What a woman can accomplish through exercise is impressive not only in terms of protecting her body from the ravages of female troubles, and even from time itself, but also in preventing illness and rejuvenating her body in medically measurable ways. But exactly what kind of exercise is the right kind?
It is an important question to answer because so much of what has become fashionable - fancy clothing and tossing weights around in a gym - is mostly the wrong kind. Walking or running along roads filled with air pollution and subjecting your body to the stress this brings can also do more harm than good.
Aware of the benefits of exercise, most people who exercise regularly do aerobic movement - swimming, cycling, running or walking. There is a great deal that is wonderful about this kind of exercise. It improves the functioning of the heart, lowers cholesterol, and shifts brain chemistry so that you produce natural opiates which make you feel good. It also increases noradrenaline - a brain chemical which improves your self image and confidence so you feel even better about yourself and your life all round. Aerobic exercise can also enhance your body's ability to burn fat not only while you are working out but for many hours afterwards as well.
This makes aerobic exercise an important part of any good exercise program. So get out and walk briskly as often as you can. But aerobic exercise doesn't go far enough. It does not offer the body enough weight resistance to maintain muscle mass.
One interesting study compared the Lean Body Mass to fat ratio in three groups of women - non-exercisers, aerobic exercisers, and weight trainers. Researchers found significant differences. In sedentary women, 21.8 percent of their body weight was fat. Among the aerobic exercisers 16.2 percent was fat while among resistance trainers only 14.7 percent of their body weight was fat. This is revolutionizing fitness advice as exercise physiologists have come to realize that, although aerobic exercise has a place as part of an exercise program, it does not maintain bones and muscle the way resistance exercise does.
The bottom line is we need both, although resistance exercise is the more important of the two. In an official statement of advice issued by a member of the advisory board of The American College For Sports Medicine - who in the past promoted aerobic exercise as the best form for over all health and fitness - the word is in: "Done correctly, weight training is the most efficient, effective, and safest form of exercise there is, and it won't be long before people realize it."
let's get started
What does a confirmed lounge-lizard do once she decides she wants to explore how exercise can change her life? First you get an OK from your doctor to make sure that there is no reason you should not start on a simple graded program. Then go easy. If you start small and work up you will win. If you start big you can not only wear out your body but also lose your taste for movement, then the whole effort will have become counter productive since you will end up hating exercise and getting nowhere.
For exercise to work it has to become an ordinary part of your daily life. It needs to done regularly at least three times a week. Begin with only 15 minutes in the morning when you get up or at any other time of the day that is convenient. The great news is that right from that very first session your body will begin to rejuvenate itself. Exercise routines progress well when you work out at the same time each day. Try to do this if you can. Your body will get used to the routine and love it.
When it comes to resistance training you don't need to own a lot of fancy equipment either. Nor do you need to join a gym. A couple of dumbbells will do. Later on if you catch the exercise bug big you might like to have a barbell as well. Dumb bells and barbells are what are known as free weights as opposed to the kind of gym equipment you find in a multitude of sizes and shapes and glitzy finishes these days.
Beginners are often dazzled by the high tech stuff in gyms, but as any serious weight trainer will tell you, for most exercises free weights are far better. They are also far simpler since you can tuck them under the bed out of sight when they are not in use and you can make use of them any time you want without having to dress in special clothes and go to the gym.
Choose the kind of dumbbells - each of which fits into one hand - that have six removable weights on each so you can add and then take off weights as needed for each exercise. When you are not using the dumbbells stash them away out of sight. Your body and their weight against gravity offer all the resistance you need to work muscles deeply.
The machines you find in gyms are designed to mimic the effects of free weight exercises but - with a couple of minor exceptions - no matter how flash they look, they are not as good as simple free weights because the range of movement which you go through in each exercise is restricted by the machine.
Once you get into weight training and gain a bit of confidence with it then you might find it fun to work out in the gym using these machines occasionally. But free weights should form the basis of any good weight training routine, whether you are a complete beginner, as I was, or a professional weightlifter.
There are three things you want to accomplish on your exercise program. First you want to maintain and to improve your heart and lung fitness. For this you will use weights plus some form of aerobic activity for warming up and cooling down. Second you want to maintain and increase your muscle mass. Finally you want to improve and maintain your flexibility, and for this you need some kind of slow stretching afterwards.
It is important at the beginning of any exercise session that you spend a few minutes doing an aerobic activity. (You must never pick up a weight when your muscles are cold). This can be running in place, slow steady jumping jacks, using a rowing machine (my favorite) or bouncing on a rebounder. In the beginning, your total exercise session may only last 15 to 20 minutes, in which case you will want to devote five minutes at the beginning to the aerobic warm up. Later on it can be longer.
I generally row on a Concept II rowing machine for about 10 minutes at a slow steady pace to get my heart and lungs moving and warm up before beginning my weights. As the length of your exercise session grows week by week, until it is ideally 45 minutes to an hour at a time, so will the time you spend on your aerobic activities at the beginning and end of the session, and perhaps in the middle too.
After this initial warm-up period which should last long enough that you feel fully warmed up, you should then spend 5 to 10 minutes stretching. Stretch slowly and smoothly towards the ceiling, towards your toes, to the side. Never jerk when stretching and breathe deeply. Stretching before a workout but after a warm up is done to allow major muscle groups along with associated tendons and ligaments to be gently stretched, ensuring possible injuries are greatly reduced. Now you are ready for your muscle work.
To work with weights properly, you need to split your sessions into different body parts and work one or two body parts per session, leaving at least 48 hours between that session and the next time you work that body part.
The muscle and bone strengthening that comes with resistance training does not take place while you are using the weights. In fact, working out stresses the muscles and bones, causing tiny breakdowns in the cells to occur. It is during the rest that comes after a workout that new muscle and bone is built in direct response to the piezoelectric stimulation at a molecular level.
If you come to the point of using quite heavy weights and training five times a week then it is important to work out each body part only once a week for it can take about 48 hours for the breakdown process to take place and between 48 and 72 hours to build new strong tissue to replace it. Ignorant of these facts, many gung ho body builders and weight trainers over-train their muscles and end up undermining their immune system as a result ,while getting nowhere near the benefits in terms of strengthening LBM (Lean Body Mass) that they should. Exercising a particular muscle group every 5 to 8 days is ideal for optimum progress.
Stand in any gym and watch weight trainers do their stuff. It can be highly instructive, at least so far as showing you how not to work with weights. 90 percent of the men and women who use weights let their bodies swing all over the place and when they are doing an exercise such as a dumbbell curl they let the weight just fall back after each movement instead of being in control.
When you do your movements be sure to keep your body absolutely centered with each movement, only using the particular muscle group that is supposed to be working, and emphasize the eccentric contraction or return movement where you are returning the weight to its original position. Resist the movement all of the way back. It is the stress placed on your muscles of lengthening again when they are under resistance load that brings about most of the gains in strength and LBM you are after.
Be sure while you are working out that you drink lots of water - between each set - and eat plenty of alkaline forming foods since any kind of exercise tends to make your system more acid.
the cool down
It is also important to spend a few minutes at the end of a weights session again doing some kind of aerobic activity to cool down. How long depends on the length of your weights session. You can go through the same kind of activity you have used in the beginning of your session, or even take a brisk walk, but make sure you stay warm by adding an extra sweater, for after a session your body cools down fast and you don't want to become chilled.
the stretch out
Then do some more stretching for a couple of minutes. You will find that your body stretches more easily now since your muscles are full of blood and energized. Go slow and enjoy the feeling. It can be wonderful.
All of the exercises here are classic weight training movements. They are simple and straightforward. They require nothing more than a couple of dumbbells - the kind that have six weights on each which can be unscrewed and changed will give you the particular weight you need for an exercise. Start with the lightest weights. You will be able to tell for yourself if something feels right. Never strain. As your body becomes accustomed to the lighter weight you can add a bit more.
The object of the exercise is not to use heavy weights but simply to provide your body with enough weight to create resistance against which your muscles do their work. You will find pictures of the movements below in any standard book of weight training, or you can find pictures and videos showing you how to do them on the internet. Or ask a fitness instructor to show them to you. Each exercise is done smoothly and with complete control, both on the contraction of the muscle group and on the relaxation. While one muscle group is working, the rest of the body remains still and centered.
Start off by doing only three training sessions a week with one set (a set is the same exercise repeated a certain number of times: so 2x10 would mean ten repetitions of the movement, rest for two to three minutes, then ten more repetitions of the movement: 3x10 means the ten repetitions is done three times with two minutes rest between each set) per exercise, then work up to longer by adding more exercises for each muscle group you are working with, and doing one warm up set of easy repetitions (10-15) followed by a heavier set using a little more weight (5-10 repetitions).
Begin with very light weights - just enough for you to feel that your muscles are being worked as you near the end of your repetitions. Then by the time you are ready to add your second set, put on a little more weight until at the end of your repetitions your muscles feel tired.
Session One: Shoulders and Arms
- Dumbbell press 2x10
- Side lateral raise 2x10
- Single arm tricep extension 2x10
- Tricep kickback 2x10
- Dumbbell curl 2x10
- Concentration curl 2x10
Session Two: Chest and Back
- Dumbbell bench press 2x10
- Dumbbell flies 2x10
- Single arm rowing 2x10
- Dumbbell shrug 2x10
- Floor hyperextensions 2x10
Session Three: Legs and Abdominal Muscles
- Dumbbell squat 2x10
- Dumbbell lunge 2x10
- Calf raise 2x10
- Abdominal crunch 2x10-15
- Reverse crunch 2x10-15
Once you have got a taste for weights and have trained three times a week you can begin doing longer sessions - up to 45 minutes to 1 hour. You might also like to do more sessions per week moving up from three to five. Then you would divide your body part work in this way:
Session One: Shoulders
- Dumbbell press 1x12, 2x8
- Side lateral raise 1x12, 2x8
- Bent lateral raise 1x12, 2x8
- Front lateral raise 2x10
Session Two: Back
- Dumbbell dead lift 1x12, 3x8-10
- Single arm rowing 3x10
- Floor hypers 3x10-12
- Dumbbell shrugs 3x10
Session Three: Chest
- Dumbbell bench press 1x12, 3x8-10
- Dumbbell pullover 1x12, 2x8-10
- Dumbbell flies 3x10
Session Four: Arms
- Single arm tricep extension 1x12, 3x8
- Tricep extension 3x8-10
- Dumbbell curl 1x12, 3x8
- Concentration curl 3x8-10
Session Five: Legs and Abdominals
- Dumbbell squat 1x12, 3x8
- Dumbbell lunge 3x10
- Dumbbell step up 3x12
- Stiff leg dead lift 3x10
- Calf raise 3x12
- Abdominal crunch 3x15-20
- Side crunch 3x15-20
- Reverse crunch 3x15-20
Each woman is in reality two women, an outer woman which can come in many forms - conventionally attractive, plain, sexy, dynamic, withdrawn, aggressive, apparently assured or terribly uncertain about herself - and an inner counterpart, that is an individual self that is utterly unique.
Each woman has a stable center of strength and growth. Each inner woman sees the world in her own way, has her own brand of creativity, her own needs and desires, and is a law unto herself. The inner self holds the power to create, change, build, nurture and transform. The outer woman is the vehicle for what the self creates. When her self is allowed free expression, then a woman is truly beautiful for she is fully alive. Her body is strong, her skin is clear and healthy, and her movements, speech and actions radiate a kind of vitality that is unmistakably charismatic because it is real, an outward expression of who she truly is.
Many of the secrets to calling forth this kind of aliveness are to be found within the body itself - secrets which are best learned by working with muscle. Once you get the hang of it, working with weights is like meditation - one of the most mind-stilling activities in the world. Meanwhile, as your LBM begins to develop, you will find your muscles and whole body have come alive. Then, as you work out, your muscles will begin to glow, until after a few months your body begins often to feel the way it did when you were a child - radiant with life and spirit.