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.
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.
1. Leg Curl: 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 your Achilles 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.
2. Leg Press: 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.
3. Lat Pulldown: 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 your upper 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.
To see the rest of the exercises that make you queen of the weight room, click here for the original article from Women's Health.
>> Read more: It's a Myth: Lifting Weights Will Not Make You Bulky