Overheard at the Gym:
Woman 1: I wish my body looked like yours.
Woman 2: It can! I’m taking this great kettle bells class: the instructor is encouraging and knowledgeable, we’re all different fitness levels, we have great music, and it’s just a lot of fun. Come join us!
Woman 1: My doctor also told me to lift weights. I have osteoporosis and he’s really worried about that—he doesn’t want me to break a hip. But I don’t want to get sweaty. Aren’t there pills that will do the same thing?
“I don’t want to get sweaty.” How many of us have cited that excuse for not wanting to exercise?
As silly as it may sound, we come up with all kinds of reasons not to do things that we know are good for us.
Because exercise, specifically weight lifting, could have given that woman:
- the great body she wanted
- reversed her osteoporosis and reduced her risk of crippling, even deadly fractures
- improved her balance, reducing her risk of falls
- reversed her post-menopausal loss of muscle mass
- revved up her metabolism so she could eat more without gaining weight
- reduced her risk of heart attack, diabetes and even Alzheimer’s and dementia
with zero side effects, if done with reasonable precautions. She could have had all those real benefits—and years of vigorous, independent living with all the energy she wanted, just as part of the price of her regular gym membership—showers included!
Here are the four biggest reasons women avoid the weight room, and how we can get over them:
#1: I Don’t Want to Look Like a Hulk!
Unfortunately, too many women are afraid that weight-lifting will turn us into steroided-up muscleheads.
If you lift weights, you will build muscle. That’s the point. Because if you “just want to look toned,” muscle is what provides that tone—and you don’t build muscle with 2-pound dumbbells. Muscle replaces the “batwings” under our arms, gives us a firm butt and elegant legs and a strong core (your back will love you!). Because muscle is much denser than fat, a pound of muscle takes up significantly less space than a pound of fat.
No need to get ready for your Iron Man magazine cover shot. Those bulky women that you see on the covers of those magazines are going way beyond any weights you’ll ever lift (and some may even be using steroids to do it.) So don’t worry about getting too big or bulky—just look forward to being firm, toned, and strong.
#2: I Don’t Know What I’m Doing
If you’re new to weight lifting, you’ll probably need some guidance—but the learning curve is very quick.
If you don’t know what you’re doing yet, you’re probably pretty safe using light weights (1-3 pounds) as long as you don’t drop them on your feet. But those light weights won’t give you the weight loss and toning (muscle-building) effects you want.
Kettlebells (a Russian style that looks like a cannonball with a handle) are an exception to this rule. They usually start at about 4 kg or 8.8 pounds, and their off-center balance means that even at that weight, they can hurt you if you don’t know what you’re doing. Fortunately, there are plenty of classes you can join to make it lots of fun and get proper instruction.
If you have a gym membership, find a staff member to show you how to use the free weights and weight machines safely. Little things, like adjusting the seat properly on a machine, can help you progress much faster and more safely than if your seat isn’t adjusted properly. A few sessions with a personal trainer or a class can pay huge dividends.
#3: Everyone is Staring at Me!
Actually, most people are too busy with their workouts to look at you. And an interesting thing is that the more “serious” people are about their workouts, the less likely they are to judge you beyond, Hey, you’re here! Cool! However, if you’re self-conscious, write down your workout and take that list of exercises to the gym. Remember, it’s your gym too. You can also avoid peak times, which are usually early mornings and late afternoons and evenings. As you become a regular, you’ll make friends. Not every guy who lifts weights is a musclehead and you’ll meet other women who lift as well.
#4: I Don’t Know How Many Calories I’m Burning!
Many cardio machines, such as ellipticals and stair steppers, will tell you how many calories you’ve burned. However, those calorie counters are notoriously inaccurate—they can overestimate your calorie burn by up to 40%.
Weight-lifting doesn’t have those counters because in a sense, they don’t matter. If you’re lifting at an intensity that tires your muscles within 90 seconds, you’re working them hard enough to tear them down so they have to rebuild and repair. This activity is what causes toning (or muscle growth, if you prefer). So you’re not just burning calories while you lift, but afterwards as well.
Building muscle also causes a positive metabolic chain reaction:
- More muscle means you can eat more without gaining weight—which means you’re less hungry.
- Your body will speed up your metabolism those extra calories mean it doesn’t have to conserve your energy.
- Your body will produce less cortisol because you have removed the stress caused by hunger.
- You will eat less sugary and starchy comfort foods because you have fewer cravings.
- You will lower your blood sugar levels because you’re eating fewer of these refined carbs.
- This means the food you eat fuels your body and brain—not your fat—also reducing your hunger levels.
And muscle makes us strong. When we are physically strong, we look very different—to ourselves and others—than when we are physically weak. Physical strength doesn’t just allow us to carry groceries and children more easily, it allows us to live more independently, longer, and do things we never thought we could do, even though we wanted to. We can go places and do the things we love with the people we love.
I’m Ready to Lift Weights!
Great! Here’s how to get started:
- You don’t have to be in shape to work out or have fun. Just be honest with yourself about your limitations—you’re probably much stronger than you think you are.
- (Maybe) join a gym. Good gyms are wonderful. They have a lot of fun equipment, knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff, and classes. You’re paying them, so make sure you’re getting what you want. You should feel comfortable there.
- If you’re not sure, you can buy a short-term guest membership in a gym. This allows you to see if it’s right for you without making a major commitment.
- Find a knowledgeable guide: this may be a particular employee at the gym or a personal trainer. Videos and books are excellent resources.
- There are different types of weights, such as machine weights and free weights. Explore them to find what you like. Free weights are generally better for weight-loss and overall fitness.
- If you’re working with a coach or a trainer, even one who looks like a superhero, she should scale the workout to your level while pushing you appropriately.
- You don’t need to join a gym to lift weights. You can work out at home using bodyweight exercises such as pushups and burpees, resistance bands and your choice of free weights.
The only “must” in exercising is pleasure. Some people love to lift and some people don’t. Ditto for running, cycling, swimming, Zumba and Pilates or anything else. Lifting weights does wonderful things for the body, but if you’ve given it your best shot and it’s just not for you—do an exercise you love. The more you love something, the more you do it and the exercise you do because you love it is better than “the best” exercise you don’t do because you hate it. Find a way you enjoy to make your body stronger and your body will love you for it.
You can’t out-exercise a bad diet because it doesn’t give your body the fuel it needs to be healthy and energetic. But exercise takes a good diet to the next level by strengthening, firming and toning your body, as well as ramping up your metabolism.