If you feel giddy excitement for the new year, you must be envisioning what you can achieve with strength training: A chiseled, strong physique that screams sexy athleticism… A well-developed, muscled back that emerged from unassisted pull ups… A booty that won’t quit and legs you want to flaunt… And most importantly, rock-solid confidence that your body is a strong, lean, fat-burning machine.
At least that’s what I’m aiming for when I lift weights.
If you faithfully practice these seven elements of smart training, you will bust out more muscle and strength than you ever have before. Are you ready for it?
A Roadmap for More Muscle
You’ve probably seen those pie charts dividing the important parts of your life into categories (career, family, etc.). It’s a cool way to set specific goals, but I’ve taken it to a new level. Instead of setting goals without knowing exactly how to get there, use this strength-training gains chart as your roadmap to success:
That Consistency, Though…
You might notice that consistency is missing from this chart, yet it’s arguably the most important element of getting good results with lifting. That’s because consistency is the crux of every piece of this chart – you cannot practice these pillars once in awhile and progress safely and successfully long term. You must do each one most or all of the time.
And training consistently is a given. To build significant muscle and strength, you must get most workouts in. Remember that muscle is not “easy” to build, especially if you’re an intermediate lifter. But with your eyes focused on this roadmap, you will get there.
Now for each pillar in more detail. To drill down further in each area, peruse my strength-training article database.
Warm Up Always & Optimally
If anything separates the girls who lift from the women who lift, it’s a religious warm-up habit. A good warm up means more muscle. Why? Because it increases blood flow to skeletal muscle, produces better muscle contractions, and increases neuromuscular efficiency. And these responses reduce your risk of injury and increase your performance. See why you should never skip your warm up?
Here’s my ideal strength-training warm up (in order):
- 5 minutes of moderate cardio to increase blood flow and heart rate (core body temperature).
- 5 minutes of foam rolling, in areas where you feel tight, to work through range of motion issues.
- 2 sets of 4-6 dynamic warm-up exercises (circuit-style), mimicing those in your workout, to activate the nervous system and prepare your joints and soft tissues for movement.
So while it’s important to warm up before every session, it’s also important to warm up optimally.
Cycle Your Workouts
If you’re already cycling your workouts, you’re probably a personal trainer, because most recreational lifters wing it. Just sayin’. Lots of people change the weight, reps, sets, or exercises depending on their mood, and before they know it they’re injured, plateaued, or have pipsqueaky results.
But you don’t have to be a personal trainer to cycle your workouts. Simply plan out your workouts out in advance, rotating heavy and light days. Take a deload week once every 4-12 weeks, depending on your level. Break your training into 4-, 6- 8- or even 12-week chunks and change variables at regular intervals (more on that below).
Whatever you do, logging your workouts is a must. How else will you know how much to lift each sesh?
More Resources: Read my articles for beginners or any level, learn about changing exercises, reps, sets, and watch my ‘scope about programming your own workouts, Or get my help to benefit from a custom, professionally designed training program (badaboom!).
Eat For Your Goals
When my online clients first come to me, they already know nutrition plays a big role in muscle building. The problem is that it can be hard to live it. Add in a metabolism that is ineffcient after years of (1) eating too little or too much and/or (2) not exercising enough, and you have a plateaued, frustrated woman lifter.
Not only is eating a well-rounded, natural foods diet important, so is eating the right amount for your goals. You need to eat more to build muscle. So if you goal is to lose fat, you need to eat less first. You also need to get the proper pre- and postworkout nutrition.
Don’t Hold Back
This is something you may need to hear: Release your fear and trust your body. Stop being afraid of getting bulky, hurting yourself, or looking stupid. Just lift, and lift hard and heavy.
Ahem, yes: You should train intelligently and cycle in back-off weeks. Don’t go to failure on every set. But most women can and should push harder than they do, as Steve Pulcinella sums up here:
Respect Range of Motion
Every time I go to the gym, I see range-of-motion mistakes. It’s common for both experienced and beginning lifters to stop short at one end of the lift or the other, either unconsciously or to make it easier. But you’re not doing yourself any favors by shortening the ROM, and you may even cause a muscle imbalance or worse.
One study even demonstrated that muscle size and strength are greater with full range of motion . You can read more about that study here. Good range of motion equals good technique. Which brings us to the next stop on your roadmap to your most bitchin’ physique EVAR.
Every good lifter is a student of lifting. Effective weightlifting is a technical endeavor that requires a lot of neuromuscular control. Some lifts are more technical than others, but even personal trainers are constantly working towards perfecting their technique.
Practicing technique never ends, because your body is never static. You can develop a muscle imbalance unconsciously and start training around it, changing your technique. Record yourself, study videos, and analyze your own form or have a pro do it for you. Practice, practice, and keep perfecting as you add weight to the bar. As Dave Tate once said,
You can work technique all you want at 30 and 40 percent of your one-rep max using multiple sets and low reps, but technique is still going to be influenced by what’s on the bar. You may look good at 50 percent but 80 percent may look like shit.”
Recover Like You Train
You’ve stressed your muscles, joints, and central nervous system with a hard lifting session. Nice job! Now it’s time to rest and get bigger.
We tend to put all the importance on our time in the gym, but the real work happens in between sessions. Muscle fibers repair broken-down tissues, resuting in larger muscles. Calories continue to be burned (via EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and glycogen stores are replaced. Most importantly, the central nervous system restores full function between brain and body.
Inadequate recovery can result in injuries and dwarfed muscle and strength. Make recovery as important as training, and read up HERE to find out how much you need.
There you have it – your path to strength-training gainz. For cardiovascular health and to help cut out a lean physique, integrate conditioning into your workout week, too. Do a 10-minute finisher using any bodyweight exercise you can do fast with good form, or add 20-minute high-intensity intervals 2-3 times a week.
How many of these elements do you already use? Which ones will YOU be adding?
This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.