Ahhh, the weight room. We've all been there...and if you're anything like me, you probably felt a little intimidated by it. I mean, if you can just get past the slightly powerful scent of manly sweat and those ripped men creating that smell who are lifting ginormous weights (and grunting a LOT), you may be overwhelmed by all the contortionistic (not sure if that's even a word) machines, the barbells, the benches, the bars, the pulleys, the chains, the plates. It's practically a smorgasbord of heavy stuff that you use to torture yourself with...no wonder so many of us avoid that place!! Most of us, especially women, have been told that in order to tone up, but not bulk up, you should stay clear of all that heavy stuff and focus on lots of reps using 5-8 pound weights. I've spent way too many years doing that with my exercise videos, and yes, I feel the burn, but NO, I've never really felt very strong. I've known for a few years now that in order to really achieve the body I want, I needed to lift heavy. Here are my problems (excuses) for why it's taken me so long to get around to giving up my puny 8 pounders and hitting the weight room...1. I didn't have the equipment to work all my different muscle groups. My legs are stronger than my arms or my back, so I would need lighter weights for my upper body and heavier ones for my lower body. And at $1/pound for barbells, you can see how that could get real expensive, real fast. 2. I really don't have room in my tiny house to store and use the equipment if I wanted to spend the money on it. 3. I had NO IDEA what to do with the equipment if I could afford it and if I decided to sell a child (and all of their things) to make room for it in my house. For those reasons, I've pretty much stuck to cardio for the last few years, while constantly complaining to my husband that I was just not getting the results I wanted. He, in his infinite wisdom, would repeatedly tell me that the only way to achieve those results would be to get my butt to the gym (he usually said it much nicer than that).
So, this year, I finally decided to stop complaining, stop making excuses, rework my budget a little and get a gym membership, and I am LOVING it! The gym I go to provides free daycare (bonus!!) for 1.5 hours a day, so I can't use my kids as an excuse. It's definitely not the most up-to-date gym I've seen, but there is LOTS of heavy stuff there, and that's what really matters to me. I convinced (forced) Dianne to get a membership too, so I would have someone to "spot" me and encourage me to show up. I spend a little time online every few weeks to find new strength routines to keep it "fresh." There are SOOOOOOO many free, beginner weight routines online. I highly recommend www.bodybuilding.com if you are looking for a place to start. If you find a workout and have no clue what a "skull crusher" is, search it on YouTube. I've always been able to find a demonstrative video for every weirdly named lift I've encountered.
I know a gym membership isn't an option for everyone, and if you can't go to the gym, you may have to get creative to get strong, but this works for me...I've been lifting "heavy" (relatively speaking...some of my weights still seem wimpy, but they are heavy to me) twice a week for a few months now, and although I am incredibly sore ALL of the time, I am amazed at the improvements I can see in myself. I'm not sure other people would notice at this point. I don't think I look different, but I have been shocked at what it has done for my cardio. My running speed has increased dramatically...Dianne and I used to average between 11 and 12 minute miles (yes, we still called that "running"), but our last few long runs have consistently averaged sub 10 minute miles! My endurance is also noticeably improved. I no longer dread every workout I do because I don't feel like I'm dying EVERY.SINGLE.SECOND (no joke).
Research has shown that there are numerous benefits to including weights in your regular exercise routine. Some of the most exciting ones for me are...
1. LOOK BETTER: This one is pretty obvious. The more you lift and tone, the better you look!
2. FEEL BETTER: A good, hard workout always boosts my mood!
3. IMPROVED PERFORMANCE: I mentioned this above. Strength training will give you extra power and energy and can help you take your other sports/activities to a higher level.
4. INCREASED BONE DENSITY: Regular strength training can increase bone mineral density (which helps prevent osteoporosis) because of the increased weight placed on the bone during your weight sessions.
5. DECREASED RISK OF INJURY: You are less likely to injure yourself if the muscles surrounding your joints and ligament are strong and healthy. It makes them more capable of withstanding stress and reduces the likelihood that you will pull a muscle. If you do injure yourself, strength training can often help speed the healing process.
6. EXTRA CALORIE BURN: For every additional pound of muscle you gain, your body burns around 50 extra calories per day.
I could go on and on...improved digestion, better sleep, increased endorphins, decreased body fat percentage, blood pressure, heart rate and stress...but, what it comes down to is - you need to incorporate strength training into your regular exercise routine. If you are a newbie to weights, please don't run out and start throwing around 50 pound weights or attempting to bench press half your body weight. You will hurt yourself. Start small and slow. Research shows that two 15-20 minute sessions a week is enough to see results and gain the benefits of strength training. Your muscles grow and heal when you are resting, so you shouldn't be lifting every day. Give your muscles a chance to repair themselves before you tear them up again. For those of you who are physically able to do more, throw away your 8's and pull out the 30's. You will be so sore that it hurts to blink, but you will see results!