In addition to being the New Balance Fitness Ambassador, I work everyday with private clients as a personal trainer and fitness coach. It’s funny to me how ideas and themes seem to present themselves from many directions at certain times in my life. Recently, the value of strength training was presenting itself over and over with almost every one of my clients. Specifically, three clients stood out:
• A newly pregnant mom.
• A mom rebounding after baby #1.
While every one of these gals is very different, it became clear that strength training holds the key to the doorway of their goals and more.
If you spend any time “floating around” – the Internet, the news, fitness magazines – you know that strength training is a buzzword and foremost fitness concept. “Yeah, yeah, yeah – I know,” most of my clients say, because they too have heard it many times. And while I know every detail about why strength training is so revolutionary, I continue to be reminded about how powerfully effective proper strength training can be. I hope you’ll find this article on a day when you have the peace, clarity and time to really absorb what I’m about to say, because this article can change your life in very positive ways.
Most women, in an attempt to lose weight and tighten up, spend way too much time doing cardio. I call it “cardio-ing yourself to death.” If you want a healthier, more resilient, more energetic body, you must strength train. Yes, I said must.
• Burn calories in an effort to burn body fat.
• Improve your cardiovascular fitness if you do it right.
My weight loss client that I referenced above has been failing because she erroneously has been using cardio as her avenue for weight loss. I asked her: do you really want to be a smaller version of yourself? Or do you want to change your body for the better? Once she stopped to really think about this, her answer was that she wants to be healthier, be fit, and be smaller—but look different. Strength training will inspire her muscle metabolism for better, long-term fat burning, and will bring muscle to the areas where she wants shape and definition.
My newly pregnant mom has very different goals. She is at a healthy weight for her structure and wants to create a strong, functional body to carry her through pregnancy. Studies show that women who are super fit withstand the challenges of pregnancy far better, have shorter labor, and deliver babies at their optimal weight. For this client, strength training is the best way to get her to her goals. While cardio fitness is important for other reasons, strength training is going to improve the function and ability of her “vehicle,” which will be carrying her and her baby for 9 months. Pregnant or not, most people desire more stamina, relief from non-descript aches and pains and protection against generalized fatigue. The only way to keep your structure supported with ideal alignment is through strength training. Many people think that it is your bones that hold your body upright. The truth is that your muscles are responsible for keeping you lifted and aligned so that your natural energy can flow. We all develop muscular imbalances that cause energy loss. These imbalances can only be corrected through structured, specific strength training.
There is an interesting quality that develops when a woman experiences a new level of real strength. The third client that I referenced above has been dealing with the changes that come after baby #1. It is a whole new world, and during the transition time, it can be a bit unsettling as you navigate a new life. For this client, the last 5-8 pounds of pregnancy weight are still lingering, she doesn’t feel her usual sense of energy and ability, and she always feels “fat.” With her, I am emphasizing strength training in her workouts not only for the body shaping benefits, but because physical strength reaches far beyond the physical. There is a supremely fantastic sense of self that comes from concerted strength training. If you haven’t experienced what I’m talking about, I hope someday you do. You will feel a new kind of security and capability when your body is strong. Personally, I feel my most spiritually profound when I have stayed committed to my strength training program. I want all of my clients—and you—to experience this sensation. I really believe it holds the power to fix many parts of our lives. While it may be a physical application, I know for certain that strength training will give my client the foundation she needs to be invincible.
Most women fear that strength training will make them bulky. While this is absolutely possible, there are a few ways to build muscle without adding size to your overall circumferences. In my 16+ years of experience, I have found that if I stick to a few basics, I can transform any body without bulking up. Now that I have made my case for strength training, I’ll give you the know-how to create a proper strength training program that will get you to your goals. There are a few principles that you need to understand:
• Strength and size are not synonymous. You can be strong without being muscular.
• Progressively heavier weight loads will eventually lead to larger muscles.
• Your body fat is layered over your muscles.
• You should assume that your muscles are weaker than you think they are.
• Perfect muscles develop from perfect technique.
In the first 4-6 weeks of a strength training program, your body will go through a transition phase. During this time, your muscles are responding to a new stimulus and may “plump up” temporarily. This is the time when most women freak out and think that they are bulking up. It’s important to know this is simply a transitory phase where the muscles are swelling slightly, causing your layer of body fat to push outward. It is physiologically impossible to bulk up in the first 4-6 weeks of a strength training program. Stay the course, and allow your body time to recover and release any swelling in the muscles. If you feel sore after a strength workout, you can be sure that your muscles are holding onto unnecessary water that may look like bulk.
There are ways that you can minimize the muscle trauma that causes swelling so that your muscles can develop nicely without temporary plumping. Beyond this, your body will respond best if you follow some rules when you begin your strength-training program. There are many, many ways to execute a strength-training program with success. I have found, in my experience, the following protocol to be foolproof. You will see that my approach utilizes traditional gym workouts with dumbbells and weight machines. Other activities that help promote strength are yoga, martial arts, and Pilates. I find that these activities are limited in their ability to promote strength for most people. They are beneficial as part of your larger fitness programming, but for this article I am focusing on weight-based strength training. Follow these steps and in 6 weeks you’ll be looking and feeling strong, lean and invincible:
Choose one of the two programs. For best results follow Plan 1. You’ll want to consult a pro, fitness magazines or the internet to select exercises for each group of muscles.
Assume you are weaker than you think you are and begin with very light weights.
Learn PERFECT technique for each exercise by using mirrors and watching for symmetry in movement or by working with a pro.
Complete 3 sets of each exercise for 12 repetitions using the same weight for all 3 sets. Every single repetition should have perfect technique with no compensation in movement. For the first 2-3 weeks don’t increase your weight loads. This will allow your muscles, ligaments and tendons to adapt to the new activity with limited swelling.
After the initial 2-3 weeks, you can increase your weight loads by a small amount for each exercise. It is very important that you maintain perfect technique. If an increase in weight load causes you to lose good form, return to the original weight load and complete each set for 15 repetitions. Then after 2-3 weeks you can attempt to increase the weight loads again watching for perfect technique. For example, if you are using 3 pound dumbbells for shoulder exercises, you can increase to 4 or 5 pounds. If you are using 40 pounds on a leg press machine, you can increase to 45 pounds by using a ½ plate increment. Maintain these weight loads for 2-3 weeks before increasing.
PLAN 1, 4 days each week of strength training.Day 1: Legs and Shoulders
Day 2: Back and Biceps
Day 3: Chest and Triceps
Day 4: Legs and Abs
PLAN 2, 3 days each week of strength training.Day 1: Legs, Back and Biceps
Day 2: Chest, Shoulders and Triceps
Day 3: Legs and Abs
It’s become apparent to me that strength training really is the key to most fitness goals for most people. What are your goals? Better energy and stamina? A faster metabolism? A healthy, resilient body to carry you through life? Make a commitment for 6 weeks and follow my suggestions here. I hope that you too get to experience the magical benefits that come from consistent strength training.
Keep me posted on your progress!