Weight training is often the most confusing part of any fitness training program, particularly for women who may not have grown up exposed to bodybuilding and strength training as a lifestyle. Are free weights (dumbbells) better than weight machines? Should you use the gym machines or work out on a home gym? How much weight should you use when starting a weight training program? Beginners who are just starting a fitness plan have these questions … any many more!

So let’s take moment to demystify the strength portion of your fitness plan in three words … keep it simple! Strength training, once stripped of its confusing language of reps, curls, stacks and lifts, all comes down to resistance. Your muscles are made up of millions of little fibers called myofibrils. When these muscle fibers are properly stimulated through resistance, they can generate more myofibrils, making the muscle bigger and stronger. Using heavier weight to create more resistance results in greater growth in myofibrils and bulkier muscles than if you work out with lighter weights.

Because most women are seeking longer, more toned muscles without much bulk, light weight training is in order. Best of all, light weight training can be accomplished by simply using your own body weight to provide the needed resistance. No fancy machines are dumbbells are necessary! Perhaps the best benefit of strength training without weights is the portability of your gym. Since you are you own gym, you can carry your equipment wherever you go, including airplanes! And your gym doesn’t take up any extra space in your living room.

The body can bend, twist, lunge, squat, and curl in ways that create the needed resistance for strength. Our ancestors certainly didn’t use a BowFlex to build muscle, they simply went about their rigorous daily routines of hunting, gathering and running from predators, and the results took care of themselves. You can do the same thing with the right strength training program.

The best weight training program targets both upper body and lower body muscle groups. The following home workout routine will get you started:

1. Pull ups.
This exercise, well-known to middle school boys of every generation, can be done with a bar mounted in a doorway, or mounted between the floor joists in the basement ceiling; just make cure whatever you’re hanging from is properly attached.

This move targets your upper back and arm muscles. If your palms are facing away as you raise yourself over the bar, you are exaggerating the work in your back muscles. This is a very difficult exercise, you may need momentum to pull yourself up. The easier version is actually a chin-up, where your palms are facing toward your body as your raise your chin up over the bar. A chin up exaggerates resistance to the bicep muscles.

2. Push ups.
You don’t have to be in the military to benefit from a few push ups every day. This exercise targets your chest, shoulders and arms. Keep your back as flat as possible as you straighten your arms on the way up and press your nose to the floor on the way down. If you can’t complete one set of 6-8 reps with proper form, bend your knees until you can perform this exercise on your toes.

3. Squats.
Even performed without additional weight, squats are an amazing work out for the large muscles in the legs, such as glutes and hamstrings. Place your hands behind your head, bend your knees as you keep your back straight, feet flat on the floor and gaze straight forward. Bend as far as you can, keeping your knees over your toes, then slowly straighten back up. Repeat 8-10 times. Rest 45-60 seconds and repeat for one more set.

4. Lunges.
You will definitely feel this one in the old gluteous! Stand with your feet together, hands on hips. Slowly step forward, with your right leg and lower your body to the floor. Your right knee should be directly over your right ankle and your weight in your right heel. Now push yourself up to the starting position and repeat 8-10 times. Switch legs and repeat another 8-10 times.

5. Plank.
The plank is one of the best ab exercises for core strength and overall conditioning. Best of all, you need nothing but your own body weight to perform this very effective exercise. Lay prone on your stomach with your elbows under shoulders, hands straight out from shoulders with fists clenched. Now push up on your toes. Your body should be straight like a board, with your weight resting on your forearms and toes. Keep your back flat… no sagging … as you maintain the pose for 10-30 seconds. You are using a number of different muscles groups to accomplish this pose, including hips, back and abdominals.

While the above strength training program is a great way to get started, every weight training program has to eventually add more weight to be effective. So when you can comfortably complete 3 sets of lunges and squats without weights, it’s time to add 5-10 pound dumbbells. Just hold the weights in front of you while you squat, and down at your sides while you lunge. Feel the sweat? That’s your metabolism revving up so you can actually burn fat while you build muscle … you’re on your way!