The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Strength-Training

Not only does muscle help you look leaner, but it helps you burn more calories whenever you hit the treadmill or elliptical; you can look lean without bulking up, and you don't need expensive weight equipment to gain some muscle mass.

July 16, 2015

All my life, I’ve hated strength-training. When I used to play competitive sports, I’d sometimes conveniently get sick on our all-too-frequent weight room days in the off season. (Shh. Don’t tell anyone.)

There’s this old storyline that women focus on cardio to get lean, and men focus on weights to bulk up. After polling random friends and acquaintances of both sexes over the last few months, it’s true. Stereotypes and tropes really do exist for a reason.

But as a woman, still, ladies: you’ve got to build some muscle. Not only does muscle help you look leaner, but it helps you burn more calories whenever you hit the treadmill or elliptical; in fact, muscle tissue burns off more calories than fat even when you’re just sitting around watching Netflix episodes of Scandal. And who could want more, right?

Don’t be fooled. You can look lean without bulking up, and you don’t need expensive weight equipment to gain some muscle mass. My friends always ask me how I stay toned. I tell them all it’s a pretty simple process. So simple, in fact, that I hardly think about it.

Since I’m the queen of getting the most bang for your strength-training buck, with as few extras as possible, here are some of my best moves.

The Push-Up

It sounds to easy to be true, but push-ups are the core of my arm routine. But here’s the secret for results: stop doing the “girl version.” Get off your knees, and do a real, honest-to-goodness push-up. This means you’re up on your toes, with both palms flat on the floor, bending those elbows into a 90-degree angle. Do as many sets of 10 as you can muster.

Make it easier: Drop and do push-ups in increments of 10 throughout the day, or in between cardio intervals during your regular routine, working up to a higher and higher total. Then, you’re not absolutely killing yourself. It’ll take like 15 seconds max. (I promise you can survive 15 seconds of pain.)

The Plank

I like to multi-task. The more things I can do at once, and do well, the better. Which is why I love the plank so much. Drop from a push-up position onto your forearms, keep your tummy taut, and hold for as long as you can.

Make it easier: My trick? Listen to upbeat music, and hold for the length of a song. Give yourself a minute break, and then hold for another length. You may have to work up to this from the length of a chorus, or half a song, but give it time. Pretty soon, you’ll be toning that tricky area at back of your arms and flattening those abs.

Wall Sits

No. Wall sits are not fun. I used to loathe these babies back in the day, but now they’re my go-to leg move, as they are very effective for toning your entire thigh. Use the same song-timing trick as you would with your plank, and work up to three sets. To better tone your inner and outer thigh, shift the weight on your foot from the outside to the arch.

Make it easier: As I mentioned, definitely do wall-sits to music if you’re tacking directly onto your workout routine. Or better yet, you can always do these throughout the day. Because, duh: walls are everywhere. I once wall-sat my way up to the front of the line at an amusement park, leaning against a very sturdy fence. My friend thought I was crazy, but hey! I toned up, they didn’t, and random strangers did not seem to judge me.

Yoga Poses

I don’t do yoga as much as I used to, but if you ever want to get toned fast, I’d totally recommend signing up for a classes with a professional. Never in my life was I more toned and taut — arms, legs, core and beyond — than when I was hitting those vinyasa and ashtanga flows three times a week. In yoga, your whole body has to work to support your own weight.

Make it easier: After a month or two (or three) of classes, you’ll confidently know the moves to do at home, so you can tone up at any moment throughout the day. It’s worth the investment.

Five-Pound Weights

Invest in a pair of juuuust-heavy-enough dumbbells. Probably five to eight pounds will do. Then, adopt a routine that you do consistently, every other day, every single week. If you truly get in the habit of tacking this onto the end of your cardio workout, you’ll see the results you want. Toned arms, all around.

Make it easier: You can lift light dumbbells in front of the TV, and you’ll hardly notice you’re doing it. Try this five-minute routine if you need some go-to move inspiration.

Bottom line? You don’t have to do deadlifts or hit the bench press to get toned. Just wedge easy-peasy moves into your day, whenever you can, and you’ll be showing off toned biceps and sculpted legs in no time.