Weight rooms can be daunting for beginners, especially if you’re walking into a room full of seasoned weightlifters who know their way around the squat bench. For some woman, it may feel especially uncomfortable getting started in the face of all that inevitable “mansplaining” at the gym. But the proven benefits of weight training for women are well worth biting the bullet and learning the basics. Simply put, if you’re a woman invested in your health, it’s time to get over the misconceptions and embrace weightlifting.
Strength training can help you boost your metabolism, burn more calories, tone your muscles and prevent osteoporosis—making it a crucial fitness regimen at any age in a woman’s life. With that in mind, here are some tips for mastering the weight room, one leg day at a time.
Learn proper form from the start
No beginner wants to waltz into the weight room not having a sense of how to hold their weights correctly. We recommend enlisting the services of a trainer or a friend who knows their way around their free weights. At most gyms, on-site employees will be able to provide a quick tutorial.
As with any exercise, form is crucial in weightlifting. If you fail to learn proper form, you could find yourself injured. When you’re doing squats, for instance, make sure you’re digging your feet into the ground, pushing knees out and standing with a proud chest. Failing to do so means you could hurt your back.
According to blogger/fitness trainer Nia Shanks, the following exercises are a good place for beginners to start.
- Reverse lunge
- Inverted row
- Glute bridge
- Overhead press
You might be thinking to yourself, “But not all those require weights!” You’re absolutely right. But the idea is that mastering these moves will help you learn forms and motions that will ensure you’re safe when moving on to more challenging weight routines.
Don’t expect to pull superhero strength out of nowhere
You’re not going to be Wonder Woman or Jessica Jones right off the bat—and that’s perfectly normal. You’re here because you want to get stronger and reap all the benefits that strength training can provide. Your first few sessions could involve working with an empty barbell, emphasizing form over weight. Be patient, and you’ll build strength faster than you think.
The Mayo Clinic says that for most beginners, 12 repetitions are enough to start building strength. As you get stronger, increase your amount of weight or number of reps. But be careful not to boost both simultaneously, especially when you’re just starting to get into a groove.
Bring a friend
If you’re new to the gym, bringing a friend can be a real comfort. As a woman, this can help you feel less self-conscious about marching over to the weight room. Between all the squatting and heavy equipment you’re using, weightlifting is better when you know someone has your back.
But the benefits go beyond just that. Countless studies show that workout buddies can help you achieve your fitness goals through motivation, support and friendly competition. And remember, finding a buddy who’s more fit than you can trigger the Kohler Effect—the phenomenon of not wanting to be the weakest link, which causes us to boost our own performance.
Approach it with a plan
Like anything else, it’s easy to fall into a weightlifting routine that’s comfortable, not challenging. Maybe you wish that every day could be leg day, or maybe you’re more into push presses. In any case, it’s smart to come up with a weekly routine that targets more than one area of your body.
Scheduling your workouts means you’ll build in time to rest some muscle groups while focusing on others. Maybe that means Mondays are for legs, Tuesdays shoulders. Wednesday, for instance, could target your butt, and Thursday it might be all arms. Not sure which muscle groups to pair during your weightlifting workouts? Check out this quick guide, then try a three-day workout split to get you started.
Make sure you wait at least 48 hours before taking another pass at any of these muscle groups. Recovery is just as vital as doing reps. If you don’t give your muscles the time to heal, you could be putting them at risk.
Be mindful of your reps
How you structure your reps matters, whether you’re completing five sets of 10 or 10 sets of five. When you’re just starting out, it’s important to build your endurance level before you add more weight into the mix.
Doing more reps at a lower weight will allow you to develop your form and increase your endurance. Then, after a few weeks, switch things up. Can you add weight? If you’re aiming to build muscle, fewer reps at a heavier weight is the way to go. As far as leaner muscles are concerned, it’s the opposite.
Don’t forget about cardio and your diet
Looking to lose weight? Strength training is a key component, but you’ll need to add some cardio into the fold if you want to see maximum burn. The other key part of your fitness routine should be eating quality foods. Consuming plenty of protein ensures that you’ll recover faster from your next session, while eating fruits, veggies and whole grains will help you stay lean and well nourished.
If you’re looking to truly maximize your new weightlifting routine, try supplementing it with one of our most highly recommended protein powders.