Do It All: Strength Training

When people ask me what to do in order to get the best workout I tell them simply, “do it all.” Try everything, mix it up constantly, keep your body on its toes! After covering Hot Yoga and Bootcamps, next in the “Do It All” series is Strength Training! Cardio is not the only way to burn fat. You have to work your muscles too! Strength training builds muscle and burns fat, whether it’s lifting dumbbells, swinging kettlebells or doing body-weight exercises with the TRX.

Here are 8 tips for strength training (mostly aimed at females, but fellas, you can learn from this too), from me to you.
1. Warm Up
Doing 5-8 minutes of preparatory movements help to get the blood flowing from your organs to your muscles, making them warm, loose and ready to work. Skipping warm-up and heading straight for the weightstack is BAD. You can strain/sprain muscles this way. Remember, you can do things other than walking on a treadmill for five minutes. My favorite warm up move is the Spiderman Crawl.
2. Build it.
I hear people say all the time, “I want to sculpt my muscles.” Well if you don’t have a ton of muscle to begin with, you have to build it to be able to see it. I can’t sculpt your arms if there’s nothing (I know there’s something, it’s just not much) to work with.
3. Go heavy!
Nothing bugs me more than seeing chicks in the gym working with 3-5lbs dumbbells. Hello! You can do more than that! Especially if you’re not seeing results. Most girls don’t want to get “bulky” so they stick with light weights BUT 1) as females, you naturally don’t have the hormones to get bulky and 2) body builders work really hard with a very specific diet in order to gain the tons of muscle they put on. They lift such a heavy amount that they can only do a couple of reps. So don’t worry, it ain’t gonna happen to you. Trust me. I work with heavier weights and I am so not bulky. So pick up those 10s and 15s ladies! The only time I use 5lbs is for when I’m going to be doing a really long set (60-90 secs) of an exercise that works a small muscle group; i.e. deltoids (shoulders) or if I’m nursing an injury.
4. Make it difficult!
In order to to build muscle and get stronger, you’ve got to do some work. Think of it like progressing in math class, you’re never going to get smarter if you’re always doing basic addition and subtraction. You’ve got to push past what you can already do to see gains in strength. When your set gets hard and you want to stop, see if you can do 2-5 more reps (without sacrificing technique!). That’s how you progress. On the flip side of this, if you can’t complete another rep through the full range of motion, it’s time to stop. Don’t hurt yourself!
5. Go long.
Most magazine articles will tell you to do 3 sets of 8-12 reps of an exercise. Yes, this works, but if you’re used to working out already, this isn’t gonna do a whole lot for you. I usually work a muscle group for about a minute before I move on. This will allow anywhere from 15-30 reps, which helps muscular strength and endurance. Try 2 or 3 sets like that and see if you feel a difference. Remember that the last few reps should be difficult to perform. If it’s all pretty easy or you’re not feeling it by the time you’re done, you need more weight or more reps.
6. Keep it equal.
Most people only work the “vanity muscles” when they work out: the muscles they can see in the mirror. Abs, pecs, quads. Remember that you have a back side as well! Work the shoulders, work your mid and low back, work the hamstrings and calves! If you work one side, you have to work the other. If you’re not sure how to do this, ask a trainer at your gym. Or… ask me! Duh. ; ) When you work one muscle group and not the opposing one, you contribute to muscular imbalances in your body which can lead to improper posture and injuries.
7. Stretch!
If you work it, you stretch it. That’s all. Don’t do a heavy leg day without stretching your quads, hamstrings, and inner thighs at the end of your workout. It’ll help keep soreness to a minimum the next day (or two) and it’ll keep you mobile. If you do strength training without stretching, you’ll just keep getting tighter and tighter… and if you’re already pretty inflexible, you’ll be a hot mess even more. You should be as flexible as you are strong. Most people do an hour workout using the last two minutes to stretch. This is horse-ish. If you have 60 minutes to spend working out, do a 45 minute workout and use the last 15 minutes to stretch. Your body will thank you.
8. Get help.
If it hurts, stop. If you don’t know how to do it safely/correctly, ask. Remember, group classes at your gym are free and you can learn tons of technique cues before you try it by yourself. Getting a personal trainer can also help, especially if you’re working with certain circumstances or recovering from an injury . Find out how to do it properly before you do a ton of work the wrong way and hurt yourself. Torn muscles are not strong muscles.
Hope this helps! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!
Trainer buds: Want to add anything? Leave a comment : )
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  1. this was awesome! so many great tips! i just started really doing strength training this year (before i was one of those 5 lb weight girls! ah!) and so this is really helpful. thank you!

  2. Great tips, and awesome Marilyn picture! As a physical therapist I definitely agree with working both sides of the body, not just the “beach muscles”. I see so many guys with huge biceps and no rotator cuff or mid-low trap strength. You’ve got to work it all!

  3. Yes, such great tips! I’m working on building leg muscle for long-distance running and speed. I’ll keep these things in mind as I’m training!

    Thanks for the comment! It’s great to hear from you!


  4. I LOVE THIS POST. And I SO bookmarked this blog. FANTASTIC!!

  5. Ooo! This was really good. I will try the heavier waits (guilty of the girly-wimp weights), and go longer.

    Thanks for the tips!

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