If you read certain fitness magazines and websites, you might get the impression that women are fragile creatures who need to approach working out in a very different way from men if they are to do it safely. In fact, though every individual is different and the average woman starts out with less strength than the average man, the basic routines needed to build and maintain fitness are not very different. There are only a handful of issues women need to work around that men don’t have to deal with: menstruation, pregnancy and the after-effects of surgery on the reproductive system, such as a C-section. In the latter two cases, it’s important to discuss exercise options with a medical professional. Many women find that their energy levels vary according to where they are in the menstrual cycle, and they may experience pre-menstrual cramping that complicates working out. Exercises designed to stretch the abdominal muscles gently can help to relieve this, but abrupt abdominal movements need to be avoided if the cramping is severe. That means it can be a good idea to have a flexible routine that puts the emphasis on different activities on days when this is a problem.
Every person who is getting into serious exercise for the first time should start out with simple things and build it up slowly. Low-intensity exercise is a good way to build up fitness and start toning muscles in the first instance, so try some walking, swimming or cycling and focus on trying to do it for longer rather than on trying to go faster. Sports like tennis, lacrosse or soccer can also be great at this stage if played in a relaxed way and making sure you’re having fun helps with getting into good habits. In the gym, treadmills are good for beginners because as long as you’re sensible and stop if you feel any twinges of acute pain, it’s easy to set speeds that allow you to build up gradually. Push-ups and sit-ups can be approached similarly, as can simple weightlifting. Initially, the focus should be on increasing your competence rather than on scaling up. Your body will tell you when what you’re doing isn’t challenging you anymore.
Once you have established a good level of basic fitness, strength, and flexibility, it’s time to work on structuring a more focused routine. That may mean working out a different exercise schedule so that you’re undertaking particular activities often enough – usually every two or three days – to see a noticeable improvement in what you can achieve. Be realistic about your schedule and don’t try to cram too much into each session – it’s better to do several shorter sessions, which will send a message to your body that it needs to improve but will be less likely to cause injury or lead to the kind of exhaustion that puts you off continuing. Exactly what activities you should build into your routine will depend on what you want to achieve:
- Squats will build up your thighs and tighten your butt.
- Bench presses will tone your back and firm up your breasts.
- Dumbbell exercises will tone and strengthen your arms.
- Treadmill exercises will tone your legs and build up your fitness.
It’s a good idea to break up gym sessions so that you’re doing a combination of strength and fitness training, with the emphasis more on the latter.
The most important thing you can do to reduce the risk of injury when exercising is to warm up properly before you start, with gentle stretches, massage and some light exercise like jogging on the spot or skipping; then do the same at the end of your session. This will go a long way towards helping you avoid muscle strains. Make sure you pay attention to the particular muscles exercised during your workout. When you go into your main exercise, remember that pushing as hard as you can, whilst it might be satisfying, doesn’t help with building strength and can be damaging; it’s better to do more at a slightly lower level. Having the right clothing will also help to keep you safe by providing support for your body during your workout. It can also enhance your performance, so depending on what you’re doing it’s worth thinking about everything from workout underwear to footwear. Although almost everybody who’s serious about getting fit picks up injuries somewhere along the way, you can reduce the risk, and avoid the more serious ones, simply by observing these rules and making sure you know the proper technique for each exercise you try. Properly developed routines mean you don’t need to compromise between safety and effectiveness.