In medical school, she’d counsel patients on the importance of exercise and feel like a hypocrite, she says, since she did little but shuttle from home to the hospital, spending her rare free time catching up on sleep. “My body didn’t feel good, and my mind didn’t feel very good either,” she says. But once she started taking her own advice, as a resident at Loyola University Medical Center, Dena quickly became a hard-core strength-training fanatic. Within a month of learning how to lift weights, she noticed she had more energy without needing as much sleep, she felt far less stressed out, and she saw her body tone up fast.
“Absolutely ridiculous!” This is what I thought aloud while reading a popular diet book for women. It was appalling. Yogurt, cereal, coffee and a glass of juice for breakfast. Where the heck is the protein!? Sure, yogurt has some, but not enough to sustain the energy, satiation and nutrition that an active woman needs. It is time to set the record straight. We need to take these old school, fairy tale diets and trash them! Just as we burned our bras in the 60’s for equal rights, let’s burn our old diet books and get with the program—Women NEED protein!
Powerlifting isn’t the only way to get results. Strength training comes in far more accessible forms as well—many of which do not even require a gym membership and certainly don’t require a personal trainer. Resistance bands, cheap strips of elastic that loop around arms or legs, are one good way to build strength without weights, for instance. A 2017 study showed that when frail women over 60 who were obese worked out with resistance bands for three months, they dropped body fat and increased bone density. Another option that involves even less equipment is to use your own body weight. Sitting up and down in a chair many times builds strength, as does jumping, which uses many of the legs’ major muscles. Even walking can count as strength training, depending on the intensity.
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A personal trainer in NYC's Upper East Side, Pagano has dedicated the past 16 years of her life to passing her knowledge and passion for fitness on to other women in the hopes of helping them improve their lives and prevent common diseases like osteoporosis. Her first offering in the crowded self-help fitness genre succeeds impressively well as a resource for women of all ages looking to improve their overall health. Like a good personal trainer should, she begins with a three-part fitness test and questionnaire to assess whether the reader should consult a doctor before beginning her program. For true beginners, she provides an anatomy chart that depicts the major muscle groups and the exercises that are best suited to them. She dispels fitness myths like "lifting weights will bulk you up" and "you can spot reduce," and talks about the risk factors, exercise guidelines and restrictions of osteoporosis. Best of all for novices, many of Pagnano's beginner exercises require no special equipment, relying instead on everyday fixtures like chairs, walls and kitchen countertops. (More advanced exercises use free weights, stretch bands and stability balls.) The color photos, diagrams and clear explanations make the exercises easy to follow, and Pagano provides full training programs for improving posture and strengthening the lower, upper and core muscles of the body. This book may be one of the best substitutes for pricey gym memberships and personal trainers.
How her body has reacted: Since making the switch, my body composition has changed drastically. It is something I didn’t notice right away and I truly still don’t understand how drastically it has changed until I look at pictures and see how much leaner my body is and how much stronger I am. I have more energy outside of training, which leaves me in a good mental space to focus on eating healthfully to fuel my body properly.
I recommend exercises that simulate what you do in real life, exercises standing up using your body weight, for example. These exercises not only use the muscles you're targeting, for instance when doing a lunge you're working your legs, they also challenge your core muscles, which are the muscles of your abdominals and lower back. And they challenge your coordination, which you need in real life.
Of course, to Perkins—who is on a mission to get women weight lifting—the benefits go even deeper. "Something magical happens when you reach for a heavy object and are surprised by your own strength," she says. "It's an incredible feeling to climb a flight of stairs and feel powerful, or when you find that you no longer need the help of a man to move boxes. It's time for women to find their power."
When you engage in strength training, the exercises don’t just affect your muscles. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), it can also have major effects on your physical health, such as reducing blood pressure, improving cholesterol, and reducing your risk of diabetes. Better yet, it can also improve your ability to perform daily activities, such as lifting boxes or moving household items – all because it improves your strength, coordination, and flexibility.
Ok, so all fears gone! I will give it a try, and the cool part is that since my husband and I are trying to do something together, without kids, and look better, we could do this! But I am confused as to the ‘losing fat’ and ‘building muscle’ separate dietary reqs. I want both?! And how long to do the beginners workout before moving onto intermediate… Other than that, I’m very excited to start! I’m going to do before and after pics, and document progress. Awesome!
Begin with three weight-training sessions each week, recommends Joe Dowdell, founder and co-owner of the New York City gym Peak Performance. For the greatest calorie burn, aim for total-body workouts that target your arms, abs, legs, and back, and go for moves that will zap several different muscle groups at a time—for example, squats, which call on muscles in both the front and back of your legs, as opposed to leg extensions, which isolate the quads.
"You will never get bored," said one tester, with the push-yourself workouts in the 21 Day Fix—seven 30-minute sessions ranging from high-intensity cardio-strength circuits to Pilates. Each routine "amps up familiar moves" to crank your calorie burn. Another tester was wowed that "so many different modifications and options were shown to help me switch up my workout." There's an included diet plan for those on a mission to trim.
Get on all fours with feet and knees hip-width apart. Place hands shoulder-width apart and spread fingers wide. Pressing firmly through hands, lift knees off mat and straighten legs. Walk hands forward and feet backwards to adjust position. (If you have tight hamstrings, bend knees gently.) Squeeze thighs and imagine pressing them against a flat plane. Press heels down onto mat as much as possible [shown]. Keep neck relaxed and breathe deeply.
Leslie of Fightmaster Yoga teaches hatha yoga for beginners, yoga for energy, yoga for reducing stress, meditation yoga, yoga workouts for strength, yoga for office workers…in other words, she offers a BIG selection of yoga classes! She is a knowledgeable instructor and is an excellent communicator, which makes her classes especially easy for beginners to follow.
What she does now: I signed up with a personal trainer to help me learn more about weightlifting and strength training. Sometimes I think people don’t realize the value of having someone holding you accountable and helping you with form, education and motivation. I was determined enough to make the change that I went and purchased several months’ worth of sessions and committed to it. Little did I know that I would fall in love with how lifting made me feel.
Lie on your back on the floor, feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Hold medium-weight dumbbells directly over your shoulders, arms straight. This is the start position. Squeeze your shoulder blades, then bend at the elbows and shoulders, lowering the dumbbells until your upper arms are on the ground. Pause, then press back up to the start. That’s 1 rep. Do 3 sets.
Change up your workouts. Making even small changes to your strength workout can go a long way. Try altering the order of your exercises, or incorporate new pieces of equipment for the exercises you’re already doing, such as using free weights instead of a machine. You can also replace some or all of the exercises you’re doing with moves that work the same muscle groups. For example, instead of the chest press on a weight machine, switch to push-ups.
To hammer this point home: Staci wrote the majority of our free guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. The videos we mention and link to within the guide are generally of her demonstrating them. And we know that women often have to face additional challenges when training in the weight section of a gym (usually it’s idiot dudes who think they need help, ugh).