Strong is sexy. Long, boring cardio sessions are out of fashion, while strength training is most definitely in. Getting stronger doesn't mean developing big masculine muscles or bulking up to the proportions of a questionably female weightlifter, but increasing your strength can raise your metabolism, burn fat, prevent injuries and reduce your risk of osteoporosis. Make small changes to your workout to send your strength levels skyrocketing.
Increase Reps Before Weight
Ideally women should increase the weights they're lifting in every single workout, claims Alwyn Cosgrove, co-author of "The New Rules of Lifting for Women." However, as most weights are in 5-pound increments, this might be asking a little too much. Instead, aim to build up your reps on a certain weight before adding more to the bar. For instance, if you can squat 95 pounds for three sets of eight, try 95 pounds for three sets of nine in your next workout, then three sets of 10 in the third session. In session four, increase the weight to 100 pounds, but drop the reps back down to eight per set and build up again.
Keep the Reps Low
Many female training plans call for sets of 12, 15 or even 20 reps, but this won't do much for your strength levels. To train for maximal strength you should keep your reps between one and five per set, according to Bodybuilding.com's Female Fitness Bible. Strength coach Nia Shanks adds that you can go a little higher, but the number of reps per set shouldn't exceed 10. If you can do more than this, the weight isn't heavy enough.
Pick multijoint compound moves such as squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, bench presses and rows as your main exercises. These work more muscle fibers and your strength will progress far quicker than if you focused on machine exercise single-joint movements such as curls and lateral raises. As multijoint compound exercises work more muscles, you'll be able to lift more weight on them from the outset and increase the weight in bigger steps.
Cycle Your Weights
After you leave the beginner stages of training you may find it difficult to add extra weight or repetitions in every single workout. When this happens, switch to a periodized program. In week one perform your main exercises for three sets of eight, using a moderate weight. In week two increase the weight slightly and do five sets of five, then in week three aim to set a new one- to three-rep personal best. Take week four slightly easier, then start again at week one, but using slightly heavier weights than before.
- Getty Images/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images