Strength training can improve life for everyone, regardless of age, sex or ability. Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or expert, strength training is a key ingredient for improving your physical health and ability. Becoming stronger can not only make you proud of your body and what it can do, it can help you feel braver and more confident in an uncertain world full of increased anxiety and stress.
Lifting weights and increasing body strength has been shown to improve fitness, strengthen bones and joints, improve hormonal balance, increase metabolism, and burn fat. Yet time and again lifting is seen as a predominantly male exercise, and why should it be?
Women deserve to thrive in the weight room just as much as men because strength is not a singularly male trait. Women deserve all the health, fitness and longevity benefits of strength training as well.
So, whether you’re a woman just wanting to hold her own in the gym, or a beginner who’s always had an interest in weights, or you’ve simply hit a plateau and want to break through to the next level, our simple checklist can help you achieve whatever goal you’ve set for yourself.
First, start with your fitness regime.
Whilst beginning bodybuilders should do more strength work with heavier weights to build a strength base, advanced bodybuilders can afford to use less weight (relatively) as they can tolerate more volume, are better at sustaining tension in the muscle and can isolate more. However, sometimes all your sets really need are a bit of a mix n’ match.
Changing up your sets and adding in a mixture of compound and isolation exercises has been found to break through plateaus and kickstart strength gain. Here are some of the essential exercises to consider either adding into your routine, or increasing your reps of:
1. The Goblet Squat
Easily one of the most important exercises you will ever do. A squat with the correct form stimulates adequate range-of-motion of your ankles, knees and hips and increases solid lower-body strength. If you are a beginner, start by keeping your range-of-motion small.
For the correct form, always ensure that your feet are shoulder width apart, with toes slightly pointed out. Stand tall and engage your stomach, then begin the movement by starting to sit back as if into a chair. Push your knees out, go as low as you can with no pain and a good neutral spine position, then come up slowly and squeeze your glutes once you are standing tall.
2. Inverted Rows
Rows are a vital exercise and work to keep your shoulders healthy whilst defining and improving your upper-back strength. There are varying types of row, including barbell and dumbbell rows, but inverted rows have a benefit over other traditional rowing exercises by incorporating your entire body and building core strength.
For your form, just like with the squat: Stand tall in a tight, straight line from your head to your heels with your arms straight by your sides. Begin by pulling your shoulder blades towards each other, and then pull yourself up, finishing with arms in line with your body. Lower yourself to the starting position and repeat.
3. Anti-rotation Presses
The anti-rotation press works a typically tough to tone area of your lateral obliques. By pressing the band away from you, your lateral obliques need to work two-fold in order to prevent your entire body from rotating. Great for core strength and balance.
With the anti-rotation press, start with your feet shoulder width apart. Ensure your cable handle or resistance band is level with your chest and your fingers are interlocked. Engage your abs. Press the handle or band out in front until your arms extend straight. Hold for an exhale. Once you feel your abs tighten, return slowly to your starting position.
Secondly, refine your diet.
Experts recommend that for a woman focusing on building muscle alongside a heavy resistance workout regime, her total daily protein intake should be at least 117 grams of protein based on average, a 140-pound woman. Putting it more simply than that, you should try to eat meals that contain 25 grams of complete protein regularly throughout the day and eat protein foods rich in leucine following any strength training workout.
However, whilst the debate between carbs versus protein has raged on for many decades, experts also believe that you should take in adequate daily calories, with the goal of ideally achieving a positive caloric balance that can contain carbs. Whole-food carbohydrate sources are recommended to replenish muscle glycogen and prevent protein breakdown.
So what could those look like?
For good, lean sources of protein try to incorporate foods such as these into your diet:
- Lean meats (Beef, chicken, turkey)
- Fish (Tuna, pilchard, mackerel)
- Milk (0% fat, or skimmed, contains more protein than other variations)
- Greek Yogurt (Look especially for Skyr brands)
- Nuts (Cashew, Pistachio and Walnuts are especially high)
- Eggs (Large)
And for good, whole-food carbohydrates incorporate:
- Fresh vegetables (Broccoli, spinach, potatoes)
- Brown rice
- Yogurts (Ideally low-fat to focus on protein and carb macros)
To complement both your protein and carbohydrates, you will of course need to balance with fat. Whilst fat is misunderstood, it is trans fat that you should stay away from in your diet. Healthy fats are macronutrients that your body needs to function correctly. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) such as omega-3 and omega-6 cushion vital organs, absorb fat-soluble vitamins and maintain optimum brain cognition and development.
Healthy fats can be found in foods such as:
- Extra Virgin Olive oil
- Dark Chocolate
- Chia Seeds
- Coconut oil
- Grass Fed butter or Ghee
Ensure you’re including a mixture of all three of these macronutrients to keep your body best fuelled both before and after your workouts!
Finally, invest in equipment.
In the current COVID-19 crisis, your local gym may not be operating or may be operating at a reduced capacity preventing you from entering, or, perhaps they’re running online sessions. But that does not mean your strength training has to stop! Instead, consider investing in key pieces of equipment from marketplaces online and using these at weights that you are comfortable with as you start your strength journey!
Our key recommendations are:
Dumbbell exercises create inter and intramuscular coordination, leading to greater levels of muscle activation which in turn coordinates a number of different muscles to work together and stabilise joint motion. Dumbbell exercises work your chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps, glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings. Talk about full body!
Kettlebell exercises are fantastic for total body conditioning. They improve core strength, stability and coordination, while working to stabilise balance and body awareness. Kettlebell exercises can also increase your range of motion, both in mobility and flexibility, and because they’re a weight will of course build, tone and definite lean muscle.
- Resistance bands.
Effective resistance bands are used either in place of or to complement resistance training involving heavy weights. They come in a variety of different pre-set tensions, or, resistance levels so that beginners especially can start at a resistance they’re comfortable with. Resistance band benefits are so effective because they can help to focus your control, stabilise and work your muscles, and improve your flexibility and joint mobility.
For any woman wanting to get stronger – you can do it! Utilise this quick guide and make sure you are ticking as many boxes as possible, then get practicing! With displicine, time and practice your dream results will come.