Discover Your Inner Gym Rat (Or, Strength Training 101)

{By Taylor Eckel}

Have you ever noticed how we seem to think running, biking and other cardio is treated as more “feminine” than strength  training? Or how, when we do strength train, we only work our abs? On the flip side, I can’t tell you how many guys refuse to run or (heaven forbid) step on an elliptical machine.

I’m not sure how strength training got the stigma of being especially masculine, but it seems like a lot of girls either avoid it altogether or only do high reps with low weights. Here’s what you need to know to add strength training to your workout regimen. If you already incorporate strength training into your workouts, I’ve included a few ideas to make free weight work more challenging.

No Bulk

It’s important to remember that the inherent physical difference between guys and gals will cause our bodies to respond differently to the same exercises. Because we don’t have nearly as much testosterone as guys, we won’t naturally bulk up from intense strength training the way guys do. Sure, you’ll build muscle, just not in the same way as guys do. Also remember that genetic predispositions play a large role in how much muscle you build.

Machines vs Free Weights

Hands-down, free weights and resistance bands (or cables) are better than weight machines because they require you to engage muscles auxiliary to the ones you’re targeting, for stabilization. Furthermore, machines can’t always be adjusted to your size, which can compromise your form and put you at risk for injury.

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

Because you need to engage stabilizing muscles when you use free weights (and resistance bands/cables), you’ll fatigue faster than you will on a machine. Use a mirror to ensure you maintain proper form for the duration of your reps. Proper form is absolutely crucial to prevent injuries.

Get Off Balance

Remember how I said free weights force you to use more muscles than machines do? A great way to capitalize on this is to put yourself off balance when you are doing upper body work. Start by standing on one foot, and work your way up to standing on one foot on a balance disc or Bosu trainer. You can also stand on a Bosu or balance disc to do squats or single leg squats. Instead of doing a bench press on a bench, why not do a dumbbell press on a Swiss ball? As long as you can still perform the exercise with good form (use that mirror!), feel free to make modifications or even combine exercises. A lot of arm exercises can be combined with a squat, lunge, or toe raise to work your upper body and lower body at the same time.

High or Low Repetitions?

High repetitions (15-20) with low weight (about 50% of your max) build your “slow twitch” muscle fibers and will build endurance and to some degree help you stay toned. However, lower reps (6-8) with heavier weights (about 80% of your max) will build more muscle, which means a faster metabolism and greater strength and power.


In order to give your muscles time to recover, take a day off in between workouts. Another option is to alternate workouts- do your upper body workout one day, lower body workout the next. Your core is the one exception to this- it can definitely be worked every day.

Do you regularly incorporate strength training into your routine? What to you do?