This article originally appeared in Issue 10 of Mountain Bike for Her.
I’ve been doing my personal workouts at a public gym, lately. I haven’t spent a lot of time in public gyms, as I’ve been fortunate enough to work out of private studios withlike-mindedd trainers. What I’ve seen recently really makes me ask, “Where the hell are people getting their training programs?”.
Not taking into account poor form that you often see in the gym, my question stems from all those superficial exercises that - with the exception of very specific athletic or rehabilitation goals - have no right being in most people's workouts. Even more baffling is the fact that many of these people are doing workouts prescribed to them by trainers. For example, I watched one lady do alternating arm bicep curls with 3-pound dumbbells while balancing on a bosu ball on 1 leg while her trainer was leaning on the squat rack next to her chatting away at her while she did it.
While I could go on and on about the idiocracy I’ve been seeing in the gym, I’d rather help you get the most out of your strength training workouts. Take a look at your own current training regime. If you aren’t covering the following six basic movement patterns, maybe it’s time to change your program.
Lunge: split squat, Bulgarian split squat, lunge, reverse lunge
Hinge: deadlift (all variations), kettlebell swing, snatch, clean
Squat: Back squat, front squat, goblet squat, Zercher squat (note I have not included the smith machine squat)
Pull: Pull up, assisted pull up, laying pull up, bent over row, seated row
Push: Bench press, push up, overhead press
Carry: Farmers walk, overhead carry, duck walk
The statement I hear most often from women is “I don’t want to get big”. Putting aside the fact that building bulk as a woman isn’t easy, let’s just go with what most women want. They want to feel stronger on their bike. Firstly, so they can pedal up the hill faster. Secondly, so they can manhandle it down the hill with confidence on even the roughest of terrain. They want to be able to ride further with less fatigue, generally, they want to be stronger and faster!
Quality vs Quantity
Make every rep count! And make sure every rep is done with perfect form. If you don’t know what perfect form is, hire a personal trainer. Investing in your training in the short term will afford you the long-term benefits of good form, good programming, and maximum performance gains. As I always like to say “keep it simple & effective”
Building Strength: An example
There are many variations of workouts out there for you to adopt, but I believe in keeping things simple. With this in mind, here is a workout I’d recommend:
You are going to do a total of 20 reps of each exercise (except for the carry, that’s distance based) and you’ll break those 20 reps down into manageable sets. So, you’ll aim for 4-5 reps with 5 being the indicator to potentially add more weight. How should you feel at rep 5? Like doing one more rep is impossible. If you can do more than 5 reps with the weight you are using it’s too light, make it heavier!
“What about exercises? Should I do all 6 in one day?” You could do it all in one day, but I highly recommend split up the exercises over two days. Both the heavy deadlifts and heavy squats will really tax your central nervous system and it’s wise to limit the amount of force you put on your lumbar spine in a single workout. A sample of how I would spread things out:
Day 1: Deadlift, Lunge, Seated row, and push up.
Day 2: Back Squat, Farmers walk (20 steps x 4), pull up, and bench press.
Special Notes: Always do the biggest most demanding exercises first. You could do this split once or twice a week depending on how much time you have for recovery and other fitness commitments.
Unless you are working on injury recovery or still need to improve your basic form, move away from those high rep sets, leave the machines and other fancy toys alone, and work on some good solid old-school free weight training. In short, lift as heavy as you can and lift as often as you can, using as many muscle groups as you can.