When you’re a one-woman show the to-do list is never ending. Between the kids, the household, and all of the “should dos,” it’s amazing women find any time to start their own careers.
And I’m about to add another task to your list: lift weights.
Before you scoff and click away, I want you to think of the athletic women you know from TV or in real life. How do they carry themselves? What perception do most people have of them?
In a word: confidence.
The women you are probably envisioning have muscle definition, stand up straight, and are often poised under pressure.
They weren’t born that way. They worked for it. And if that physical display of confidence is important to you, this article is for you.
How lifting weights shaped my path to becoming an entrepreneur
Before kids, I was a freelance writer and journalist. I knew I couldn’t keep the odd hours of working the night desk at a newspaper with an infant at home; but I still wanted and needed to contribute to the household financially.
I attempted to keep the freelance gigs going, but the tight deadlines, struggles adjusting to motherhood, and the isolation of working from home took a serious toll on my confidence. Pretty soon my insecurities morphed into full on imposter syndrome.
I stopped pitching ideas. If friends offered work, I’d make excuses as to why I wasn’t the right woman for the job. I shied away from any real challenge because I was afraid of failing. I was also afraid of succeeding.
After making a half-hearted attempt at starting a crafting/early childhood education blog (it turns out there is a real difference between buying craft supplies and being crafty), a blogging friend asked why I wasn’t writing about my workouts.
It was like a lightning bolt hit me. And MamaLifts was born.
Gaining strength and confidence
I’ve always been active. From softball and swimming in high school to rock climbing in college to getting my hands on a barbell through CrossFit, fitness has always been a big part of my life. But it was always a hobby. I was never a coach. I didn’t major in exercise science in college. It was always just something I did on the side.
But in 2015 and 2016 I did something very taboo. I continued lifting weights weights — squatting and deadlifting — through my pregnancies. And other women wanted to know how they could do the same. So I wrote about it.
I interviewed top doctors from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists about the benefits of strength training during pregnancy and whether lifting weights was safe (spoiler: it was and is).I doubled down on my weightlifting regimen. I put on five pounds of muscle while losing the baby fat. I upped my squat to 200 pounds, my deadlift to 250 pounds, and my bench press to 110 pounds. I began to physically look the part of that confident female athlete; and, more importantly, I learned how to physically push past that comfort zone and learn just how strong my body is, which only gave me more confidence to tackle heavier weight and bigger challenges outside the gym.
While my articles gained traction in the lifting community, I wanted to do more to assert myself as the expert. So I got my personal training certification through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. My local rec center hired me on shortly after and I’m now working one-on-one with female clients (my target audience) and leading a small-group barbell class on the weekends.
I don’t share all of this to brag. Quite the opposite. What seems like such an obvious path was not at all clear to me when I started. But by stepping outside my comfort zone and finding the physical manifestation of confidence in lifting weights, more and more opportunities have come my way.
I’m getting sponsored post opportunities. I’m being asked to lead workshops on strength training. Readers are reaching out to me with their questions and trusting my answers.
Myths dispelled: why you should lift weights
While there are myriad benefits to lifting weights — including improved physique, improved bone density, and improved brain function — there are also many misconceptions surrounding lifting weights. Will I get too bulky? Won’t lighter weights and higher reps get me the same results? Isn’t cardio the best for fat loss?
No. The answer to all of these questions is no.
The women who look “bulky” or look “like a man” have worked incredibly hard to look that way. They have been diligent about their workouts and their eating. And, sure, maybe they’ve had some help from supplements. But the point is if you don’t want to look like a she-hulk, you won’t.
When you begin any type of exercise, your body goes through a physical adaptation. And when it has fully adapted to that exercise, results slow down considerably. That’s why lighter weights and higher reps are not ideal to building muscle. While you may see some physical changes initially, long-term these exercises are just a waste of time.
You need to stress the muscle to make it grow. And heavy weights in the right set/rep scheme is the quickest, easiest proven method to achieve your strength goals.
For decades coaches, trainers, and PE teachers have preached the importance of cardio for weight loss. And while cardio is certainly an important component of a healthy lifestyle, building muscle is much more efficient for long-term fat loss (note, I did not say weight loss).
According to this article from Fitness and Power, “Weightlifting causes your body to consume more oxygen both during and after the training. This increases your metabolic rate and keeps it elevated long after your drop the last weight.” After a cardio session, any fat loss that took place is over once you step off the treadmill.
How do I start lifting weights?
Knowing where to start on your strength training journey can be overwhelming. Here, I offer 9 tips for getting started.
TIP #1 – Get up the courage to cross from the cardio room to the weights
This is a chance to practice micro bravery. No, you may not know the exact movements or how many reps you should do. Go anyway. Find a pair of dumbbells that feel heavy and do some bicep curls or tricep extensions. If you’re more advanced, do chest press and goblet squats while holding a heavy dumbbell.
TIP #2 – You are training, not exercising
Perhaps the most important shift to make is the mindset that you are no longer going to the gym to exercise. You are training now. It may not take you an hour to do all of your strength exercises. You may not be dripping in sweat. And there may be sessions where you have a lot left in the tank and you don’t “feel” like you got a quality workout in. Don’t revert back to old habits and decide to throw in a half hour of cardio (unless it’s programmed). Remember rest is an important component of training so that you can hit heavier weights during the next session. Trust the process.
TIP #3 – Use dumbbells and barbells instead of resistance machines
You might think for a quick second that you could get out of the free weight area and stick to the resistance machines as long as the weights were heavy. Wrong. Resistance machines force you to conform your movement to the design of the machine. You need to train your entire body — including those smaller stabilizer muscles that keep you balanced — by performing the movement with dumbbells and barbells. If you are working out at home, check out these strength workouts that you can do with minimal equipment.
TIP #4 – Hire a trainer
Even if you’ve been working out for years, consider hiring a trainer for a few sessions to teach you how to adjust the squat rack settings and help you with your form and technique.
TIP #5 – Start with these four lifts
The best return on investment for your time in the gym are four compound lifts that work the entire body. These are the squat, bench press, overhead press, and deadlift. These recruit the most motor neurons throughout the body, require proper bracing of the core, and allow you to lift weights very quickly to yield results.
TIP #6 – Do a linear progression
There are a thousand ways to skin a cat, but we want to keep things as simple as possible when it comes to building strength and muscle. Stick to a simple set/rep scheme: three sets of five repetitions on each lift. Add weight every session, but repeat the same lifts and sets/reps. If you track your weights, you will see a beautiful curve form as you become stronger and stronger and reach the point of your maximum strength potential.
TIP #7 – Get your rest and nutrition in check
If you really get serious about lifting weights, you’ll quickly learn just how important proper rest and nutrition are. Prioritize sleep and protein in your diet. Now that you’re strength training, you should be aiming to hit 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. For a 150-pound woman, that’s the equivalent of about 4.5 chicken breasts or 25 eggs… Check out these tips for completing a body recompositions (building muscle and cutting fat).
TIP #8 – Collect the data: take your measurements and weigh yourself every day
You’re a business woman. You know the power of quality data. By weighing yourself every day, taking measurements at your waist, hips, bust, arms, and thigh, and tracking your lifts, you will quickly see how you are progressing and where you may need to adjust to hit your goals.
TIP #9 – Get your mental game in check
When the weight truly start to get heavy, it’s easy to talk yourself back into your comfort zone. As you approach the barbell, whisper “light as a feather” and get the work done. And know the safe way to bail or ask for a spotter if you failing is likely.
Andrea Signor is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. She is also a wife, mother, writer, and weightlifter. In that order (although wife and mother often tie for first). She began lifting four years ago and immediately fell in love with feeling strong. Now, she’s helping other women discover their physical strength with articles, tips, and workouts. You can find Andrea and Mama Lifts on her blog, Instagram or Facebook.
Hi, I'm Rachel!
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