Ladies, don’t be afraid of the weight room! Lifting weights is what builds muscle, muscle makes you look good, and the more muscle you have the higher your BMR (basal metabolic rate) is – which means you burn more when you’re doing nothing! Since the majority of your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) is during rest, then having more muscle is very beneficial!
Amount of weight, rep range, how many sets – it can all seem quite confusing when you’re first starting out. Also, a lot of women will stick to a lower weight and simply do more reps to get “toned”. Toned is not one of my favourite words. Increasing or building muscle is a better description of what you want to do (along with reducing fat) and the best way to do this is by lifting heavy!
Contrary to popular belief, females will not get “bulky” by lifting too much weight. Some women may find it easier to put weight and muscle on, but for the majority it is pretty hard. We simply don’t have enough testosterone to build muscle as easily as men.
The type of training you do will depend on your own personal goals, however whether you are competing, or simply just wanting to get fit and look good, you will need to get comfortable in the weights room sooner or later.
As mentioned before, lifting heavy is the best way to build muscle and strength. And heavy weight means less reps and more sets. If you want to focus purely on strength, then rep range could be as low as 1 rep per set (1RM / 1 rep max) or sets of 2-3 reps. If you are doing less reps then you would usually perform more sets. The idea behind lower reps is that you can push more weight as you only need to perform a few reps at a time. If you had to get out, say 10 reps, then you would have to drop the weight accordingly.
Different weight and rep ranges do different things. Anything from 4-12 reps is considered hypertrophy training – the lower end of the scale more strength focused and anything from 8 -12 reps more for size. (You want both)
I stick to this rep range for the majority of my training, with 6 x 6 being a bit of a favourite. If I am doing 4-6 reps I will do 6-8 sets. From 8-12 or even 15 reps I will usually do 4 sets.
A lot of people stick to the same 12 reps x 3 sets. The problem with this is that your body adapts and you may find it hard to progress if you get stuck on the same weight for some time. Adding in some strength sessions as well will help with this, plus, doing the same thing all the time can get a bit boring.
I prefer to go heavy as often as I can. Increasing strength is a great way to see your progress and it is satisfying when you’re able to add more weight to the bar and can see you are getting stronger.
I also add in some volume training every now and then. GVT (German volume training) is a great way to do this, plus if you are feeling a little flat I think this is an easy way to get in a good work out without having to think too much – all you need to do is count! (People will probably think I am crazy for saying that!) If you know your 1RM then you want to lift about 60-80% of this for GVT. If you don’t, then you will have to make an educated guess, however I recommend going on the conservative side to start with as you can add more weight if need be. Plus if you have not trained like this before it’s probably going to be a bit of a shock to the body! GVT is 10 sets of 10 reps. Yes 100 reps. Rest in between sets is typically around 60 seconds although you may want to rest for longer if you are just starting out. It may sound daunting to start with, but it is actually easier than you think, as all you need to do is count. One or two exercises with GVT would be enough to call a good work out. And compound exercises are great for this especially.
Compound exercises are exercises that use more than one muscle group. E.g. bench press, deadlift - these are great - if you don’t know how to deadlift I recommend learning, squat etc. And isolation exercises are exercises that are focusing more on just one muscle (e.g. bicep curl, leg extension)
Compound exercises give you more bang for your buck. You are working multiple muscles at once, which I think is more efficient. Isolation exercises also have their place and a combination of both is good however I like to focus more on big compound movements to get the most out of my time at the gym.
Another way to make good use of your time is by performing supersets, tri-sets or giant sets. Supersets are when you combine 2 exercises in to each set. You can superset the same, or opposing muscle groups and you do not rest until after you have completed the second exercise.
Tri-sets are the same, just with a third exercise added in. And giant sets are anything from 4 exercises performed back to back within the same set.
Drop sets are also a good way to easily add more variation to your work outs (and more size to your muscles). A drop set is where you start with a higher weight and perform a low amount of reps (relative to the weight). You then drop the weight down and perform more reps on this weight than the first. And then drop the weight a third time and perform more reps, or keep going until failure. You can set how many reps you want to do on each weight, or some people will perform reps until failure on each weight instead. The amount of weight you drop can be anything from 10% up to 30% for “wide drop sets” although it’s really up to the individual. In each normal set you will only use a certain amount of muscle fibres. The reasoning behind a drop set is to recruit different muscle fibres and this helps stimulate more growth (without getting too technical). The short and fast twitch are responsible for different movement; incorporating both in to a set can again give you ‘more bang for your buck’ when it comes to your training.
You could perform a drop set just on the last set of an exercise, or drop set for all of your sets.
There are many other different methods when it comes to weight training, but I think drop sets and super sets are 2 of the simplest ways to add variation to your work outs that actually will provide some decent benefit.