We have seen a significant change in the way women are working out of the gym in the last couple of years. While traditionally you return to find most women working hard on the cardiovascular machines like the treadmill or the Stairmaster, we’re seeing more and more heading over to the weight section – historically been a male dominated area.
There are various reasons why this could be. Modern gyms tend to be less intimidating than the dungeon-style basements where bodybuilders and strength trainers of the past used to be found. Most commercial gyms have a friendly, welcoming atmosphere which makes it a little easier for women to spend some time lifting weights.
There are various benefits to focusing on weight training over traditional cardio. The addition of more lean muscle mass means that more calories will be burned at rest and maintaining or losing weight becomes much easier in the future. There’s also the benefits of being physically stronger, something which will carry over to various aspects of your life.
A Better Understanding
There’s also a lot more knowledge around how weight training affect a woman’s physique. While the initial response from women in the past tended to be that didn’t want to get too ‘big’ or ‘bulky’, that perception has change drastically as a better understanding of strength training has developed.
Gaining a substantial amount of muscle is a difficult thing to do accidentally, especially for women. Women have a different hormonal profile to men and, most importantly when it comes to weight training, have substantially less testosterone. This means women will be able to gain muscle mass at a fraction of that which men are capable, and it takes years of training for most men to be what most would consider big. For women, this period of time substantially longer and even then it’s extremely difficult to accomplish.
One term that is (thankfully) starting to disappear is a term ‘toning’. Many people, when they initially start working out, will proclaim that the simply want to ‘tone up a little’. While most of us understand what that means, what it’s really referring to is building muscle mass and losing body fat.
Doing both of these things simultaneously is difficult – and while there’s typically a grace period for new lifters, as your training progresses you need to consider which of the areas you wish to focus on and prioritise.
Eating for Results
Your diet will also determine how you progress at the gym and how you move towards achieving your fitness goals. If you’re looking to add more muscle mass you need to eat above your daily maintenance level of calories and get plenty of good quality protein in your diet. This will give the body the energy and nutrients it needs to help generate new muscle tissue and repair itself after a workout.
If you’re looking to cut some fat, keep your protein intake high while dropping a calorie intake below maintenance levels. Consuming higher levels of protein and continuing with your weight training while in a calorie restricted state will help maintain muscle mass you have as you drop fat.
Another common question is around supplementation and what, if any, supplements you should be taking. While the foundation should always be healthy, balanced diet, if you’re struggling to meet your daily protein targets it’s worth adding protein shake to your nutritional plan.
If you visit the gym before breakfast, consider supplementing with BCAA first thing in the morning to help with muscle retention and energy loss. Creatine is also worthwhile supplement for those participating strength training and you can read more of the benefits of creatine for women here.
Building a Routine
When it comes to constructing a routine, there’s not a huge difference between weight lifting plans for women and men. Ideally it should be built around the big core lifts (barbell squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press) with additional exercises added based on the areas you’re looking to develop.
The stereotypical additional exercises men enjoy adding on tend to be around chest and bicep development, while for women the trend at the moment is to focus on leg and glute work. It’s very much a personal preference though, everyone’s goals are different to go with whatever you want!
The foundation should be about building strength around those main lifts though, as they’ll incorporate most of the major muscle groups and give you a pretty solid base of strength to build upon.
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