Summer is nearly here (we hope!) and the time of year when most people feel they need to get healthier and in better shape. This is fresh advice in our fitness series from one of our in house personal trainers Caroline Gayton.
If you want to shape up, resistance training is the perfect way to sculpt a lean physique and also a great way to lose body fat. More women are doing resistance training now than ever before. No longer are they confined to dance and aerobics classes, more women are beginning to feel more at home in the weight room.
The benefits of weight training for women and especially those over forty outweigh those that just do cardio and here’s why:
You will lose body fat.
The average woman who strength trains 2-3 times per week for two months will gain two pounds of muscle and lose 3.5 pounds of fat. When you strength train, your muscles are broken down and then rebuilt over the next couple of days. While your body is rebuilding the muscles its using energy (calories), therefore your metabolism operates at a faster rate all day long.
It’s important however to realise that lifting doesn’t change the body type you’re born with, your body composition is based on your genetics. Combined with a healthy diet rich in protein, fresh produce and healthy fats and quality carbs you will be heading for a new more defined version of yourself.
Women don’t gain size from strength training.
Women have a fear of weight lifting because they worry that they will gain size. Women do not gain muscle mass as quickly as men because they don’t possess the same levels of muscle building hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone. Women will however have muscle definition and get that toned look.
You will be stronger.
If you increase your strength every day, every day tasks will be easier and you’re far less likely to cause injury. Strength training not only builds stronger muscles but it also builds stronger connective tissues and increases joint stability. Studies have shown that resistance training can ease the pain of osteoarthritis and strengthen joints.
You decrease your risk of osteoarthritis in the future
When women reach menopause many of them will avoid weight training because they worry that the bones are weaker and they risk injuring themselves. Many women are surprised to hear that this is the prime time to strength train because it preserves bone density and improves muscle mass, strength and balance. Keeping the big muscles in the legs strong will help people stay independent and active longer.
So what are you waiting for?
Here’s a weight training workout that you can do at home with minimal equipment. If you’re just starting out a set of adjustable dumbbells which won’t take up a lot of space. Slowing down each movement or holding the weight further away from your body makes the exercise more challenging. It’s really important to learn the basic movements first. Always start with your bodyweight or start with a light weight and then increase the weight over time. It’s really important that your form is good for movements like squats, dead lifts, bench press etc. If you are unsure you could hire a personal trainer to go over the basic movements.
Make sure you warm up those muscles; you could do a fast power walk for 4-5 minutes. Once you have warmed up the legs these dynamic stretches are great before a workout.
Dynamic Stretch 1: Squat down by bending the ankles, knees and hips and swing the arms down and back during the descent into the squat position. Keeping chest lifted throughout return to standing position with arms stretched over head. Repeat this for 1 minute.
Dynamic Stretch 2: The second dynamic stretch will warm up the chest and the back muscles. Stand upright with feet hip width apart and extend the arms horizontally into a wide position. Push the arms forward and repeat whilst varying the angle of the arms.
Exercise 1: Squats (with or without dumbbells)
Squats are great exercises because they are one of the most functional exercises that you can perform. Why? Because we are constantly squatting throughout our day… sitting down in a chair or picking up shopping and to do these tasks we are using our muscles to squat. They are also one of the best exercises to develop strength and muscle growth in our legs and core.
Using two dumbbells/weights, stand with feet hip width apart, feet facing forwards. Imagine you are driving your hips back and trying to sit between your legs. Make sure you go deep enough so your hip joint should go below your knee joint or at least parallel to your knees. Once you have squatted and you start to rise back up drive your hips forward to help you maintain balance. Brace yourself (hold your air in your abs) as if someone were to punch you, it will keep your lower back neutral and protect it by keeping you upright.
Perform 2 sets of 12 squats with 1 minutes rest inbetween (slowly with counts of 2 seconds down, 2 seconds up).
Exercise 2: Hamstring curls
Lying on your back, place your feet onto the swiss ball and toes pulled back towards you. Place hands out to the side, palms facing down.
Lift hips off the floor, activate the core and roll the ball slowly in until your knees are above your hips. Roll back to the starting position, Tip: Keep hips up. Position ball under the calves
Perform 2 sets of 12 curls with 1 minutes rest inbetween
Exercise 3: Chest press or press ups
Two options here for working the chest:
Chest Press on Swiss Ball
For an exercise that strengthens both your chest and core muscles the chest press is a great exercise. It is most commonly done on a weight bench but adding the swiss ball not only engages your upper body but your glutes and hamstrings too. Here’s how it’s done:
With a pair of dumbbells/weights, lie on the swiss ball (positioning it underneath your mid to upper back). Keep your feet flat on the floor with ankles directly under your knees.
With your hips lifted, engage your core. Holding the dumbbells by your chest, palms facing forward, exhale as you press the weights towards the ceiling. Slowly lower the weights back to starting position and repeat.
Peform 2 sets of 12 (with 1 minute rest in between). Be sure to use your chest and arm muscles to lift the weight, not momentum.
Or the other option..
The press up
The press up works the chest using your body weight. It’s one of the most popular exercises because it can be performed anywhere and its effective, working your chest, core, triceps and shoulders. This exercise will promote new muscle growth; improve shoulder stability and mobility and burn body fat.
There are variations so if you’re just starting out knee press ups are a good start.
Place your hands shoulder width apart with arms straight and so your shoulders, elbows and wrists line up. Your fingers should be slightly splayed and pointing forward. Bend your elbows to lower your chest towards the ground. Hips should remain in line with your shoulders and feet should be hip-width apart. The closer you can get your chest to the floor the better.
Adaption: Knee press up. Resting your knees on the floor removes some of your bodyweight from the move making it a great way to ease into press ups.
Perform 2 sets of 12 press ups (1 minute rest inbetween)
Exercise 4: Dumbbell Lat Rows (requires a dumbbell and a chair)
Find a chair and place the right leg on top. Bend your torso forward from the waist until your upper body is parallel to the floor.
Use the left hand to pick up the dumbbell/weights on the floor and hold the weight while keep your lower back straight. The palm of the hand should be facing your torso. Pull the weight up to the side of the chest, keeping the upper arm close to your side. Squeeze the back muscles and keep the upper torso very still. Lower the resistance straight down to the starting position.
Perform 12 repetitions x 2 sets on each side with 1 minute rest in between each set
Exercise 5: Standing Shoulder Press
One benefit of the standing version is you engage more core muscles to maintain your balance and control the weight. Using dumbbells/weights increases your range of motion and forces each arm to work independently. The shoulder press exercise is a compound movement that works more than one muscle group. Your triceps, traps and upper chest are also involved in the standing shoulder press exercise.
The dumbbells start at shoulder level with your palms facing forward. Press one arm or both dumbbells overhead.
Perform 2 sets of 12 presses with 1 minute rest in between.
Exercise 6: Tricep Dips
Place your hands on a chair or box behind you with your feet flat on the floor with knees bent. Lower slowly then press back powerfully.
Perform 2 sets of 12 with 1 minute rest in between.
Exercise 7: Bicep Curls
Start by holding the dumbbells (or use the bands) down next to the sides of your legs with arms straight (slight bend in the elbow) and palms facing forward. Keep knees soft, hips shoulder width apart and elbows tucked in to the waist. Bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders, making sure you curl all the way to the top. Lower the weights back down and straighten your arms until they are back in the starting position. Ensure you lift and lower slowly so you don’t rely on momentum to perform the exercise.
Perform 2 sets of 12 with 1 minute rest in between.
Exercise 7: Russian Twists
Sit on the floor in the top position of a sit up (upper body at a 45 degree angle to the floor) with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Keep your back straight throughout the exercise and brace your core and raise your legs up off the ground. Twist your body to one side and then twist back. Alternate sides. If this is too severe a challenge then you can make it easier by not lifting your legs off the floor during the exercise. To make it harder, hold either a medicine ball or a dumbbell with both hands out in front of you.
Exercise 8: The Plank
Your weight should be on the balls of your feet and elbows. Rest your forearms on the floor. Keep your back and hips aligned so that your body forms a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Brace your abs and don’t let your hips sag or raise them too high.
Hold the plank for 1 minute. It’s a great exercise for firing up that core.
Ensure you stretch out those muscles after every workout.