When I ran a health club, there was a great divide (especially with older members). Women, sometimes intimidated by the great mysteries of the weight machines and fearful of looking dumb for not knowing how to use them, tended to stick to the treadmills, bikes and elliptical machines. Men tended to balance their activities between weights and aerobic exercise.
So, this article is aimed primarily at the more mature females out there.
First, check with your doctor. Tell him/her you are going to begin light weight work and explain what muscles you will work (see below). Get his/her blessing and any advice they might have.
Toning, not muscle building
Why do we need to increase muscle mass?
We begin to lose muscle mass in our 20’s. That is just a fact.
The average American woman over 35 puts on 6 pounds a year. Some of this is poor diet and exercise. Some of this is loss of muscle mass.
Muscle burns more calories than fat. 10 calories per day for 1 pound of muscle. 3 or 4 per day for a pound of fat. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn AT REST (i.e. even when you are doing nothing).
So, building is important to maintaining weight or losing weight.
But working out with weights can make improvements to your body, help deal with flappy underarms, sagging butts and the like.
So let’s make a beginning. Below is a link to a diagram of the human muscular structure.
I said simple and simple it will be. This is muscle building 101. Get past this and we can go on to muscle building 202.
What we are going to do is to look at working 8 muscle groups that matter most to women. Check out the map (cut and paste if the link doesn’t work so you know where the muscle is located).
This assumes you have access to weight machines at a gym or otherwise.
The muscles are:
- Biceps – muscle at the top front of the arm;
- Triceps – muscle at the top underside of arms (a.k.a. bat wings)
- Deltoids – rounded muscle at top of arm at shoulder (a.k.a. natural shoulder pads to make the rest of you look smaller);
- Glutes – backside. Whether saggy or flat or just too big;
- Hamstrings – muscle at top of back of leg;
- Quads – big muscle at top front of leg;
- Abs! – top and bottom and side;
- Pecs – firming the chest, bra fat
Pictures of gym equipment:
A sample list:
- Biceps – bicep curl machine;
- Triceps – tricep dip (push down) or tricep extension;
- Deltoids – deltoid fly or side lateral rise;
- Glutes – leg press;
- Hamstrings – leg curl;
- Quads – leg extension;
- Abs – ab crunch;
- Pecs – pec fly.
The thing to remember is that if you work the bicep (front of arm), you also work the back of the arm. If you would the quads (front top leg), you also work the hamstrings (back).
Check on www.youtube.com – search “beginning gym workout with weights”, “total body workouts using gym machines”, “weight workouts in gym for women”, “gym layouts”. Check out a few videos until you find one or two that helps you understand gym layouts and the machines. Avoid anything that says “extreme”, “intense”, etc. Look for pictures of more “mature” women or anything labeled “beginning” or “seniors”.
At the gym, find one machine for each muscle group above (see sample list). If it will help, make a brief sketch of the layout of the gym.
NOTE: As far as abs are concerned, there are almost always at least two kinds of machines. The one which involves pushing forward and down against weight (ab crunch) and another where you are twisting side to side (obliques, side muscles).
Ask staff to demonstrate your chosen machines. Or watch a personal trainer taking a client through his/her paces. Go back to the youtube videos.
If you can, go to the gym when it is not crowded (first time out anyway). You don’t want to be hurried. Take the notebook and pen or pencil with you – the notebook should have a list of the muscles you are going to work and a drawing of the layout of the gym (indicating the machines you are going to use and what muscle it works). Some gyms very usefully number the machines.
Walk around the gym and get firm in your mind where the machines are.
Start at a very low weight. You can adjust the weights on the side of the machine, either by clicking a tab or inserting a rod into a weight slot. It usually starts at 30 pounds. If you pull the rod out there will be no weight. There may be a dial at the top which allows you to specify weight of 5, 10 or 15 pounds. I would say that for upper body start with no weight or perhaps 5 or 10 pounds. You will probably find that you can use more weight for the lower body than the upper. Start with 20 pounds.
Begin! Warm up on a treadmill at a slow rate for 5 or 10 minutes. Do what you can without huffing and puffing. If you have any doubts, check with your doctor.
Then start with the big muscles. The shoulder pads and the quads. This will get your heart rate going.
Work on upper body group, then switch to a lower body muscle. Then back to upper and then lower again. You can pair the abs with either upper or lower.
Do one set of 10 to 15 reps on each machine. A total of 8 machines. Try 10 to 15 reps at 5 to 10 pounds for upper and 20 pounds for lower. If you can easily do 15 reps make a note to slightly increase the weight next time.
At this point, you want to make your muscles a little “tired” at the end of 10 or 15 reps, but you don’t want to strain them. Any pain, check with your doctor before proceeding.
Skip a day (if possible) and then go back. Check your notebook for notes on weight increases. Repeat the cycle doing one set of 10 to 15 reps on the eight machines.
Skip a day (if possible) and repeat.
So, you in the first week you have done 3 sessions, skipping a day in between. You can work abs every day, without skipping a day in between.
Week two: Same eight machines, slightly increasing the weight and/or the number of reps. The key is to go from 10 reps to 15 and slowly, slowly increasing the weight.
NOTE: What we are aiming to do is tone and not bulk. It is better to do 30 reps at 10 pounds than 10 reps at 30 pounds. More reps at a lower weight is the key.
If you feel any strain or pain, check with your doctor.
Week three: Step up! Same 8 machines, but do two sets of 10 to 15 reps. Twice on each machine. Again, slightly increase the weight.
You want to do enough weight and reps so that you muscles are getting “tired”.
NOTE: You can find a cheap and cheerful gym, but the cheaper they are the less help you will get. Same goes for 24/7 gyms. I am a big fan of the YMCA (www.ymca.net ).Many Y’s have “WOW” (Women on Weights) classes. These are affordable group classes led by personal trainers. He/she will take the class around and explain the machines and design workouts for the class. Also, many Y’s have Silver Sneakers (www.silversneakers.com ). These are aerobic and weight classes designed for seniors.Also, If you check their site, you can type in a zip code and find other gyms near you that do their classes.