Fitness for the Female Beginner

By Pro-member, Gareth Ramsden (aka OoOGazOoO)
May 2009

Gyms can be daunting places for individuals who are new to a gym, females in particular. Weight areas, people looking at you and males are examples of reasons why some ladies find it difficult to go to the gym, and essentially, see it as a hindrance to their progress.

You have to think past that; yes, it can be difficult, but try to focus your thoughts. Have tunnel vision, and go to the gym to achieve the change in body composition you desire. People will look at you; you are in the public eye. Men may see you as a reason to add an extra 30 seconds onto their rest periods, but who cares? Reduce your self consciousness, and turn more heads as you progress over the weeks and months.

I haven't a clue what to do?
You have made the first step by reading this article. It will hopefully stand you in good stead as to what you can implement into a routine in order to exercise at the gym and, more importantly, feel good and positive about yourself whilst you do so. Start off steady. Don't go from doing very little, to suddenly doing seven days per week at the gym. You may get annoyed with the frequency, start thinking that it is taking over your life, start to hate it rather than enjoy it, and you will then be back at square one. Thus, doing very little and opening the cupboard door and looking for that dreaded 'Special K' box!

Well what frequency would you recommend to begin with?

Start off with 3-4 days per week. This way, it isn't too little, but it isn't too much either. You are not looking at your diary, dreading the thought of having to go to the gym again. Hopefully, those little chemicals called endorphins will be high, so you are looking forward to going to the gym the next time.

What about duration?
Again, start off with a moderate time to begin with; 45-60 minutes is a decent timeframe to look at spending in the gym when starting out. Aim for the lower end of that scale, 45 minutes when you first commence your fitness plan, and more or less, split the time between cardio and weights.

But there are 103 weight machines and 16 cardiovascular machines, how long do I spend on each one?

You don't have to use every bit of equipment that is in your gym. Have a look around on your induction and highlight the ones which you think you will enjoy, or more importantly, what your body and joints can handle. Some machines will be easier on the joints than others when performing cardiovascular exercise. For example, running on the treadmill will place greater demands on the ankle, knee and hip joints, in comparison to performing a similar action on the cross trainer.

With weight training machines, get a trainer member of staff to help you with a routine. You could work your legs on one day, chest on another, arms on another, shoulders and abs on another day, for example. It all provides a more 'structured' program for you to follow, and eliminates randomness.

What shall I start with?
Begin with weight training exercises. You can do them in a circuit style or you can have structured rest periods in between your sets. If you perform them in a circuit style, you will be looking to go from one machine to the next, and perform anywhere from 7-10 different exercise, and then rest.

Well what weight do I select on the machine?
Don't do something which is too easy; conversely, don't utilise a weight on the selector which is too difficult. Progression is the key; you don't want to be stuck on 'number 6' weight on the machine for 3 months. Find a weight which is challenging and, as you progress, you can increase the amount of weight you lift.

How many sets and reps do I need to perform?
If you are going to perform your weight training machines in a circuit, then 7-10 different machines, for one set of 12-15 repetitions each circuit, two circuits. That should take you roughly 15-20 minutes to complete. If you prefer to have a rest in between each machine then utilise less machines (4 or 5 machines), perform more sets (2 or 3) on each machine, and again aim for 12-15 repetitions. Rest 45-60 seconds between each set, and then perform your next set.

What do I do when I have finished with the weight machines?
You can then have a couple of minutes to recover, and then walk over to the cardiovascular exercise equipment. Cardiovascular exercise can be defined as “any exercise that raises your heart rate to a level where you can still talk, but you start to sweat a little” www.texasheart.org.

Choose the equipment that you enjoy and spend 20-25 minutes on it and exercise somewhere between 60-75% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). MHR it is often calculated by subtracting your age from 220. You can use a heart rate monitor to record your heart rate in beats per minute (bpm). Once you have performed your cardiovascular exercise, you can then end with a cool down (3-5 minutes) on the equipment at a slower pace, to bring your heart rate down to a more 'sedentary' level. Finish off with some stretching.

I'd like to try using the free weights but won't I get big?
It really isn't that simple. You simply cannot pick up a weight and then get big; it simply doesn't work like that. There are many processes involved in building muscle, and it is harder for females to build muscle in comparison to males. Testosterone is a hormone within the body that helps to build muscle. Females often have a very low testosterone count, therefore, it is very difficult for a female to add lean muscle mass. Additionally, to build muscle, you have to ingest more calories than you burn per day, so if you are trying to lose weight and consume less calories than you burn during a day, that will be an additional reason why lean muscle mass gains, will be limited.

Use the free weight section of the gym, you have paid your gym subscription/fee and you have as much right to be in the weights area as anyone else. Free weights allow you to bring more muscles into work, as part of the muscle helps to stabilise the weight, which is often minimised when using weight training machines.

What can I do to 'tone' my midsection?
'Toning' is the one word in the industry that I simply cannot stand. You cannot tone a muscle, or area, the muscle either gets bigger, or it looks more pronounced; or you lose fat from that area which allows for more definition to be seen. If you wish for your midsection to become flatter, then you need to continue to perform abdominal exercises but perform more exercise in order to loose fat.

I do 1000 sit-ups before I go to bed every night, that'll tone it up won't it?
No, as above, the sit-ups will target the abdominal section but it won't make you lose fat from that area. You cannot spot reduce, i.e. from performing sit-ups it won't magically make you lose fat from your midsection. Also, performing 1000 sit-ups is too much; there is no real need to perform stupidly high numbers of sit-ups, treat them like any other muscle.

When you become fitter and progress over the weeks and months, you can then start to increase the time at the gym, i.e. from 45 minutes to 50 minutes, and also increase the intensity of your exercise. If you have been performing cardiovascular exercise for 25 minutes at 60% of your MHR, then increase that to 65% for the same period of time.

If you have any more questions, please start a thread in the relevant section of MuscleTalk.