As I’m sure many of you already know, strength work is very important for getting in shape, losing weight, toning-up–whatever it is you’re trying to improve about your body. Particularly for women, strength workouts are conducive to preventing the onset of osteoporosis later in life. Being super thin should not be the goal here. Becoming fit, however, is a healthier goal since “fit” implies that you are strong-bodied.
Photos by Ryan Mowery
It really is saddening when women have goals to just be really thin because it’s kind of indicative of women’s tendency to keep themselves figuratively and literally very small. But that’s a topic for another time. What’s important is that strength training is most effective for burning fat and keeping it off, building positive body image, and protecting your body from injuries and joint damage. Here are a few reasons to incorporate some serious strength training into your workout regimen, and also some pointers for getting the most out of your strength workout.
The She-Hulk Complex
A lot of women think that if they start lifting weights and doing resistance training, they’re going to bulk up and look like a dude. That is just simply not true. First of all, women don’t have very much testosterone, so it is pretty difficult to put on a lot of muscle mass. If a woman wanted to beef-up she would need to be eating a very strict diet containing 40% protein, 40% carbs, and 20% good fats. On top of that, she would most likely need to be taking some sort of testosterone and protein supplements. And on top of THAT, the amount of weight she would need to be lifting is far greater than 5-8 pound hand weights.
In order for a gal to gain muscle mass, she would want to be maxing out on how much weight she can lift (push, pull, whatever). Meaning, she would lift as much weight as she could, doing very few reps. To break it down even further, I could lift 5-pound hand weights all day long and still not look like a muscle man.
Not bigger, just better.
Would lifting 5-8 pound weights change the way my muscles look? Sure would. Would it change the appearance of my body to be more toned and tight? Hell yes, it would.
Last year, I took a body sculpting class all year and saw so many changes in the way body looked. I now look at pictures of myself last year and think of how much more tight and toned I was. It’s irritating actually. My body didn’t change much in size, but my abdominals, though still covered in a stubborn layer of fat, appeared higher and tighter. It’s kind of like when you do 400 crunches and then you look in the mirror and they look tighter. According to this article from Women’s Health Magazine, it’s not just our imagination!
Burn calories after you workout
Besides the great results you get just from working out your muscles, your body will also burn calories for up to an hour after your workout because of the energy your body uses to recover. According to the Women’s Health Magazine article, when you burn 200 calories lifting weights, you really burn 250. If you’re incorporating strength training into your workout regimen, you will burn more calories just by going about your post-workout day.
Now I know I’m no professional or anything, but I’ve taken a lot of exercise classes and I take them very seriously. I’m not just there to just lollygag and slack off through them with a half-ass attitude like some people. (I’ll let you know when I get my Group Fitness Instructor Certificate so you can know for sure that I’m not just talking out of my ass). Here are some pointers that I thrust upon myself and others who have asked for my advice.
1. Correct form is CRUCIAL. Practicing incorrect form can obviously lead to injuries, but what’s most infuriating is when it takes away from the effectiveness of the exercise you’re doing.
- For instance, when doing crunches, you should have your elbows wide with your finger tips placed lightly behind your head. Press your lower back into the floor. When you come up, do not just lift your head. Think of lifting upward rather than curling inward. Your neck, shoulder blades and upper back should be in a straight line as you lift up towards the ceiling.
When doing a workout video or participating in group exercise, really pay attention to what the instructor is saying about body positioning as you try to match what they’re body looks like.
2. Strength training exercises should be done S L O W L Y. Doing strength work at a rapid pace increases your chance of getting injured. By doing the movements slowly and thoroughly, your muscles get a full range in motion and you get a more effective workout.
- Take bicep curls for example: Your elbows should be locked to your sides; do not allow movement from your elbows. After doing your reps at a moderate pace, add another set of 8 VERY SLOW curls. Starting at the top of the crunch, count up to 8 as you lower your forearms in to the extension. Do those slow curls 7 more times, and then another set at the moderate pace.
3. No Moore girl push-ups! I’m insulted that these poor excuses for an exercise are called girl push-ups. The only reason why women “can’t” do real push-ups is because they have been using the excuse of being a girl since grade school. It’s time to give up the girl push-ups. I don’t care if you can only do one, but real push-ups should be the standard when getting in shape. When I was a sophomore in high school I didn’t think I could do push-ups because I was fat, I was a girl, and I was never forced to push myself.
But my club volleyball coach, Leilani Kamahoahoa, who is perhaps the most hardcore coach/trainer I’ve ever known, pushed me to find my real fitness potential. She lined all of us girls up and made us do consecutive timed sprints until we just about threw up. In between sprints she’d make us do push-ups and wallsits. The first time we were forced, most of us could barely do one. We whined, cried and tried to wimp out, but she scolded us for saying “can’t” by making us do more sprints followed by more wall-sits…followed by more push-ups. By the end of the season, we were all pumping out push-ups in sets of 15.
So the moral of the story is, one real push up is better than any number of “girl push-ups.” Start with as many as you can do, and keep at it until you can do more. Believe me, the pros of push-ups are well worth the pain.
4. Go all out! The moral of the push-up story applies to all strength exercises. You should to the exercise in its full range of motion. When doing a lunge, lower your knee all the way down to the floor. When doing a wall sit, your legs should be in a 90 degree angle. If you’re not going to do the exercise fully, what’s the point of doing it at all? Also, if you are doing a half-assed wall-sit, how will you know how much you’ve improved later on? Always do the exercise all out. There’s no point in doing it if you’re not going to do it right.
5. Be conscious of your breathing. First of all, it’s not good to hold your breath because that tightens the muscle you want to be loose. Second of all, you want to get air to the muscles you’re working on. Third of all, it distracts you from the toughness of the exercise, and makes it feel a little better. You should exhale on the contraction, and inhale on the extension.
After reading that article and writing this out, I think I’m gonna take a break from cardio today and do some strength training instead!