Weight training isn't just about building big muscles. Lifting weights can actually burn calories and boost your metabolism, which leads to quicker fat loss and helps prevent injuries, according to MayoClinic.com. There's no single best weightlifting routine out there, but before you draw up your workout plan, you do need to consider several important factors.
The first thing to consider is how you're going to divide your training. There are two basic approaches -- full-body workouts where you train your whole body in each session two to three times per week and split sessions where you hit one or two muscle groups in each workout. Full-body workouts burn more calories and are superior for shedding fat and increasing definition, claims trainer Chad Waterbury, author of "Body of Fire." Strength coach Marc Perry of BuiltLean.com agrees but adds that split workouts are a better option if you're looking to build muscle or want to train four or more days per week.
Exercises also fall into two categories -- compounds and isolations. Compounds hit multiple muscle groups simultaneously, and because of this they burn a high number of calories and provide a large metabolism boost, notes Waterbury. For this reason, compound exercises such as squat, lunges, bench and overhead presses and rows should be the basis of your workouts. Isolation exercises work individual muscles, and while they don't give as much bang for your buck, they are useful for improving lagging muscle groups.
Sets and Reps
The idea that women should lift light weights for high reps to tone up is a huge misconception, claims strength coach and physical therapist Matt Skeffington. Lifting light weights doesn't burn any more calories than lifting heavy weights, and heavy weights will not cause you to bulk up or look masculine overnight. Perform most of your sets in the eight to 12 rep range, but add in some lower-rep strength work with heavy weights for three to six reps along with muscular endurance work with sets of 15 or more reps to maintain progression and variety.
To get stronger, leaner and fitter you need to constantly progress. To do this aim to lift a little more on each exercise every session, or perform an extra one or two reps per set. Should you find one week that you can't increase a lift, swap it for a similar exercise and start again. For example, if you stall on back squats then switch them to front squats; bench presses could be changed for dumbbell presses, underhand pulldowns can be changed to overhand pulldowns and so on. If you're not sure on how to perform an exercise, ask a qualified trainer at the gym to assist you.
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