The Strength Workout

Studio 5 Health and Fitness Contributor Melanie Douglass says to lessen pain and fatigue, every woman should find a centered and balanced approach to strength training.

How many women walk into a health club, approach the free weight rack, snatch up a 35-pound dumbbell, and start pumping away? The answer: very few. Many women look at a 35-pound dumbbell as too heavy or simply out of range — and if women do lift that amount of weight, they often do so carefully… with control and balance.

But every day women lift and carry large amounts of weight (sometimes effortlessly) in a number of activities.

– A woman carrying a baby in a car seat = average weight load of 25 – 35 pounds.

– A woman carrying 4 bags of groceries = average weight load of 32 pounds (full grocery bags can weigh 8 – 10 pounds each).

– A mother lifting a baby = average weight load of 15 – 35 pounds.

– A woman picking up kids toys: although, not a heavy weight load, places a consistent full-body demand on muscles.

The point is, women are strong! But to reach our full potential we should first find a centered, balanced, empowered approach to strength training. Here’s how to do just that:

1) The first step to finding your strength is recognizing the strength you already have… look at all the great things you do on a daily basis! Recognize it and set a goal to build your strength from that point.

2) Switch arms/legs. Even though women are already lifting, moving and shuffling a decent amount of weight, most of us don’t realize the load and therefore lift it in an imbalanced way… over and over again. Think about carrying a baby… most of us carry the baby on the same arm and lean our entire upper body to one side in order to compensate for that burden (day in and day out… talk about a source of back pain and fatigue!)

Simple things can help you keep activities of daily living balanced, for example:

– alternate arms when lifting the baby

– keep your abs contracted and weight centered when bending over to pick up toys or children

– carry equal bags of groceries in each hand when hauling food into your home

– squat down to pick things up or hinge from the hip instead of rounding the back and bending over

3) Strength train to match your daily movement patterns (we call this “functional training”). Here are some great exercises for the above real-life scenarios:

External Rotation:

This is a good exercise to help balance the upper back, shoulder and bicep load placed by carrying a baby in a carseat. You can do it with the arm bent to a 90 degree angle or with the arm extended straight down to the side.

Dead Lifts:

This is a good exercise to build “weight-centered” strength. Something that will help you build centered strength next time you unload a car full of groceries. A dead lift helps you learn to balance a heavy weight load throughout your legs and core to protect the back and avoid back strain.

Pick up and Press:

This is a great exercise to train your body how to properly pick up heavy items, lift it overhead and keep your weight centered and core engaging throughout the entire movement. Simply taking a moment to line-up and contract a few muscles can help women build more muscle, more efficiently as they go about their day doing the things they would have been doing anyway.

Single-Leg Hip Hinge:

This exercise simulate picking up toys… but the “hip-hinge” protects your back and shoulders and engages (works) your glutes and hamstrings instead. That’s a great trade!


Push-ups come in hundreds of shapes and sizes… you can do wide, narrow, knees, toes, one-knee, etc. This is the ONE exercise where I continually see women doubt themselves. Some of us tend to think we “can’t” and therefore don’t even try. But with a push-up (as with any muscular movement), anything you do counts. Even if you only lower down 1/2″ an inch… then great! If it feels hard, it’s challenging your muscles to become stronger. That’s a good thing! So start there and progress to an inch.

To really find your strength on an exercise like this, take a deep breath, close your eyes, tell yourself YOU CAN, and do your best. Anything counts.

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