When walking into a gym, you may notice that the fittest gym-goers are usually not using the cardio machines. Contrary to popular belief, strength training plays a more essential role than cardio does when it comes to getting in great shape. However, with so many different pieces of equipment available at the gym, it can seem confusing, intimidating, and frankly, uncomfortable to make strength training a fitness priority.
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As a female trainer, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “Will lifting weights make me bulky?” At the same time, the goal among most off these clients is to become “lean and toned.”
Also Read: The 5 Best Body Weight Workouts
My response to this age-old question is always, “No, lifting weights will not make you ‘bulky.'” Instead, bad nutrition is in fact to blame for undesirable extra weight. When it comes to getting leaner, you cannot achieve muscle tone and definition without first having muscle — and a great way to build those muscles is by lifting weights.
So here are my top strength training tips for beginners.
Before The Gym
Know your limitations, and work within your capacity.
Diving in head first can be a great way to get motivated about fitness, and total commitment will definitely pay off. However, and perhaps more importantly, understanding your body’s limits and not pushing yourself into an injury is key to a sustainable and consistent fitness routine. Work hard, and rest well.
Take the time to make it work.
Create a schedule that is realistic. Your body will respond to consistency, so block off the time in your week to make strength training a priority. Plan to work out for 45 minutes to one hour, two to three times a week.
At The Gym
Get started with a proper warm up
Warming up is important to prevent and mitigate injury. This is where cardio comes in. Make it specific, and spend at least 10 minutes to get your blood pumping and muscles ready to work. A great warm up could include three to five minutes of skipping, rowing or running to get your heart rate up, then shift your focus on mobilizing and stabilizing whatever you are working on that day. If you have a lower body workout planned and know that your hips are tight from sitting all day, spend the time to stretch, but keep things moving rather than staying static. If instability in your ankles is your concern, focus on balance exercises to teach your body and brain proper movement patterns.
Related: Strength Training For Runners
The 6 Best Strength Exercises For Beginners
Own the basics and nail proper patterns before adding weight for a well-rounded and safe start to getting stronger.
Trainer Tips: If regular push-ups are too tough, try an elevated push-up using a bench for your hands. Switching up the angle will take some of the load off and will be less overwhelming. Keep your core tight throughout, keep open shoulders and don’t shrug your shoulders up to your ears as you are pushing up from the ground.
Seated Cable Row
Trainer Tips: Keep a neutral grip with your palms facing each other inwards to keep your shoulders in a healthy and open position. Pull towards your chest with relaxed and open shoulders and finish the movement by squeezing your shoulder blades together then return to starting position.
Trainer Tips: Starting with your feet shoulder distance apart and toes slightly pointing out, sit into your squat and make sure both knees are pointing over the middle of your foot and are not collapsing inward. Chest and eyes are up, and back is straight. As you stand up squeeze your glutes to finish the movement. As this starts to feel and look good, add weight with a dumbbell held in front of your chest for a Goblet Squat.
Trainer Tips: With slightly bent knees and a straight back throughout, hinge at your hip to slowly send your butt backwards until you feel a stretch through your hamstrings then squeeze your glutes to return to standing position. Keep your core engaged throughout the whole movement and keep your eyes up. To add weight, try using a kettlebell between your feet and hinge (not squat) to pick it up.
Trainer Tips: Step forward with one foot and drop your back knee to a hover just above the ground. Keep your core engaged and chest up as you lower your knee. Next, check your front knee to make sure it is tracking over the middle of your foot and not collapsing inward. Push through the whole of your front foot to stand.
Trainer Tips: Start on your stomach on the ground and plant your toes into the ground. Next, plant your forearms on the ground with your elbows just below and palms flat on the ground. Engage from the bottom up, starting with your feet, then calves, then quadriceps, then glutes, then core, then shoulders. Keep your eyes looking at your fingertips to keep a neutral spine, if your start to feel pressure through your low back tilt your pelvis or squeeze your glutes and engage your core.
Keep your repetitions high
Proper movement patterns and a lot of repetition, with little or no weight is much better than loading too much and losing form. Gradually add the weight as you progress. Your body and brain will respond to what it’s most accustomed to doing, so it’s very important to reinforce perfect movement patterns. Try 12 to 15 reps for three sets of each of the above exercises.
Bring a friend, or make a new one!
Working out with a friend is a great way to stay on track towards your fitness goals. With a partner, you keep each other accountable and have each other’s backs. If no one is able to join you, taking a class is another great way to meet like-minded people and receive instruction.
Have you ever met someone in the best shape of their life, with a workout routine consisting of just 40 minutes on the elliptical followed by one hundred sit ups? Probably not (I sure haven’t!), so train smart, think strong and stick to it!