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101 Muscle-Shaping Workouts & Strategies for Women
By Muscle & Fitness, Larry Bartholomew, Art Brewer
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2011 Weider Publications, LLC.
All rights reserved.
Whether you're new to the gym or just want to add variety to your program, this is your starting place
WHAT'S THE FASTEST, most effective way to transform your body? The answer is strength training. Sure, cardiovascular exercise, stretching and good eating habits are important for keeping fit, healthy and trim. But when it comes to sculpting and firming your body, no form of exercise offers more bang for your buck than lifting weights.
Not only can you develop sleek thighs, awesome abs and taut triceps in as little as six weeks, but hitting the weight room regularly can impact your health for years to come. With the right strength-training program, you can bank away precious bone mass, one of the keys to preventing osteoporosis. Having more muscle tissue will also boost your metabolism, increasing your body's capacity to burn calories, even when you're just sitting around. Studies show that strength training can even help combat high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, as well as perk up your mood, boost your energy level and help you fight stress.
101 Muscle-Shaping Workouts & Strategies for Women will help you get the most from your program, whether you're jumping in for the first time or looking for ideas to freshen up an old routine. You'll find all the essential tools, including 100-plus exercises and stretches and specific programming for each bodypart. But that's only part of the package. We'll help you determine which equipment to use, how much weight to lift, how often to work out, how many exercises to perform and how to help you get the body you want. We'll also explain essential training principles and advanced workout techniques to help you progress to the next level. Plus, we'll clear up some misconceptions about lifting weights.
WHY WEIGHT TRAINING WORKS
If there's one word that explains the remarkable benefits of strength training, it's overload. Change can only happen when you push harder than usual. Overloading your muscles — challenging them with sufficiently heavy weights — stimulates them to grow stronger. The best way to overload is to progressively increase the resistance each time an exercise is no longer challenging, forcing your muscles to respond and develop. You can also progressively overload by manipulating other training variables: the number of sets and reps, exercise selection, order you do them in and the speed at which you perform them. Other related components are exercise frequency, or how many days per week you lift; and recovery, which encompasses how much rest you need between sets, exercises and training sessions. All of these factors are related; your program becomes different just by changing one of them.
THE LOWDOWN ON EQUIPMENT
There is no "best" piece of equipment. Dumbbells, barbells, machines and cables: all of these contraptions can help you build strength. You can even get stronger without any equipment at all. Still, in certain circumstances, some equipment is more effective than others, and using a combination will give you the best of all worlds. Here's a rundown of the major equipment options.
Don't fret if you look at a machine and can't figure out which way to sit, which handle to pull or which bodypart you're supposed to be exercising. It's not always obvious, which is why most machines feature an illustration and operating instructions. A trainer or experienced lifter can help you adjust the seat and various levers so the machine fits your body. Some machines use weight stacks (therefore called a stack machine), a tall column of weight plates marked in numerical order, as their resistance. Others use loose plates, which are round weights that are usually stored on various weight trees around the gym. Note: all machines are not created equal; different makes that are for the same body-part vary just as 10 pounds on the chest press might not be the same as 10 pounds on the shoulder press. To avoid injury, test the weight on every machine before using it. Record how much weight you use for each one so you don't have to experiment during your next session. Once you have a starting weight, use this as a base to progress.
Pros: Machines don't require much balance or coordination, so a newbie can quickly get the hang of an exercise. You simply get into position and the machine guides you through the motion. (Still, there are subtle technique tips to master.) With no loose parts to drop, machines are extremely safe. They are also ideal for isolating a muscle group — in other words, targeting one muscle group to the exclusion of all others. Machines also allow you to work certain muscle groups from angles that just aren't attainable with other equipment, because your body is stabilized in a particular position and held by the machine so you can safely lift more weight. And to adjust the amount of weight, you simply place a pin in the weight stack.
Cons: Although isolating muscle groups can be useful in some cases, it's generally better to work several muscle groups at once, mimicking the way your body operates in everyday life. Because machines keep you in position, they don't demand much of your core muscles, the deep abdominal, lower back and hip muscles that are essential for good posture and are called upon to stabilize your body when you perform other types of exercises. In addition, traditional weight machines are designed for only one or two movements, so they aren't very versatile, although many of the new versions do have pulley systems that allow for multi-plane or multi-directional training.
A free weight is simply a weight that is not attached to any kind of machine. Free weights — both barbells (the long ones you grip with two hands) and dumbbells (the short ones you grasp with one hand) — come in all shapes and sizes. Free weights require you to use your own muscular strength and good posture to stabilize your body and keep your alignment in check while you perform the exercise. You're responsible for controlling the weight at all times, and your body dictates its path of motion, rate of speed and balance. Although advanced exercisers tend to gravitate toward free weights, with proper guidance there's no reason beginners can't safely use them, too. However, we recommend that novices work with a trainer at least once or twice before tackling free weights solo. Even if you're an experienced lifter, never do any heavy lifting alone. Always enlist a spotter who's ready to grab the bar in case your muscles give out.
Pros: Free weights offer a more complete and challenging workout than machines because they work more than just the targeted muscles. For instance, when you do a dumbbell shoulder press, your abdominals and lower back muscles also kick in, keeping your torso stable while your shoulder muscles press up the dumbbells. Plus, free weights allow your joints to move in a way that feels most natural, rather than forcing them to follow the predetermined pathway of a machine. Free weights are versatile, too. With just a few sets of dumbbells, you can perform dozens of exercises. Add an adjustable weight bench to the mix, and you can expand your repertoire even more.
Cons: Free-weight exercises have a higher learning curve than machines and generally require some instruction at first. Also, extra caution should be taken when using free weights, to avoid accidents.
Cable machines are sort of a hybrid of machines and free weights. They feature a weight stack, but they are highly versatile. You can perform dozens of exercises on a cable machine by adjusting the height of the pulley so that it's close to the floor, up over your head, or anywhere in between. Also, you can clip a dozen different handles onto the same pulley and instantly create different exercises.
Pros: Cable machines aren't as constricting as regular machines. For instance, when you pull a bar to your chest from overhead, as in the lat pulldown, you control the pathway of the bar. This makes the exercises more effective than a similar exercise on a weight machine. You also get resistance in both directions as you lift and lower because you have to resist the pull of the machine on the return. In addition, cable machines provide more safety and stability than free weights, and the exercises are easier to learn.
Cons: Unlike weight machines, cables don't have cams, small kidney-shaped pulleys that change the resistance to match what your muscle is able to lift at each point of a movement. (When your muscle has good mechanical advantage, the cam gives it more work to do; when you're at a weak point during the exercise, the cam lightens the load.) Because there's no cam, you may hit points in some exercises where your muscles won't be working to their fullest throughout the motion, as they do with regular machines.
Additional Strength-Training Tools
Although free weights, machines and cables are the most common types of strength-training equipment, you'll likely come across other devices as well. Some machines are designed so that the resistance comes from air pressure, and you adjust the difficulty of the exercise by punching a number into a computer. Other contraptions look like machines but use free-weight plates instead of a weight stack. A stability ball or medicine ball can also be an excellent strength-training tool. Rubber exercise tubing can provide a significant challenge as well. However, most bodyweight and tubing exercises provide a limited amount of resistance, so as you become stronger, you may need to use machines and free weights.
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF A STRENGTH WORKOUT
Strength training is part science, part art. #% There are certain basic, immutable facts, such as 1) you shouldn't work the same muscle group on consecutive days, and 2) every program should include at least one exercise for every major muscle. However, there's no rule dictating how many days a week you should lift weights, and there's no law stating how many or which specific exercises you need to do. There are simply guiding principles, like the ones in this section, to help you construct a sound workout program that fits your goals, fitness level, schedule and personal preferences.
REPS AND SETS
A rep — short for repetition — is one full run-through of an exercise, including both the lifting and the lowering phases. The number of reps you perform can have a significant effect on your results. For optimal strength and bone building, experts generally recommend performing 8 to 12 reps. However, you must use enough weight so that your muscles fatigue on the final repetition. If you get to your 12th rep and feel that you could easily crank out a few more, you haven't used enough weight. The last two reps of any set should be very challenging to the point you may have to struggle to complete them with good form. This creates muscle fatigue, which is key to stimulating muscle change. If you tried to do another rep and couldn't even lift the weight without compromising your form, this is muscle failure; it can also be risky, especially if training alone, so you need to be cautious.
It's a misconception that performing 20-30 reps with light weights will give you tone without bulk. In truth, performing a high number of reps won't provide enough overload to stimulate muscle or bone growth. Performing fewer than eight reps is fine periodically for advanced exercisers who are aiming for maximum strength, but lifting weights that heavy does carry a greater risk of injury, and it's not something that even advanced exercisers should do all the time.
Research suggests the best way to keep progressing is to vary the number of reps you perform. For instance, aim for 10 reps on Monday, 6-8 reps on Wednesday, and 12 reps on Friday, then repeat the cycle. Or, spend three or four weeks aiming for 10 reps, the next month aiming for 6-8 reps, and so on.
For best results, perform each rep slowly, maintaining control of the weight throughout the entire motion. If you zoom through your reps, you'll rely on momentum rather than muscle power and you'll cheat your muscles out of a good workout. A basic rule of thumb: Take two seconds to lift a weight and four seconds to lower it.
A set is a group of consecutive reps typically followed by a brief rest period. It is dependent on the amount of weight you're using. In general, you'll do fewer reps with heavier weight and more reps with lighter weight, although the number of sets may stay the same. One to two sets per muscle group may be sufficient for beginners, but research suggests that after a few months, you're likely to hit a plateau. Eventually, it's a good idea to perform three or four sets per muscle group. However, this doesn't mean you need to do three or four sets of the same exercise. For example, you may want to perform two sets of one chest exercise and two sets of a different one.
RESTING BETWEEN SETS
Most people find that 60-90 seconds is enough to feel recovered from a set. As you become more fit, you can gradually decrease your rest periods. However, if you are lifting especially heavy weights, you may need to rest a few minutes before your next set. One of the advanced training techniques described on page 13 — supersets — involves performing two consecutive sets before resting.
CHOOSING A WEIGHT
You'll choose the amount of weight for each exercise by trial and error. If you're just starting out, choose a weight you believe you can handle, and complete at least eight reps with good form, but not more than 10 reps. If you can accomplish eight reps easily, you need more weight. If you can't complete eight, reduce your weight until you can complete at least eight but no more than 10. You'll need to do this for every exercise and then note when this number of reps gets easy, usually every 3-4 weeks or so, because you'll need to increase your weight when it's no longer challenging. You may find you're increasing weight for some muscle groups and not others, so take note of these different muscular timetables. Also, you may feel stronger on some days than others and should adjust your weights accordingly.
No matter what your fitness level or time constraints, always strive for balance. In other words, perform at least one exercise for each major muscle group — chest, upper back, middle back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, abs and lower back. If you overemphasize one group and neglect another, you may increase your risk for injury. If you're a beginner, don't over whelm yourself by trying to learn every move. Choose one or two exercises for each muscle group and master them before you tackle others. Be sure to learn the name and purpose of each exercise so that you can design a sensible, balanced workout. Writing this information down in a workout journal will help drill it into your brain.
It's a good idea to start with basic exercises that don't require much balance. For instance, try the chest press machine rather than the dumbbell chest press or barbell bench press. However, don't confine yourself to machines indefinitely; after a few weeks, try out some free weights, too. Include both multijoint (exercises that work more than one muscle at a time, such as squats and lunges), and single-joint exercises, such as leg extensions, in your routine.
As you gain strength and experience, learn new exercises for each muscle group and challenge yourself with multi-muscle moves that require more core strength and coordination. In addition, learn to work each muscle from new angles, and try some of the advanced training techniques described in this chapter.
In general, work your larger muscles, such as legs and back, before targeting the smaller muscles that assist them. Typically, this means starting with compound movements, which use more than one muscle group and joint (the chest press, for example), then turning to isolation-type movements, which use only one muscle group and joint (the pec flye). If you do an isolation-type exercise first, chances are that those smaller assisting muscles that you've fatigued will limit your ability to overload the relevant larger muscle groups later. For more advanced routines, if you're doing a high-intensity training workout or splits, start with multi-muscle exercises first, then finish with isolation training. With specific superset and compound set techniques, you may be incorporating both multi-muscle and single-joint isolation exercises as part of one set.
Aim to target each muscle group twice a week on non-consecutive days. Muscles need at least 48 hours to recover from the trauma caused by strength training; without sufficient rest, you'll get weaker instead of stronger. Targeting each muscle group three times a week doesn't offer appreciably better results than lifting twice a week, so you may be better noff devoting any extra time to cardiovascular workouts. Also, as you become more advanced and your workouts become more intense, you may need more than one day off between workouts for the same muscle groups.
If you're a beginner, you may want to work all of your muscle groups on the same day. Since you're only doing one or two exercises per muscle group, your workouts may last just 20-30 minutes. However, veterans might want to "split" their routines into four or more days. See the nextpage for more details on split routines.
INCREASING THE INTENSITY OF YOUR WORKOUTS
The simplest way to increase your intensity is by increasing the load, or the amount of weight you lift. To do this safely, consider your current condition, training background and exercise history when designing a high-intensity program. Because a high-intensity workout is very challenging, beginners should have a good strength base before attempting one. For the best results, your workouts should include heavy and moderate intensities mixed either in a particular session or during the week. You can split a bodypart into heavy and moderate exercises. For chest, for example, do heavy bench presses, moderate dumbbell presses and moderate cable crossovers. Or divide a workout week into a heavy day, rest day, moderate day, active recovery day, heavy day and rest day. Just remember to cycle your bodyparts and exercises so they alternate between the heavy and moderate intensities.
To prevent overuse injuries, the frequency of high-intensity exercise should be limited to no more than once or twice a week per bodypart. Take at least one day of rest between training a particular muscle group, but if muscle soreness persists, you need more rest. You could also schedule an "active recovery" day of light aerobic exercise after a high-intensity total-body resistance workout to enhance recovery. For sufficient muscle stimulation and injury prevention, you need to use moderate weights for 8-12 reps, and a light day once every few weeks can be beneficial, too.
Excerpted from 101 Muscle-Shaping Workouts & Strategies for Women by Muscle & Fitness, Larry Bartholomew, Art Brewer. Copyright © 2011 Weider Publications, LLC.. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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