By Marc Lewis and Ryan Welborn

Beginning an exercise program can be a daunting task, particularly for women.   With so much information and misinformation out there, it’s hard for a beginner to know the best and most efficient way to get started toward her goals.  With that in mind, I have pulled together 10 key tips to use to make your workouts more efficient in achieving your fitness goals.  While these 10 things are by no means exclusive, they provide a very good start.


1)     “Don’t be intimidated by the weights!”


In every gym, there is a clear separation between cardiovascular equipment and the weights.  Most women head straight for the cardio equipment,  but the most drastic changes in body shape will start with the weights.  The old adage of “women should not train heavy” has been kicked to the curb, as training within all reps ranges will assist you in developing a sculpted physique. If your goal is to develop firm glutes, sleek hips, trimmed arms and a sculpted midsection, then strength training is the way to go. Most women do not focus on planning an efficient and effective strength training program, however strength training will provide you with the foundation to get the body you want. Speaking of strength training….


2)     “Cycle your strength training!”


I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen someone in the gym, working hard to progress toward their goals, but not taking advantage of one of the most important components of fitness, namely progressive overload.  Progressive overload is simply providing your muscles with a varied and ever-challenging training stimulus. Overloading the muscle can be accomplished by increasing the load (weight), increasing volume (i.e. number of sets or reps completed), or by altering the rest period. Here are these factors discussed in slightly more detail: volume, intensity, and rest time.

  • Volume

Volume is the product of your total repetitions (number of times you complete a lift) and total number of sets (the groups of repetitions).  i.e. 4 sets of 6 repetitions.

  • Intensity

Intensity is simply how heavy the weight used in the exercise is for you as an individual. Think of volume and intensity as inverse factors, therefore if you increased your intensity (i.e. increased the weight you lift) then your volume would decrease (i.e. you would not complete as many total repetitions).

  • Rest Time

Rest time (the amount of time between individual sets) is another important factor in progressing your workouts.  As your intensity (the amount of weight you lift) increases your rest time will also increase. Additionally, you can make heavier weights more challenging (i.e. overload your muscles) by shortening the rest periods.


3)     “Start with compound movements”

Many people focus on resistance training areas that want to develop and are easier to develop (i.e. completing bicep curls for toning your arms), however this an incredibly inefficient way to resistance train. When developing your resistance training plan, you should focus on including compound movements that works major muscle groups while including multiple joints. Some examples of these would be as follows:


  • Back Squats
  • Bench Press
  • Lat Pulldown
  • Shoulder Press
  • Walking Lunges


4)     “Kick the crunches!”

Everyone wants a more sculpted “core”, but all too many people waste their time on movements that do not develop all parts of the “core”in an efficient and effective manner.  The basic sit-up is important, but it alone will never give you “six-pack” abs.  The “core” is made up of more than just your abdominal muscles (i.e. rectus abdominus), therefore when planning your core workouts you need to focus on movements that develop each component of your core. Here are some movements that will help you “kick the crunches” and develop a core-blasting workout:

  • Planks (front and side)
  • Reverse sit-ups
  • Superman
  • Back Extensions
  • Medicine Ball Throws (side, half-kneeling, and tall-kneeling)

Note: The aforementioned compound movements from #3 will indirectly work your “core” through stabilization and synergistic actions.


5)     “Plan your cardio!”

As with strength training, your aerobic workouts need to be planned and cycled using the same variables. When planning an aerobic cycle, consider volume, intensity, and rest periods as with your strength training cycle. These variables should be manipulated so that you have a systematic variation of higher/lower volume days, higher/lower intensity days, and varied rest periods.  If your aerobic workouts don’t progress or change, your body can adapt to them and become more efficient at completing them.  This is a BAD thing when you’re trying to burn fat.  If your body is more efficient at doing something, you burn fewer calories completing it.  Think about it this way, if you go for a 3 mile jog every day, doing the same route, at about the same pace, for the same amount of time, it gets really boring doesn’t it?  Therefore, focus on planning your aerobic program in a manner that provides you with fun and varied activities every week.


6)     “Get creative with your conditioning!”

When planning your aerobic workouts and varying volume, intensity, and rest periods you will want to change up your modalities (i.e. vary your exercise selection).  Instead of isolating yourself to the treadmill or elliptical, focus on altering your exercise type through using a bit of creativity. For example, on your higher intensity aerobic days think about completing sprint intervals, prowler sprints, or fartleks at the local track. In contrast, on your higher volume days, think about cycling, swimming, or rowing in order to get your aerobic work in. In addition, body weight circuits are a great way to train aerobically, while being outdoors and stepping out of the gym. In a bodyweight circuit, focus on incorporating movements such as mountain climbers, jumping jacks, squat thrusts, walking lunges, and duck walks.


7)     “Count calories!”


One of the simplest ways to track your progress, monitor your goals, and control for alterations in your diet is to count your calories. In this day and age, this can be done as simply as downloading an application such as “my fitness pal” and entering the foods you eat throughout the day. When you count your calories, you then have a track record of the foods you are eating, approximate macronutrient (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) breakdown, and caloric trends (i.e. caloric intake on training versus non-training days and weekly averages). These variables can be used to assess your progress, alter your caloric intake, and for providing a dietitian or fitness professional a reasonable look at your diet.


8)     “Don’t skip meals!”

One of the most frustrating things that I will see with people training for weight loss, definition, or just for the sake of training is skipping meals and limiting their caloric intake. Studies have shown that extremely rigid dieting and limiting your caloric intake long-term can have detrimental effects on your metabolism and behavior. Many people do not understand how many calories they actually need throughout the day just to function, not to mention calories needed to exercise effectively. In addition, initially limiting your caloric intake without increasing your metabolic capacity (i.e. the amount of calories your body utilizes at rest and to complete your given daily tasks while maintaining the same body levels of body fat) gives you no room for alterations later on in your training program ( cannot cut calories from an already low caloric diet without additional detrimental effects). Working to slowly increase your caloric intake while maintaining steady, or decreasing body fat levels will assist you in increasing your metabolic capacity. This in-turn will allow you a caloric intake from which to cut from when body fat losses plateau, or a leaner physique is desired (i.e. beach season).


9)     “Don’t be bland!”

One thing that I love to point out to people is the fact that there’s never a reason to be bland in what you eat (and this will come as very good news to those of you hearing “just eat tilapia and broccoli”).  Sure you can eat the same foods over and over, and aside from possible micro-nutrient (vitamin & mineral) deficiencies be fine, but keeping it interesting in the kitchen leads to a much more enjoyable dietary program.  Once you’ve gotten an idea of how much protein/carbohydrates/ fat to eat (from your coach, sports nutritionist, registered dietitian, or physician), it’s very easy to switch between foods with similar calories and macro-nutrient (protein/carbohydrate/fat) profiles.  This is absolutely key in my opinion to achieving a sustainable nutritional program.


10) “Don’t fall for fads!”

There isn’t a day that I don’t hear or see someone jumping on the newest fitness trend bandwagon, and while there are many ways to successfully achieve your fitness goals in a healthy manner, many fads do not do so.  As a general rule of thumb in diet and fitness, extremes should be avoided.  Below I am listing a few commons fads and myths that deal with extremes and are not an efficient way to achieve your fitness goals:

– Super low carbohydrate diets – rather than vilifying carbohydrates, focus on the diet as a whole.


– Avoiding carbs or food after 6pm (7pm, 8pm, etc) – there is no set time when your body magically starts storing fat.

– Yo-yo diets – this is pretty much common sense, your body is always looking to maintain a homeostatic environment (a balance) and bouncing between extremes is less than ideal when it comes to preserving lean mass and trying to burn fat.

– “Super-foods” – while there are foods that have higher nutrient densities than other foods, there is no magical food that will increase your weight-loss/fat-loss.  Losing fat all comes down to your diet as a whole compared to your daily activities as a whole.

– Cleanse/detox diets/supplements – there are no “toxins” that these diets cleanse any better than your liver or kidneys would naturally take care of, and most of the weight-loss that comes from cleanse/detox diets comes from water weight (which will come right back) and lean mass (muscle) from the starvation-nature of these programs/supplements/diets.


If you follow these ten tips, you will be on your way to a better body! If you are would like help achieving your goals, or learn more about developing an all inclusive diet and exercise program, then contact Winston Salem Personal Training.

Live With Fire!

Disclaimer: Always consult your physician before beginning an exercise program.  Additionally, it is a good idea to have someone knowledgeable on exercise technique assist you with the workout to ensure you have proper form.  If you are unsure of how to properly execute any of the previously mentioned exercises always consult a coach or trainer, as improper execution of exercises may result in bodily harm.


About the Authors:


Marc Lewis M.S.(c), CSCS, ACSM-CPT is a graduate teaching and research assistant at the University of South Carolina in the Department of Exercise Science, as well as the Director of Sports Performance for Winston-Salem Personal Training, INC.


Ryan Welborn, CSCS, NSCA-CPT is a personal trainer with an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science from Appalachian State University.  He is also the owner of Winston-Salem Personal Training, INC located in both Winston-Salem & Clemmons NC.