In the past, I’ve had some workout goals, but they mainly had to do with endurance. When I was around 20 years old, it was to complete a 185-mile bike ride. Check. When I was 21, my goal was to complete another 185-mile bike ride. Check. And at this same time my goal was to complete a 10 K race. Check.
When I was 22, I began to have a lot of IT Band issues with my leg and could no longer run. I was very sad, almost depressed without my morning runs. But, life goes on. After I was done with the pity party I threw myself, I began to realize that there are other workout goals you can have besides racing. I also realized that it’s a complete waste of time to sit and think about all the things you CANT do. So, I began spending my time with things I COULD do, and wouldn’t ya know, my enthusiasm towards my workouts came back 😉
I began to shift my focus to lifting weights and getting STRONG. This was pretty new to me. Sure, I had tossed around some dumbbells and did random crunches and curls, but I had never seriously lifted. I never had the guts to see how much I could bench press or squat and more importantly, I didn’t have the guts to venture into the ‘meat head’ section of my university’s rec center.
My interest really peaked from reading Oxygen Magazine and seeing the stunning physiques they had on display each month. I have always known that I will never be a stick figure model and have never tried to be one. I also enjoy food too much to try to be skinnier than my body wants to be. I find a fit physique much more attractive and knew that it was the goal for me: to become stronger and shapelier with heavy strength training. I wanted to ADD muscle to my physique, not waste it away. It was a real turning point for me in regards to my body image. Lifting weights made such a positive impact on me and how I view my body. Each time I could add another weight plate to my deadlift or squat, I was proud of what my body was able to achieve. This also made me want to feed my body appropriately to aid in muscle growth.
Pretty soon I was reading up on strength training every day and finally ventured into the “meat head” section of the gym to try my hand at benching, squatting, and deadlifting. I would study the form before I went to the gym so I didn’t look like a complete newbie when I began my sets. A few weeks after I started my weight workouts, I was completely comfortable tossing the weights around with the muscle-bound college guys. I even became a “regular” and felt respected. I became completely dedicated to my workouts and could not wait to set personal records for my lifts!
My point of this story is to talk about the importance of weight training goals.
I see so many people lifting weights (either in person or reading others’ blogs) with really no direction or reasoning as to why they are doing it. I don’ t look down on people who just go into the weight room and do random exercises, but I would like to try my best to enlighten you on what I have discovered about weight training.
First, it’s important to have a GOAL.
- What do you want out of your strength training workout?
- Do you want to add muscle and gain strength?
- Do you want to maintain your current strength level?
- Or are you looking to do circuit style weight training (which is really cardio)?
You’ll need a schedule
Once you have a goal in mind, then you need to ask yourself how much time a week you are willing to commit to your strength training workouts. When my goal was to add muscle and increase my strength, I was fully committed. I dropped back on cardio (because too much cardio is counterproductive to adding muscle) and upped my strength training to 4 days per week using an upper/lower split.
Less is More!
I have been working out consistently for almost a decade and can tell you that the biggest thing I have learned is less is more! You do not have to do 15-20 different exercises per workout, nor do you have to do cardio every single day. Believe me, been there and done that! I gained the most strength while doing the least amount of cardio and of course eating more to give my body proper fuel and nutrients to be able to build muscle.
Here is an example Upper-Lower Split I have done in the past:
Day 1: Upper Body
- Bench Press 4 sets x 6 reps
- Lat Pull Down 4 x 6
- Overhead Dumbbell Press 3 x 12
- Seated Cable Row 3 x 12
- Bicep Curls 3 x 12
Day 2: Lower Body
- Squat 4 x 6
- Stiff Leg Dead Lift 3 x 12
- Reverse Lunges 3 x 12
- Hamstring Curl Machine 3 x 12
- Ab exercise 3 x 12
Day 3: OFF/Rest Day
Day 4: Upper Body
- Barbell Bent Over Row: 4 x 6
- Military Press: 4 x 6
- Pull Ups/Assisted Pull Ups 3 x 12
- Push Ups: 3 x 12
- Tricep Push Down 3 x 12
Day 5: Lower Body
- Conventional Deadlift 4 x 6
- Stationary Lunge 3 x 12
- Leg Extensions 3 x 12
- Hamstring Curl using Stability Ball 3 x 12
- Abs 3 x 12
Day 6 and 7: OFF/Rest
For detailed descriptions of any of these exercises, please see this website! It’s great!
As you can see, I only do 5 exercises per day. The most I would do would be 6. Sometimes I would do only 4 exercises. It’s quality over quantity. Sure, it does not look like much. But I promise that if you really challenge yourself and lift heavy, you will get in a great workout.
The way I choose my exercises is simple. I do the most basic, and functional lifts. I choose from these exercises:
- Chest Press
- Shoulder Press
- Dead lift
- Hamstring Curl
- Pull down
You can mix any of these exercises up by switching from barbells to dumbbells, changing your grip, changing the incline, changing the reps or sets, etc. But I always do a type of all the exercises listed above.
I throw in ab exercises and isolation exercises only if I want to. Your biceps and triceps will be worked from the compound movements (movements using more than one muscle, such as a bent over row), so really, you don’t have to spend a full day committed to your biceps and triceps 😉 If you do choose to do isolation movements (tricep kickbacks, bicep curls), throw them in at the end of your workout after you have done the heavier lifts.
The reason I say I choose “functional” lifts is because I want the lifting to help me in every day life. What does standing on a Bosu ball doing bicep curls help you do in real life? Eh, not much. When during your day do you stand on half of a stability ball?
On the other hand, look at the deadlift. What does a deadlift help you do? It emulates picking something heavy from off the ground…which people do every day. Same with squatting and over head pressing. We do those basic movements every day, so I think it’s a good idea to do exercises that imitate that. I am not looking down upon those of you who DO use a Bosu ball by any means. I just want to talk about how it is important to understand WHY you are doing a certain exercise. Just my honest opinion on strength training 🙂
Lifting heavy is not the workout for everyone, but I really think it’s important to challenge yourselves. If you are lifting the same 15lb dumbbells each week with ease, then increase! I guarantee you are stronger than you think! And don’t be afraid to EAT! If your goal is to gain muscle, you need to eat and eat a lot. It takes a lof of extra calories to gain muscle mass, especially as women. Also, make sure to schedule rest days each week, its important not only for recovery, but for muscle growth.
**What are your current strength training goals?
My strength goals at the moment are to maintain my current level of strength with two full body workouts per week, although I have been toying with the idea about getting back to a more structured routine, such as an upper/lower split….stay tuned!