Holly Perkins is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, founder of Women’s Strength Nation, and author of Women’s Health’s Lift to Get Lean.
Sure, bodyweight exercises get a lot of glory and for good reason. Burpees and pushups can help you develop a baseline of strength and function, and they’re easy to perform anytime, anywhere.
But in order to improve your strength beyond that baseline, it’s critical to enter into a progressive resistance program using weight loads above your current ability.
When it comes to increasing your true strength, it’s helpful to isolate and address each large muscle group individually. That way you can put all of your “oomph” into your back, chest, arms, or legs.
If you want to improve your leg strength, you’ve got to focus solely on your legs. If you want to improve your ability to pull, you’ve got to concentrate exclusively on your back. This is precisely how I radically changed my body at the age of 40. And it’s exactly why gyms are filled with the large machines that isolate each muscle group.
But what if you have no clue what you’re doing in the weights room? Well, the five moves below all feature machines that are present in nearly every commercial gym. They’ll help you improve your strength, and inspire change in each muscle group. Ready to get started?
Because this is a strength-based workout, you will be completing “straight sets” with dedicated rest in between each set. You will complete all four sets for each exercise before moving on to the next exercise. Use the first set as a working warmup at a comfortable weight load, then increase the weight by five to 10 pounds for the remaining three sets. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds (but no longer!) in between each set and choose weight loads where the last two reps of every set are very challenging. Complete the number of reps for each exercise as listed below.
Position yourself so that your knees are just below the seat of the weight machine and the padded ankle roller hits between your calf muscle and yourAchilles tendon. Your knees should be in alignment with the hinge of the machine. Use the handles on the machine to anchor your upper body and contract your core (A). Keeping a slight curve in your lower back, contract your hamstrings and pull your heels toward your butt. Pause at the top and squeeze for two seconds before slowly releasing back to the starting position (B). That’s one rep; complete 15.
Begin with your feet on the upper half of the footplate with your toes turned opened slightly. Place your feet shoulder-distance apart and keep your legs extended with knees unlocked. Push upward on the footplate and use your hands to release the safety lock. Grasp the handles and anchor yourself downward into the seat and brace your core (A). Bend your knees to lower the footplate with your knees moving in the direction of your shoulders. Pause at the bottom for two seconds while focusing the weight of the plate onto your heels (B). Drive into your heels to press the plate back to the starting position. That’s one rep; complete 12.
Adjust the machine’s kneepad so that you are firmly anchored down when seated. Grasp the straight bar with your palms facing you, shoulder-distance apart. Sit with a long, tall spine, and lean back a tiny bit. Draw your shoulders downward into your body as if pulling them away from your ears (A). Keep them locked in place while you pull the bar toward your chest by activating yourupper back muscles. When the bar is within two inches of your upper chest, pause for two seconds (B). Slowly release back to the starting position. That’s one rep; complete 12.
Clip a “double D” handle to the cable machine and sit down facing the cable column. With bent knees, place your feet on the footplate so that they are at the height of your hips and at the width of your shoulders. Keeping your knees bent, lean forward and grasp the handle with a long, tall spine. Sitting upright, draw your shoulders into your body as if trying to press into a wall behind you (A).From this starting position, draw your shoulder blades toward each other and pull your elbows back until your hands are near your torso. Pause here for two seconds and keep your chest lifted (B). Slowly release back to the starting position. That’s one rep; complete 12.
Adjust the seat of the machine so that when you are sitting the handles line up with the middle of your chest. While standing, grasp one handle and pull it with you while you move over to grasp the other handle. With both handles pulled inward to your chest, sit into the machine. Begin the move with the handles together and pushed forward in front of your chest (A). From this starting position, press your shoulders downward away from your ears and slowly open your arms until the handles are in line with your torso. Pause for two seconds and then press into your palms to return to the starting position (B). That’s one rep; complete 12.
Womens Health Mag