From time to time people contact me with questions regarding exercise and weight training. I’ve been incorporating weights into my own exercise routine for about 8 years now, and I’ve learned a lot since I started. The first person to ask me for weight training advice, several years ago, was my sister in law. Her biggest concern was that she didn’t want to look like a man, she didn’t want to gain muscular weight that would affect her running and cycling times, and she had no idea where to start or how to exercise with weights. Those were some of the same concerns I had before I started lifting weights.
Recently I had a similar conversation with my friend Sarah. It brought back so many memories. Sarah’s main concern when it comes to weight lifting is also that she’ll end up looking like a man. Or that she might develop very prominent veins on her arms from lifting weights. Sarah loves running but weight training is out of her comfort zone and so she hasn’t been doing it. That was me, eight years ago. She’d like to purchase a pair of dumbbells so she can exercise at home, but doesn’t know what size dumbbells would be best, as she doesn’t want to have to keep spending money to buy more in the future.
My Own Transformation
Before I started out with weight training, I was very unhappy with my pear shaped body. I would run to lean out. My upper body would lean out first and my butt, thighs and legs would lean out last. This meant that by the time I started losing any weight around my hips and buns, my upper body was starting to look like a skeleton.
I didn’t like having my upper body look that skinny and so I would start eating more and just put all the weight back on. It didn’t matter how much I ran, I couldn’t change that and so my weight would keep going up and down all the time.
I used to have skinny jeans and chunky jeans. And by skinny, I don’t mean skinny as in style. I mean when I would starve myself for a few months and all my clothes would get too big, so I had to switch to my starvation jeans. Then I would rebound and my buns would be stretching the seams again… in my chunky jeans.
At times I had trouble doing up the top button on some of my jeans. Just for kicks, today I tried on one of those old pairs of jeans. Back in the day I used to have to squeeze myself into those jeans, especially after Christmas. We’re a few weeks past Christmas now, and those old jeans are still really loose.
Yes, after all the yummy holiday food I’m a few kilos over where I like to be, but I’m perfectly fine with that. What kind of holiday season is it if you don’t pick up a little weight? Since my lifestyle is very active and my day to day diet is consistent, balanced and healthy, I stay much leaner year round, even after a few weeks of indulging. The days of yoyo dieting and keeping two sets of clothes are long gone for me.
When I added weight training to my exercise program, I still lost fat on my upper body first. Because I added some muscle though, I didn’t look like I had an eating disorder anymore. When I educated myself on nutrition I was stunned to learn about all the calories that were hiding in foods that I thought were healthy. Hidden sugars and fats were no longer hidden. I learned what those things on the back of food labels really meant and began to make healthy choices every day.
I learned how to eat enough to have energy for workouts and the rest of my day, while still losing weight. Then once I reached my goal weight I had to adjust my eating plan so that I could maintain my weight, while still eating a satisfying, balanced diet. Really, I don’t always care for using the word ‘diet’, as it often implies a restricted plan that you have a hard time following in the long term. I much rather stick to eating a variety of diverse, healthy foods while keeping the calories in balance with my BMR and activity levels.
I’ve mentioned before that my husband was behind me adding different types of workouts to my exercise routine. One such thing was weight training.
His weight training suggestions were met with much resistance. Where I didn’t think that I could do chin-ups, I didn’t want to do weight training! I didn’t want to get bulky and muscular and end up looking like a man.
If there is one thing I can say, it’s that I trust my husband implicitly. It still took him a few conversations to convince me that building muscle is really hard work, not just in the gym but also in the kitchen. He promised that unless I ate a high calorie/high protein bodybuilder type diet, I would never gain the much dreaded ‘man muscle’. (I have nothing against female bodybuilders, and I respect the incredible effort and dedication they put into their sport. It’s just that that isn’t the look for me 😉 )
So as with everything else, I decided to give it a try. My first pair of dumbbells were 2kg’s. Hubby gave me a simple but challenging dumbbell workout that lasted about 15-20 minutes and I was sore for days after.
I quickly realized that my upper body didn’t have the same stamina as my legs and that I was in fact fairly weak. I didn’t like that at all and so I decided I better do something about it; weight training graduated from an experiment to a permanent part of my life.
Yes I did end up building some muscle. But to my surprise I liked the new toned stronger look. The truth is, I find doing weight training and ‘self-defense type workouts’ very empowering. It makes me feel like I’m less vulnerable and have more control in my life.
Something else I realized was that by changing my body composition – weight to lean muscle, I had changed my BMR. That meant that my body burned fat faster than it used to because now – doing exercise, and even doing nothing, burned more calories.
I learned to love weights and as time went on, added some tabata workouts to my regime. Later I would incorporate some powerlifting and olympic lifts into the plan. Over the years there have been complexes, tire flipping, sledge hammer workouts, crossfit, as well as other fun stuff like pilates, kick boxing and grappling.
But it all started with a pair of 2 kg dumbbells and a 15 minute workout in the living room. Lately, as a busy mom trying to stay on top of all of life’s obligations, I only have time to lift weights two or three times a week. But that along with some running is more than enough to keep me happy, lean and fit.