Exercise Best Exercises for Women: Muscle & Strength

Did anyone say muscle tone?

Best Exercises for Women: Muscle & Strength

Oh yes, we all ate that extra slice of pie this Holiday Season. So what?!

We were indulging with family and friends and that was a week ago. But now we are watching Netflix over our non-existent six-packs, not the kind you buy at the store, but the ones you promised yourself you’d find this year. I too, am mulling over how I had this great new year’s resolution to eat better and be more consistent with my workouts.

Where did this 2016 go and why didn’t that happen?

But It’s already February and you haven’t started yet? You are feeling like you might have missed that window… is it too late to start now? No! Winter or not, if you’re in Florida like me. There is no perfect time to start. Even your sweaters will look better with a layer of muscle-tone. Wait Amy, who said anything about “muscle tone”, I just want to lose weight. Guess what gorgeous, building muscle raises your metabolism and you will shed that fat.

When most of us hear muscle tone, we think of fitness models and athletes.

That makes it seem impossible to have toned bodies of our own. Muscle tone is for everyone and that means you too. “Oh no, not me. I’m a girl, chick, lady, woman. Seriously? I’m not wanting to look manly over here.” I totally get it! You want to achieve that toned firm appearance, but you don’t want your muscles to “get too big or look bulky”. Hey, me neither girlfriend. I’m not looking to start dragging my knuckles around the gym floor and flexing my pecs in the mirror. Muscle burns fat by boosting your metabolism and that’s a good thing cause those pies are not going to burn themselves. The great news is that lifting weights means those pies will burn off. How? Read on.

Resistance training to build muscle is the most productive form of exercise

Resistance training to build muscle is the most productive form of exercise because it takes the least amount of physical time in the gym while still garnering the most amount of benefits for your body. What do you need to get started? Well, you’ve gotta get past the idea that building muscle makes you look bulky. It won’t do that. What will it do? Bodybuilding will strengthen your bones and improve your overall strength, increase your fitness endurance, boosts your metabolism, helps control body fat, improves posture, slows the effects of aging, increases resistance to injury, improves your skin and makes you look firm and sexy. You will have more time this holiday season if you get off the elliptical machine and commit to a bodybuilding weight resistance program. Plus, I think you’re going to love your strong sexy curves.

There are different types of weightlifting for achieving differing results. I’m recommending heavy weight and 10 or less reps at 3-5 sets. Unfortunately, a lot of fitness classes are in the high-rep low weight category. Lifting lighter weights for a high number of repetitions builds muscle endurance, not strength. It gives you very limited improvement in muscle tone, if any at all. Endurance training is not what you need to get visibly firm muscles because you need to increase muscle strength to develop muscle tone. Endurance training is great, and after you’ve built some muscle tone, it can be a great way to switch up your routine and improve your cardiovascular conditioning. The thing is, it’s more time consuming than body-building. If you are lifting the heaviest weight you can, you’ll be doing less reps and spending less time at the gym and still be getting the best results.

Your fears of getting big and bulky are without substance

I’ve been a personal trainer for 6 years and even I remember thinking that a program that had more reps and less weight was best. I thought that’s what girls had to do to keep from looking manly. I kept at this type of workout for myself spending more than an hour each day lifting weights thinking it would give me a toned body, but it never did. I can tell you that the same ideas about muscle and training still exist and there isn’t a lady I train that doesn’t tell me that they want toned muscles but they worry that they will get big and bulky lifting weights. Let’s just get right down to it: your fears of getting big and bulky are without substance. You are female. You have way too much estrogen to look like a man. “Big and bulky” isn’t going to happen unless you have some really unusual genetics or you are taking steroids. Even with extreme discipline and a very specific diet, it is difficult for a woman to build “fitness model” muscle mass and then maintain it. We are seeking definition and firm smooth legs, not a she-Arnold type of look. What you’re currently doing isn’t working, right? Then it’s time to switch it up.

When you’re first starting out, it is more important to be sure that you have proper technique and movement, rather than loading up the weights and finding out the hard way that you don’t know what you’re doing. That said, there are exercises that require a decent amount of weight to create the proper tension in the muscles. If you can do thirty reps in one set, you need to increase the amount of weight or you’ll be cheating yourself and wasting your time. When you’re still learning the technique, you should use a weight so that when you finish each set, you feel as though you could still do another two to three reps. As you get comfortable and your form improves, you should be able to lift until failure. Failure is when you are literally unable to do any more reps with proper form. Never compromise form for weight. Don’t finish those last four reps in a set using bad form. If you’re exhausted and using bad form, you will hurt yourself. If you can complete all three sets of the exercises and all reps without failure, it is time to increase the weight. When choosing the right weight, a good rule of thumb is to choose a weight you can only lift 8-10 times. If during a set of 10 you can’t lift it the full 10 reps that’s okay. Choose a different body part each day: back, legs, chest, arms, and then focus on that area. Do 3-4 sets of each exercise with 30 seconds to a minute rest in between. For chest day, we are talking 30 minutes in the weight room. Not bad at all!

What if you can’t stop visualizing yourself with man-arms? Let me give you some science because I want you to know that it simply won’t happen. Testosterone is the hormone responsible for muscle growth. Women typically average between 15 to 70 nanograms per deciliter of testosterone in their blood. Men on the other hand average, 300 to 1,000 ng/dL of testosterone in their blood (reference for blood testosterone levels). Increasing muscle strength does increase muscle size, there’s no doubt about it, but even with a massive testosterone advantage it takes most men a very dedicated gym lifestyle, large amounts of time and a ton of food to acquire the noticeable levels of muscle mass that so many ladies are afraid of developing. If the men are having trouble gaining that big bulky look, then women will never need to worry about it.

Lifting heavier weights for fewer repetitions will increase your muscle size, but the increase will happen slowly and the gains will be very small. In fact, just being a woman and having lower testosterone levels is ideal for developing the type of muscle tone that you are looking for. It allows you to gradually put on small amounts of muscle until you have that toned appearance. Once you reach the toned look you desire, you can modify your strength-training program to maintain the small amount of muscle mass that you have gained. There is absolutely no need to fear that you will turn into a huge muscly monster. The increase in size happens so slowly that you will be able to halt progress at any size you are happy with. So, you’ve taken it as far as you like? Perfect! That’s a good time to do your endurance training or try that barre class you’ve been wanting to take.

You’re still not convinced that this new way of working out is for you? I recommend you just try it anyways. Look at yourself in the mirror every day to monitor your muscle tone and size. The worst thing that can happen is that your fears come true, and you are the one woman on the planet that gets huge muscles after a couple of strength building workouts. If this does happen (it won’t), then all you’ll need to do is stop lifting weights. You will lose all of your size gains in a very short period of time and your muscles will return to their original size unless, of course, you also happen to be the only person on the planet that does not experience loss of training adaptations after cessation of training. Anyway, you get the point: just try it, you’ll be happy with the results.

Muscle on your body will make a big difference visually

If you want to gain muscle, lose body fat, and maintain a tight, sexy body, the weight room is for you. Muscle on your body will make a big difference visually, in both how firm you feel and how young and healthy you look. I know that you want to feel better and look better, who doesn’t? If you are lacking motivation, or feeling inadequate in the weight room, hire a personal trainer to work with you. If it’s the meathead guys giving you the “you don’t belong here look” you could bring a scary guy friend, a workout buddy, your big brother, or a co-worker. Just do it ladies, put on your headphones, get in your zone, and focus on yourself in the mirror. This is your time and you’re worth it.

The benefits of weight training outweigh the insecurities of the weight-room. You’ve got this! And just think about how good you will look this summer in that sexy dress! Hot!

Amy Chisholm
NASM Certified Personal Trainer

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