With all kinds of exercise and fitness programs offered, finding a weightlifting plan can take time. Hence, more women are turning to their gyms or shopping online for how to get started or customize their current routine. HIIT classes, aerobic workouts, spin classes, yoga, and weightlifting, can all leave your head spinning from too many options.
Weightlifting, while historically for men, is a way for women to tone and shape their physique. And, if you’re thinking about lifting weights, you might have concerns about getting bulky or looking like a powerlifter. However, you can put that to rest! There are all kinds of lifting programs with moderate reps to help you strength train without making profound changes to your body (and you won’t end up looking like the Hulk). But, others might be green with envy at your new and/or improved physique and all those muscles! Flex for the paparazzi, ladies!
Let’s take a look at strength workouts that can give you aesthetically pleasing results. That way you can enhance your physique whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or an advanced lifter.
The Best Strength Training Exercises
When building strength, there are a few key exercises that can help improve your form. These are compound movements that work several muscle groups at once to build more muscle mass.
The exercises below are included in most strength training programs. Hence, you can consistently get stronger over time with these workouts.
Lower Body Workouts
- Barbell back squat
- Barbell deadlifts
- Dumbbell lunges
- Good mornings
- Split squat variations
Upper Body (Pushing Horizontally)
- Barbell bench presses
- Dumbbell bench presses
- Incline bench presses
Upper Body (Pulling Horizontally)
- Barbell bent-over rows
- Cable seated rows
- Single-arm dumbbell rows
Upper Body (Pressing Vertically)
- Dumbbell shoulder press
- Handstand push-ups or timed handstands
- Military press
Upper Body (Pulling Vertically)
- Chin-up variations
- Lat pull-down variations
- Pull-up variations
Core Abdominal Exercises
- Ab rollers
- Hanging leg raises
To help reach your weight lifting and body toning goals, you need foods that burn fat. A diet rich in lean proteins and healthy fats can reduce your heart disease risks.
Bodybuilding food essentials include:
- Fruit, vegetables and beans
- Fresh fruit, citrus fruit, berries, vegetables that are fibrous and green, most beans.
- Canola, olive and coconut, along with seeds and nuts
- Whole eggs, egg whites, protein powder, turkey, chicken, fish and Greek yogurt.
- Oats, cereal, wraps, brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, yams, bread and whole-wheat pasta.
- Protein Shakes and Smoothies
Another way to get more nutrition with your workouts is with protein shakes. Shakes are often used by bodybuilders to reduce food cravings and target fat loss. Talk to your doctor or trainer about adding protein supplements to your diet.
Protein shakes can aid in the development of new muscles and help you to lose weight. They’re also great at revving up your metabolism and help you maintain your muscle mass. Whether it’s before or after your workout, protein shakes can give you a satiated sensation (you’ll feel fuller longer) and speed up your recovery time.
Examples are Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein, ISO100® Hydrolyzed 100% Whey Protein Isolate, Pro JYM Protein Powder and Signature 100% Whey Protein Powder.
Made from different types of protein powder, the powdered substance can include:
- Pea, collagen or soy, vegan protein, casein, or whey (isolate, concentrate or hydrolyzed).
- Animal or plant-based and when mixed with water, milk or other liquids, can create a yummy smoothie (or one that tastes like chalk, depending on the brand).
- A powder that’s added to oatmeal, cereal and other foods.
Understanding Weightlifting Intensity and 1RM
Ideally when some people train, they might have a “more reps and more volume are best” mindset. However, without intensity, the added volume won’t make your body more powerful.
To determine your intensity, use this one-rep max (1RM) calculator. Basically, if you’re doing 8 reps, the last 1-2 should be a challenge. Meaning you need to set your weight where the lifting is doable but gives you some resistance.
For example, if you do eight and feel like you could do 20, you need to add more weight. The opposite end of the spectrum is also true. If you can’t do a few reps, then decrease the weight. By changing the intensity, as you reach those last few reps in each set, your muscles will be challenged and you can become leaner and fitter, faster.
Supportive Weightlifting Belts
For heavy lifting, a quality weight belt is recommended to support your back.
- APEX Genuine Leather Lifting Belt
- Competition Power Lifting Belt
- Leather Adjustable Buckle Belt
- Muscle Beach Genuine Leather Weightlifting Belt
Consider Your Weight-Training Goals
As you build more muscles, at some point you’re going to hit a wall where you need to either add more weight or increase your repetitions. It’s also a time to map out changes with a trainer on how to progress as you build mass and size and improve your endurance.
Below are some factors to consider.
Improved Muscle Stamina/Strength
To increase your strength, perform low rep sets. This is where you lift weights that are near your one rep max (1RM), or the most you can do while maintaining the correct form.
As an example, consider a weightlifter who spends more time in the gym but takes more rest breaks. They might be able to push out 2-6 sets at lower or fewer reps but lift weights that are 85%+ their IRM. Hence, they might take 2-5 minute breaks between each set.
However, let’s say they can actually lift 7 sets total. That means they need to increase their weight. When you’re ready to find your 1RM, talk to a certified trainer who can help.
Increased Muscular Endurance
With consistent workouts, your muscle endurance will change. It’s when your muscles can continually lift weights and perform without getting fatigued. To help accomplish this, lower your weights but increase the number of reps and don’t rest as often between each set.
In this example, you will perform 2-6 sets of six (or fewer) repetitions but at the 85% of your 1RM or higher. Then add 2-5 minute breaks between your sets.
Increased Muscular Mass/Size
To build bigger muscles (hypertrophy), you need to increase your sets to heavier weights. The goal is doing as many reps as you can with the correct form. Once your form is incorrect or misaligned, that’s your threshold or stopping point.
For example, lift for 3-6 sets total and do 6-12 reps with each set. Do it at 67-85% of your 1RM and allow for up to 90-seconds of rest between each set. By the time you reach the heavier weights, your muscles will require more rest. If you can reach 12 reps and still have the proper technique, then choose heavier weights and drop down to 6 reps.
Factor in that as you change your weights, reps, sets and rest periods, make other adjustments. If you’re lifting at 85% of your 1RM, do smaller sets and lower reps with more rest. However, if you’re doing 67% of your 1RM, that means you will increase your reps, sets and weights but take shorter breaks.
A great way to get started is to consult with a physician and then meet with a trainer. Work on creating a custom strength training program that you can do day-to-day. And remember, it’s not a sprint but a marathon.
Train for a healthier lifestyle over the years. The older you get, the more muscle mass you lose. Hence, pumping iron can keep you from becoming flabby and flappy (under arms, thighs, back).
Your trainer will start with your current bodyweight and help you work on the correct technique/form with each exercise. With each workout you will stretch before and after, plan specific loads and rest or stop when your body gets tired or if you feel pain.
As you progress over the weeks and months, add more weight or reps and revisit your initial goals. Are you going to continue to stay at your new weight based on your updated measurements? Are you going to maintain this plan for life? Are you going to start competing? Talk to your trainer.
Ideally, aim for 3-4 times a week as this will give your body time to recover (gain more muscle mass, decrease the fat).
Generally speaking, if you workout for a year, you’re considered a beginner, while 1-2 years is intermediate. For those that have been in the gym lifting for 2 years or longer, they’re considered advanced. However, it depends on if you’re consistently lifting and gaining more power.
For powerlifting, some trainers suggest that you’re at the beginner stage until you hit specific goals. These might include an overhead press of 135-lbs, a bench press of 225-pounds, squats of 315-lbs and deadlifts of 405-lbs. Again, strength standards will vary based on your starting weight and lifting goals.
Depending on your workouts, some trainers suggest that you can expect to see results in 6-8 weeks. It can be sooner if you work with a trainer and have a targeted program that includes weight loss, dietary changes and cardio. Keep in mind that with resistance training, you will likely gain weight first as you start to build muscle, so take your measurements to track your body’s progress. You should start seeing results in as little as four weeks.
Weight training sessions generally range from 15-45 minutes, or longer. That’s a typical workout range unless you’re training for competition, in which case, some athletes stay in the gym for a few or several hours to target different muscle groups.
Found this article helpful? Great, then be sure to check out Strengthen the Lower BodyI