Girl's guide to strength training

A girl’s guide to strength training

Posted on Posted in Training Guides

This story was originally published on body + soul

So you think you can lift? That’s awesome – strength training is one of the best things you can do for your body, health and confidence. Here are five things every lady should know before picking up a barbell. 

1. Always begin with the right warm-up

Going straight into the meat of your workout cold is an excellent way of injuring yourself. So it’s really important to grease the wheels by warming up properly. That means you get going in the same movement patterns you’ll be doing in your session.

For example, if you’ll be squatting, start with bodyweight squats. Do a few sets, gradually adding more weight until you’ve reached your working weight. It’s helpful to do a few minutes of cardio, too. It just gets things pumping a little more. By the end of your warm-up, you want to be at 6/10 in terms of how stuffed you are.

2. Get ready to hurt – in a good way

If the closest you’ve ever come to strength training is the odd set of dumbbell exercises, then your body may be in for a shock a few days after your first session. When you challenge your muscles in new ways, they’re going to let you know about it. This is called DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness). It sucks, but it’s a good thing. It comes and goes over your strength-training career, but your first time is always the worst! DOMS is generally considered ‘good’ pain and in a sick way you’ll grow to enjoy it.

Beware bad pain: sharp, stabbing sensations; anything that comes on suddenly during a workout; or pain that continues after you’ve stopped the exercise. Rule of thumb: burning sensation = good, pain = bad.

3. Learn the lingo

Training is loads more than just working up a sweat. There are so many styles of training and key terms you need to know. Here are the most common:

• Circuit training: a number of exercises (usually 4-5) performed quickly with little or no rest in-between. Rest at the end and repeat several more times.

• Super-setting: two exercises (usually weighted) done without rest in-between. Each exercise can use different muscle groups or the same to really fatigue them;

• Hypertrophy: this word means ‘muscle building’;

• Intervals: a short burst of really hard work, followed by a rest period. For example 20:10 means 20 seconds of hard-out work, then a 10-second rest;

• Reps and sets: reps is the number of times you perform the exercise, sets is the number of cycles you do of them. Eg: ‘3 x 12 push-ups’ means you do 12 push-ups, rest, then do that twice more;

• Compound and isolated: compound exercises work multiple joints and muscles at once, while isolated exercises work one.

4. Choose the right exercises

What exercises are best and why is one of the biggest challenges when you first start training. It will depend on your goals, injuries, starting strength, posture and schedule. The obvious answer is to hire a personal trainer – our job is to do the maths and science-y stuff for you.

If that’s not your bag, as a general rule, you want to do compound moves like squats, lunges, deadlifts, chin-ups, overhead press, seated rows, lat pulldown and push-ups. There are lots of different variations of each move, but start with the basics and nail them with perfect technique first.

If you’ve chosen the right weight you should be struggling to get through the last 1-2 reps of each set.

5. Practise good gym etiquette

There are a set of rules and unspoken conventions that keep the harmony in every gym. Ignore them and suffer death stares from fellow members and trainers.

• Put your weights away when you’re finished;

• Always bring a towel and use it when you’re sitting on equipment;

• Double-check you haven’t left sweat behind when you go;

• Sharing is caring: let other people jump in for a set while you’re resting;

• If there’s a towel and/or water bottle on equipment, that means someone is using it;

• Be respectful others by checking you haven’t set up too close to them or spread yourself out so much that they don’t have room to train;

• Don’t sit on equipment texting or talking on the phone.

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