Strength Training 101
You’ve heard it over and over and over again: the best way to burn fat and get that nice, lean, toned body is through a combination of cardio and strength training. Over the years, I’ve seen that we - women, I mean - have no problem embracing the former. We’ll kill ourselves on the treadmill or the stair-climber for hours in the name of getting fit and healthy. But we’re reluctant to embrace the latter. Perhaps it’s because we’re afraid we’ll get bulky (which isn’t true, by the way). Or maybe it’s simply due to the fact that we have no idea where to start! Let’s face it, when you think of weightlifting, the first thing that comes to mind is probably that of a male bodybuilder, à la Arnold Schwarzenegger in the seventies. You probably don’t think of it as a woman’s activity, and when you do think of women lifting weights, you probably think of female bodybuilders - a body type that isn’t necessarily coveted by all women.
It’s time we changed our attitudes regarding strength-training. It doesn’t have to be a daunting part of your workout - in fact, it’s quite easy to incorporate strength-training moves into any workout routine! In this three-part series, I will aim to go over strength-training basics: the different types of strength-training (yes, there is more than one!), what you should know when it comes to reps and intensity, and how much cardio you really need when your diet is on point. Because it’s when you start training with weight that you’ll really start to see results.
So what type of strength-training is out there? There are roughly four types: bodyweight training, dumbbell training, barbell training, and machine training.
Bodyweight training is probably the easiest to start with, if you’re just beginning. It’s an ideal way to get into strength training because it requires little to no equipment, as you’re working against the resistance of your own weight. And because you don’t really need any equipment, you can do it anywhere and at any time: while the kids are down for a nap, in a hotel room, at the park. The downside to this type of strength training, however, is that you’ll need to constantly modify your workouts in order to ensure you are consistently challenging yourself and progressing. Types of moves usually included in bodyweight workouts are lunges and squats, and this beginner workout from Nerd Fitness is the perfect way to see how all those moves come together in a comprehensive routine.
I’m sure you already know what they are, but dumbbells are those little free weights assigned a certain weight amount - you probably own a pair yourself! The good thing about using dumbbells is that their small size makes them less intimidating than, say, a barbell - and progressing with them is easy as well - just pick up the next largest weight as you get stronger! They are also great to help you work on your balance and stability, as they can help point out muscle imbalances quite easily. The downside is that in order to train properly with dumbbells at home, you need quite a bit, and they all need to increase in weight so that you can continue to progress. As you might have guessed, this isn’t cheap. Luckily, any gym worth its salt (even apartment complex gyms) has a collection of dumbbells to accommodate any fitness level. If you’re not sure where to begin, start off with this beginner dumbbell workout from Scooby’s Workshop.
If you’re a bit more fearless, you might want to tackle barbell training. A barbell is a bar with removable weights at the end. It can either be used in conjunction with a rack (something you set the barbell on in between sets) or alone. A big advantage to this type of strength training is that it allows you to increase your weight incrementally (usually ranging from 2-lb increments up to 20-lb increments, depending on the barbell set). It’s also stable, as you are using both hands to grip the bar while you’re working out. Unfortunately, barbell sets can be very expensive - so unless you can afford to dole out that kind of money in order to work out at home, you will need to go to a gym. But working out with a barbell needn’t be complicated; in fact, this beginner barbell workout from Greatist only has five moves. Remember to start out light, and increase your weight as you get stronger. And if you’re unsure of the correct form, ASK! Don’t risk injury because you’re afraid of what someone will think if you ask questions. We’ve all had to start at the beginning.
Machines are pieces of equipment designed to target a specific (or a specific combination of) body part(s). Equipment like a leg press machine or a pec deck machine are good examples. Advantages of working with weight machines include the ability to add on weight as you get stronger, the fact that they allow you to focus on “trouble zones,” and their safety, relative to free weights. However, they can be costly for the at-home gym, and they’re limited in what they can do, which can make it challenging to get a quality full-body workout using just weight machines. The best way to use weight machines is to incorporate them in with free weights in order to achieve a holistic strength training regimen. These workouts from Bodybuilding.com can help you get started.
Do you currently strength-train? If so, what are your favorite moves? If not, what’s holding you back?