbells, though those still stay at the top of the list as the most popular weight training tools for building muscle.
The great news is there are many more options to choose from if weights aren’t your thing. Bands, balls, sandbags—strength training is like a gym class when you were a kid except for way more fun!
And there likely is more than one way for you to accomplish your goals. Mix it up and use weights one day and something else the next time. Let’s take a look at what some of your options are and the benefits of using each.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but these are some of the most common.
Barbells and Dumbbells
These are the standard, have been around since the beginning, and they will remain a staple for building muscle. Why? Because they work!
Usually, when you think strength training, you think weights.
Benefits of Barbells and Dumbbells
- You can vary your weights to large degrees from 5-pound dumbbells to loading up for more than 100 pounds on a barbell.
- This means they are for all levels.
- You can pursue very small and big goals.
- You can easily track your progress no matter how small the weight increases!
Adjustable vs. Fixed Dumbbells
There are two different types of dumbbells. The traditional dumbbells that you are used to seeing in a gym or in a fitness video might come to mind or adjustable dumbbells that are made to change up the same set of weights as needed for use at home.
So what is best for you? Here are some things to consider:
Adjustable dumbbells and weights are versatile and take up less space in your home because you are virtually using just one pair of dumbbells for everything. With interchangeable weights, you simply click a lever or pull a pin, and your dumbbell changes from 10 pounds to 15 just like that.
Think of a barbell and how you add plates on and off the end in order to adjust. This is the same concept only in a smaller form! Cool, right? Of course, it will cost you.
When you go to purchase adjustable weights there are several manufacturers to choose from. Do some pre-shopping online to check them out.
Both of these brands of adjustable dumbbells range from 5 pounds all the up to 90 pounds. Yup! You heard it! One pair and you can pretty much do it all!
Fixed weights on the other hand, are the more traditional option and a staple in a trainer’s collection of goodies. If you don’t mind having several pair taking up space at home, these regular dumbbells are a cheaper option and allow you to purchase only what you need as you need it.
In addition, you can lay out several options at the beginning of a workout and more quickly switch between weight levels during your dumbbell chest workout than you are able to with adjustable dumbbells.
As you start your collection, you may start out with a set of 5 lb. and 8 lb. weights and in a few months you purchase another 10 lb. pair.
Most of the traditional dumbbells, including the most popular brand SPRI, cost anywhere from $9-15 per pair.
If you go with the traditional dumbbell, you can choose soft, coated weights or metal and rubber, round-shaped ends or hexagon.
Rubber-coated weights are nice for the grip, especially as your hands get sweaty. They are softer to the touch and your hands are less likely to slip when wet. In addition, the softness makes it better for things you do in a plank position such as renegade rows where the metal center can be irritating or even painful to your palms.
On the other hand, rubber-coated weights usually have round ends making them move around more in a plank position.
Traditional hexagon metal and rubber weights may be easier for some to grip in the center because although they are a harder surface they are a small circumference making it easier for small hands to hold and better for those who might have arthritis.
It’s based purely on personal preference so try them both before you decide.
Try this Workout
Resistance bands come in various thicknesses and colors helping you to decide which level suits you and the exercise you are choosing.
They are made to be pulled and stretched to create resistance in your muscles and make you stronger.
Benefits of Resistance Bands
- Light and portable, you can take these and work out pretty much anywhere!
- The bands are also fairly inexpensive and allow you to move in different motions than you can with weights. Can lift somthing heavy over your head?
- The band allows you to strengthen without lifting.
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These usually yellow straps that come in pairs and hang down allow you to use your own bodyweight to do amazing things! Put your feet in the straps or put your hands in the straps, it all depends on what you are doing.
Benefits of Suspension Trainers
- You can can get a full body workout, using your own body weight, and do everything from very beginner moves to exercises that will challenge a navy SEAL. (After all, it was a SEAL who invented them!)
Try This Workout
Stability balls can be used alone for a great body weight workout, or combined with dumbbells or bands for more variety and challenge. These large balls were designed to enhance your balance. You sit on them, roll forward on them, or squat with them. These definitely make for a full body workout.
Benefits of the Stability Ball
- The Stability Ball teaches your body stability and balance.
- The ball can make moves more intense or be used to assist something and make it easier.
Stability Ball Tip: Put it against the wall and lean back on the ball help with your squats, or lay face down on top, walk forward until only your feet are on the ball and you’ve got a super tough push up with balance training to boot.
Try This Workout
So which one should you use?
Think of strength training equipment as a playground, there is a ton of equipment that you can play with until you’ve found your match! Don’t limit yourself to one thing.
Get Healthy U has tons of workouts posted for free with all kinds of different training styles, and if you want a little guidance and help, Get Healthy U TV is the way to go!
These machines found in most fitness facilities are designed to mimic the moves you do with weights, but with a bit more control from the device. If you want to use these you would certainly need to belong to a gym.
You may have heard machines criticized by some trainers because they don’t allow you to get the authentic training you get from free weights.
But there are many benefits to strength machines! They have a place in the world of weight training.
Benefits of Strength Machines
- Machines are a great choice for people who are new to strength training.
- Strength machines are excellent for those working out alone, lifting a lot of weight without a spotter.
- Machines are ideal for older adults who fear injury, deal with sciatica, hip bursitis, or want to avoid mishap that can occur more easily from free weights.
Strength Training for Women FAQs
How Often Should I Strength Train?
Strength train at least three times a week for best results. Ultimately you can strength train every day if you really like it.
The key is to get the proper rest for each individual muscle group in between. For instance, do your legs and chest one day and your back and arms the next day.
You need 48 hours of rest for any body part you train. Most people, however, like to get everything done in one session, so three total-body strength sessions per week is the best answer.
Can Strength Training Help With Aging?
Resistance training can reduce the risk of degenerative diseases and the overall quality of life. As we age, both our strength and metabolism decrease. That’s why it’s so important to stress your body through exercise so it can grow stronger.
Plus, the more muscle you gain, the more calories you burn at rest! In addition, strength training builds bone mass as we age.
Miriam Nelson, the author of Strong Women Stay Young, says, “Most people don’t realize that osteoporosis and thinning bones are preventable. And, the good news is that no matter what the condition of your bones, there are things you can do to make them stronger and help reverse the condition.”
Strength training is one of these things. She goes on to say, “Our research shows that a program of strength training not only improves bone density but reduces falls, improves arthritis symptoms, and increases flexibility and strength.”
No matter your strength levels or age, it’s never too late to start strength training and improving your life today.
Will Strength Training Make Me Bulky?
Unfortunately, there’s a common myth out there that strength training will make you “bulky.”
The notion that weight training makes you big and bulky like a bodybuilder is absolutely false. In order to get very large muscles, you would need to combine hours of weight lifting with lots of extra calories and a high amount of testosterone.
For the average woman, lifting weights just helps to create stronger muscles and better body composition.
In fact, if you combine it with a healthy eating plan, lifting weights will do just the opposite.
Consider the fact that a pound of muscle and a pound of fat might weigh the same—one pound—but a pound of muscle takes up much less space.
Strength Training Glossary
Weight training doesn’t have to be complicated, but to get you started, here are a few common phrases you might hear around the gym to help you start training with confidence.
The number of a certain exercise you perform within a given set.
The rounds you perform of those repetitions for each exercise. For example, 3 x 12 squats would mean you perform 3 sets of 12 squats.
The amount of demand placed on the body during exercise, whether that be from externally added weight or bodyweight.
The amount of rest taken place between each set. The heavier the load, the more rest is needed.
The effort was performed during each exercise. Intensity can be measured by increases in heart rate, a percentage based on a one-repetition maximum, or the ability to talk during exercise.
The greater the intensity, the less likely you are able to talk comfortably.
The upper body in weight training refers to the muscles typically above the waist like the biceps, triceps, chest, and back muscles.
Many strength training routines focus on upper body muscles in one day and lower body muscles in subsequent days of the training schedule.
This refers to the muscles typically below the waist like the glute muscles, hamstrings, quads, and calf muscles.
Tempo in weight training is simply the rhythm you lift your weights.
1:1 tempo means you lift and lower your weight up and down the same amount of time up and the same amount of time down. 2:1 means you lift your weight for twice as long as you lower your weight.
Safety Tips For Strength Training Workouts
Always Warm Up
Warming up is essential for your body before any type of workout, especially weight training.
Your body needs to get the blood flowing to the working muscles gradually so that when you begin your actual workout, your body can produce the most force possible to complete each exercise.
You may start a warm-up on a piece of cardio equipment for five minutes, then perform another 2-5 minutes of dynamic movement like walking lunges, bodyweight squats, high knees, butt kicks, and arm circles.
Start With Bodyweight Movement
Start your workout with a movement that will easily engage your muscles first.
Do something for 8-12 repetitions, making sure the last 1-2 reps are tough to complete but don’t compensate your form. (Some examples of compensating form are over-arching of the low back, chin tucked in, and chest collapsing in instead of facing upright.)
Complete 2-4 sets x 8-12 repetitions of each exercise dependent upon your current fitness level.
You will most likely need to either start with your bodyweight or be lightweight so you can master proper form before increasing weight.
A general rule of thumb is to increase the weight by 5 percent once you find you can do 10-12 reps with little effort and maintaining proper form.
Move through each movement with a controlled range of motion. Focus on the main muscles you are working on rather than just mindlessly moving through the movement.
Allow Time for a Cool Down
Cooling down is important because it will gradually decrease your heart rate.
Stretching, yoga, foam rolling, and even a light walk are great ways to cool down.
Related: Foam Rolling 101
How to Take Your Strength Training to the Next Level
Alright, now that you know the basics, you have some workouts to try, so how do you advance your progress to keep it going?
There are multiple ways you can get yourself set up with a strength workout. Let’s take a look at a few options.
Hire a trainer!
This is a great way to get personal instruction for how to use the weights as well other equipment and set up a strength training program that fits you as an individual. Many trainers provide you not only with a great workout plan but eating and nutrition advice as well.
Of course, the cost might be prohibitive to you, so read on.
Group Strength Classes
Fitness centers, community classes, and other places offer group fitness classes so you can work out with others as well as be instructed by a professional.
This gives you extra motivation and lots of help. Not wild about working out in public? Keep reading!
Get Healthy U to the rescue! We have tons of workouts as well as a whole strength training exercise library for you and it’s all absolutely free!
Our Get Healthy U workouts include weights, bodyweight, bands, and almost anything else available in the workout world! Want even more full-length workouts?
Get Healthy U TV trainers will teach you everything you need to know and work out right along with you. To get started with one of our free workouts, check out a few of our favorite 10-minute strength workouts below to get started!
Free 10-Minute Strength Training Workouts
- Free 10-Minute Kettlebell Workout
- Free 10-Minute Butt & Back Workout
- Free 10-Minute Arms & Abs Workout