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Your Personal Trainer: Learning to Weight Train

This may be the last installment of my personal trainer blog, but it’s definitely not the least important!  In fact, this blog is crucial to toning up for the summer.  You can practice healthy eating and do your thirty minutes of cardio, but there’s one last element needed to top off your workout and give you that beautifully fit bod:  weight training.

Many girls back away from lifting.  They worry about bulking up, looking like the big boys.  But collegiettes™, there is a major difference between us fabulous females and those men… testosterone!  Because we don’t have nearly as much testosterone as men (about one tenth the amount), our muscles won’t build the same way theirs do.  Phew! 

First thing’s first:  only work out one muscle group every other day if you’re hitting the gym daily.  The American Council on Sports Medicine suggests this pattern to give your muscles recovery time.  Otherwise, you could end up over-training and see adverse effects.

If you’re doing a whole body workout, however, be sure to work the larger muscles first.  A good idea is to start with an exercise like the squat, working the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.  Ab work should come last.  You need core in many other exercises so it shouldn’t be worked to fatigue too soon!

When weight training, it’s important to progress, adding more weight or repetitions to your workout.  The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) recommends the double-progressive approach.  For example, if you can lift 10 lbs. for eight reps, do this until it becomes easy, then strive for 12 reps.  When the set of 12 becomes too easy, add on weight and decrease your reps back to eight.  It’s important to keep challenging your muscles; otherwise, you won’t gain strength and will stop effectively toning.

My last tip before getting into some great exercise ideas is to BREATHE!  Deep breaths will truly help when you don’t think you can get that last rep in.  Here’s the key:  exhale when you’re exerting the most energy (like when you’re coming up out of a squat, curling up in a bicep curl, or sitting up on a sit-up). 

I love when I’m at the gym and see one of my friends walk in.  In fact, it happened today.  I finished training my fabulous client, turned around, and saw my two roommates on the mats doing ab work.  Obviously, I hijacked their workout!  I’m all about efficiency.  If there’s something better you can do that will give you a better workout, then do it!  People often get stuck in ruts and fail to take advantage of all that the gym has to offer.  Many girls are intimidated by the machines, or what I call “Boy Land,” the area of free weights and benches that usually consists of, well, boys.

So let’s look at the major muscle groups and I’ll take your workout from simple to spectacular by adding a simple gym “toy.”


1.  Hamstrings, quads, glutes           

Popular exercises for these muscles, which are usually worked out simultaneously, are squats and lunges.  Squats are effective, but they’re also basic.  Add a 20-pound bar to take it to the next level.  Hold the bar on your shoulders, right behind your neck, while keeping your chest raised, your abs contracted, and supporting your spine.  Do 12 reps, then take a break.  Progress it further by standing on a coreboard to test your balance.

Lunges are another great exercise, but they have so many alternatives!  Try walking lunges, or add a medicine ball and a torso twist when you’re down in the lunge to work your core.  Another way to mix up the lunge is to use one of the black and green boxes.  Start with the smallest one, and progress to the larger boxes.  Simply step up onto the box, and then, when you’re stepping down, step right back into a lunge.

2.  Latissimus dorsi, trapezius (back muscles!)

This is where you (gasp) enter “Boy Land”!  Take advantage of that massive pully station located right in front of the fitness attendant desk.  It’s fantastic!  Start with the low rows.  Find a weight you’re comfortable with and push yourself to do three sets of however many reps you can.  Use the double-progressive approach discussed earlier.

After the low row, use the lat pull-down (for the latissimus dorsi)!  Do the same: find your comfortable weight and rep number, then do three sets, increasing accordingly.  These are important because they’ll work your back.  But you’re only concerned with your abs?  Well, keep in mind that it is crucial to work out opposing muscles to keep your muscles balanced.

3.  Arms: biceps, triceps, deltoids

Ok, onto your arms.  If you like using free weights to do things like bicep curls, bicep rows, over head presses (triceps) and such, make them more fun and activate your core by standing on the bosu!  Also, pick two exercises for said muscle, like the bicep curl and bicep row, and alternate them.  For example, do eight curls followed by eight rows and repeat twice, or, if you’re ambitious, three times.

For your deltoids, do front and lateral rises on the bosu, but be sure not to extend beyond 90 degrees, stop when you get to your shoulders!

4.  Abs

My favorite workouts are ab workouts!  Luckily, the gym offers tons of options for your abs.  The one I’ve found most effective and challenging is sit-ups on the incline bench.  They’re daunting at first, but give it a try and you’ll fall in love, just as I did!  Use a medicine ball to challenge yourself even more.

What’s next?  Use the bosu or stability ball to do various oblique exercises, sit-ups, or balance exercises.  I often like to do minute sets, where I alternate my workout every minute.  Try to do two or three minutes in a row to really challenge your core.

So there you have it, collegiettes™, tips of the trade of great weight training.  Now hop to it, summer is here!

Photo sources:

Julianne is an Ohio native studying communication at Boston College with a concentration in journalism. She got involved with Her Campus BC when the chapter launched in December 2010. She began as an editor and contributing writer, and since has moved up the ranks to Campus Correspondent. Aside from working for Her Campus, Julianne is a certified personal trainer at Boston College's Flynn Recreational Complex and teaches group fitness as well. During her sophomore year, Julianne was a part of the Arrupe Program at BC and traveled to Guatemala, learning about the culture, political, social, economic, and religious issues of the country. Her goals post graduation include writing for a health and fitness magazine or working in communications for college or professional athletics. As for now, however, she is enjoying life at the University she loves so much! An avid hockey and football fan, one can always find Julianne in the stands rooting on BC and the Boston Bruins! Other hobbies include running, yoga, cooking, baking, and photography.
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