Strength training for women - that very term often conjures up images of women looking like male bodybuilders, or hard-core weightlifting workouts that turn your biceps into blocks of steel.
Here is Part 2 of this two-part series following Part 1, where three of our female trainers from our Orchard gym share their views on strength training for women.
What are some great womens' strength exercises?
Anna Melman, from Israel
Long gone are the days when women wore jazzy pants and did aerobic classes for hours to get in shape. Women in this century now embrace their curves with strong shoulders, a great set of glutes and robust back muscles whist walking tall towards the weights area, once unfamiliar to our gender.
Men want biggest chests, but women on the other hand want a better bum (gluteus). That's easier said than done because squats will build a nice set of glutes only if they're active. If the glutes aren’t firing up, other muscles such as the quads would compensate and do the work for you. Once you've engaged your glutes properly, be prepared to feel the burn in every single squat.
The perfect squat for great glutes
- Make sure your knees are shoulder-width apart
- Place arms in front and engage your midsection and upper back
- Keep your weight on your heels
- Push your glutes behind and sit down, slowly making sure your midsection is engaged. If you can sit below parallel then go ahead, and if you can’t then find that sweet spot that you are still holding yourself upright and feeling your mid section
- Drive up with the heels, thinking about your glutes as you lengthen and stand tall.
And over to the chest, bench presses don't make your boobs smaller and if you want a Pec-tacular chest then ladies listen up you need to add bench presses into your regime. Since the chest is such a large muscle area, training it will burn more calories than training smaller muscle groups.
Brilliant bench-pressing for a great chest
- Adjust your bench in line with the bar that is slightly eye level and lay down at the end first
- Find the lines on the bar and make sure both your hands are in similar position, I like to use the “one thumb rule” (thumb on the line and once in perfect position lock that thumb around the bar)
- Pick up the bar from the rack and place it in front of your body with straight arms. Move the bar over your shoulders with your elbows locked and press your shoulder blades onto the bench ensuring your chest is upright
- Lower the bar to your mid-chest whilst tucking your elbows out and away from your body and keeping your forearm vertical.
Moving up the body, a great way to build solid shoulder is the military press (shoulder press). It’s a simple, easy to learn movement that allows for the safe lifting of heavy weights.
Stronger shoulders with shoulder presses
- Start by placing a barbell about chest high on a squat rack, grab the barbell using a pronated (palms facing forward) grip. Make sure to grip the bar wider than shoulder width apart and use the lines as a guide
- Unrack the bar and place the barbell on your collarbone. Lift the barbell up, incline with your body and lower bar down
- Always make sure your core is engaged throughout and locking up at the top to ensure stability of the bar
And finally - for the entire body - the deadlift is the king of all workouts, and when done right it doesn’t isolate but incorporates every single muscle group in the body, repeat after me; every single one of them!
Deadlifting blast for the entire body
- Whilst standing hip-width apart, move closer to the bar until your leg come in contact with it
- Reach your arms forward, engage your core muscle and reach out for the bar below, it should be within the lines of the bar
- Making sure your shoulder blades are retracted and your core is still engaged, pick the bar up whilst moving the bar long the body without breaking the flow of the bar, moving from A to B in a straight line
- Stand up straight and ensure your neck is in-line with the spine lower down the bar, pretending you are shaving your legs and never want to miss a spot, whilst keeping every posterior chain muscle tight and engaged.
What I love about strength training my female clients
Devina Pronolo Tan, Singapore Powerlifting Champion, Mum of Tobi, aged two
Most females who are not familiar with strength training come to me with the mindset of just losing weight. But as time passes by, they discover something else (on top of losing weight). They realise they're getting stronger, despite a lower body weight, and they no longer limit themselves to the light dumbbells, they actually aim to be stronger.
They feel empowered and begin to understand that strength training is about being healthy, and the number on the scale is not the only thing that matters. I get text messages rom my clients telling me they receive compliments from their family members, friends and partners that they look better. I truly hope that words will get around - being strong is a necessity for all women!
My own strength training
Terri Forward, from the UK
I remember my first experience of walking into the free weights room at my local gym and feeling completely intimidated, looking around this definitely didn’t look like somewhere I belonged, but thankfully I didn’t let that stop me. After years of relentless cardio and back to back exercise classes, strength training finally gave me the key to a fitter, leaner, stronger me. Since then I’ve never looked back.
For my own strength training I typically try to schedule a minimum of three sessions a week. I love to incorporate different equipment which adds variation and a fresh challenge, such as the kettlebell, resistance bands, battle ropes and the exercise ball.
I typically build in big compound moves (deadlift, squat), functional exercises that translate to real life (like a kettlebell suitcase carry) and unilateral exercises to ensure I challenge my core stability and address muscle imbalance to prevent injury (dumbbell single arm shoulder press)
Proper form and technique are crucial as this ensures I work the intended muscle groups that I want to develop and grow. Trying to master the deadlift has been one of my more recent feats and is one of the more difficult lifts to learn. I'm feeling my body grow stronger and more efficient as the exercise difficulty and weight load have increased which gives me a huge sense of achievement.