Lifting weights comes with some seriously rad benefits: a turbocharged metabolism, improved bone health, and a slashed risk of a number of diseases.
Despite all this, many women dodge the dumbbells and bypass the barbell.
“More women don’t lift because of the pervasive misconception about the type of bodies that weightlifting builds,” says Alena Luciani, MS, CSCS, Pn1, founder of Training2XL.
“Lifting weights won’t make you bulky. It’s likely to make you look the opposite, because muscle helps burn fat. This makes you look visibly leaner and more toned,” she explains.
If you’re ready to start weightlifting but aren’t sure how to get started or are still on the fence, we’ve got you covered.
From the importance of form to the best routines for beginners, we asked three fitness experts to answer some of the most common questions about lifting: Nia Shanks, coach and author of “Lift Like a Girl”; Jennipher Walters, co-owner of Fit Bottomed World and co-author of “The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet”; and Sia Cooper, a NASM-certified personal trainer.
Here’s what they had to say.
This interview has been edited for brevity, length, and clarity.
For someone just getting into weightlifting, what are some things to keep in mind?
Jennipher Walters: First, lifting weights is awesome and is so great for building strength and boosting overall health. But form is really, really important. There are a lot of great videos online that walk you through good form. That said, if you’re new to lifting weights, I highly recommend booking in a session or two with a personal trainer to get the basics down. Working with a personal trainer is a really good investment in terms of your health. These sessions will show you how to lift properly and give you an idea of how heavy you should lift for different moves.
Sia Cooper: Before beginning strength training, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the equipment you’ll use. Pick a weight size that allows you to complete the move using good form and challenges your body. Some people choose a weight that’s too light and wonder why their body still looks the same and their strength levels haven’t gone up. On the other hand, some people use too heavy of a weight and hurt themselves, or are unable to complete the moves correctly. Using good form is also a must. Above all, listen to your body, and recognize anything that feels painful or weird.
- Familiarize yourself with the equipment.
- Pick the correct weight size.
- Focus on good form.
- Listen to your body.
How should I think about form?
JW: Before you begin a movement, take a breath to center yourself. You should be in an athletic stance, which means your shoulders should be down and back, your core should be engaged, and your knees should be slightly bent. Select a weight that allows you to complete a set with good form, but that the last couple of repetitions you do with it are very challenging. That said, it should not be so challenging that you have to sacrifice your form or use added momentum to complete the set.
SC: In the beginning, focus on form, not weight. Align your body correctly and move smoothly through each exercise. Poor form can cause injuries and slow gains. When learning a strength training routine, it’s a great idea to start with no weight and just use your body weight or a very light weight. Concentrate on slow, smooth lifts and equally controlled descents while isolating a muscle group. Every move requires a specific body part to work in a certain way, and if you’re all over the place, you won’t engage the correct muscles.
How can I tell how much weight I should use?
Nia Shanks: Use a weight you can comfortably and confidently handle, and focus on honing proper technique. Then, if you can, gradually increase the weight with each workout while maintaining correct form.
What can I do to reduce my chance of injury?
NS: Learn a few basic exercises so you can learn correct form quickly. It’s much easier to learn six movements instead of 20 or more, right?
JW: Always listen to your body. Have good form, and don’t underestimate the importance of recovery. You’ll want to give your body about 48 hours to rebuild and recover before you work the same muscle group again. During that time, you can — and should — do some easy activity, like walking.
How can I tell the difference between ‘good’ pain and ‘bad’ pain?
JW: Good pain will feel like a burn. It might also be accompanied by shaking or just a feeling of, ‘That move is really hard to do.’ Good pain lets you know you shouldn’t go for one more rep, but it doesn’t leave you unable to recover and move on to the next thing. Bad pain feels very different. It’s acute, sharp, and like something isn’t right. You should always listen to your body.
SC: Good pain is often the pain you feel one or two days after a new or strenuous workout. It’s also called delayed onset muscle soreness and tends to go away within a few days. Bad pain, however, is pinpointed in one area, like in your joints. It can also happen suddenly and doesn’t go away for an indefinite amount of time or at all.
“Good pain lets you know you shouldn’t go for one more rep, but it doesn’t leave you unable to recover and move on to the next thing.” – Jennipher Walters
What are some common misconceptions and myths about lifting weights?
NS: That’s it’s dangerous. This is largely because everyone ‘knows someone who got hurt lifting weights.’ But they’re unaware of the myriad of people who have not been injured. There are numerous other myths, but I encourage you not to focus on that stuff. Focus instead on the benefits you can reap from engaging in a strength training program consistently: greater strength and stamina, increased self-confidence, improved body composition, and so much more.
SC: For women, the most common misconception is that lifting weights will make you bulky or manly. When I was a teen, I didn’t lift because this is what I had been told! However, this is far from the truth. Our bodies, as women, can’t physically get as big as men with weights alone. We don’t have the testosterone levels to naturally grow as big. So lift away!
Workouts to get your weightlifting regimen started
To get you started on your weightlifting journey, check out these beginner-friendly workouts:
Nia Shanks: A great beginner-friendly workout is one used in “Lift Like a Girl”:
Jennipher Walters: One of my favorite simple yet effective workouts for beginners is the following circuit. Set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes and see how many rounds you can get through with good form:
Sia Cooper: For someone super new to lifting, I suggest a simple bicep curl with dumbbells, because this is hard to mess up:
- Grab a set of dumbbells in each hand (5 pounds is a good start).
- Have your palms facing up and keep your elbows close to your torso.
- Slowly curl the weights up to your chest while keeping the top part of your arms stationary or still.
- Lower back down and repeat.
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Gabrielle Kassel is a rugby-playing, mud-running, protein-smoothie-blending, meal-prepping, CrossFitting, New York-based wellness writer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drank, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal, all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or practicing hygge. Follow her on Instagram.
Jennipher Walters is the co-owner of Fit Bottomed World, co-author of “The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet,” co-host of the “Fit Bottomed Girls Podcast,” and editor at Fit Bottomed Girls. She’s also an ACE-certified personal trainer and health coach and was named as one of the top 100 influencers in health and fitness by Greatist in 2016 and 2017. Walters has also written for numerous online publications, including Shape, The Huffington Post, and SparkPeople. In her free time, Jenn can be found doing HIIT workouts with her husband, making a mean green smoothie, running laps around the neighborhood with her daughter, standing on her soapbox to advocate body positivity, and snuggling with her pup.
Nia Shanks is a coach and author of “Lift Like a Girl” and has a BS in exercise physiology from the University of Louisville. She specializes in helping women “unleash their awesome” with an empowering approach to health and fitness. Through her popular blog and online coaching courses, Nia has helped thousands of women look beyond “quick weight loss” and discover the amazing body they never knew they had.
Sia Cooper is a NASM-certified personal trainer specializing in both fitness nutrition and women’s fitness. She works from home and balances motherhood with her own fitness journey.