As women, we must train like men to see results. That is, if you are intent on burning fat OR getting toned. If you are a woman who is interested in running or a woman who has no interest in building muscle gains, then you’ve probably stopped reading this by now. I encourage you to read on because you are either a woman trying to lose fat, a woman trying to gain muscle and lose fat or a woman trying to simply tone up. This article applies to all!
So many times I go to the gym I see the same girls, and guys, on the cardio machines. For the most part, the ones I have seen the past year just running, running, running are fairly skinny and don’t carry a lot of shape in their bodies. What baffles me most is that they look like they are just plain bored with their routine and just trying to move their legs and arms to get to the final result, the end of the workout. While doing cardio, there are some women who are reading a People magazine, looking up at the television screen (even though they probably are not at all interested in the latest football game) and ones on cell phones? I’ve been there before, minus the cell phone, and this is before I took the step to get off the cardio machines and lift a weight. Doing this gave me new motivation, which later carried over into cardio.
I ask myself why these women believe just doing cardio exercise will give them the results they want. Now, some may not want tone and just may want to follow suit with what the girls in magazines look like, and think all they have to do is tons of cardio and hardly eat. For the most part, that is just a shape that has been photographed and is insanely distorted to look even more skinny and beautiful. The women in magazines are genetically made that way and that is why they are models. I’m not here to bash anyone’s goals, but I’m here to stress the importance of building muscle for a lean body and to lose weight. So if all you’re doing is staying in your little cardio comfort zone, it’s time to bust out of that bubble and take a major step forward!
My friend and personal trainer Travis comments on this, “From a Certified fitness trainers perspective it is a treat to see women hitting the iron. Most women have the same goal and I hear it time and time again. They mostly want to lose weight (fat) and tone up. It is a scientifically proven fact that anyone looking to lose fat and tone up will see more benefits when they incorporate a resistance training program along with a good aerobic routine. Basically what this means to women is that they will see a greater increase in body fat reduction by adding weight lifting to their cardio routines. Adding muscle mass to their bodies will increase metabolism and burn more calories, which, in turn, will make not only the cardio but also calorie restricted diets more effective."
"One thing I hear from women on a regular basis is that they don’t want to lift weights because they are afraid of becoming "bulky" or gaining too much muscle mass. It is true that resistance training will increase lean muscle mass but we can control the size of this mass by using appropriate set and rep ranges. Just because you lift weight does not mean that we will look like bodybuilders. Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, will be optimized between 10-12 reps at failure. Anything above this rep range without using heavier weights will be a more aerobic workout in nature and will also help to build lean mass at the same time without getting that bulky look that women are so afraid of."
"So any woman looking to get that perfect body they desire must incorporate a solid resistance training program into their training regimen to achieve optimal results. Most woman seem a little intimidated by the free weights and don’t know exactly where to start or what to do once they've decided to add weights to their routine. One of the biggest mistakes I see with woman is not doing enough. There should be a good balance of weights and cardio machines. If anyone needs help with a good routine, man or woman, I would suggest turning to a certified trainer from your local gym, they are there to help and most are willing to share their knowledge.”
For me, I think it is sexy to be a woman and to be vascular and tough. You’re working on a whole different plane if these are your goals. The only difference between you and the cardio peeps is your greater intake of protein needs and that you pick weights up and use them! Cardio is so important, and if you have that down, you are one foot in the door! All you need to do is take the next step to walk through the door to where a whole new world awaits.
There are about 3 other women I have noticed working out at my gym who do cardio, mostly intervals when I have noticed, and hit the floor where the weights/weight machines are located, as well as where most of the men are located! These women are vascular and have lean muscle, and it shows! I’ve become pretty good at being able to tell from muscular definition, or a lack of, what women lift weights and what women just do cardio.
Travis goes on to say about women lifting, “From a personal standpoint I have the same perspective, I love to see the women hitting the iron. This tells me that they are serious about their bodies and that they want to be the best that they can be, and they understand that it is necessary to lift to become and change into what they want to be."
"I do, however, sometimes feel that they are not taken seriously by some of the guys in the gym and this bothers me. There are three kinds of men at the gym; the gawkers, the talkers and the helpers. The gawkers are exactly what the definition of gawking is. They "stare stupidly" at the women that are training. These guys are not serious lifters, they are not there to train, they stare and make women feel uncomfortable in the gym. The talkers want to strike up a conversation with you and are more interested in getting a date with you than they are in your training. Then there are the helpers. Try to make friends with these guys. These are the guys that are at the gym to train themselves and understand that the women in the gym are there for the same reason."
"We go to the gym to work and become better and reach goals that we set for ourselves. My biggest advice to a woman in the gym lifting is do not get intimidated by the weights or the guys in the gym! You have every right to be busting out dumbbell curls right next to the guys.”
Being a woman, those three types of guys, we all know too well! No offense guys, but it’s just part of being a woman to understand the signs of the opposite sex. It’s not just outside the gym, but is definitely located in the gym too. As Travis said though, there are great guys there that can help you. Sometimes I will approach a man on the floor to ask them about a certain move or what would better emphasize a certain muscle more. They tend to know their stuff very well. I also use the guys in the gym as a means of ego motivation. If you’ve ever noticed, they will look at themselves in the mirror a lot. I mean, what else really can you do in between sets and reps! They really have figured it out. The more you watch your muscles and appreciate them in the mirror while you are working them, the more your ego will swell. This is a good thing if you allow it to be! It will make you believe you are stronger and you will get motivation from that to push past that physical fatigue that you need to push past in order to see results. Let your ego swell in the gym!
I think it’s important to have another woman’s perspective on this, because I have talked to so many that enjoy lifting weights that say the same thing about starting out. We all feel it’s totally normal to feel nervous or apprehensive when starting off, but pushing past that and just doing it is what needs to be done to get tight and toned!
My friend and avid lifter Mandy says, “I began lifting weights in high school. I was a Freshman on the Women's Varsity basketball team, and I was small, so weight lifting was a requirement to get me stronger in order to compete at that level. I went every morning with my team to the high school weight room. Almost every day, there were football, baseball and basketball boys in there and we were the only girls. There were even times when I was the only girl, when I went on my own. It was intimidating and I didn't feel confident or secure in my lifting abilities. Sometimes I would rush through my routine just to get out of there because I felt like I was being stared at. However, over the next few years of high school and my four years of college basketball, I began to love weight lifting and what it did to my body.”
When I started lifting on the floor, got over the awkwardness of doing something new and decided to dive in head first, I felt like I had become a part of something I never knew existed. It sounds storybook but I’m telling you, it’s a world we don’t explore or even think of exploring as a woman going to the gym just to shape up or maintain a great body. In weight lifting, there is so much to learn and the possibilities are almost endless! I’m here to tell you how to work it when you step foot on that floor, so you can get the most results out of your hard work. That’s what it’s all about, working as hard as you can, physically and mentally, when you step foot in the gym and incorporate weights into your routine.
Mandy says, “These days, I go straight for the weights in the gym, regardless of if there are men around. I am no longer intimidated, but rather empowered that I am the only woman who is lifting. Where I used to feel like I was being stared at because it was odd that a woman is lifting, now I know I am being admired or checked out instead!
I have gone through phases where I only did cardio, and I didn't see the results that I see when I have lifting in my weekly routine. Lifting makes me feel strong inside and out and more confident. It has changed my life in ways I never thought possible!”
A few things to note when training like you mean it!
First of all, you have to have an image of what you want to look like in your mind. As you progress forward with weight lifting, you will learn what parts of your body you like and other people’s bodies you like. I have found that one of my favorite muscles right now is my delts. I love way Jessica Biel’s delts look and there are very few women, unless they are competing, who have built delts. You can tell she works for them!
When I first started out, my goal was to lose fat to show the muscles I had hidden beneath. I thought losing body fat would give me those toned arms. What I didn’t know is that lifting is an integral, if not one of the most important parts, of losing fat and toning up. It’s like a two for one, it gives you that and builds leanness on your body that nothing else will give you.
I’ve heard this comparison before many times and I think of it often. Think about the training a long distance runner goes through. I’m talking about Marathon runners we’ve all seen in pictures. Well, they just run, run, run long distances. Now think of what their body looks like. Usually the muscles are very small and skinny; they have very little body fat on them. Now think about what a sprinter athlete has to do to train for the Olympics. They have to do tons and tons of sprints in order to get good at sprinting. They also have to build their muscles so they are able to run the shorter distances at higher speeds. Their physicality is that of a much leaner and muscular build. The two bodies compared to side by side with their training side by side yield very different results.
These are both extremes, and can both be reached of course, but think of what your goals are compared to these two images.
Think of what your body will look like. If you can, imagine that it is already your body.
2. Music as Motivation
Create a hard-core, speaks to you, amazing workout play list. When I get new music, it brightens my week and helps me look forward to going to the gym and working it to the new music I have even more! It really does wonders. My favorite is upbeat pop remixes, but whatever floats your boat is what counts!
3. Understanding Reality
Get the idea out of your head that if you lift too heavy you will bulk up. There is so much information out there on this and probably thousands of articles written about it, but seriously, that’s all that needs to be said, because being a girl, it won’t happen unless you’re under the influence of other substances. Plain and simple, it will be hard for you to bulk up. It will also be hard for you to tone up because the art of weight lifting is tough, but you fight through that. In my experience, anything that’s really challenging, mentally or physically, is going to give massive rewards.
Okay, the really good stuff.
When you get out on that floor, you have to switch your way of thinking. Create an alter-ego. Beyonce calls her alter-ego Sasha Fierce. She said, “It’s a personality I created while I’m onstage. It’s not who I really am, but it’s who I am sometimes. When I’m onstage I’m aggressive and strong and not afraid of my sexuality. The tone of my voice gets different, and I’m fearless. I’m just a different person.” You have to believe you are already as strong as you want to be and that through each set and rep, you don’t turn that switch off. Let that ego swell!
5. Pushing Hard
“The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone who is not the champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.” - Arnold Schwarzenegger
This is one of my favorite quotes. It is so true. In order to build muscle you have to push it to where it actually tears. If you’ve ever experienced the feeling of lactic acid build-up after pushing yourself hard in the weight room, you will know that this is a short, but teeth clenching feeling. To get this feeling, you have to exhaust your muscles. You can achieve that feeling with high reps or heavy weight; anything where you are pushing your muscles to the max.
As far as I’m concerned, you should be feeling this feeling quite a bit when you’re lifting; you should be pushing yourself. If you’re not pushing yourself, your muscles most likely aren’t being pushed either.
6. Pride & Your Ego
“What we face may look insurmountable. But I learned something from all those years of training and competing. I learned something from all those sets and reps when I didn’t think I could lift another ounce of weight. What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know.” - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Can you tell I like Arnold?
If you haven’t seen the movie, “Pumping Iron” with Arnold and Lou Ferrigno go rent it now! It is from 1977 and is an oldie, but it speaks volumes. It really gives a razor-sharp glimpse of what Arnold went through in his mind to achieve his body. He is humble and funny, yet tough and serious when it comes to the sport of bodybuilding. It is an amazing video.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the King of Bodybuilding, began lifting weights at age 15. He once said, “I wanted more, I demanded more of myself.” Demand more of yourself for the short time you spend on yourself in the gym.
Watch the guys lift; the guys who are really lifting hard. You will be able to tell the difference between someone who is at the gym just to be there and be able to say to themselves they went, the people that come to the gym for social hour, the people that like to slowly walk around and watch everyone in their tight clothes (the “gawkers” as Travis puts it), the people that are there working hard but not knowing how to effectively work and the people who are tearing it up with masses of effort and determination.
I asked my boyfriend once about why all the guys look at themselves and their muscles in the mirror between sets. I’m not just talking about once or twice; it seems to be a common and ongoing theme amongst all of them, even him. He told me that it’s all about pride and ego in the gym for most guys. They are there to work and the results that have come from it, they are just soaking all that up when they are looking in the mirror. He went on to say that when their muscles get pumped, it’s a good feeling and it shows, so why not look at it. It definitely made me think about the differences. Here I was, scared and trying to avoid thinking about everyone else that might look at me as the only girl on the floor, while they’re just thinking about how good they look. Most times anyway, people really don’t care as much about us as we might think they do!
From there I really began thinking more and more about it and have a different take on it now. I believe women should try to adapt to this way of thinking about ourselves and our bodies too. Why shouldn’t we love what we look like and soak that up!
7. Know your Weaknesses and be Willing to Accept Them
“I was always honest about my weak points, this helped me grow. I think it’s the key to success in everything: be honest; know where you are weak: admit it.” - Arnold Schwarzenegger
You will have weak spots that you will find as you begin lifting for the first time. For me, it was my shoulder. Barbell pressing hurt my shoulder because my chest muscles were weak and my shoulder was compensating for them. I was aware of this and started with weights equaling less than the weight of a barbell, then worked my way there.
Don’t push yourself too hard; the last thing you want to do is hurt yourself. You have to listen to your body and you will know when it’s had too much. Most of the knowing comes from practice and seeing how your body responds to certain amounts of weight and repetition.
8. And finally, Discipline and Patience
“Discipline is remembering what you want.” - David Campbell
Remember what you are in the gym for. Remember when you are lifting, the lactic acid is building and it’s really starting to hurt, that that pain is what is going to give you what you want. Push past that pain and find an appreciation for it.
Patience is a tough characteristic to possess and a tough characteristic to learn. However, in the world of building muscle and losing fat, it is the characteristic to own that will keep your mind strong.
“Patience can’t be acquired overnight. It is just like building a muscle. Every day you need to work on it.” - Eknath Easwaran
So get out there and train like you mean it, girl!