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A key tip about strength training: Don't ignore your back. Photo by anonymous

The DAO of strength training

It is really hard, if not impossible, to make noticeable changes to your body without incorporating strength training. Most people shy away from it, or do it wrong. In this post, I will share what I learned from training with numerous top-tier trainers over the years.

First, let’s clarify – there are two types of strength training:

  1. Circuit training: This is where you do repetitive movements in sets, usually 3-4 exercises per circuit. You then go through each circuit and then start over, usually repeating 3 times. These movements usually work larger muscle groups, like your back, chest, legs, and glutes. You can do circuit training “pyramid” style, which means the same exercise successively, or AMRAP style, which means “as many reps until failure,” which usually has a set time period, like a minute.
  2. Precision training: Yoga, Pilates, barre, and other options work your “accessory” muscles, like biceps, triceps, thighs, calves, and obliques. These are the smaller muscles that usually complement the larger muscle groups. These workouts usually also have emphasis on your core, which refers to the muscles wrapping around your abdomen, pelvic floor, and back. A movement like a plank, which is common to all 3, is an example of what works your core and your entire body at the same time.

An effective strength training program incorporates a combination of both circuit training and precision training. You can also work HIIT training and precision training movements into your circuit workouts to maximize efficiency and results.

Frequency/workout formula

I generally do two strength training 4 times a week. Twice a week, I do circuit training workouts a week, that focus on full body. Then, I do 2-3 precision workouts a week, that include yoga, barre, or Pilates.

A comprehensive formula- LISS + HIIT + STRENGTH = FIT!

I follow an exercise regime based on steady state cardio 5 days a week, and high intensity interval training twice a week, strength training twice a week, and precision training (yoga, Pilates or barre) twice a week. The formula I follow for working out is as follows:

  • 2 HIIT training sessions a week 
  • 45 min of steady state cardio(LISS OR MISS) 5 times a week
  • 2 resistance training sessions twice a week
  • 2 precision training sessions a week
  • 1 complete rest day

Note that much of my steady state cardio is done while on work calls; therefore during the week, my net time spent working out daily is 20-45 minutes. 

I will spend time in future articles breaking down HIIT, LISS and MISS. If you want more info now, including an explanation of HIIT, LISS, and MISS, you can review my post on best programs for weight loss. I will also separately explain this formula and why it works.

Circuit training options

In the last section of this article, I have my own workout playlist and sample workout. I also include schedule of workouts in my weekly workout plans. You can access those here:

Exercise Template Links

Read my review of strength training apps here:

If you need help deciding which app is right for you then go back to my fitness app decision tree

Precision training options

Yoga, Pilates and barre are the main types of precision training. Precision training is what gets those little biddy muscles start to pop, like that hip dip or teardrop shoulder. These also get your core strong, so you can hold.plank.forever.

Once we emerge further out of COVID, I will do my workout studio review. For now let me refer you to my yoga, barre and Pilates app recommendation.

This type of training is also where a zoom class would be a good exprience, especially when it is not as familiar to you. For yoga, I would recommend trying a streaming class from one of your local studios.

I have apps that I recommend for yoga, barre and pilates here:

Best precision training zoom class options (in pandemic):

Hot house yoga– Run by the Yax brothers Chris and John, with the support of their family, this beach-bound hot yoga studio is where my practice got next level. Now many of the classes are available on live stream, at the schedule at the link.

Cocktails & Relevés Barre – Run by two professional barre teachers, Amy and Naz, this is a 5-day a week zoom barre program with classes focused on arms, abs, legs, booty, and full body. There are several mid-day express classes which make it so easy to take a quick lunch break class. There is also weekly “flow” class similar to yoga, and lots of social get togethers involving cocktails (of course) and coffee.

If you live in an area with a Solidcore, fortunately, the studios have stayed open in an “open gym format”. I am fortunate enough to live across the street from one. Basically, the class s a megaformer style class that is INSANELY challenging for your core and full body. To learn more about Solidcore and their open gym format, click here and here.

The Fit Professional Workout Playlist and sample workout

Here is some guidance on how to design a circuit training program. In all of the moves I have described below, I have links to explain what they are but also that give guidance on form. If you haven’t trained or worked with a trainer, you will want to make sure that you do take precautions to learn the proper form. I would recommend hiring a trainer for at least a few sessions to get at least a few functional and alignment pointers. It is tricky during “Corona-time”, so consider also purchasing one of the fitness books I recommend that give more guidance on basic strength training moves.

Here are some tips to maximize the effectiveness strength training:

  1. Don’t shy away from heavier weights. Heavier weights will NOT make your bulky. In fact, they will make your muscles leaner.
  2. Incorporate some cardio / HIIT / velocity movements in your circuits, like ropes, boxing, high knees, or mountain climbers. This keeps your heart rate up.
  3. Try to go from one movement straight to another and only rest between sets. Again, this make sure your heart rate is up, thus burning more fat.
  4. Incorporate “drop sets” – which mean staring with a heavier weight, then going down in weight and increasing reps. For example, with bicep curls, if you lift 10s or 12s for 10 reps, then have your last set drop down to 5 reps and do 20 reps. This is also known as “flooding.”
  5. Don’t forget your back. A lot of times women especially focus on the front, as in what you can see in the mirror, like biceps and legs. Devote at least one body workout a week to the back, including upper back, lats, hamstrings, and calves. This will include exercises like Romanian deadlifts, tricep pressdown, and rows.
  6. Mix it up. Keep your body guessing by varying the weights, number of reps, and movements. This only requires a little bit of creativity. For example, instead of doing a regular pushup, do a tricep pushup, or a negative (slow) pushup). Or introduce instability – for example, raise a leg or do shoulder taps during plank, or do an upper body standing movement like bicep curls with your leg elevated. Sometimes I plan this and sometimes it’s spontaneous. Don’t be afraid to be a little playful. Working out is supposed to be fun, and push you beyond your comfort zone.

Here’s a sample workout based on the playlist:

For each circuit, pick an upper body exercise, a lower body exercise, a core exercise, and a plyo exercise.

Plank rows are a great full-body and core workout.

Warm up

  •  World’s greatest stretch– from a down dog position, go into a low lunge position and raise one arm in a twisting motion, hold for 10 seconds each side
  • Cat cow – Arch back up like a cat, doming shoulders; contract shoulder blades and drop belly. Do 5-10 reps
  • Bird dogs– From tabletop, extend opposite hand and leg, hold for 10 seconds, draw back in; repeat on other side. Do 5 reps each side
  • Down dog to plank repeat in a wavelike motion- do 10 reps
  • Yoga pushups- from down dog, go to plank position and then do a tricep pushup, go back to down dog – do 5-10 reps
  • Roll ups-  lie down with arms over head, using core to slowly roll up to a seat and lean over to touch as far down to toes as possible; roll back to an upright position and then slowly roll back down.- Do 8 reps 
  • 30 sec plank hold- forearm or pushup position
  • Deadbugs with alternating leg kicks – lying on the floor and alternating the arm and leg kicking out while engaging core- Do 5 repos each side
  • Shoulder taps– in a plank position,  engage core and quickly touch opposite shoulder, alternating between 10-20 reps
  • Band walks – with a leg band  band around just below needs, bend down into a squat position and shuffle side to side in one direction, after 10 steps shuffle back to other side.

Legs

Plyometric exercises

Finishers (go hard for a minute at the very end)

Core / Full body

Back

Chest

Other chest exercises are here.

Shoulders

Arms

Cool down

Sample workout of my favorite movements

Warm up

Circuit 1

  • Single leg RDL
  • Bicep curl
  • Oblique crunches

Circuit 2

  • Skaters 
  • Side lunge 
  • Chest press 

Circuit 3

  • Plank rows 
  • High knees 
  • Kettlebell swings

Circuit 4

  • Tricep dips
  • Mountain climbers 
  • Bear Crawl 

The only equipment needed are dumbbells, a resistance band, and optionally a stability ball or a bench – but you can use an ottoman or any type of stable surface. In the appendix of this post, I have enclosed my favorite menu of strength training moves.

Where to get the equipment for at-home

While I fully intend to go back to the gym as soon as it’s reasonably safe, I get that working as well as working out from home may be the new wave of the future. So here are some of my recommendations for a home gym that you can have without too much space or money needed.

You don’t have to be Jeff Bezos to have a tricked-out home gym – in fact, you can have a great one for about 100-200 bucks.  Here are some finds categorized by equipment type needed for on-demand/at home workouts

  • Dumbbells:  The key here is to figure out a couple of weights that you can adapt to a lot of different moves. For example, I can use 8-10 pound dumbbells for bicep curls, single leg deadlifts, tricep exercises, and shoulder presses.  The best option for me was to order a  weight tree set from Amazon – and if you search around, you can pay less than 20 bucks. 
  • Battle ropes: You can order the kind that attach to furniture at Toneitup’s online store
  • Barre: You don’t really NEED a barre for at home barre workouts; most of the time these are bodyweight or on a chair. But if you really want the feeling, you can order the a mini barre like this one that also has a weight rack.
  • Yoga Mat–  this recent New York times article recommends several, including Lululemon and Gaiam, which are two of the well-known brands. 
  • Sliders – these compliment a lot of the barre classes and on-demand workout classes. I like this brand from Amazon which is carpet-friendly.
  • Benches – an Ottoman or a coffeetable will do it!

The great dumbbell shortage of 2020 saw a surge in demand for this popular type of equipment; but you can also invest in armbands and legbands (which you can get for decent prices at the Tone it up website). while you are waiting for that to get back in stock (and they are less expensive). If you are really serious about a home gym for post-pandemic times, consider getting the bowflex adjustable weights.  It’s much cheaper than a peloton and allows you to change weight from 5 to 52.5 pounds.  

Key takeaway

You can and will find your rhythm when it comes to working out. It only takes 3 pillars: Ability, time, and motivation. I have helped you find your motivation and your why. I have helped you with finding the time. The ability may seem daunting at first, but so was your first day at your new job. And look where you are now. You can do that, and you can do this too.

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