What women in their 20s need to do in the gym, from deadlifts to pull-ups

Olivia Petter
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What women in their 20s need to do in the gym, from deadlifts to pull-ups

For fitness fiends, the gym is a playground filled with exciting machines that will hone and tone your muscles.

But for those who don’t know their deadlifts from their dumbbells, it can be a different experience altogether.

From feeling intimidated by the influx of people taking mirror selfies to having anxieties about pulling a muscle or dropping a weight on your face… going to the gym can be daunting if you don’t really know what you’re doing.

And with extensive research detailing the health benefits of exercising in your twenties, it’s a good time to get into a fitness routine.

But different types of exercise are more suited to different age groups. For example, while swimming might be particularly good for octogenarians with low mobility, women in their 20s should make the most of their strong and capable muscles by lifting weights.

Read on to find out what personal trainers think women in their 20s really need to do in the gym.

Focus on exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once

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"Unfortunately women in their 20s are still scared to lift heavy weights in the fear 'getting big',” explains Richard Tidmarsh, owner and lead trainer of Reach Fitness London, which boasts high-profile clients like singer Jessie Ware and model Vogue Williams.

But, it’s time to forget "toning", he tells The Independent, and learn how to do weightlifting exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once, which is otherwise known as compound movements.

Compound movements include squats, deadlifts (lifting a barbell from standing), renegade rows (lying in a plank and lifting weights in row-like fashion) and pull-ups (holding onto a bar and lifting yourself up so your chin meets your hands).

A squat, for example, requires you to engage your knees, ankles and hip joints, while your glutes and leg muscles reap the benefits.

"These exercises give you the biggest bang of your buck in terms of time spent in the gym, increasing your strength quickly and giving you the long term benefits of improved posture and a well balanced body composition," Tidmarsh adds.

Try performing intense moves for short periods of time

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High intensity interval training, otherwise known as HIIT, is a brilliant exercise for women with busy lifestyles, says personal trainer Nicola Macbeth, of boutique fitness chain F45 in Oxford Circus, London, because it's short and sweet.

It can be performed in various ways, but Macbeth recommends trying it in the form of tabata, which involves doing different types of exercises for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest eight times.

“Your maximal heart rate hits 85 per cent in those intense bursts and encourages your body to practice its recovery time in the moments of low intensity,” Macbeth tells The Independent.

“Tabata is only four minutes of work, just wake up 10 minutes earlier than you did before and smash out two rounds for a great early morning workout.”

Macbeth suggests doing this three times a week as it's an effective form of cardiovascular training.

But be careful not to do more than that, warns Tidmarsh, who sees a lot of women in their 20s overtraining due to social media influencers who regularly tout the benefits of HIIT on Instagram.

"Do HIIT a couple of times alongside weightlifting sessions and recovery work such as yoga," he suggests, explaining that doing too much HIIT could have adverse consequences for young women by prompting hormonal imbalances.


Work that upper body

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“Many women skip upper body day in their training,” says Izy George, instructor at boutique fitness studio Barry’s Bootcamp, which boasts Harry Styles and David Beckham among its clientele.

But neglecting your arms, abs and shoulders in the gym could cause imbalances and injury, she tells The Independent.

“Curling, pressing, pulling and practising scaled-down options of pull ups will improve a young woman's posture and give their legs a rest from potential over-training.”

Upper body exercises are particularly good at building up strength in women, she adds, which could help ward off bone issues such as osteoporosis, which is four times more common in women than men.

Other upper body exercises that can be easily performed in either a gym or even at home include planking, press-ups and sit-ups.

Recover properly

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Recovery is one of the most important aspects of gym training for women, says George, because it ensures that the body has time to restore itself in between workouts and prevents you from getting injured.

This doesn’t just mean taking a rest day every once in a while, where you do no exercise whatsoever, but actually taking the time to stretch after a workout so as to prevent any soreness the next day.

“When you recover, muscle fibres that have been damaged during training repair through protein synthesis,” George explains. “Allow time to recover and you’ll come back stronger for your next workout”.

Measure your progress

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It’s one of the best motivational tips in the realm of fitness: track your progress. All you have to do is search #fitness on Instagram to see just how common it is for people to share before and after snaps of themselves to document their training. While this isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, Macbeth explains that finding a way to monitor how your fitness is progressing, whether it’s through photographs or not, is key to establishing a healthy gym routine.

“Don’t get bogged down with the weighing scales,” she adds, urging young women to also forget about using traditional measures of health such as body mass index (BMI).

“The way I measure my own fitness levels is by monitoring my heart rate, which is a very simple way to keep me on track and ensure that I am really pushing my body to its extremities,” she explains.

There are a number of fitness trackers on the market now that make this incredibly easy, with options at brands like Fitbit, Garmin and Xiaomi. In addition to measuring your heart rate, many of these watch-like devices also enable you to track your steps, monitor the number of calories you’ve burned and will nudge you when you haven’t exercised in a while.

“There are so many ways to measure our fitness in 2019,” Macbeth adds, “and we should take full advantage of these opportunities to record where we’re at, and project where we want to be to keep you driven, self-aware and excited about fitness”.