More and more people are getting in tune with the many different health benefits that lifting weights has to offer — and getting strong is only one of them.
Obviously, lifting weights is a way for people to get stronger and to bulk up their muscles, but it is not just for men looking to get into body building to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or The Rock.
Everyone can benefit from weight training without ending up looking like a muscle-bound athlete.
“I’m very passionate about weightlifting,” says Elizabeth Barnett, a local personal trainer who has worked for a number of gyms and is branching out as a freelancer. “It can meet a number of different needs, from stress relief to losing weight, to maintaining whatever physical recreational goal you may have. For females in particular, they like to do steady cardio for hours on end, but what they don’t realize is that with lifting weights, you actually burn many more calories throughout the rest of the day. So many people, again specifically females, are afraid to lift weights because they think that they’re going to turn into this bulky, mass machine that looks like a man, and that’s absolutely not the case. You can build lean muscle and meet the goals.”
Barnett has a degree in health education from Oklahoma State University, along with a couple of different personal training certifications, and has been training for about three years. She is a big advocate of weight training as a way to help people reach their fitness objectives.
“The way I do personal training, I’m gearing whoever my client may be, to be able to do it on their own,” she says. “I want them to be educated and understand that it’s much more than just picking things up and putting them down. There are so many benefits to it. If I go a couple of days without getting in the gym, I kind of start to lose my mind and go stir-crazy. It’s much more than just a culture, because if you look at fitness nowadays, I feel like people may not know exactly what they’re doing; they may not know exactly the science behind it all, and honestly how important it is.”
Following are some tips and guidelines for embarking on an effective weight training program.
Fuel up beforehand
Before working out, make sure you fuel up with a small, healthy snack to provide enough energy to get you through the session.
“Typically, you want your body to have at least 30 minutes to digest something before you work out, so I’ll usually recommend something like an apple and some peanut butter,” Barnett says. “Two tablespoons of peanut butter and a medium-sized apple or even a banana, because you want that long-lasting energy of the apple or the banana, but the higher caloric density of the peanut butter, so you have the sustainability throughout the rest of the workout to utilize those carbs and make the most of that workout. Even peanut butter crackers, you can do just a few of those — don’t sit there and eat a whole bunch of them.”
You want to stretch after the workout, not before, because as Barnett stresses, deep stretches on cold muscles beforehand significantly increases the risk of injury.
“I don’t recommend static stretching before a workout because your likelihood to tear a muscle when you just do a 10-second hold before working out is far greater to where if you did a dynamic stretch where you maybe mimic the motion,” Barnett says. “For example, if you mimic doing a squat, doing an air squat, and doing hip mobility where you’re rotating your hip up and over and stepping over the bar maybe, kind of getting your hips in the open and closing position of what you’re about to do with the squat.
“After you’ve done your workout, hitting a good static stretch where you hold for 10 seconds, take a deep breath and push a little deeper, is great. But I always tell my clients, don’t stretch cold muscles, because a stretch is creating micro tears in your muscle and when you go to work out, you’re creating even more micro tears, so that muscle is likely to do something that you don’t want it to do.”
Get in a good warmup
Instead of stretching before the workout, get in a good warmup first to get your muscles ready for the exertion to come.
“I would do 10 minutes on the Stairmaster before I move into doing legs,” Barnett says. “Getting an active warmup is typically how I train with my clients. I’ll ask them to come 10 minutes early and get on the treadmill or get on the rower and get your muscles in the motion of waking up your upper or lower body in preparation for what we’re about to do.”
Form is everything
The biggest piece of advice that Barnett can give is that executing the proper form of an exercise is the most important way to maximize its effects.
“One thing I always tell my clients is, form is everything,” she says. “You don’t want to jump into an exercise with sloppy form and pump up a lot of weight. You’re better to sacrifice the pride of using a lot of weight for the perfect form, because you don’t want to train in the wrong way; your likelihood to get injured is far greater.”
Have a spotter or workout buddy
On some free weight exercises, having a spotter is not only recommended but an essential safety measure. For example, it can be disastrous if you get into trouble when bench pressing without having someone there to assist you. And if that person is a regular workout buddy, even better.
“A spotter is always optimal,” Barnett says. “Granted, not everybody has the opportunity to have a workout partner, but being able to have the accountability with somebody else other than your personal trainer [can be helpful].”
Discomfort versus pain
In addition to focusing on good form, another of Barnett’s big tips for weight training beginners is that they have to learn how to determine the difference between pain and discomfort.
“For example, with leg extension, if you feel a popping in your knee and it actually hurts, you don’t want to continue doing that move,” she says. “You want to modify or abandon that move altogether. However if it’s just discomfort, just ‘oh, it hurts,’ that’s OK, push through it. You have to be able to distinguish the difference between pain and discomfort so you’re not hurting yourself.
“I tell my clients, ‘This is not going to be comfortable, what we’re doing. I’m trying to get you out of your comfort zone and I’m here to support you and keep you accountable, and it’s not going to be the most fun, especially starting out.’”
Keep it interesting
Sometimes doing the same workout, in the same way, time after time after time can not only get boring but can eventually stall your progress toward achieving the desired results. Barnett likes to mix up the workouts a bit and inject some interesting side exercises into the sets to keep it fresh.
“Building a program for somebody the way that I do with weights is, I try to keep it interesting and keep their attention rather than ‘four sets of 10 in the gym’ or whatever,” she says. “I do love exercise programs that are geared toward building muscle and for that, that would be doing, say, five sets of eight on leg extension. You build up the quad like that, however doing something that’s functional like split lunge, where you do an explosion move out of it, so almost like plyometrics. There are so many different ways to keep their attention and keep the functional, every day-to-day type of exercise to where they’re going to meet their needs just outside of looking good. We’re prolonging health and longevity of life, quality of life.”
When training with weights at the gym, demonstrate good gym etiquette. For example, after you complete an exercise, take the weights off the bar and put them back so the next person who comes along to use that bar doesn’t have to struggle with it.
“One of my pet peeves is when people slam weights, or when people don’t unrack their weights,” Barnett says. “You want a better workout? Then unrack your weights. That’s just gym etiquette. You have no idea how many times I have to take off weights for clients who can’t move them.”
Your value is more than a number on a scale
Many people obsess over their weight, and Barnett finds herself continually encouraging her clients to stay positive and not to tie too much of their self-worth into a simple number.
“I always try to encourage my clients, especially females, because a lot of times they look around the gym and they look on social media and they see everything they want to be, everything they’re striving for. And when they don’t immediately have that result or feeling they think they’re going to feel, they get discouraged,” she says. “Or they look in the mirror and see what they don’t like. Everybody starts somewhere. I recently put one of my clients on probation from standing on the scale. She does that every morning and would just feel so terrible about herself. The scale is not the most important number. Your value is not a number; it’s much more than that.”
Be patient with the process
Similar to the previous point, remember that weight training is a process that takes a while, and you’re not going to see a massive transformation overnight. There will be small, incremental progress that is sometimes difficult to see, but it will happen if you stick with it.
“Trust the process,” Barnett says. “Though it may be frustrating, it takes time. It’s not a microwaved type of deal. You can’t rush it because a rushed job is not going to look the way you want it to. It takes time. Patience is something you have to practice.”
7 Reasons to Lift Weights
- It’s empowering: The better it makes you feel, the more likely you are to stick to it — and thus, see results. That feeling of pulling a heavy clean, or landing a snatch, can make you feel like a champion.
- It’ll make you stronger: As you start and continue with functional weight training, you’ll soon notice the benefits that your newfound strength offers in everyday life. Moving? Easy. Carrying stuff up the stairs? Piece of cake.
- It’s sociable: Chatting during a rest period, encouraging each other to push harder or spotting each other on the bench press, is a great way for friends to interact and even forge stronger bonds.
- It’ll build lean muscle which burns fat: Weight training will encourage you to step away from the scales and focus on how lean and healthy you look and feel, rather than how much you weigh. Since muscle mass is denser than fat, your weight isn’t always an accurate way to measure progress.
- It’s easy to track: While getting deeper into your squat or perfecting the form of your kettlebell swing are both good goals to strive toward, the easiest way to measure progress is by tracking how much weight you’re lifting in a strength session or how many reps you’re hitting in a round of metabolic conditioning.
- It can ward off osteoporosis: Sure, lifting weights does your muscles good, but did you know that it does the same for your bones?
- It can help prevent injury: Training sessions don’t always go according to plan, but the stronger you are, the better you’ll deal with the unexpected. Ensuring the muscles are adequately strong enough to protect the joints, for example, means you’re far less likely to be on the sidelines or couch nursing a nasty injury.
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