Before you completely move to a different blog or go back to FB to laugh at a cute puppy photo, give me a few minutes and let me explain. I’m not asking you to give up your fitness routine, whatever it may be, that keeps you sane. We all have the things we do because we love them and they keep us from killing people, so I completely understand keeping your yoga class, your run or whatever it might be. I’m asking you to give lifting weights a try as well.
I am not going to sell you on health specifics as to why lifting weight is good for you, because there is good reputable information out there to endorse it, from the Center for Disease Control to Wikipedia and everything in between.
One of the things that is rarely discussed is how lifting can affect you psychologically. I feel much more capable and confident than I ever have before. It gives you pride in your body because you made it that way. The moment you go up in weight will make you feel like you can take on the world. Being a strong woman is awesome. I now want to get out and try other things because of my improved confidence level.
I am on a social networking site for fitness and health called Fitocracy and I repeatedly see women concerned about getting “bulky” from lifting weights. This is far from the truth. Women don’t have the hormonal make-up to layer on muscle; strength training results in a leaner physique. It will change your body substantially more, and more rapidly, than a cardio-only or cardio-based fitness plan. You will not get big, you will not get bulky. There is one caveat to this statement: if you don’t lose the fat sitting on top of the muscle you will “bulk up”. You can’t out-train a bad diet. Read our previous posts, "Our Healthy Transformation (Part 4)", and "Where do we Start? (Part 1)", for nutrition planning.
I also see many women asking about getting “toned”. Toned doesn’t mean anything. You either lose fat or gain fat. You can either lose muscle or gain muscle. As you lose fat, your skin starts to get loose and jiggly (“jiggly” is my own made up word for loose skin that just jiggles around). The tone you speak of is building muscle to make your body solid.
I also hear some of you saying, “Well, I use the machines and lift weights so I’m good right?” Free weights are far better for you than machines. Those machines isolate one muscle at a time, but also put you in awkward positions. Those machines do not imitate any movement you will ever do in real life. Lifting with free weights not only engages the primary muscles for an exercise, but also the stabilizing muscles.
Whether you realize it or not, you have already worked out with free weights. How many of us have bent over and picked up a small child? If you are using the correct form, bending your knees and not your back, you are performing a deadlift.
The next thing I commonly hear is that the gym and specifically the free weight room are intimidating. I completely understand this feeling. First, remember everyone starts somewhere. You are taking control of your health, strength and appearance. Just taking that first step can seem almost impossible, but you are doing more than people sitting on a couch. I promise you it will get much easier and before long you will march in there like you own the place because, well, you do.
Now that you’re committed and want to do this you’re asking well, where do I start? I'm glad you asked! Our "Where do we Start? (Part 2)" post gives you everything you need to set up your own starter program.
The next thing I want to discuss is how much weight to use. When you start doing an exercise, if you can do that exercise with the weight you are using over 12 times, then you need to use more weight. So, let’s say you’re starting to bench press and you’re using dumbbells. You go over and pick up 2 10lb dumbbells (because we all underestimate ourselves) and you can do 20 reps. Well, that means you need to add more weight. You should barely be able to finish off your set of 10. I had very little upper body strength to begin with; I started out bench pressing with 2 17.5lb dumbbells. I’m now up to using the bar and adding weight. I can do 70 pounds, so I have doubled the weight I can do in 6 months! Move away from the colored weights made for women (don’t get me started on this subject) and lift heavy (for you) weight.
I know some of you really like your cardio. Personally I don’t understand that because I hate it. I spent 22 years in the military and if I never jog again it will be too soon. If you must do cardio, do it after you lift weights (if it has to be on the same day). You don’t have to do cardio to change your body and lose fat. But if you want to do cardio, don’t exceed more than 30 minutes at a go. I personally prefer sprint intervals and do that on the days I’m not lifting. I understand that many people are on a time crunch and still want to do cardio (for some unknown reason). If you do both cardio and weights on the same day, then it’s weight lifting first and then cardio. You will be more able to handle the weight and you will be more ready to burn fat after lifting.
The last thing I want to discuss is sleep, get it! When you lift weights you are basically damaging your muscle. When you eat you are feeding it. When you sleep your body is repairing your muscle. Get 7-9 hours/night. Sleep is the best thing in the world for you, and you probably don’t get enough. Make it a priority. You will not see progress in the gym or in your body without adequate rest.
These are the basics. I love weightlifting. It has given me the ability to reshape my body. I have now lost the fat I wanted to lose and I’m in the process of putting on more muscle. This journey has helped me love my body. I no longer nitpick it and only see the things I want to change. When I get done lifting I see a strong, capable body. I see a body that squats 135lbs and deadlifts 165lbs. I see a body I have shaped and earned. I see a strong, beautiful woman. Isn’t that what we all want?