Most women have four main goals in mind when they begin a weight training program: toning muscles, slimming down, improving athletic performance, and maintaining good health. Luckily, getting started with a personalized training program takes only a few simple steps, as best-selling author Frédéric Delavier points out in Delavier's Women's Strength Training Anatomy Workouts.
In the book, the French powerlifting champion and author of the million-selling Strength Training Anatomy describes the questions women should ask themselves and the steps they must take in order to develop effective and personalized programs. Delavier and co-author Michael Gundill believe that when women have completed the full 20 steps, they will have addressed all possible questions about developing an ideal training program.
- How should you identify your goals? To create a perfectly tailored weight training program, you must first clearly define your objectives, such as reshaping your body, getting rid of an excess of body fat, improving stamina, remaining healthy, or fighting the loss of mobility due to aging. You should be able to precisely state your main goals. “What you do not want are very vague objectives such as ‘I want to get in shape' or ‘I want to improve my physique,'” Delavier stresses. “Therefore, you have to get as precise as possible, such as ‘lose 10 pounds' or ‘increase strength by 10 percent.'”
- How many times per week should you train? Muscle strengthening occurs only if you take enough rest in between workouts. Therefore, rest is vital for progress. For those new to working out, Delavier says two weekly training sessions are enough for a month or two, but he warns against more than three per week. Once your body has adapted to the rigor of training, you can progress to four weight training sessions per week.
- Which days should you train? To progress quickly, there is one main rule: One day of weight training has to be followed by at least one day of rest. One workout a week does not pose any issue with recovery. Two workouts a week should be as far apart as possible, such as Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. With three workouts weekly, it is harder to respect the pattern of one workout then one day of rest, but it's still possible.
- How many times per week should you work each muscle? If you want to make quick progress in volume and strength, the best thing to do is work each muscle group two times per week. For weight loss, better health, and improved sport performance, working each muscle with weights only once per week is a good start.
- Should you exercise once or twice per day? As far as weight training is concerned, Delavier strongly advises against training twice a day. “What may lead you to train twice a day is if you do not wish to do cardio before or after weight training for weight-loss purposes,” he explains. “Ideally you can do cardio on the day you do not weight train. But it is conceivable to do cardio in the morning and train later in the day.”
- What time of day should you work out? Scientific studies have shown that muscle strength and endurance vary throughout the day. Most women are stronger in the afternoon and weaker in the morning. While it would be wise to train whenever your muscles are at their strongest, Delavier says that if you can train only in the morning, your body will get used to it and will progressively reschedule its peak strength.
- How many muscles should you work during a training session? It would be too cumbersome to attempt to train your whole body in only one workout. The main issue is determining how to combine body parts to train them in the most efficient manner, and Delavier offers four tips to help you design your program: Take full advantage of the indirect work, such as by reducing the amount of direct exercises for the arms and shoulders; rate the importance of each muscle according to your goals; emphasize weak areas; and rotate the body parts with which you start your workouts.
- How do you schedule your body parts for each workout? It would not be wise to assign each body part the same degree of importance and, therefore, equal training time. A woman's specific goals dictate the level of priority and frequency of training each muscle will receive. “With only one weekly training session, spend most of your time on the lower body and abdominals with only a few sets devoted to back and shoulders,” Delavier recommends. “As you progress, you will have to add more sets and more exercises for each body part.”
- How many exercises per body part should you do? If new to weight training, stick to a single exercise for each major muscle. After a couple of weeks, add another exercise to major muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. After a couple of months of training, Delavier says you can add more exercises, but only to the body parts you wish to reshape the most.
- How many repetitions should you do per set? After you have determined your exercises, you need to know how many times to repeat them, or how many reps of each particular movement you should perform. According to Delavier, “For muscle toning, it is best to do 10 to 20 repetitions. To burn calories and fat, you must do 30 to 50 repetitions.”
Delavier's Women's Strength Training Anatomy Workouts offers more details on these steps and 10 others that prepare women for an effective workout program. The book offers dozens of exercises, each accompanied by step-by-step instructions, anatomical illustrations, and callouts for variations, programming, and safety considerations.