Weight lifting: what are the best exercises to build muscle?

Posted by for Strong Women

Ready to build some muscle and shift some iron? Here are the best exercises you should incorporate into your weight lifting sessions.

When it comes to toning up and honing a strong, fit physique, pumping iron is up there with one of, if not the, most effective workouts to get results. Not only does lifting weights protect bone health and muscle mass, it boosts energy levels, improves our mood and strengthens our immune system

By incorporating weight training into your workout, you can increase your strength by 30-50% and your resting metabolism by 4.2% according to research, whereas studies performed by South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, found that the average woman who strength trains two to three times a week for two months will gain nearly two pounds of muscle. Phew! 

“The gym and the free weights area can be a daunting place to begin your journey,” says personal trainer and CrossFit coach, Alice-Rose Miller. “But if you know what you are doing and go in with a plan, you can never fail.”

While sculpted abs and and a well defined shoulder may be a welcome side effect of being in the #girlswholift club, there’s a difference between building muscle and simply toning up. “The two are completely different,” Alice tells us. “Although we can apply the same principles and utilise similar exercises, we change the rep range and training load for building muscle. 

“For example, with toning, we are looking for higher rep ranges and more of a light to moderate load. However, when we want to build muscle, we are aiming for 8-12 reps with a heavier weight and we also want to overload the body, so we need to increase the reps, sets and weight as we gets stronger. Using free weights is just one way of training to build muscle, it’s my preferred method and it’s a great way to strengthen imbalances within the body rather than using machines.” 

What is the difference between powerlifting and weightlifting?

But before you reach for the barbell and strap on your weight belt, Strong Women coach Emma Obayuvana suggests alternating your weights for a more effective result. “High repetitions build muscle endurance whereas low reps with higher weight builds muscle. To achieve the best results alternate between the two – have a very heavy lifting session once a week with low reps to really challenge body and build muscle and the other two sessions could be focused on mobility and moving well with free weights that are lighter.”

While the hottest new workout or the next big fitness movement can be distracting, Alice stresses the importance of dedication, stating that consistency is key to really see results. “There is no single ‘best exercise’ or a magic programme that gets you where you need to be. You need to be consistent with a programme for at least 8-12 weeks to see results. 

“I will always promote big compound exercises to start off your session. This is generally a movement that works across multiple joints, ie. back squat, bench press, strict press, deadlift, lunge etc that offer the most bang for your buck as they are moving the big muscles in our body. After my bigger lifts I will complete the session with the appropriate accessory and isolation exercises which help to further build muscle and/or reduce imbalances within the body. For example, barbell hip thrusts, single leg deadlifts, rear flys, face pulls, bicep curls, hamstring curls etc.” 

The perfect squat

With a plan in place and an unwavering determination, it’s easy to get carried away, especially when you start to see results. But Emma advises that keeping a watchful eye on your recovery routine and a sensible schedule will keep your progress on track. “Make sure you get plenty of sleep, lots of rest between sessions, and supplement with good nutrition post workout (no severe calorie restriction). It’s also worth noting that over-training can be detrimental to your progress as it will add stress to your body and can actually do more harm than good, so try not to get carried away,” she says.

ALICE’S 7 TOP MUSCLE-BUILDING TIPS

1. You don’t need to train every day. Give yourself a rest day or two.

2. Unless you are a competitive athlete, you don’t need to train for 2-3 hours a day. 60 minute sessions are great.

3. Rest and recovery. Challenge yourself with how early you can get into bed every night.

4. Move well before adding load.

5. Challenge yourself with picking up the heavier weight, if we don’t challenge our bodies, we won’t change them.

6. Eat for your goals.

7. Don’t be tempted to hop between the latest workout rather than putting in the work on the one you have. Persevere.

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