We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.
Whether your goal is to build strength or tone up, expert PT Alice Liveing has the answers
For far too long it felt like the weights zone in the gym was overly male-dominated and a no-go for woman and non-binary folk, but luckily things are changing on that front and weight training for women (or ‘strength training’) is certainly on the up. Gone are the days of scuttling up to a rack of barbells, panicking, then darting back to the treadmill for the remainder of your workout (anyone else? Or was that just me?).
Whether you’re keen to start weight training as a total beginner to build strength, or to tone up, it’s totally understandable that it can still feel a little daunting – there’s a lot of equipment that may seem unfamiliar, too. And that’s okay! But the joy in being a newbie with anything is that you only ever have to have your very first session once… after that, you’re already one step closer to your goal(s) than you were the day before.
Here, expert personal trainer Alice Liveing (who is keen to dispel any worries that lifting will make you look ‘bulky’) explains how to start lifting and recommends six moves to help you build a personal routine. “A lot of people worry they might injure themselves if they start weight training,” she says. “Of course, the barrier to entry with strength training is higher than lacing up your trainers for a run, but if you get good guidance, and start slow and steady, there’s very little cause for concern on that front.”
So, notepads at the ready?
Where to begin? “The benefits are vast and range from physical to mental,” explains Alice. “Which is why it’s gained so much popularity over the last few years.” Strength training in general, either by using weights such as dumbbells or barbells, or by using your own body weight, will build and maintain muscle mass, which is important for overall physical health.
“Having a good level of muscle mass is important to support your overall structure, and helps with things like balance, proprioception, weight management, quality of movement and more,” the expert PT adds, observing that daily tasks such as carrying your child (if you have one) or the shopping will also become easier.
Other benefits or weight training are:
Building up the right foundation by learning the basics is key, Alice stresses, as is going into the gym with a pre-prepared routine, so that you’re clear about what you’re doing and have one less thing to worry about. And keep in mind that how quickly you begin to see results depends on a) the goal you have in mind and b) how much time you’re able to dedicate to it.
A good way to perfect the basics of weight lifting is to join a local club or attend a class in your gym, or if you’re able to afford it, book in a few PT sessions to ask for more tailored advice with one-on-one coaching.
“If you’re looking to achieve fat loss through strength training, then eating in a caloric deficit is also necessary to get the best results, and the time it will take to get to your ‘goal’ will wildly vary,” Alice notes. “If the goal is simply to get stronger, then I’d give yourself a good 12 weeks of sticking to a programme to notice the strength improvements, but again this can vary a lot depending on the individual.”
“If your goal is simply to get stronger, allow up to 12 weeks of sticking to a programme before seeing any strength improvements”
The PT, who has worked with the likes of Maya Jama and Jodie Comer, also adds. “You want to ensure that you don’t run before you can walk, before you start to add in more complex movements… and be patient with your progress, results can take time but don’t give up just because you’re seeing progress within a week.”
Alice all reminds of the importance of rest days. “Rest is very important when it comes to training, as that’s when your body recovers and repairs muscles in order for them to get stronger. Make sure you factor in at least one to two rest days in your training, but more if you feel particularly sore.”
And of course, the biggie: enjoy it! “Strength training should be a fun and challenging experience, so if you’re not enjoying it and have given it a good go, then maybe find something else that works better for you.”
When it comes to knowing what weight to choose, it all comes down to what feels challenging for you. “My advice is to always make sure that the final two reps of the given rep range are really challenging,” suggests Alice. “So, for example, if you’re doing 10 reps of a goblet squat, reps 8, 9 and 10 should feel really challenging, but not so challenging that you start to lose the quality of movement, or good form. If those reps are really easy, chances are the load is too light, and if those reps are causing you to lose form, chances are that the load is too heavy.”
Ready to learn your own beginner’s weight lifting routine? Alice has put together a simple one together to get started with:
1) Goblet squats: hold a dumbbell or kettlebell, with a weight that challenges you, close to your chest (use both hands to keep it steady!), then lower down into a squat. Aim for 3 sets of 10 – 12 reps.
2) Push up lowers: this move doesn’t actually require an additional weight – you can use your own body weight to build strength with it! Set yourself into a normal push up position, but lower yourself to the floor at a slower pace than usual, to really challenge your muscles. Aim for 3 sets of 6 – 8 reps.
3) Lunges: take a dumbbell in either hand and step forward into a lunge, return your leg and repeat on the other side. Aim for 3 sets of 10 on each side.
4) Single arm row: take a dumbbell in one hand and lean your opposite knee on a flat surface, such as a weights bench. Pull the weight towards your chest and lower keep control as you lower back down. Swap sides after you’ve completed the appropriate amount of reps. Aim for 3 sets of 10 on each side.
5) Tall kneeling overhead press: kneel on the ground using and take a dumbbell in each hand, raise overhead and bring back down to shoulder-level. Aim for 3 sets of 12, 10 and 8.
6) Romanian Deadlift (RDL): hinge your hips, keep your back soft and bend your knees. Pretend you’re scraping the weight(s) down the front of your legs and imagine you’re holding an orange under your chin. You can use two dumbbells or one barbell. Aim for 3 sets of 10.