“I don’t want to look like a man!” Was the response from a new client I had and was about to show a free weight workout to. I stopped and said “I can show you any workout you want, Pilates, kick-boxing, body weight resistance training or calisthenics. However, you have described to me a set of goals (and a timeline you want those goals) that dictate a resistance training program, preferably one that is specific and will be a challenge.” She looked at me blankly for a moment. I went on to explain, “I would never give you a program that I would say, … give your husband, or your brother. I train women so they look even more like a woman only more graceful and defined.” My client clearly liked that statement while staring at my figure and no longer needed reassuring that I would turn her into the next Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This experience reminded me that not everyone is reading up on the latest scientific metabolic, mind body, fitness or weight loss information. When people think about weight lifting for women they think about their friends experiences, exaggerated photos of body building women online or outdated information based on here say. The first part of my job as a personal trainer is to educate women on the benefits of free weights and debunk the myths. The second is giving them a program that is specific to their goals. Although power lifting is very popular among the 20 to 30 year old fitness fan, most of my clients prefer a program for definition not necessarily strength, “gains”, size, power or performance.
The fact is, muscle development is key to improved metabolic functioning and stronger bones at any age. It not only takes more energy (calories) to build muscle but the results happen faster and the effects are longer lasting than a cardiovascular workout alone. Many women who stick to a definitive and progressed program can expect to see a real difference in muscle tone within two weeks. Usually energy levels increase as well as the rate of fat burning after the third week.
One of the underrated benefits of free weight resistance training is functionality. When a client tells me they were able to lift groceries, pick up their toddler, paint their bedroom with ease and play soccer with their 14 year old, we both know it’s because they have more muscle mass to handle the job(s).
The practice of strategic resistance training will not only improve your body physically but it will strengthen you emotionally and mentally. Our bodies have the ability to relay information to our minds about how strong or capable we are. This translates into more endorphin and serotonin entering our systems creating feelings of wellbeing, accomplishment and greater sense of self confidence. It is true that when you feel stronger overall you feel better about who you are and what you are able to accomplish. Implying that weight lifting is only for men is undermining the real positive effects it can have for women. One has to be mindful about how to train however as the wrong program or trying to do the same workout as your boyfriend or husband is a big mistake.
The key here is to build a program that is specific to your needs. Crossfit people will tell you that you have to throw tires around, Orange Theorists will tell you HIIT is the way to go and power lifters will push heavier and heavier weights on you. Don’t learn how to clean and jerk or throw tires around if you don’t need to. Keep reminding yourself that heavier isn’t necessarily the goal. It’s easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of a fad program to get in shape but if all you are looking for is weight loss and more defined muscle then you want a descending pyramid type of program. This program with plenty of muscle specificity and good amount of cardiovascular exercise.
Since I started lifting weights when I was 18, I’ve developed my own style of weight lifting that keeps me toned looking without a lot of bulk. Periodically I have to take a break away from lifting entirely simply because well, life happens. When I do take a break and then return to weight training I remind myself to take it slow. I start with the lowest weight I began with the last time I started a new program. If that seems too light then I move up 5 pounds to the next level. I create my program of three different exercises for each muscle group in a reverse triangle. This means I lift the heaviest weight first for the least amount of repetitions, then I decrease the weight for 3 to 8 more repetitions and then end with the lightest weight at 20 repetitions or more. I will often combine this with cardio intervals of 2 to 3 minutes in between each exercise group. I will also use the ascending pyramid ( just the opposite weight versus repetition sequence to the descending pyramid) when I want to thicken a muscle first or make it larger more pronounced (as in my booty LOL). That’s the beauty of free weights you can customize a program based on muscle imbalances or weaknesses to create a more balanced physique.
Avoid pushing beyond your limitations. The worst thing that can happen when someone who is new to weight training or is just returning, is for them to feel pain past the two day later point. If someone is experiencing pain longer than two days after a workout, more than likely they’ve done some damage to either the tendons or the muscle tissue itself. Which will set your progress back as you will have to wait for the soft tissue to heal. It is normal to experience an appropriate amount of soreness for up to two days after a workout. The concept is called DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness.
Try to find a trainer to help you get started. Someone who is experienced with clients new to free weight programs and not someone who only works with men or people who’ve been lifting for years. There are many online resources for weight lifting but none of them take the place of a certified personal trainer that can cue proper form, spot weaknesses and progress a program written specifically for you.
In any case you will have better muscle tone, feel stronger, have a faster metabolism, lost some weight (lowering your risk for heart disease) and conduct your daily activities with ease; what’s sexier than that?!