With more and more people wanting to live healthier lifestyles, the fitness industry is booming. Now more than ever, people have endless options on ways they can get their daily workout in. Crossfit, Zumba, boot camps, home workouts DVD’s galore, and everything in between, have American’s off their couches, in spandex, and sweating up a storm. Anything that gets you moving is a great start to getting fit, but there are definitely different paths to take that are respective to your goals. The advice that I’m going to give you is based off my personal experience, my research, and advice that I have gotten along my journey. I am not a personal trainer, so please make sure you take in to account your health and physical limitations, if you have any. It’s always recommended to check in with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have questions or concerns.
I am about to share one of the most single important pieces of advice to women out there who are wanting to tone, tighten, and get an overall better shape to their bodies…you ready for it? Lift heavy weights! Yes, I’m talking about barbells, dumbbells, kettle bells, weighted plates, weight machines, and even your own body weight. I often get women coming up to me asking me how I get my arms so toned, or my legs so shapely. I can tell you, it is not just from chugging along on a treadmill or elliptical! That doesn’t mean cardio isn’t important, only that it is just one of the factors in achieving a svelte physique. Let me explain:
Up until about two years ago, I was your typical “cardio bunny.” I’d go to the gym, hit a cardio machine for 30-45 minutes, do a little ab work, then pat myself on the back for job well done. However, no matter how much time I devoted to running, I wasn’t seeing the results that I wanted. I was not overweight, but I was “squishy”. My arms looked “fat” in pictures, my butt “flat” in a bathing suit, and that evil little roll still clung to the top of my jeans. I was continually doing the same exercises, but expecting different results (isn’t that Einstein’s definition of insanity?!).
I remember quite clearly the day it all changed for me. I had just started dating the man who is now about to be my husband, Quinn. Both active individuals, we decided to hit the gym together. I started to head for my favorite elliptical, and he stopped me and asked “Have you ever tried lifting weights?” Weights? You mean that room where all the beefy meat heads collect and stare at themselves in a mirror? Um…no. However, It was still early in our relationship and I didn’t want to show him my stubborn side quite yet.
I begrudgingly played along and let him teach me a few basic moves. Over the next few weeks, Quinn kept encouraging me towards the weight room and showing me new techniques. After a short amount of time, something surprising happened. I started to see changes in my body. My arms were sore, achy, but most importantly…more toned. The light bulb went off! It was at that point that my body, and my life, changed forever. I fell in love with lifting.
Many women still avoid lifting weights for fear of getting “bulky” and end up looking like a man. Let me inform you right now…IT WILL NOT HAPPEN! The female body simply does not have enough testosterone to build that much muscle naturally. Female bodybuilders have spent decades getting their body so built, and the really big ones use some form of growth hormone (steroid). The only other way you could come off as “bulky,” is by eating a terrible diet on top of building muscle. If you are keeping your muscles covered with fat, then you are doing yourself no good. Now this doesn’t mean you should avoid lifting weights if you are overweight. The ultimate plan is to combine lifting, cardio, and a clean diet to maximize and speed up your progress. When you are doing cardio, that calorie burning stops the minute you hop off the treadmill. However, weight training builds muscle, and muscle is what burns calories, even while in a resting state. This means you can actually lose body fat simply by adding in weight training, without ever even having to cut your calorie intake! With the marriage of these three things, you are guaranteed to see tremendous results. You will have definition, curves, and a still very feminine physique. I promise!
Ok, so maybe now you’ve decided to give it a try. Now comes the “scary” part. Stepping in to the unfamiliar scene of weight room. You are most likely one of the few women in there, you feel like everyone is looking at you, you’re not sure where to start, and you feel like you don’t belong in there. That is perfectly normal! The first thing you need to realize is that no one was born lifting weights…everyone at some point started just where you are…a beginner. Check your fears at the door, and realize you belong there just as much as anyone else. Yes, even as much as the guy who looks like he could break a pencil with his peck muscles.
To get a jump start on how to navigate your way around the weights, I highly recommend hiring a trainer, even if it’s just for one session. He/she can explain to you the basics of proper lifting, show you how to use some of the machines, and give you the confidence to get started. Though more time consuming, you can also look up a good basic workout routine on the internet, in magazines, or download various fitness apps that will give you step by step instructions on movements and technique. I am constantly using this method to find new and fresh exercises. It’s good to keep your body guessing, so incorporating new movements into your workout is important.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.
The biggest mistake I see women make when they start lifting is using weights that are too light. Lifting lighter weights with higher repetitions is great for building muscle endurance, but women really should be focused on building strength if their goal is to get tight and toned. Heavier weights = stronger muscles. Stronger muscles = definition and curves. Definition and curves = having great tank top arms. Need I say more? My rule of thumb is to lift light enough that you can complete 8-12 repetitions, but heavy enough that that 12th rep is incredibly hard to do. After a few weeks of doing this at a certain weight, that last rep will get easier. That means it’s time to increase your weight! Guess what lady? You are getting stronger!
Lose the scale
So often, women measure their progress by using a method that we hate the most…monitoring our weight. If you fall into this category, I highly recommend you step off, back away from the scale, channel the famous scene from the movie “Office Space” and take a bat to it. The only scale I use is a food scale to measure my portions. Your weight is only a number, a measurement of mass. The problem is, it doesn’t tell you what kind of mass it’s measuring.
Muscle weighs more than fat, so you can easily be losing fat while gaining muscle, and see no drop in weight. In fact, you could see an increase! In January 2013 I weighed in at 134lbs and wore a size 6. In January 2014, I hovered over 138lbs at a size 2. My point is, rather than dwelling on a number, focus on how your body feels and looks. It’s there you will find an accurate measurement of results.
With summer fast approaching, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone, try something new, and pick up some iron! If you have any questions, or would like a little more motivation to get started, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,
The Fit Mom.