Building lean muscle could boost your metabolism, improve your athletic performance and enhance your functional strength, but what’s the secret to getting stronger? These strength training methods could help…
The landscape for lifting weights is changing, so much so that more women regularly participate in strength training now than at the start of the past decade. As Mitch Raynsford, strength and conditioning coach from P3RFORM, explains: ‘The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US discovered large differences in participation from women and men in “muscle-strengthening activities” in 2013. Whereas a meta-analysis in 2020 actually reported no difference in the participation in resistance training between men and women, highlighting the growing trend in female weight training across the past decade.
Check out our 4-week strength training plan for runners
‘Before, there was a focus on “skinny” but that has now changed to “strong”, with a big area of that being the lower body and glutes,’ adds Raynsford. ‘And I have seen a big shift in the goals of my female clients, going from simply wanting to lose weight, to becoming “toned”, to looking for increased muscle mass and, excitingly, looking to lift heavy loads and setting new PBs in the weights room!’
You only have to go to your local gym to see that there’s an army of fitness-savvy women laying to rest the myth that girls ‘bulk up’ if they pump iron – because bulging muscles are not easy things to build, especially for females. In fact, according to data, women have around 10-30 times less of the hormones – such as testosterone – associated with muscle growth. So, if you want to gain lean muscle definition, you have to do more than shift heavy weights – you must push your muscles hard.
Strengthen your core with this at-home abs workout for women
Importance of variety in strength training
So, how can you build a stronger body? The simple fact is this – push your muscles to failure and you’ll cause muscle damage. The damaged muscle then breaks down and is rebuilt bigger and stronger to protect against further stress. Variety of training is key – you need an army of exercises for each muscle group and a brain bank full of training methods.
Switch up the moves you perform on different muscles – swap chest presses for dumbbell flys, for example – and move in different planes. Train using different hand grips – neutral (palms face in), overhand (palms face down) and underhand (palms face up) – to make sure you hit all of the muscle fibres, as well.
4 strength training techniques to try
There are plenty of ways to inject variety into your routine – lift more, slow down, speed up or rest less. One of the most common is to experiment with different training techniques, such as these:
Don’t lift one heavy weight – lift several! A drop set is one in which you select a heavy weight and perform as many reps as possible before dropping it for a weight that’s about 30 per cent lighter. You then lift the lighter weight until failure before decreasing the weight one last time. Amazingly, that’s only one set. A pointer – you mustn’t rest between weight changes, so make sure you have all of your weights lined up before beginning.
Think of pyramids as the opposite to drop sets – the weights start light and get heavier. Start with a weight you can perform around 15-20 reps with and gradually increase the weight until you can perform only a handful of reps. You can go back down the pyramid by decreasing the weight.
Negative training is one of the most effective techniques for building muscle. It involves loading the muscle during the lengthening (eccentric) rather than shortening (concentric) phase of a move. For example, performing the lowering part of a chin-up slowly or getting a pal to push against a barbell as you lower it during a biceps curl. Master the moves before trying this, though.
Even the shortest of breaths can help you get more from your muscles. During a rest-pause set, you perform as many reps as possible. When you can’t lift any more, pause for a few seconds (literally, take a few breaths) before squeezing out a few more reps. Remember: it’s a pause, not a rest.
Words: Sarah Sellens | Photography: Shutterstock