It's one of the easiest ways to build muscle and get toned - and no, you won't get bulky
Strength training for women has often been sidelined in favour of Body Pump classes, running and Joe Wicks YouTube workouts.
But no longer. The age-old myth that women shouldn’t lift weights is now thankfully long gone. Experts have finally been able to make the scientifically-proven facts about how beneficial strength training is mainstream. Not only does it improve your muscle definition, but boost your cardiovascular health and protects your bones, ligaments, tendons and more, too.
Basically, strength training is key for living strong, healthy and pain-free. A whole roster of famous celebrities swear by strength training, including Khloe Kardashian, Megan Fox and Emma Stone.
“The myth of weight lifting being solely for men is a thing of the past,” explains Kate Maxey, strength and conditioning master trainer at London-based gym Third Space. “The rise in strength training for women in recent years has been huge. Just look at the #StrongNotSkinny movement – women are now more focussed on achieving strong and athletic bodies, and training in a way that makes them feel their best,” she explains.
Feeling inspired and like it might be time to mix up your training a little? We’ve got a complete guide to why strength training is so good for you. Dumbbells at the ready.
Your complete guide to strength training
What is strength training?
Sure, if you’ve never strength trained before, it can feel a little overwhelming. What actually is strength training? What does the term mean? And where do you start with strength training if you’ve never done it before?
Strength training, in its simplest form, is any workout designed to improve your strength. Running improves your cardiovascular fitness. Strength training, on the other hand, improves your overall strength.
It can take many forms, but most commonly comes in the form of weighted compound moves like, deadlifts, glute bridges, squats and lunges. Not got any weights at home? You can do bodyweight or resistance band strength sessions, too, but you’ll really reap the benefits if you strength train with weights.
“You can use any weighted equipment, like dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells, or, once gyms are open again, resistance weight machines, to build muscle and improve your strength,” explains personal trainer Lillie Bleasdale of PASSA.
Will strength training make me bulky?
Ah, that age old question. Worried you might get too muscle-y? That’s a common misconception about strength training for women, and actually quite a harmful myth that’s held may women back over the years.
There is no scientific evidence to show that it will. Rather, the current research shows that strength training will increase your bone strength, improve your joint function, reduce your risk of injury, increase your metabolism, and increase your muscle mass.
“Lifting weights can be one of the most effective ways to reduce body fat and increase muscle mass, creating a lean, athletic figure, not the bulky image that has been created,” explains Maxey. “Focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet, and ensure resistance training is included within your workout,” she advises.
So, trust us – and our two qualified PT’s – when we say no, you won’t get bulky, and yes, you will get toned and strong.
What are the most common strength training exercises?
Strength training is low impact but offers rewarding results, according to Maxey. That means you shouldn’t get super out of breath, as with running, but instead feel a slow, steady burn as you work the different muscle groups.
According to Bleasdale, the following moves are some of the most common strength training exercises you could include in a workout:
- Glute bridges
- Bent over row
- Bicep curls
- Overhead tricep extensions
- Cable machine rows.
So, you know what moves make up strength training… but how do you formulate that into a workout? Good question. To begin with, trying one of these free home workouts or no kit workouts is a good starting point. There, you can pick a strength workout and follow along as a PT does it, too.
From there, how you choose to structure your strength training is up to you – there are hundreds of ways you could do it. If you’re programming your own workouts, a common method is to focus on your sets and reps. Try five to seven sets, and eight to twelve reps of each movement, and do this three to four times through. That’d look like this:
Rep one: Squats: 8 to 12 reps
Rep two: Row: 8 to 12 reps
Rep three: Glute bridge: 8 to 12 reps
Rep four: Bicep curl: 8 to 12 reps
Rep five: Lunge: 8 to 12 reps
Beginners, start at no more than 5kg per arm and work your way up. You don’t want to injure yourself.
What are the benefits of weight training?
We’ve covered loads above, but there really are a whole lot.
“The Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines statement quotes; ‘If physical activity were a drug, we would refer to it as a miracle cure, due to the great many illnesses it can prevent and help treat,'” shares Bleasdale.
Weight training specifically improves your strength, power, flexibility, speed, and neuromuscular control. Not to mention increased cardiovascular efficiency, decreased body fat, and increased metabolic efficiency. Ditch the ab toning exercises – strength training is an all-rounder.
“Basically, you’ll experience an overall improvement in general health and wellbeing,” the PT shares.
Are there any cons of weight training?
As with any workout, if you’re not practicing the correct form, you’ll increase your risk of injury, so do make sure to check out the 100’s of form tutorials on YouTube if you’re unsure. It’s as simple as typing in the move you want to perfect and ‘tutorial’ on YouTube.
Bleasdale recommends booking an induction with a professional – this can be done via Zoom, when gyms aren’t open. “In the gym, these are usually free of charge and a gym instructor will take you around all equipment and explain how to use it; this is your chance to ask any questions and I’d urge you to use it. Try out the exercise, get the instructor to check that you’re doing it correctly, what needs to be changed?,” she recommends.
Sure, it may seem intimidating to start, but it’ll serve you in the long run.
Strength training for beginners: 5 tips
1. Book a gym induction or personal training session
As Bleasdale says, that’s what they’re there for, and you’ll probably be amazed by how much you learn – and how much it informs your workouts day to day.
2. Never be afraid to ask questions
Again, whether this is to a PT via Zoom or in a gym, that’s what those professionals are there for. Don’t be intimidated – knowledge is power.
“Do ask questions and seek the help of a trainer. Ensuring you have the correct technique is extremely important to make sure you are training effectively and in order to maximise your results.
3. Work with what you’ve got
“You can strength train with anything as long as you can find a level of resistance to work against,” explains Bleasdale. “You can purchase gym equipment like dumbbells or resistance bands, or you can also use items you already have around the house,” shares the PT.
Think empty washing liquid bottles filled with water or rice, tins, or bags of flour. “All can make great weights – work with what you’ve got,” she shares.
4. Aim for consistency
This one is key, shares Maxey. “Strength training enables you to physically see the benefits of lifting – not just aesthetically, but as you increase the number of kilograms you can lift.” And you’ll get here? Yep, you guessed it – through consistency.
5. Get ready to learn
If you chat to an instructor, do listening to their instructions on technique. Trainers like Meggan Grubb, Sam Says, Courtney Pruce and Emily Ricketts are all qualified personal trainers who share strength training tips, workouts and more on Instagram, so give them a follow for inspiration.
Final note from Maxey: “Don’t be afraid of lifting weights,” she shares. “Trust me when I say, in a few weeks, you’ll feel amazing and like you’ve achieved more than ever before.”