I've recently become obsessed with lifting really heavy weights. I've always enjoyed working out, swimming is usually my thing, and have from time to time lifted weights, knowing it's good for the metabolism and bone density, blah, blah, blah. But entering the world of lifting heavy weights is something akin to breaking down the doors of the boys' club, while not really wanting to be one of the boys. I love walking into the free weight section and not being intimidated by the heaving and grunting of the guys there, then taking down an 18 kilo barbell to doing a set of one-armed rows. Lifting heavier weights also offers the chance to measure your progress and see virtually immediate results – something that hours spent hours wasted on cardio will never give back in the same way.
Plus, it's really good for your inner BADASS.
I caught the bug while back in the Midwest last year for several months. I started working out with a trainer who had his own gym. I mean, a real he-man gym full of barbells, kettlebells, all manner of resistance straps, boxing area. You get the idea. I went in for half hour sessions twice a week and left his studio crawling on hands on knees – ass completely whooped. It was great. I loved it and the results were starting to be impressive.
I was eating very Paleo at the time, having become a big fan of Marks Daily Apple. However, I've since discovered that for me, working out to that degree requires me to eat more than I was allowing myself then, so I don't think I was seeing the muscle building that I would have liked to. It's the same for women as it is for men -- you have to eat at least as much energy as you expend, if not more, to build muscle. Simple as that.
Now back across the pond I sadly don't have access to my butt-kicking trainer, nor can I afford one here. So I've had to find ways to keep challenging myself, which is definitely hard to do. No one can really push you just beyond the limits you need to go like a trainer. But you work with what you've got.
A friend introduced me to the Power of Ten, the benefits of lifting heavy weights very slowly. I also started reading GoKaleo and Lift Like a Girl for inspiration on how to be 'anti-fragile' and strong rather than skinny. It feels good to let go of a dieting mentality and embrace building muscle as opposed to constantly trying to lose fat.
Ladies, fear not, you will not start bulking up and looking like Brigita Brezovac anytime soon. To look like this, you would need to start piling on the steroid enhancements. Luckily, lifting heavy weights is really the key to nice curves that hours on the elliptical machine will definitely not get you!
Besides, there's nothing quite as liberating as feeling like a bit of a badass in the gym. I do mainly compound muscle building using machines like the leg press, seated row, lat pulldown, as well as pull-ups, dead lifts and squats with an assisted barbell. I load on as much weight as I can move to muscle fatigue (complete failure) somewhere between 6 to 10 reps. For example, for me that is now about 140 kilos (308 lbs) on the leg press and 50 kilos (110 lbs) on the lat pulldown. And that's it. Move on to the next exercise. It amounts to no more than a half hour in the gym, including some abdominal mat work, and you are seriously good to go.
For women who want to turn fat into muscle, or anyone for that matter, this approach to lifting falls under what's called Body Recomposition. It's a great thing to focus on when you're already at a reasonable weight for your height, even if it's more than you would like, because in the long run, with some dedication and consistency, the results will be well worth it. Take a look at Amber Rogers' different body compositions at the same weight if you have any doubts.
Sadly, I think the conventional wisdom that women shouldn't lift heavy weights and should focus on higher reps of lighter weights, still prevails. I see it every time I go to my small, local gym. I have to say I'm pretty amazed that I am literally the only woman I've seen there lifting heavy weights! Just what is everyone so afraid of? All I can say, is I definitely enjoy having a guy finish his set on the assisted squat machine and having to load on more weight than he was using. Who me, competitive?
actor-writer-director, improviser, mother, traveler, general renegade and rabblerouser.