Laura Hoggins is a personal trainer, podcast host, founder of the London Fitness community “Lifted” and one of our Optimum Nutrition Ambassadors. Laura is passionate about the benefits of strength training. Here, she tells us her top tips for helping people get started with basic strength training for women:
On the most basic level, what are we talking about when we talk about 'strength training'?
Strength training is a type of physical exercise that is based around the use of resistance exercise, working various muscle groups to help build strength, build muscle, burn fat and develop anaerobic endurance.
Can all women try strength training? E.g. does it matter what build or level of fitness you are?
Yes, I believe anyone can try strength training, and despite the misconceptions, females can also experience real benefits from it. The weights used during this training, are specific to what is progressively challenging to that individuals for that specific rep range, everything can be progressed or regressed, which is the beauty of using weights and resistance.
What are the benefits of strength training for women? E.g. why should we do it? How does it affect our mental as well as our physical health?
Strength training can help a female to lose body fat in a few different ways. If they are looking to improve body composition and lose body fat, strength training will help them retain muscle whilst in a calorie deficit. Due to the effort level needed in strength training it delivers a much greater level of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption than aerobic exercise, therefore spiking that metabolism, burning calories for hours after a session. There are also other benefits such as improved posture, bone density and not forgetting mental health. Strength training for many is described as therapy, the feeling of empowerment and sense of achievement it provides is incredible.
Does it give the client cardio fitness...or should they supplement strength training with cardio?
Yes, for the everyday athlete or gym-goer. I believe it is important to maintain a variety of training stimulus and cardio fitness is essential to develop their cardio vascular system. Intermediate to advanced strength training near maximal capacity is mainly anaerobic work; however there are some components of cardio development in a circuit format, lifting medium weights, for higher reps.
The benefits for clients of having a personal trainer or being part of a class?
Form and technique is essential to ensure the client is working safely to avoid excess load, avoid injury, work in full ranges of motion and that they are comfortable with the progressions and regressions suitable for their training. Depending on their goals I suggest all clients seek guidance from a fitness professional, with a PT or a Group Exercise class at the start of each programme to ensure they are moving well and can perform with confidence. Once they feel confident replicating the movement patterns you have thought them they may be able to train on their own in a gym or at home.
Could you please describe, three of the KEY strength training exercises that any woman getting into resistance training will need to master. For each could you please describe the correct technique, and what the benefits are?
The main compound lifts I believe the client should master within strength training are the squat, the hinge (deadlift) and the push/pull (vertical or horizontal).
Squat – this movement works the lower body, predominantly the glutes (strong butt!) and quads but also the core, abdominals, lower back and obliques. The client can start perfecting the movement with just their bodyweight, feet shoulder width apart. Start the movement by driving the hips back knees out and lowering until their butt hits below parallel to their knees, keeping their chest up, all the weight in their heels, squeeze the bum and drive up to full extension.
Deadlift – this hinge movement is one of the best compound lifts for strong glutes, hamstrings, and core, while also works the upper back.
Feet shoulder width apart, pick up the weight (barbell or KB etc.) engage the lats. and core, shoulders back whilst maintaining a nice neutral spine. Squeeze the bum, extend at the hip and drive through the floor with the heels to full extension, returning to the start position by hinging at the hip and slowly lowering the weight to the floor.Push/Pull – this upper body movement can come in various forms, for example the shoulder press, and also a bent over row will work predominantly the back and shoulders, biceps and triceps. Pick a weight that the client can maintain a neutral spine and avoid any over extension of the chest, e.g. the shoulder press; hold the weights on the clients shoulders, wrists facing outwards, big deep breath engaging the core, glutes tight and press above their head to full extension, slowly lower the weights back to the shoulders and repeat. Finding a weight they can just about hit 10-12 reps for 3-4 sets with 60-90s recovery is a good place to start.
Are there any key safety issues to watch out for...e.g. in terms of protecting the clients back?
Moving safely should always be your priority with each client over their training intensity. It is important the client carefully braces throughout the movements and I always believe if it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t, don’t force it. Advise the client to lower the weight, amend the reps or just come back to that movement another time before they push it further than they are comfortable with.
How many times a week is it advisable to strength train, for beginners? How long should they work out for, and roughly how many reps/rests might they aim for within that timeframe? (I know it will be so different depending on the person.)
This obviously depends hugely on the individual’s ability and their goals. However for beginners as a guide I would recommend strength training twice per week mixed with varied intensity of conditioning on other days ensuring they have recovery time in between. I would pick compound (multiple muscle groups) movements (squat, deadlift, push/pull) and use a weight/resistance that will ensure they can compete 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps of each. Those last 2 reps should be a struggle but whilst maintaining form.
What are some of the key misconceptions about strength training, and how are they changing?
I think the biggest misconception about strength training is, “I won’t be able to lift it…” every single movement can be scaled down to whichever weight feels challenging but comfortable to you. And then of course if the client can lift it, they will gain ‘bulk’, this is my favourite question. There is no concern around getting ‘bulky’ at a relatively basic level, physical adaptation to strength training is unique to each person’s genetics and women especially don’t have enough testosterone to support the muscle growth that men can experience so we will hope to achieve that nice lean and toned physique.
To get the most out of strength training, do we need to look at our nutrition too?
Absolutely, and this is the key! Just like the strength and resistance plan, a client’s nutrition is also very individual to what works for them as it may not work for another and they may have very different goals! In the simplest form, if they do not support their training with a complementary diet their results will suffer. You should advise the client on managing optimal nutrition and calories to support a lean sculpted body. Generally, depending on their activity level, they will need to support their training with enough protein to help the repair of muscles and adequate fats and carbohydrates are also important to fuel the body for training and to maintain their lifestyle.
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