How Strength Training Changed my Life

This was a guest Post for Lara at Thinspired blog.

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Strength training changed my life? OK it might sound a tad dramatic, but I firmly believe it to be true.

First let me introduce myself. My name is Deb, and I write a blog called Smoothie Girl Eats Too. I am a fan/friend/kindred spirit to the lovely Lara. If you are reading these words, then you know how fabulous she is. We struck up a cyber-friendship through commenting on each others’ blogs and finally had a really fun weekend hanging out together in the fall. We both understand the struggles of maintaining a significant weight loss. You know about her story, and if you are curious, you can read about mine here and here.

October 2009
Miss ThinSpired & Miss SmoothieGirl
(aka Lara & Deb)

One way that we differ is that Lara has not yet fallen head-over-heels, madly & passionately in love with strength training. Notice I said “YET”. :-) Lara has found a healthy weight without devoting a lot of time to strength training. And she looks amazing. But she is curious about adding more strength training into her healthy living arsenal and that is why she asked me to write a post on this topic. She may never adore it, and neither may you, but you’ll never know until you give it a decent try!

A little history: By eating anything and everything and never exercising, I became a big girl:


~ 1997

I had lost about 70 pounds in 1999 and kept it off for about 8 years. But the weight loss had stalled at a point where I still felt tubby despite the fact that I was spending countless hours weekly doing cardio. At five foot six and a half inches, I weighed about 155-160 pounds.

I was not fat, but I wasn’t lean either. 155-160 lbs: The Cardio Queen

Then in the fall of 2007,  I incorporated the following three changes into my life:

  • Food diary
  • Daily smoothies
  • Strength training

Then I dropped another 20 pounds. Strength training completely changed my body. And I believe that it has helped me to maintain my weight loss with LESS EFFORT than if I hadn’t embraced resistance training..


2009 in the weight room. About 140 lbs.

I want to tell you that strength training is so terribly important, especially for women. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Lean muscle mass = more calories burned AT REST (read: sitting on the couch)
  • Sculpted muscles = less “bulk” = less “junk in the trunk” no matter what the scale says
  • Increased bone density
  • Empowerment- seriously- when you’re strong, you feel like you can accomplish a LOT, and you CAN
  • Increased endurance- even in other training regimens. Inexplicable, but true. It seems to help with running, cycling and other sports.
  • Sense of accomplishment- I always feel very accomplished after doing a strength routine. And I love the day-after soreness that tells me I worked hard.
  • Improved Sleep
  • Improvement with depressive conditions, diabetes, and other chronic conditions such as arthritis and back pain.

I want to address a concern for anyone out there who is afraid (as I was) to strength train and consequently  get big and bulky. Unless you are rockin’ the ‘roids (taking steroids), weight lifting for hours a day and eating like a horse, you will likely not get buff.  True, there are certain women with body types that add muscle easier than others.  If this sounds like your situation, you can have a personal trainer show you the moves to keep and the moves to toss.  Most women, however, will never get bulky.

Top of a lunge
Bottom of a lunge: LARGE CHILD NOT NECESSARY, but kinda fun!

Learn from my mistakes…Do not wait to lose weight and then “firm up”. By strength training while you watch your diet, you will actually lose fat more efficiently. Also, when you diet (maintain a low calorie level) you lose muscle. This is not good! By strength training, you can maintain most of your muscle, even while you lose fat. I used to be under the impression that I had a slow metabolism. This was not the case- I was simply lacking the muscle that my body needed to burn calories more rapidly.

I also want you to know that you should not shy away from weights that are a challenge. Those little pastel colored weights in the corner of the gym will do you no good unless you are an absolute beginner. You need to pick a weight that makes it difficult to complete the last rep when you do anywhere from 6 to 12 reps. If you can keep going and going, you are lifting too light. I am not saying that you should lift “heavy”, but with instruction, you should lift a weight that is tough.


These were about 20-25 pounds each. Optical illusion: they look even bigger than that!

I HIGHLY recommend having a personal trainer work with you to show you the correct form as it is of UTMOST importance to do all of the exercises correctly. You do not want to start a training program only to get sidelined with an injury. Some things to keep in mind: Do not work the same muscle group two days in a row- did you know that your muscle grows on its day off? Also, shoot for a couple of times per week to start- that should be plenty.

By the way, I consider a challenging form of yoga (some names: flow, power, ashtanga, hot) to be a form of strength training as well. Aside from being relaxing and teaching many important life lessons (like breathing through a difficult moment), it takes you through a series of lunges, squats, planks, V-sits and pushups- all under your body’s weight- no small feat! It also helps tremendously with balance training- invaluable for anyone at any age. But even more important as we get older.

I know that there are a lot of blbggers who are totally on-board with this weight-training way-of-life. Janetha, Susan, Bekah and Allie are all fans. You can check out their blogs to see some of their moves. Here is a useful post that Susan wrote on weights.

So I encourage you to get more information about strength training and give it a try if you are physically able. You just might be surprised at how much you grow to love it! And there is no question what it can do for your mind and body.

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22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Dec 27, 2009 @ 22:50:21

    Hello,

    It's my first time writing a comment on your blog but I just wanted to add for those ladies out there who are starting to train with weights: When I train heavy with lots of reps (24 hour fitness weight classes) I do gain bulk as have many of my friends.
    It takes yoga and lengthening exercises to hug that muscle close to the bone. Don't get discouraged, weight training works but clean eating is necessary.

  2. Hayley
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 06:32:25

    I loved this post the first time I read it and I loved it even more the second time!

    For the Anonymous commentor I would like to say that I think gaining bulk has a LOT to do with genetics. Most women cannot bulk up without consuming more calories than they're burning off and/or if it is in their genetics.

    I don't think you have to take yoga or anything like that in order to get the lean “toned” look. Deb you are living proof! :)

  3. Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga)
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 06:57:29

    Oh wow, you got an anon commenter…you're popular & famous! That's how I look at those :) I had a few yesterday.

    Love you Hayley if you're subscribing to comments here :)

    And Deb I saw this post but I loved it again. For me, yoga is my calling, my passion and I wont lie…I will never be in the gym with weights, I'd prefer to hover mid-air with my own body weight as my resistance doing an arm balance or a liftoff manuever of some sorts :) but I totally love love love when anyone finds her calling, her go-to mode of exercise! That's success and following your own path and that's awesome!

    Your G Post will be going out Tues Deb. And I commented on the Heabs post…I live 10 mins from there. Sigh.

    xoxo

  4. Allie (Protein Girl)
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 07:15:16

    This post is great, especially the Triple Threat.

    To any woman afraid of bulking up with weights. Bulk is not the same as density. You can have muscle and be firmer, denser, stronger, faster – hmmm… just like the Million Dollar Man.

    I think the key point of this is, maintain and/or lose with LESS EFFORT! You don't need hours of cardio. Just a smart plan!

  5. Charlotte
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 07:28:39

    This is such a great post! And very true. I have to admit I don't love weight training (I'd do cardio every day though!) but I have noticed a change in my body since I incorporated it. I just have to find ways to keep it fresh.

    I'm so glad you included yoga! Done right, it makes me more sore (sorer?) than any day with the free weights. Chaturanga push-ups….

  6. Deb (Smoothie Girl Eats Too)
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 07:29:39

    Dear Anon- thanks for the comment- I like to hear about everyone's perspectives on these things. I haven't taken a 24-hr Fitness weights class so perhaps it's too much of a good thing?? Perhaps too many reps of heavy weights? And you are right about clean eating. As my friend Janetha says “you can't out-train a bad diet”. :-)

  7. Jenn (eating bender)
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 09:59:09

    Very interesting post, Deb! I am a big fan of weight training but must admit that I have been slacking in recent months. With my new job, I've been coming up with all of the usual excuses and leaning toward cardio as a “quick fix” when I want to get in exercise after a long day. This post was so informative and I will definitely be using your tips heading into the new year.

    I also wanted to let you know that I am so glad I was able to meet you yesterday! I would love to chat more with you and look forward to reading more of your posts and getting to know you better that way, too! Thank you so much for what you said about my grandma in my Christmas post. It means a lot.

    Have a wonderful day!

  8. Susan
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 12:33:23

    Definitely agree with those who've said that bulking up has a lot to do with genetics. Some women naturally get broader shoulders when they start lifting weight. SO not my problem – I'm trying to make mine bigger! I guess it also depends on what your goals are. A lot of women want a “dancer's body” (which, is also genetic). But I personally desire a little more muscle on my bones. Feminine looking, but can keep up with the movers when I'm moving out of a house ;)

    Heart ya Deb!!!

  9. Heather @ Get Healthy With Heather
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 13:24:22

    I could not agree with you more! Since incorporating more strength training and yoga into my exercise regiment I feel like weight isn't something I think about any more. It's naturally balanced itself out by boosting my metabolism.

    I hope others are inspired by your post!

  10. Bekah
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 14:59:12

    I read this as a guest post, but I love it again. And you edited to addd ME! What a sweet bleep. ;)

    But seriously, you're probably on the road right now! Happy and safe travels Deb.

  11. Janetha
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 15:22:07

    haha you ARE popular and famous deb! YEAH! loved this post the first time around and the second!

    <3 you.

    just read heab's recap of your day together. i cried inside.

  12. Heather McD (Heather Eats Almond Butter)
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 16:32:44

    Deb,
    I remember this post. Totally made me want to do lunges holding a child. I think Einstein would work just as well – he's about 50 pounds. :)

    I agree 100% with you. Women were not made to “bulk” up. We just don't have the levels of testosterone to do that, and I don't understand why women fear muscles so much. I think a sculpted arm on any woman is a beautiful thing. :)

  13. chrystad72
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 18:12:56

    thanks so much for this post!! I gotta say Im a cardio queen myself right now and my weight is a bit stalled. Im not looking to lose but id love to firm everything up. How many days per week do you lift? Im really interested in starting a new routine out. Thanks for sharing this great post!

  14. Deb (Smoothie Girl Eats Too)
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 20:07:39

    chrystad72- Thanks for the comment-I lift about 3-4 days per week. Sometimes less than that. Rarely more. I definitely suggest that (if it is affordable) you buy a couple of sessions with a trainer so that you can learn the basics. Also, going in on a trainer with a couple of people can really save money as well- so you get a mini boot camp type session with more hands-on attention. Please let me know if you get on the weights and how it works for you!

    Jenn- soooo glad we got to meet too! I remember a trainer once told me years ago that if I only had a short amount of time, to hammer out a good set for one body part only- like biceps for example. Then next time, hamstrings. That way in the course of a week you are at least training each body part some of the time, rather than never- great for the time-crunched like yourself. :-)

  15. veggiesmack
    Dec 29, 2009 @ 06:57:39

    I've hit a serious weight loss plateau this year, but I've never thought of weight-training before. This sounds like something that might actually help, though. Nothing else seems to, lol. Thanks for the food for thought! I think this is the first time I've commented, but I've really been enjoying your blog. :-)

  16. Deb (Smoothie Girl Eats Too)
    Dec 29, 2009 @ 07:55:22

    Veggiesmack- oh how I would love to fast forward to a month or two away from now if you were to start weight training…I'd love to see what happens- please let me know how you do! But as I said, I definitely recommend getting someone qualified to show you proper form if you are new to weights! Also, there are a couple of good magazines to pick up: Oxygen is one and Hers (by Muscle & Fitness) is another.

  17. Lara (Thinspired)
    Dec 29, 2009 @ 14:19:37

    Yay! Love it, love it as much as I originally did :) If only I had upheld my promise to you to be better about weight (child?) lifting. I smell a resolution for 2010…

  18. Rebecca
    Dec 29, 2009 @ 14:21:28

    I love this post and 100% agree. I was dieting and doing crazy cardio for a couple of years. I felt great, but was always stressing about my weight! I have now incorporated yoga and strength training into my routine and my body has completely changed!

  19. *Naomi*
    Dec 29, 2009 @ 15:28:10

    SUCH a great post! As a personal trainer I have so many women who are so afraid of touching weights! it is so imporant to lift weights and strength train especially for the joints and muscles surrounding your knees and elbows. You can find me any day in a sea of muscle men at the gym! i LOVE weight training and dont know where I would be without it!

  20. Ironlady
    Dec 30, 2009 @ 07:03:35

    I couldn't agree more with this post. I too thought that I was the type of girl that got “bulky” lifting weights, and I did bulk. That was because I was still eating too many calories! Clean diet, appropriate calories and heavy lifting will NOT bulk. I've been at my leanest ever since. :-)

  21. Dee Merritt
    Jan 01, 2010 @ 13:48:19

    Just stumbled on your blog and I love it!

  22. Deb (Smoothie Girl Eats Too)
    Jan 01, 2010 @ 14:27:52

    *Naomi* love the sea of muscle men comment :-)

    Ironlady- wow interesting about bulking up due to calories. PS LOVE your 'name'!

    Dee- welcome! Glad you found the little par tay!

    Rebecca- love hearing stories like this

    Lara- you will get there. No need to promise resolutions! :-)

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