Muscle Strength — Another Component of Fitness

This is the time of year I generally change up my exercise routine.  As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, I tend to give my running shoes a rest and instead I go to the gym to lift weights, and show up at yoga class more regularly.  As I (unfortunately) can’t spend hours every day exercising, I find it very hard to cross train and do all three — running, weights and yoga.

Fitness isn’t about just having great cardio-vascular strength, or being able to touch your toes, or even being thin.  Fitness is made up of 5 different components:

  1. Muscle Strength ( how much force a muscle can exert a single time, in other words, the maximum amount of weight can you lift once)
  2. Muscle Endurance (how long a muscle can work without fatigue)
  3. Cardio-Vascular Endurance (the ability of the heart and lungs to work together to provide the body with oxygen)
  4. Flexibility (ability for the joints to achieve full range of motion)
  5. Body Composition (percent of body fat vs. lean muscle tissue)

To be physically fit, we have to be fit in each of these five areas.  A while ago, I wrote about the phenomenon of Skinny-Fat.  Just because someone is thin, if they don’t have lean muscle mass, or cannot sustain moderate aerobic activity, they are not fit.  Likewise, many runners, although they can run many miles at a time, don’t strength train and so they have weak upper body muscles — again they are not truly fit.

Today I want to talk about Muscle Strength.  First though, you may ask, What is the difference between muscle strength and muscle endurance?  Muscle endurance refers to how long a muscle can work without fatigue.  Training for muscle endurance involves low intensity and high volume workouts.  In other words, you should lift weights at about 50%-75% of your max, doing 15-20 repetitions per set, for 3-6 sets.  Typically someone says she wants to be “toned” they are referring to muscle endurance.

Before starting any exercise program check with your doctor to ensure that are healthy and that you don’t have any health issues or concerns that should make you avoid certain types of exercise.


Muscle Strength means how much force a muscle can exert a single time, in other words, the maximum amount of weight can you lift once. Training for muscle strength involves performing several warm-up sets and then 2-6 “work” sets of 80%-90% of your maximum weight for up to 6 reps per set, and a minimum of 2 minutes rest between sets.  If you can do more than 6 reps, the weight is too low.  Generally when someone goes to the gym and says they want to bulk up, they are referring to muscle strength.  As you can see, there are very different techniques for different results.  


For beginners (or anyone who has not been weight training regularly in the last 6 months), it is best to start with a program designed for muscle endurance.  After a solid 3-6 months (depending on your level of fitness) of such a program, then you can begin to work up to a program focusing on muscle strength.  It is best to concentrate on one or two muscle groups at a time and really work them with 3-4 different exercises, again at heavy weights (80%-90% of max).

A 4-day a week program that works well is to break out your days as follows:

Day One: Chest (Pecs) and Triceps

Day Two: Upper Back (Lats) and Biceps

Day Three: Legs and Lower Back

Day Four: Shoulders (Deltoids) and Abdominals

Each day, do 3-4 different exercises for each muscle group.   Start with the most difficult exercise and make sure to do several warm up sets starting at a moderate weight and work up to your work sets.  Do 4 work sets of 4-6 reps per set at a heavy weight.  Rest 2 minutes between sets. As your muscles are already warmed up, for the next 2-3 exercises you can go right into the work sets, but still rest 2 minutes between sets.

After you have finished, be sure to stretch the muscle groups you have been working to minimize muscle soreness!




















Getting Back to It!

After a bit of an exercise hiatus, I am getting back on track with getting to yoga, the gym and out for a run at least once each per week.   Not that once a week is good, but combined exercising 3x a week is OK.  I prefer to do something 4-5 times a week, but at least I’m moving in the right direction!

This morning the weather was unseasonably warm and I went out for a short (3 mile) run.  It felt great.  I have found that while it is tough to get up, get dressed and get out the door, once I start running I really do enjoy it!  And afterwards I am very, very glad I went!  The same holds true for yoga and weight training too.  The hardest part is getting out the door!


Things that keep me going are to remember why I exercise:running infographic

  • I exercise for my overall health
  • I exercise to keep my bones strong
  • I exercise to keep my heart strong
  • I exercise to prevent disease
  • Exercise makes me happy (maybe it’s the endorphins)
  • I exercise to shape my body
  • And yes, I exercise so I can eat a lot and still maintain my weight

I find it motivational to remember that:

I never regret when I make time for exercise, but I always regret when I don’t!

And I find that keeping an exercise log helps motivate me to stay on track.  The actual recording of my workouts keeps me accountable, even if it is only to myself!

Get into the Weight Room!

Following is a guest post written by Emi Preston.  I met up with Emi Preston  when I visited her blog, Benching Beauties.  I love this tumblr blog written by Emi and her sister Yumi, check it out! 

I also love Emi’s post which she has written for this blog.  I too am always trying to get women to use free weights.  Believe me and Emi, you aren’t going to end up bulking up like a man; for one thing, you don’t have the testosterone,  and for another, body builders spend HOURS upon HOURS in the gym!)

Here is some great information and motivation from Emi.

 Breaking the Stereotype Free-weight-room

Ladies, does the idea of stepping into the weight room scare you?

When I encourage girl friends to lift with me, I’m always met with, “Won’t  weights make me look bulky?” The answer is NO! It’s been 1.5 years since I started lifting heavy free weights, and I’ve made it my personal mission to share the incredible benefits of weight lifting with everyone in my life. If your current gym routine does not incorporate heavy free weights, I want to convince you why it should.

Physical benefits

Lifting weights will help you achieve a slender, strong hourglass figure that cannot come from cardio and bodyweight exercises that often result in a “skinny fat” look. Women lack the testosterone levels necessary to “look like a man.” If lifting a 10-pound purse every day hasn’t built you toned arms, how can a 10-pound dumbbell do the same? You must challenge your body.

Mental benefits

Weight lifting is empowering. When you are confident in your physical strength, you feel more confident in every aspect of your life: public, work, and home. Furthermore, lifting weights in a male-dominated place where society says you don’t belong builds courage. Show yourself, and the world, that you are more than your appearance; you are mentally tough.

Daily life benefits

Having muscle to power you through the day does wonders for you energy and stamina. Carrying grocery bags, walking up stairs, running to catch a plane, and moving furniture all become easier tasks. Your mental clarity will improve and you will be able to better manage stress. Making time for your own health and physical improvement is extremely rewarding.

How are YOU going to begin weight lifting?

My first time setting foot in the free weights section was terrifying. It’s full of big, sweaty men and you don’t know where anything is. You feel uncomfortable because you’re being looked at. It’s embarrassing when you mess up. But I’ve gotta give you some tough love here… everyone goes through this. You just have to push through! Here are some tips:

  1. Write down your goals and enter the gym with a plan for what exercises you want to complete. Don’t leave until you have completed ALL of them.
  2. Tune everyone out and focus on your workout. Listening to music helps!
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t know where equipment is or how to use it.
  4. If you are really anxious, hire a personal trainer for even just one session. Many times, the first session is free, or you can bring a friend to halve the price!

Before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to your lifting time. You’ll start noticing changes in your physique. As your physical appearance improves, people will start paying you more respect. Your new confidence rooted in physical and mental strength will be a brilliant beacon that shines from the inside out, and it will continue to grow as it is powered by weight lifting.

This is such an exciting time for you.  Go and get it, ladies! Please do not hesitate to contact me,, or

Emi Preston (age 21, currently getting certified as a personal trainer through Emi and YumiWITS) and Yumi Preston (age 19) are two sisters attending the University of Washington in Seattle. We share a passion for health & wellness, and we aim to help other women reach their fitness goals in the male-dominated fitness world (and weight room). We welcome anyone and everyone to our community. Join us on our journey, and reach out to us with comments, questions, or anything else!

report on new program

The new exercise program is good. Two days ago I really worked my legs — squats, lunges, abductors, adductors, calves and then onto abs and lower back. Wow I was already a bit sore yesterday, today even more so! But today was check, shoulders and triceps day so off the the gym I went! Feels good!

A New Workout

This week I started a new weight training program at the gym. Up to this point, I’ve been hitting all of the eight major muscle groups every each time I worked out (about 3 times a week). That has been working out well, but after 6 months, it was time to vary the workout.

To mix things up, and increase the effectiveness of my workouts, I started a program where I work just 2-3 complementary muscle groups a day — pecs, shoulders and triceps on day one, lats, biceps on day two, and legs and lower back on day three. I throw in abdominal exercises every day. Each day, I do 3-4 reps of 3 exercises for each muscle group — totally working the muscle. Then since I don’t come back to those exercises for a week, the muscles have plenty of time to rest and recover. Today is leg and lower back day.