Measuring Exercise Intensity

Many women are enthusiastic about resistance training these days. Why? For one thing, recent research has shown that the benefits of strength training reach far beyond weight loss and muscle toning. Women appreciate that this type of exercise also yields significant long-term health benefits, including positive effects on bone mineral density, cholesterol levels,cardiovascular function and more.

If you’d like to begin a strength training program but aren’t sure what exercises to do, consider the following program, which fitness professional Jessica Smith, ME, designed specifically for women. If you don’t know how to perform any of the exercises (with weight machines, free weights or exercise tubing), ask a personal trainer or fitness instructor to help you.

Warm-Up (10 Minutes). Ease into your workout with a warm-up. Warming up increases metabolic rate (i.e., the rate at which chemical reactions occur within the body) and aids in the delivery of nutrient-rich blood to areas about to be exercised. This process is key to muscle performance and reduces the risk of injury to muscle and connective tissue. Your warm-up should consist of low-intensity aerobics, walking, stationary cycling or jogging in place, followed by stretching.

Resistance Exercises (30-40 minutes). When you first begin weight training, start with light weights and perform a high number of repetitions (about 12-15). Pay careful attention to technique. To prevent injury, progress to heavier weights only after adhering to your initial workout for 1 to 3 weeks. Over the next 4 to 20 weeks, you can develop your program by lifting heavier weights (but doing fewer repetitions); performing a second set of each exercise; and gradually increasing your training frequency to two to three times per week. The chart below lists 10 exercises that will strengthen major muscle groups and suggests a training schedule that you can adopt after the first few weeks.

Cool-Down (10-15 Minutes). Be sure to cool down after your workout, just as you warmed up before it. The cool-down serves many purposes: It returns heart rate and blood pressure to near resting levels, promotes rapid removal of lactic acid (which can cause a “burning” sensation in the muscles) and increases joint flexibility. Your cool-down should include low-intensity aerobics, walking, or jogging in place, followed by stretches for the major muscle groups.

Maintenance. Once you have achieved your long-term goals, you will need to continue weight training in order to maintain the strength you’ve gained. However, maintaining strength takes less effort than building strength, so you can reduce your training frequency to once or twice per week.

Exercise Muscle Group # of Times/Week # of Repetitions* # of Sets**
leg press

quadriceps 2-3 8-12 1-2
chest press

pectoralis 2-3 8-12 1-2
triceps extension

triceps 2-3 8-12 1-2
lat pull-down latissimus dorsi 2-3 8-12 1-2
hamstring curl

hamstring 2-3 8-12 1-2
biceps curl

biceps 2-3 8-12 1-2
calf raise

gastrocnemius 2-3 8-12 1-2
lateral raise

medial deltoid 2-3 8-12 1-2
abdominal curl rectus abdominis 2-3 8-12 1-2
lower-back extension
erector spinae 2-3 8-12 1-2

* The amount of weight you choose for each exercise should result in moderate to significant fatique by the end of the last repetition. **Rest 30 to 60 seconds between sets and 60 seconds between exercises.
Reprinted with permission of IDEA Health & Fitness Assoaciation,

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