There are a lot of resources out there telling us that we need to do more weight training to sculpt ourselves into stunners, especially women who are at higher risk of osteoporosis. I’m going to run through all three types of weight training in order to help you pick which is best for you, as well as give an argument about why one of them is vital to daily living. All exercise, especially strength training, however, should be done with the breath, control, and precise movements. Jerky and forceful motions, as well as erratic breathing, will lead to injury. Slow, controlled movements done with the breath lead to proper gains.
First up is endurance strength training. This is defined by doing a low weight for a high number of repetitions (reps). Generally, we want to pick something that’s fairly easy to lift for 6-8 reps and then do this for 20-25 for three or more sets, even increasing the amount of weight we lift slightly with each subsequent set, with shorter rest periods between sets. With some exercises, you can use body weight instead of barbells. Endurance is great for toned, lean muscles and joint stabilization. A lot of women prefer this method of weight training, especially older women or those who have joint issues, because it prevents “bulk up.” (Granted, women will never get extremely bulky like men; however, they can put on quite a bit of muscle, if desired.)
Endurance weight training does not need a partner to train with, though it is good to get proper starter training from a trainer or have a gym buddy to workout with for support. There are also a lot of thoughts on how to vary endurance training so you don’t end up doing the same workout, day in and day out, which leads to your body not seeing gains (like here). This description is just the most traditional way of approaching it, often the first way to do so.
Next, the classical strength weight training. This is defined by lifting a high weight for a low number of reps, ending on or working toward one maximum strength rep. The word behind this kind of weight training is force. This is the one you’ll often see more men doing, as this leads to bulkier muscles more quickly. This is also the one that can lead to injury most quickly if done with haste and improper body alignment. (Therefore, if you aren’t sure how to do an exercise safely, ask a gym staff member/trainer or watch YouTube videos for how-to tutorials given by trainers.)
It is highly recommended that most, if not all, of strength-building weight exercises be done with a partner, at least when beginning until you know your body or if you’re trying to make bigger, barbell-groaning gains. A lot of serious weight lifters also keep track of their progress in pocket-sized books. They also tend to break up a whole-body workout over three or more days, depending on how many sets they plan on doing and the time they have.
Last is functional training, which is actually both a strength and cardiovascular workout. This, I think, is my favorite form of “weight” training as it doesn’t necessarily require you to use just the traditional free weights or weight machines. You can use all sorts of equipment, from kettlebells, weighted balls, stability balls, body weight, resistance bands, suspension equipment, and cardio machines, for starters. Often, you do a medium number of repetitions for a certain number of sets, interspersing them between bouts of cardiovascular work.
Functional training is perhaps the most vital of the strength workouts you can do because rather than just pumping weights in a static pose, dynamic movements that you do throughout the day (say, squatting to pick up a large object) are incorporated into the strength work. This not only allows you to utilize more muscles–especially those around your core–but it has the added benefit of improving balance, coordination and concentration, as well as keeping the body in slight discomfort (not major) in order to keep seeing gains. A lot of older individuals prefer this kind of workout as it helps counteract the aging process, but there are several popular workouts that have come along in the last decade which appeal to a mass audience, such as TRX. Functional training also helps rehabilitate injuries, allowing the body to heal without overdoing it with a more “traditional” weight training regimen until it’s ready to begin one again.
I’d like to add that all strength training programs should be followed by range of motion work, whether you do static stretching or a yoga class. This is because bulkier muscles tighten down upon joints, leading to increased risk of injury. Do your flexibility work at the end of your workout, allowing your body to properly cool down and relax, before dashing out the gym door back to your busy life.
The best strength programs incorporate all three kinds of training. If you aren’t sure where to start, approach a gym trainer for ideas, even if you cannot afford to purchase training sessions with them. They are usually bursting with information. Cannot afford a gym membership? Consider investing in an at-home training program and any necessary equipment, or one of those online workout websites. Cannot do that either? Check out YouTube. There are millions of how-to videos out there. Just make sure the ones you watch are done with good anatomical alignment and offer progression steps in case you cannot perform the whole exercise right off the bat.
Most of all, have fun!