A lot of women who work out regularly structure their workouts around cardiovascular focused exercises, like walking, running or Zumba class. While doing cardio will help you burn calories and has fantastic health benefits, it's just one aspect of fitness. Activities like bootcamp, Pilates or yoga which engage muscle groups using your own body weight are a great place to start, but if you want to maximize the effectiveness of your workouts and feel like Wonder Woman at the same time, you can't be afraid to pick up some weights and start strength training.
There's several reasons women tend to shy away from lifting weights.The most common is the worry that by lifting weights you will start to resemble The Incredible Hulk. Establishing a regular weight lifting routine will help you gain definition and strength. But getting the rippling muscles you see on the covers of body building magazines takes years of training, highly specialized nutrition and, let's be honest, a fair amount of Photoshop.
Some women avoid weight lifting because they believe it will help them reach their weight loss goals to do more cardio instead. If you've attempted weight lifting in the past and were frustrated because the scale didn't change, chances are you should try lifting heavier weights. There's a common misconception in the body building community that to get bigger muscles you should do fewer repetitions of an exercise with a heavy weight and to tone but not build your muscles, you should use less weights but do more repetitions of an exercise. Since many women fall into this latter category for fear of bulking up, they dedicate more time to weight lifting than necessary and aren't getting its maximum benefit.
As trainer Joe Dowdell explained to Shape, doing higher reps of 15-20 at a lower weight will build the endurance of your muscle, but by challenging yourself and picking up a heavier weight for 8-10 repetitions, you'll build the muscle while also gaining the advantage of increasing your metabolism. This will help you lose weight because the higher your metabolism is, the more calories your body will burn, even while it's at rest. Think of it this way-- the next time you really push yourself with heavy weights, you can lounge on the couch afterwards guilt-free because your body is still burning calories.
If you can't or don't want to work with a personal trainer and you find the weight floor at your gym to be intimidating, either because of the multiple machines or gym tolls that hog the equipment with their towels draped over a machine for an hour without using it, then group fitness strength training classes are a great alternative.
These classes are usually included in your gym membership and are an entire hour dedicated solely to weight lifting.They typically consist of ten popular songs, with each song focusing on a different muscle group. Besides the social aspect and being motivated to lift as much as those around you, you have the benefit of an instructor who can answer questions and watch to make sure you are performing the exercises safely. Usually these classes use barbells and plated weights to adjust your workload between tracks. If your palms develop callouses easily, grab a pair of weight lifting gloves from Target, they even come in fun colors.
For those who still aren't convinced that weight lifting is right for them, resistance bands are a non-intimidating way to start strengthening your muscles. It's more endurance foucsed than muscle building, but anything that gets your muscles activated is worth doing. The nice thing about resistance bands is that they are light and compact, so you can pack them easily for travel. Another bonus: many lower body resistance band exercises can be done while laying on the floor, making this a fantastic option for those lazy days when you just can't deal with wearing sneakers or a bra. Here's a fun ten minute resistance band workout by PopSugar Fitness:
If you can't or don't want to go to a gym, there are tons of great free exercise videos online. Just make sure they are presented by a certified trainer so that you know the exercises are safe, and if you can, work in front of a mirror to watch your form and try to avoid injury. Click the next page to check out a couple of my favorites.
This Tank Top Arms workout is only ten minutes, so it's an easy one to click before setting down with Netflix for the night or to tack on to the end of a walk. There's a large timer so you can motivate yourself to get through it by watching the seconds slip away. You do the standing exercises twice, which is nice because you know what's coming, and then you end laying down-- what's not to love. (Warning, I find the commentary in the video to be a slightly awkward, so if watching people embarrass themselves makes you cringe too, I'm sorry. If you love that sort of thing, then consider this a gift.)
If you like functional movement or get bored by traditional weight lifting, you might love kettlebell workouts. A kettlebell is a weighted mass with a single looped handle attached. The increased movement can make the workout feel like it goes more quickly than traditional weight lifting workouts. Even though she scares me, I have to admit that Jillian Michaels does a great kettlebell workout, and it's adaptable depending on your fitness level.
Have Baby,Will Exercise is a column dedicated to fitness and health for moms, by a mom. As a former personal trainer, group fitness instructor and cupcake addict, I hope to encourage and motivate moms who want to make fitness a part of their lives.