Updated: May 6, 2020
If you haven’t spent much time in a gym, the weight room can be intimidating. I mean, 50% of the weight machines look something like a medieval torture device. Exercises named things like “deadlifts” and “prisoner ups” and slogans like “no pain, no gain” certainly don’t make weight lifting (aka resistance training) feel any more welcoming.
Coupled with the misconception that “weight lifting can make a woman too bulky,” it's no wonder that stepping into the weight room can give women pause. But the truth is that bulking doesn’t come from weight lifting, it comes from food and our choices in the kitchen. Weight lifting while eating healthy, nutrient dense foods results in lean, sculpted bodies. Weight lifting also brings health benefits ranging from increased bone density, metabolism, and endorphins (the feel-good chemicals in the brain), to a decreased risk of injury, osteoporosis, and heart disease. Fortunately, in 2019, the taboo associated with women weightlifters is less prevalent than it once was. It’s time for all women to step into their power and debunk the stigma once and for all! So, let’s talk strategy.
Resistance Training Systems. There are as many different resistance training systems as there are leggings in my closet (which is a lot). To name a few: circuit training, HIIT (high intensity interval training), Olympic lifting (where you attempt a maximum-weight single lift), the Blitz System (where a single muscle group is isolated per day, i.e: Monday, chest; Tuesday, back; Wednesday, shoulders; and so on). I know it can be overwhelming to know where to begin, but I have suggestions to help get you started:
If you have access to a gym, definitely consider trying a class! Instructor-led classes can really help get rid of the guesswork involved when starting out with resistance training.
If your schedule doesn’t work with the class times or you prefer to work out alone, keep in mind that most gyms will do a free introduction tour. Be prepared to tell them you would like to start weight lifting and ask them to show you a few easy-to-use machines to get started. After you’re in the swing of things with a few simple exercises, challenge yourself to add one new machine into your routine per week. I realize this may be stepping out of your comfort zone, but I encourage you to push yourself on this. Trying out new things is good for the spirit as well as the body!
If you don’t have access to a gym or weights, body weight exercises like squats, pushups, tricep dips, and crunches can be done anywhere, anytime, at no cost to you.
I am a huge fan of “supersets.” You take three different exercises and group them together. Aim for 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. Once you complete the superset, repeat it up to four more times.
Sample these types of strength training (and others!) until you find one that you enjoy. The fitness studio I own and teach at has a slogan: “fitness is fun.” I am blessed with the opportunity to design fun workouts for our clients, and I know other gyms strive to do the same. Life is too short for boring workouts! Finding a strength training format that you enjoy will help your stick-to-it-ness to a lifetime practice.
Frequency. The average adult should include regular resistance training 2-3 days per week with the specific purpose of maintaining muscle mass and bone mineral content over the life span. Adhere to this and watch the magic start to happen for you.
Rest Days...Yay or Nay? If you have ever noticed your muscles being sore after a big play day, you have experienced DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). This occurs because the weight lifting process creates micro-tears in the muscle, which is good because the muscle fiber that grows to repair the tear makes the muscle bigger and stronger. This repair process occurs during rest days. Not a believer in rest days? Then you are just continually tearing down the muscle, not giving it a chance to rebuild or repair, and are missing an essential part of the strength building process. Take at least one day off between exercising each specific muscle group in order to give your muscles time to recover.
Common Training Errors.
The most frequent error I see is folks performing the exercises too quickly. I always say “slow and controlled,” and think about engaging the muscle on the eccentric part of the motion (where the muscle is lengthening). For example, keep the bicep engaged when lowering the weight after the bicep curl.
Errors that increase risk of injury include skipping the warmup, using too much weight, improper alignment, and not keeping the core stabilized. If you are new to resistance training, consider starting with a personal trainer or a group fitness instructor who can help you navigate these problems. You could also start with simple machines that place you in the position to ensure the core and scapula are properly stabilized.
In this era of female empowerment, it's a great time for all Montana women to explore the world of strength training. Always remember that we can be of better service to our family and community if we take care of ourselves first and foremost. Happy Lifting, Mindy
Mindy is a columnist for "Montana Woman Magazine." Her column "The Real Levitation Experience" shares expertise for elevating health & wellness that she has acquired through her certifications as a personal trainer and life coach. Mindy is also founder of Kalispell’s Levitation Nation Aerial Studio, where the catch phrase “fitness is fun” is embodied alongside a culture of movement & women empowerment. For more about Mindy, please visit: https://www.levitationnation.org/mindy.