Have you ever gone to the gym without a plan? You hop on the treadmill or the elliptical and your goal is to simply work up a sweat and maybe make it through an entire episode of “How I Met Your Mother” on one of the overhead TVs. Chris Moore, the supervisor of exercise physiology at the Piedmont Fayette Hospital Fitness Center, has some ideas that can help you increase your overall strength and fitness and ensure that you’ll never be without a plan at the gym again and make sure you aren’t losing money with your gym membership!
Strength training is a great place to start for most women. Despite what many people think, working with weights does not automatically translate into adding bulky muscle to your frame. In fact, working with weights can help women strengthen their bones and prevent osteoporosis. Increasing your muscle mass can help you burn more calories, even at rest, and will improve your overall fitness.
“The important thing is to find the right weight to start with,” Chris says. “The goal should be finding a weight that you can lift 8-12 times but feel tired by at the end of those repetitions.”
Another important element of a gym visit for women is cardio. One in three women will be affected by heart disease during her lifetime, and cardiovascular work several times a week is necessary for good physical fitness. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. This amount of exercise, along with healthy eating, can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Walking or running in your neighborhood can help you accomplish these goals, but you can also do some cardio on the treadmill or elliptical machines at the gym. A good rule of thumb for work on a treadmill is to bump up the incline or speed so that the workout feels difficult but doable. If running or jogging isn’t for you, swimming or cycling can also increase your breathing and heart rate.
For women looking to work on weight loss, Chris stresses the importance of an overall workout and not targeting a specific “trouble” area.
“If you want to work on your waist or abdominal area, you should involve all muscle groups,” Chris says. “Isolating certain groups is ineffective, as fat is not stored in separate compartments of the body. Think of your muscles as little furnaces and the goal is to create the most heat with exercise to burn calories. Your larger muscles, like your legs, are like larger furnaces. They will create more heat. Involving more muscles, like having more furnaces, will also create more heat.”
If you are looking to work on upper body strength, exercises like a modified push-up or plank will also work your core and don’t require any additional equipment. If you have weights available, dumbbell chest presses, overhead presses or military presses, as well as work on rowing machines, will work several different muscle groups and help build strength. Squats and lunges are excellent ways to build leg strength and work additional parts of the body. Lower body strength training is also an excellent way to improve one’s balance.
By incorporating some strength training, working on both upper and lower body muscle groups, and cardio work, you will increase your overall fitness level – and you will always have some ideas on what to work on in your gym or fitness center.