Getting stronger is not just for the boys! Girls should want to get stronger too!
Being strong doesn’t lead to huge muscles. How you work out with weights will depend on your results, if you want to be stronger you lift differently than if you want bigger muscles (hypertrophy). I don’t mean you perform the movement differently – the change comes with the amount you lift and how many reps you do.
Before I get into the details of how to get stronger it is important to understand that strong muscles mean firm muscles, and it is these strong muscles that give the toned look to the body. I am always amazed when women say they want to tone up but then look in horror when weights are mentioned – tone does not come just from losing weight/fat.
From what I have seen over the last year it seems, at last, that the world is shifting more towards women wanting to become stronger and fitter and not just wanting to fit into a certain size dress.
So without delay let us get started with how to do it!
Getting Stronger Without Weights
How do I do that, and didn’t you say earlier that weights would be involved? Well firstly there is weight involved, bodyweight. When starting out you can get stronger using only your bodyweight and as you progress you will need to progressively overload your body i.e. keep challenging it. That’s how strength increases, if you use the same weight every workout for weeks and weeks or months on end then you wont get any stronger, you will in the beginning until your body adapts to the load but then you are just maintaining it not increasing it.
So, if you are just starting to work on your strength and using only your bodyweight there are a variety of exercises you can do that will workout your whole body.
Examples of great bodyweight exercises to improve strength:
Most of us can do a squat without any prior training – but what will be different for each person is their form, the depth of their squat and their endurance. The depth of squat determines which muscles are activated to a greater degree, i.e. hamstrings, glutes, quads etc. The deeper the squat the more hamstring/glute activation. There are people who may have difficulty with a squat due to various reasons i.e. injury, flexibility. mobility, stability issues but that does not necessarily mean they cannot squat, there are exercises that can be performed to improve the weak areas and allowing the person to perform squats safely and effectively.
Once you can squat with proper form and can easily complete 20 reps for a few sets you can take your squat to the next level by raising your arms in the air above your head. How about 1 legged squats. Once you find bodyweight squats aren’t challenging you anymore move on to using weights (it doesn’t have to be only front or back squats with a barbell, how about using a kettle bell, or use a medicine ball held out in front of you).
I just want to point out that not only is the squat a great exercise for strength but it is also a great exercise for helping with fat loss and changing the appearance of your legs and butt (think shapely, toned legs and perky butt).
How many pull ups you can do to begin with will depend on where you are with your strength already. Just start with what you can do and every time you do pull ups increase them by 1; if you cannot add an extra 1, do a partial pull up. If you can do 10 full pull ups then you need to look at adding weight. Remember you are going to get stronger by doing less reps and more weight. If you do more reps you are going to be increasing muscles size or increasing your endurance.
If you are using the assisted pull up machine then adjust the weight so that each day you are being assisted less and pulling your own weight more.
There are many varieties of push ups you can do depending on where you are with your strength. If you can’t do any then start with your knees bent, or how about full push ups with your hands raised i.e. on a bench or chair. Once you are able to do full push ups then progress again by changing something, add a resistance band (hold one end in each hand with the band across your upper back). Do the push up with your feet on a bench, or with your hands on a medicine ball.
Bodyweight exercises to get stronger are great but only to the point, once you are able to perform your reps and set easily you need to start adjusting the exercise to continue to overload your body. As you can see by the variations in some of the examples above, you don’t need to add weights straight away, you could alter your position, use resistance bands etc.
Getting Stronger With Weights
At some point the exercises you do with your bodyweight will need to move to the next level if you want to get stronger. This time you will include weights. When looking to increase strength with weights you want to aim to do between 1-6 reps and 3-4 sets.
If you are only doing 1 rep then you will need to be lifting very heavy – always remember your aim is to be able to complete your amount of reps, just, but that last rep should feel like you are really pushing and you would not be able to do another rep without losing form.
So, the difference here is you will be lifting heavier weight than you would for hypertrophy, endurance etc as you wont be doing as many reps. Read Strength Training Reps and Sets if you are interested in the different rep and set ranges for Conditioning, Endurance, Hypertrohpy, Strength and Power.
The amount of weight to add each workout will vary as everyone is different, start with adding a small amount, you should be able to tell if you have added too much or not enough once you do that extra rep.