Many women skip the weight room for fear that strength training will make them look bulky. Exercise experts say that there's no basis for the fear. The American Council on Exercise notes that women are not genetically predisposed to build bulky muscles like men, so feel free to lift those weights to tone your muscles. For the best toning results, however, it is vital to recognize the importance of timing, frequency and variation.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends two to three full-body strength training sessions every week. If you are looking for a more intense weight training program, focus on one to three muscle groups per workout. When choosing which muscles to train together, focus on muscles that perform similar actions. For example, chest, shoulder and triceps muscles perform push actions while back and biceps muscles are responsible for pull actions. You can train leg muscles on a separate day. Leave at least 48 hours of rest between training sessions of the same muscle groups to allow your muscles to recover and grow.
Sets and Reps
There are varying opinions on the ideal amount of sets and reps you should perform while strength training. The American College of Sports Medicine notes that the average person can gain strength by performing two to four sets of eight to 15 reps or repetitions of each exercise. If you are new to weight training, begin with one set of eight to 15 reps and gradually increase your training volume to three or four sets. To continue to challenge your muscles, also increase the weight you are lifting. You will also need to initially decrease your repetitions as you increase the weight to allow your muscles time to adjust.
How Many Exercises Per Muscle Group
You should perform between one to three different exercises per muscle during your workout, depending on how many muscle groups you are focusing on per workout. Try to keep your workout to less than an hour to avoid over-training and exhaustion. Using this rule, you can perform more exercises if you are focusing on one muscle than if you are training all your muscle groups in one workout. Rest two to three minutes between each exercise to allow your muscles, joints and cardiovascular system to recover.
You should change up your workout every six to eight weeks to avoid hitting a strength plateau. Your muscles slowly become accustomed to the exercises you perform, and eventually stop responding. To continue your strength gains, change the exercises you perform, the order of your exercises and the weight intensity you are using. Varying your workout routine will also help to prevent boredom and may make you more inclined to continue with your exercise regimen.
Weight Training Benefits
Weight training provides several benefits beyond toning muscles. Muscle strength and endurance will help you to more easily perform every day activities, including carrying groceries and lifting your children, with less risk of injury. It will also maintain bone density as you age and even help you to lose weight. Strength training burns calories as you exercise and the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn throughout the day, even while at rest.
- American Council on Exercise: How Women Build Muscle
- Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise; Carol Ewing Garber et al
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Exercise- Recommended Exercise Methods
- Muscle & Strength: Overtraining – Why Less Is More
- American Council on Exercise: What are the Benefits of Varying your Workout Routine?
- The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports: Fitness Fundamentals: Guidelines for Personal Exercise
Andrea Chrysanthou began writing professionally in 1993. Her work has been published internationally by "The Cyprus Mail," MochaSofa and My Favorite Trainer, among other magazines and websites. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in journalism from Ryerson University. Chrysanthou is a certified fitness instructor and personal-training specialist with more than 10 years of experience in the fitness industry.