If you’ve overcome your angst about stepping into your gym’s weight room, congratulations! This is great news. Research shows that weightlifting can help with weight loss and disease prevention, while also improving heart health, sugar control, and balance.
While pilates, barre, and yoga classes are a great for cardio endurance, which is the ability to use a muscle for a long time before fatigue hits, they don’t directly target muscular strength. To see true strength gains, your workout needs to add resistance through body weight exercises, dumbbells, kettlebells, and bands. However, according to research only 20% of women get in the recommended strength training two times a week.
If you want to hit the weight room, but don’t know how to get started, here is a list of weight-room tips to get you started.
WEIGHT ROOM TIPS:
1. Remember: Sore Does Not Necessarily Mean Effective. Do not judge the effectiveness of your workout based on how sore you are. If you are sore for longer than two days, it may be a sign that you are either doing the exercise wrong, or that you are going too hard. If you feel the latter is the reason for your soreness, try doing less weight with higher reps, or doing lower reps. [Hint: if you are hoping to shorten the length of time that you are sore for, try foam rolling, which has been proven to boost recovery and flexibility].
2. Speaking of Form… For most people getting started in in the weight-room I recommend getting started with 1-5 sessions with a trainer. This will give you enough time to learn how to do certain moves correctly, so that you can do them on your own without supervision. Many gyms even offer complimentary sessions when you join initially. However, if you can’t afford training sessions and your gym doesn’t offer a free session when you join, go to the internet. The internet is a great place to learn new exercise moves and routine, especially YouTube and Instagram. There is a great community of instagram fitness-stars who post videos of themselves doing weight-lifting exercises with voice-over explanations on how to do certain moves.
Two years ago I started going to the gym with my partner at the time, who hit the weights while I pounded away on the treadmill. One day when I was feeling particularly adventurous, I asked him to show me a few moves. I learned how to bicep curl, shoulder press, overhead tricep press, and row. I started doing that series of moves two to three times a week, and I was stunned by how quickly my body responded to the weight. Within the first month my muscles had hardened, the weights I was using had climbed, and I began learning new moves and exercises to add to my weight-room routine. By trusting the process and not doing too much weight too soon, I saw results without compromising my body.
3. You Can’t Out-Train a Bad Diet. What you’ve heard is true, a healthy weight and body really is 20% exercise and 80% food. No matter how much time and work you’re making in the weight-room, you are sabotaging your efforts if you are not also eating mindfully. While this statistic may seem like proof that exercising is futile, it’s not. Muscles burn more calories than fat, even when the body is in rest-mode, which means that a more muscular body burns more calories a day doing nothing than a less muscular body doing the same. [For more information about whether or not weight loss is really 20% exercise and 80% caloric intake, check out this article]. Even if losing weight is not your goal, food is fuel for the body, so if you’re going to embark on a workout that requires a large amount of “fuel”, you need to eat accordingly.
4. If You Hate Your Workout, Find a New One. It’s okay if the first weight-lifting workout you try, is not one that you like. Or the second, or even the third. Try multiple exercises and workouts until you find the one that resonates with you. If you hate using kettlebells, try dumbbells. If you can’t stand dumbbells try using weight plates. If you don’t like weight plates, try weighted medicine balls. Lifting weights is not One Size Fits All. Give yourself the freedom to dislike something and discontinue it from your workout routine, and also give yourself the freedom to try new moves.
I am always asking my friends who weight lift for inspiration (especially for leg day), and asking the trainers who work at my gym to take a peek at my form when I begin incorporating a new move.
5. Rest. This may seem counter-intuitive, but you need to give your body a rest if you want to see the results of the work you’re putting in at the gym. Most trainers recommend at least 48 hours rest between working out the same muscle group.
While the number of women who are beginning to lift heavy is growing, a whopping 63% of women who hit the weight room leave it injured. Now that some common misconceptions about women in the weight room have been clarified, here are few tips to follow to keep your body healthy.
1. Warm up. Just as you wouldn’t launch into a HIIT treadmill workout warming up, and your Zumba instructor wouldn’t begin the class with the hardest song on the playlist, you should not jump right into your weight-lifting routine without readying your muscles. Warming up increases circulation, improves flexibility and range of motion, and prepares your muscles and joints for action. There are differing opinions on whether static or dynamic stretching is best. But I suggest using using one of the following to get yourself started: walk 10 minutes on the treadmill, run 3-5 minutes on the treadmill, or do a set of 10 pushups and lunges to prepare your body for what’s to come. My personal favorites for warming up is 3 minutes of ladders on leg day and 1 minute of jumping rope for any other routine.
2. Focus on Form. I touched on this above, but it’s worth re-starting because studies have shown that women have a higher likelihood of leg, hip, and foot injuries than men by almost 50%; researches believe that this is a result of women’s traditionally wider hips. A few tips to improve your form are to 1) always remember to stand straight up (standing crooked puts strain on your hips and knees), 2) look straight ahead while lifting (looking down or to the side strains your neck), 3) tighten your abs as if preparing to take a punch to the gut (this will keep your back straight instead of putting unnecessary pressure on your lower back).
3. Start Slow. Many women think that more is better. More reps, more sets, more weight. But if you increase any of these things before your body is ready, you strain your muscles. Instead, trust the process. By slowly increasing your reps, sets, and weights you’re conditioning your muscles and ligaments. A good rule of thumb for increasing weight is 10%-15% at a time.
4. Do NOT Compare Yourself To Others. Comparison is known as the thief of joy… but it’s also the easiest way to overwork your muscles. While pushing yourself can be good in a work out, if you push yourself to lift the same weight as another person in the weight room before your body is ready, is the recipe for disaster.
5. Listen To Your Body. If something feels wrong, it probably is. If something is painful, stop. If something feels right and makes you feel capable, keep doing it. Your body will tell you when you need to stop, and when you can keep going.