It’s almost spring, and nutrition fads, fitness trends, and wellness initiatives have already begun to crop up on our favorite blogs and social media feeds. While there is certainly no shortage of information, we also recognize that wellness is not a one-size-fits all phenomenon — what works for some might not work for others.
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 strength training as the perfect exercise for all of you busy, powerful women out there that are interested in factoring in a new workout into your lives.
Full disclosure: I don’t mean body weight 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. You do not have to lift any more weight than you want to. If your goal is to reach a 120lbs deadlift, you do not have to exceed that weight. If your goal is to tone your muscles, you can increase your reps. The benefits of strength training are so much more than this myth and the benefits will speak for themselves the more you practice.
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 seamless 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 such 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, you’ll be sore in places you didn’t even know you had!
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, 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 — it 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 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 not match for your strong back and shoulders. Not to mention, an arduous task like moving in to 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 you 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 into strength training.
The squat is fantastic for building core and leg strength. With feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and feet 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.