When it comes to building a better body image, not all workout routines are created equal. Find out which ones unleash your best body and body image.
While a variety of physical activities—from walking to dancing to shooting hoops—may help you feel better about the way you look, some experts and many Shape readers agree that pumping iron is an especially effective way to boost your body confidence.
Free exercise tips by Shape online
Unless you're a real beginner, we're not talking about using dainty 3-pound dumbbells or doing a basic circuit of weight machines. Heavier weights and new exercises are the keys to increasing strength and body confidence. With that in mind, we asked former competitive power lifter Jan Todd, Ph.D., for advice to help you build overall body strength and make you feel strong and powerful while doing them.
Part of Todd's strategy includes using free weights (dumbbells and barbells) instead of machines.
"Many machines are built so that the weight is hidden within a stack, so you don't get a visual sense of how much you're lifting," says Todd. "With free-weight training, you can see how much you're lifting, which is a helpful visual cue." Free weights also provide better workout routines because more muscles are involved.
"Most gyms would rather send women over to the weight machines than spend time teaching them the exercises that would work best for them," complains Todd. "We need to start paying attention to women's routines so they can incorporate movements and weights that will produce the actual strength necessary in day-to-day life."
First, you need to get over any fear or misconceptions you have about free weights or what lifting heavy weights will do to your body (you'll get leaner, not bigger). Todd says to find a training partner who can spot you so you have the courage to try new moves or lift more weight.
Why not give these free exercise tips a shot? You've nothing to lose (except fat) and lots to gain: muscle tone and a new respect for your body.
[header = Weight lifting for women: find out how workout routines boost body image too.]
Weight lifting for women and the confidence connection
In the last decade, several published studies have examined the effect of weight lifting for women on their self-images. One such study conducted at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, found that women who hoisted weights three days per week experienced greater body image improvements than those who engaged in a three-day-per-week walking program. Lead author Larry Tucker, Ph.D., notes that the women who experienced the biggest gains in strength also benefited the most emotionally.
Benefits of weight lifting workout routines
"The obvious and observable success that you get in the weight room is hard to find other places," Tucker explains. "If you put in the time and effort, you'll be able to see that your legs are getting more toned or that you can put more weight on the barbell. For most people, that will result in a better body image and more self-confidence."
The benefits go way beyond how you feel when slipping into a bikini. "Being physically strong can have a very positive impact on what you're able to achieve in life," says Judy Mahle Lutter, M.A., president of the Melpomene Institute, an organization dedicated to studying the effect of physical activity on women and girls. When you're strong, you can handle physical and emotional stress better. You feel more in control of your life. And you're not as afraid of physical challenges or trying new things.
[header = Workout routines for toning your body: Shape shares the info you need online.]
Try these 4 workout routines for toning that really work!
Toning your body tip # 1 Lift like you mean it
If you can do the maximum number of suggested reps (usually 10-12) without feeling fatigued, add pounds (10-15 percent at a time). If you can't complete the minimum number of suggested reps (usually 8), reduce the weight in 10 percent increments until you can. Your last 1 or 2 reps should always feel tough, but doable.
Toning your body tip # 2 Balance your body
To head off injuries, create a more symmetrical look and ensure you have strength for your favorite activities, do exercises for opposing muscle groups. During your weekly routines, if you work the quads, for example, do exercises for your hamstrings as well. The same applies for the biceps and triceps, chest and back and lower back and abs.
Toning your body tip # 3 Try mixing things up more often
According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, subjects who varied the number of sets and reps from workout to workout saw greater strength gains over 12 weeks than those who made monthly tweaks.
Toning your body tip # 4 Blast calories with circuits
Do one set of each move in your workout routines for toning, without resting between exercises. Repeat the circuit once or twice and you'll burn up to 300 calories in half an hour as opposed to 150 from a typical weight routine.