Everyone needs to do strength training. I see girls every day who go to the gym and slog it out on the treadmill until they are blue in the face, only to have the exact same overweight body as what they started with. By not venturing into the weights area, you will never get the lean and toned body you are looking for.
While cardio is great for your heart, if you do it too often and for extended periods of time it just stresses out your body and actually makes you hold on to fat by slowing your metabolism down. Although it is true that you burn more calories during cardio than from lifting weights, the latter produces a greater caloric burn post-workout. Keep your cardio to 20 minutes of interval training for maximum results, and also try to keep your cardio to non-lifting days.
Rather than going on and on about why you should be lifting weights I thought I’d show you, beginning with a lower body workout. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned professional, everyone should incorporate the following five moves into their lower body repertoire.
Dumbbell squat: Stand with your feet wide apart, toes pointing forward and holding a dumbbell in each hand on either side of the body. Bend your knees and stick your butt out until your thighs are parallel to the floor, making sure your knees are in line with your toes and not past them. Squeeze your glutes hard and push back to standing as you exhale, keeping your back straight the entire time.
Leg curl: This is the best exercise to target your hamstrings with. Find the lying leg curl machine, and lie face down with your legs just hanging over the top. Make sure the padding of the lever is on the lower part of your calf muscle. Grasp the handles and raise the lever pad to the backs of the thighs by bending the knees. Slowly return lever and repeat, being careful not to arch your back on the way. (Your gym may have a seated leg curl machine instead.)
Bent knee deadlift: This exercise targets almost every muscle in your body – quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, traps and forearms. Set up your barbell with your desired weight, bend your knees and grip the bar: one hand with an overhand grip and the other hand with an underhand grip (to stabilise). Drive up through your feet to a standing position. The bar should now be hanging naturally. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, maintaining a very straight back throughout the move. Make sure you really stick your butt out and keep your head looking up – not at the mirror in front of you! Make sure you touch the bar to the ground after each rep.
Leg press: Sit at the leg press machine, positioning your feet hip-width apart and toes pointing forward. Make sure your knees and hips are bent at 90 degrees, and then squeeze your butt to push yourself until your legs are almost straight. Press your back against the chair the entire time. Slowly return to the starting position.
Walking lunge: Holding a dumbbell in each hand take a big step forward and lower your body so you have 90 degree angles at both knees. Push off your back foot, bringing it to meet your supporting leg until you are standing straight again. Step forward with the opposite leg and repeat. I like to do my lunges at the end of a heavy leg workout to make sure I really feel the burn, but make sure your balance is under control before you attempt this.
In terms of the number of sets and reps you should be doing, it all depends on what you are trying to achieve. On my last training program, I was doing 120 reps of deadlifts across just three sets as I was essentially trying to shock the muscle. If you are just starting out, do three sets of 12 to 15 reps. Once you have mastered perfect form, up the weight. If you are more advanced, do three to five sets of eight to 10 reps, taking the weight as high as you can. I often start with high reps at a lower weight, and then decrease the reps and increase the weight.