Not all of us have spent the past ten years training daily and eating right; many of us are just starting out, and we were all beginners at one point. Boy, can it get confusing!
Below are some of the best pieces of advice we wish everyone knew when first starting training. There’s lots more to come in this series, so let’s get right into the first five tips.
1. Focus on building and strengthening your upper back.
This is incredibly important because we spend hours each day sitting at our desks, slumped over a computer, with our heads jutted forward looking at the screen.
Not to mention the fact that we ladies have to lug around two melons (or oranges or raisins) all day everywhere we go! Breasts can be very heavy, and they tend to pull our posture forward even more.
The stronger and more developed your upper back is, the easier it will be for you to sit up straight and have good posture, AND the more progress you will make in the gym!
It’s a win-win!
Some great exercises for building your upper back include pull-ups, one-arm dumbbell rows, face pulls, bent-over barbell rows, and T-bar rows.
2. Hamstrings! Hamstrings! Hamstrings!
This is one area of the body that I cannot emphasize enough! Strong and well developed hamstrings not only make you powerful in the gym, but they help protect your knees from injury while helping you look incredible sexy!
I mean seriously, have you ever seen a nice pair of hamstrings on a woman who wasn’t incredibly fit everywhere else? I didn’t think so!
Hit your hams with stiff-leg deadlifts, good morning, and different leg curl variations.
3. Stretch your pecs!
This kind of goes hand in hand with the first tip: Poor posture coupled with “mirror syndrome” (training only the muscles you see in the mirror) often leaves women with pectoral muscles that are overdeveloped in relation to their back, and these muscles shorten and become extremely tight.
Again, like mentioned above, this can lead to shoulder problems, posture problems and other imbalance issues within the body. Try the doorway stretch and the DC Broomstick Stretch.
4. Stretch your hip flexors!
Like the weak upper backs and hamstrings that I ranted about above, this is another problem I see with almost all of my clients, especially women (and especially those who spin regularly).
Tight hip flexors lead to non-firing glutes, which not only decreases your performance in the gym, but adversely affects the appearance of your booty and can lead to other imbalance issues within the body.
If you think your hip flexors might be tight, they probably are. And if you think your hip flexors are probably not tight, then you’re probably wrong.
Here’s a fantastic stretch that can be done at home or in the gym or anywhere you feel comfortable: Dropping down into a deep lunge position (Starbucks, anyone? Grocery store? Mall? No judgment here; we’re all busy and we all need to stretch!)
Do these stretches 3-4 days a week while you’re trying to correct the problem, and twice a week for maintenance purposes.
5. Don’t underestimate the importance of unilateral work!
In other words, include plenty of one-armed and one-legged exercises in your regimen. It’s natural for one side of our body to be more dominant than the other. Almost all of us feel more comfortable writing with one hand or the other, or kicking a ball with one leg or the other. This often leads to one side of the body being much stronger than the other.
So, when performing bilateral exercises like squats, bench presses, or military presses, your dominant side is probably taking a heavier load than your non-dominant side, which just widens the strength gap between the two sides. Doing single leg work can also increase awareness of the ankle joint and help keep your ankles healthy.
Some examples of upper body unilateral movements would be single-arm dumbbell rows, single-arm dumbbell overhead presses, and single-arm bench presses. Some good examples of lower body unilateral movements would be the single leg squat, single leg deadlifts, step-ups, and lunges. Just remember to be careful, you will likely have to use much lighter weight (if any) as you get used to these movements.
And that ladies, is it for the first installment of the series. Lots more to come, so stay tuned and stay strong!