Wellness comes in many iterations with endless interpretations, and that makes the possibility of discovering a fitness regimen that works specifically for you and your lifestyle all the more possible! In the interest of examining every possible option to improve physical health, I would like to make the case for weight training as the perfect exercise for all of you busy, powerful women out there that are interested in factoring a new workout into your lives.
Full disclosure: I don’t mean bodyweight strength training. I mean building up to use a barbell, free weights, and kettlebells. That’s right, I’m talking about dominating that section of the gym where all the dudes stand in front of mirrors acting like they know what they’re doing, busting out biceps curls. Strength training is one of the most rewarding skills one can master with just a few simple and extremely functional movements. If you would like to get started with weightlifting or have already started working on some movements, keep these tips in mind throughout every stage of your journey:
You Won’t Bulk Up (Unless You Want To)
One of the great things about strength training is its choose-your-own-adventure methodology. It’s a very common belief that you’ll start bulking up the minute you so much as look at a set of dumbbells. But here’s the thing: that’s simply not true. It requires a massive amount of time, effort, and intention to bulk up. If you don’t want to take my word for it, we polled a handful of experts and the common thread between all of their replies was this: most women don’t have anywhere near enough testosterone to bulk up the way men do.
The benefits of strength training are so much more than this myth. Shelley Armstrong, Ph.D., MAT, MCHES, laid it all out for us: “Lifting weights two to three times per week is extremely beneficial for women to reduce their risk of osteoporosis by promoting bone health. Between the ages of 30 and 70, muscle mass and strength decrease by an average of 30%, mostly due to inactivity. Weight training can prevent or even reverse this process and, in turn, provides the following benefits: improved performance of physical activities, prevention and management of chronic diseases, improved joint health, prevention and treatment of low-back pain, injury prevention, relief of aches and pains from stress or after prolonged sitting, improved posture, and improved quality of sleep.”
Repetition is Key
If you have never tried any basic strength training movements, odds are your first attempt at even the most basic movement will not be perfect — and that’s OK! In fact, it’s wonderful because your muscle memory will only build relative to the frequency of your training. The more you pick up a weight, the more familiar with the movement your muscles will become. Think about your favorite beauty tool. When you first bought it, there was a period of time in which you probably weren’t using it as seamlessly as you did after you conducted a little bit of research and practiced with it each morning. Before you knew it, that practice turned that tool into an integral part of your beauty regimen.
Practicing weightlifting movements is very similar. At first, it will feel foreign and strange. But after a few weeks of repeating movements consistently, the muscle memory will develop. Trying using a PVC pipe or a training barbell to begin and practice in the mirror until the movement feels like second nature and a seasoned eye confirms that the movements look correct. Practicing with a PVC pipe or a light barbell will simulate the real thing for your muscles and teach you the correct way to grip and move around the bar. All it takes is 5 or 10 minutes of repetitive, concentrated work and before you know it, those movements that felt so foreign to you will start to make sense and you’ll see significant jumps in your strength when the time comes to load up the bar.
Go for the Real Thing
Don’t be afraid to skip weight machines with cables and tracks. While a lot of these machines are very useful for isolated exercises, it can be difficult to get a full-body workout and genuinely build strength. Not to mention, working with free weights or the barbell will allow you to apply your strength training directly to your everyday life, almost immediately, and teach you to lift heavy objects without running a risk of injuring yourself.
Free weights, like dumbbells or a barbell, work more than one muscle at a time. For example, using a Smith Machine for bench press will not activate your core and lats like dumbbells or a barbell will due to the fact that the barbell in a Smith Machine is on a guided track. You can work up to a heavy press with a Smith Machine, of course, but the barbell is so isolated that you lose the benefits of having to stabilize the weight on your own with additional muscles. So when in doubt, reach for free weights. If you concentrate and are conscious about the muscles you’re working on, you’ll be sore in places you didn’t even know were there!
It Requires a Full Effort
Approaching weight training with an open mindset and conviction is key to achieving strength training greatness. Weight lifting is a skill that requires genuine time and patience to build correctly. It also requires you to pay attention to what your body is telling you, like when to back off and when to push yourself. In weeks when you need to take it slow (or even add more rest days), lower your weights and focus on technique. When your energy levels are up, don’t be afraid to push yourself and break personal records.
Full effort not only pertains to the approach—but also applies to consistency. The American Heart Association recommends incorporating strength training into a workout regimen at least twice a week, and this is great as a starting point. If strength training is something you want to work on, keep a consistent schedule and get into the gym (or pick up your at-home weights) a couple of times a week. This will work wonders for gaining knowledge, developing the skill, and seeing results.
You’ll Feel the Benefits Beyond the Gym
At a certain point, when you’ve been training consistently and mindfully, the benefits of weightlifting will start to become apparent to you beyond what you’re able to accomplish in the gym. You’ll find you’re less winded after climbing a flight of never-ending stairs and heavy luggage will be no match for your strong back and shoulders. Not to mention, an arduous task like moving into a new place will not seem as strenuous once you’re able to apply your functional movement knowledge to that dreaded of all dreaded tasks: lifting boxes. It’s also extremely important to note that strength training is great for cardiovascular health and strengthening muscles to help prevent injury, and can also improve your mental health!
Start With These 3 Basic Movements
There are three simple movements anyone can start with to build an understanding of weightlifting and strength training: deadlift, squat, and push press. These three movements cover the core, functional movements of strength training and will be a great way to establish a foundation to eventually introduce more complex movements into your repertoire.
A deadlift is a very simple, functional movement in which the barbell is lifted from the ground at the lifter’s shins, up to hip height, and then returned to the ground. This movement is great for building strength and athleticism and introduces the lifter to the essential motion of hinging at the hip. Deadlift will strengthen your core, hamstrings, and back and can be mastered with either the barbell or dumbbells. It’s a very simple movement without many complex components and will give any beginning lifter a great introduction to strength training.
The squat is fantastic for building core and leg strength. With feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and turned slightly outward, place the bar at the top of your back and narrow your grip to sit slightly outside of your shoulders to engage your back. Once you’ve adjusted the placement of the bar, engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and lower slowly and controlled until your quads are parallel with the floor. Then raise up in a controlled way, squeezing your glutes at the top.
The push press is another great movement for beginners to learn because like the deadlift, it incorporates another fundamental motion to weightlifting: explosive hips. With feet shoulder-width apart and the barbell or dumbells at your chest with your elbows pointing forward, bend your knees slightly and drop into a quarter squat. As you press into your heels and drive up through your legs, push the bar over your head and lock your elbows. This movement will introduce you to the explosive hip movement that is key to mastering more complex lifts and will build your shoulder and core strength.