How to Begin a Strength Training Routine

by Erin Bahadur
How to Begin a Strength Training Routine
Building strength is important not only for bone and joint health, but also for everyday functional movements like carrying groceries or picking up a child. We’ve already talked about why women need more strength work, and this post is a closer look at how to start incorporating it into your exercise routine. START SMALL If you’ve never worked with weights before, start small with anywhere from 2-5 lbs. Start with the lightest ones you can that still feel challenging. Get used to the moves and the weight. If you’re still wary about picking up weights, you can start with just your bodyweight, but keep in mind that if you don’t add external weights at some point you will have to modify the bodyweight exercises to make them more difficult as you improve. INCREASE WEIGHT As you become more comfortable with equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, or he stationary machines at the gym, know that your body will also get comfortable. What may have been a challenging weight for you a month ago will feel more manageable and almost too easy. In order to progress and challenge those muscle groups, understand that you’ll also have to progress in weight over time. Reevaluate every month or two and try using a heavier weight. If it’s too challenging, you can still go back down, but as you get stronger you’ll have to graduate in weight in order to improve in strength. NON-GYM OPTIONS For those people who don’t like gyms or don’t have access to them, you can still strength train using things like resistance bands and your own bodyweight. Bands and your body are easy to transport and can be used at home, on the road, or in a hotel. CHOOSE APPROPRIATELY When looking for strength training routines, try and stick to reputable sources such as Women’s Health Magazine, Self or Oxygen magazine, for example. There are a ton of good routines on sites such as Pinterest or YouTube, but not all routines are created equal. If you have time, check out the author of the workout and see what his or her credentials are. If you’re on YouTube, see how many views a video has gotten and check the comments to see if people are pointing out anything improper. Try to find a video that walks you through each movement and talks about proper form since that’s the most important thing in any exercise. SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING As a reminder, if you’re pressed for time, strength training over cardio will provide quicker results. The good thing about bodyweight strength training is that many moves can be done wherever you are. Things like pushups, squats, lunges, and tricep dips can all be done on household or office furniture if you want to get in a short routine. Remember, doing anything is better than doing nothing. Try this quick circuit of 3 rounds of 10 reps each for a quick break from sitting at your desk:
3 rounds, 10 reps each
  • Push ups
  • Reverse lunges
  • Tricep dips on chair
  • Sit ups

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS As with any exercise routine, make sure to check with your doctor that it is safe for you to start. As we get older, it becomes even more important to understand our limitations in exercise. The body takes longer to repair and recover, and although resistance and strength training is still important, the intensity of the workout can be decreased. Lighter weights and higher repetitions may be more appropriate for older populations since the goal isn’t to gain a significant amount of muscle, but more to maintain what is already there. Strength routines do not have to be significantly altered in pregnancy. Many women continue strength work throughout their pregnancy, but it is important to discuss with your doctor what types of moves might need to be avoided (e.g., certain core movements and positions). SAMPLE ROUTINES For a demonstration of each move, check out the American Council on Exercise’s (ACE) exercise library, where you can search exercises by body part, equipment and even view videos.
Upper body routine: 5 rounds of 30 seconds per movement, rest 15
  • Bicep curls
  • Overhead tricep extensions
  • Chest press
  • Chest fly
  • Bent over row
Lower body routine: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • DB squats
  • DB walking lunges
  • Glute bridges
  • DB curtsy lunges
  • DB sumo squats
*DB = dumbbell