The do’s and don’ts of strength training for women
Why is there no female equivalent for the insult comeback ‘Do you even lift, bro?’ It’s not because there are too few women out there lifting weights. You only have to spend two minutes on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to see some of the most awesome physiques on the planet show strength training for women.
Is it because a woman wouldn’t normally question the legitimacy of another’s training expertise or routine?
Whatever the reason, you should never fear that as a woman being strong is the same as being manly.
If you need advice on how to get started, this list of do’s and don’ts for weight training might just kick off an awesome future for you.
DO’s for strength training for women
Train the big lifts
You may initially feel uncomfortable doing deadlifts, squats, chin-ups and bench presses. But trust me, the benefits you will feel in a couple of months will justify any embarrassment while you learn the movement patterns. Organize your workouts around these lifts.
Do one first up in each of your session and follow these up with some accessory/assistance exercises.
Resist the urge to pick up the pink weights. You’ll work harder carrying your groceries than using these. Choose a weight that lets you do 1 to 5 repetitions if strength is your goal; 6 to 12 if you’re aiming for hypertrophy; and 12 or more if you’re aiming for endurance.
Use free weights before machines
A good strategy is to only use machines when there’s something specific you need to do, or the training room is just too full to get access to what you need when you need it.
The reason to choose free weights (that is, barbells or dumbbells) is because you’ll use a better range of motion (ie, yours, rather than what the machine decides); you’ll train your small muscles; and you’ll get to work on your grip strength, which is sometimes what stops women lifting heavy – they just can’t grip the bar.
Use a slow tempo
When you go slow you increase the amount of time your muscles are under tension. This means you’re working harder and for longer to get the best benefits. When you go slow you can also be sure you’re using your muscles to move the weight, rather than momentum and gravity.
There’s nothing worse than the head bobbing that goes on with some people when they’re trying to bicep curl too much – makes them look like chickens and is working their necks, not their biceps.
Keep the cardio
But make it short intervals. You’ll keep your muscle mass, maintain your metabolic rate, and burn more calories.
Fix your nutrition
There is no need for pills, potions and quick fixes. You need the right food for fuel and repair. Get enough protein and fat. Eat carbohydrates after a workout to replenish your glycogen levels and reduce cortisol levels.
And always be sure to stay hydrated. If you’re training hard, you’re going to sweat, and you’re going to need water. Drink.
DON’Ts for strength training for women
Skip warm up
Warming up is a must. Starting your training session cold might cause you injury and stop you getting the benefits you deserve.
When you warm up for 5 to 10 minutes you’ll be pumping nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood to your muscles by speeding up your heart rate and breathing. Add a set selection of dynamic stretching and you’re good to go.
Use poor form
Poor technique will get you injured. Getting injured will stop you training, Not training will prevent you from being awesome. Ergo, use perfect form – always.
Stress your shoulders
Women have less stable shoulders than men. There’s nothing you can do about this except manage your training routine to account for this. You can do this by ensuring joint mobility, flexibility and stability.
Neglect opposing muscle groups
Good muscle balance will ensure injuries are prevented. And all your muscle groups have an opposing group performing the opposite movement.
For example, your biceps and triceps; quadriceps and hamstrings; abdominals and back. While one muscle group is contracting, the opposing muscle is lengthening. Be sure to train them all for balance. It’s not just about the muscles you see in the mirror.
Do too much too soon
While some delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) will be telling you you’re building muscle, you don’t really want to be in so much pain that you need help putting on underwear because your glutes and quads are screaming.
Keep the same program forever
The great news is that if you’re just starting out on your training career you can keep your program for some time before you need to change it up.
For more than 6 weeks your body will be getting accustomed to new movement patterns, getting your brain to recruit the right muscle fibers and neuromuscular coordination. Don’t be in a rush to move on to your next training phase.
More experienced lifters should change programs as soon as your muscles adapt to your style of training. It can take 6 to 8 weeks before you notice you’re in a plateau. This is the time to change it up.
As a woman, when you lift weights you:
- burn more energy.
- perform daily activities better and easier.
- fend off osteoporosis.
- get a better hormone profile to change your body composition and metabolic impact more dramatically.
Get to it – you have greatness in you.
Perseverance and consistency in training will make this possible for you.