Hello internet friends. Today’s post is for my gals trying to get into lifting. These tips apply to anyone (boys, girls, anyone in between) but I’m referencing some things I usually see girls struggle with.
As a reminder for lifting newbs or pros, I post my weekly workout splits on the site for you all to pick my workout brain. These aren’t guides or anything of the sort, just genuine workouts I have done and feel work for me and my goals. If you are looking for exercises, routines, splits, or ways to shake things up, please check out my 100% free, downloadable, easily screenshotted, 6-day workout plans here.
- Be OK with wanting something new. First things first, we have to be OK with wanting a change in order to make one. A lot of girls are embarrassed to admit a goal, even to themselves. Newsflash, you’re not going to reach that goal if you can’t talk about it even in your own head. Complicated topic, but we are surrounded by SO much body-sh**. Pressure to look different than how we look, pressure to be OK with how we look, etc. Like, pick a side society – am I supposed to want abs or am I supposed to be OK with how I look and change is something that I should be ashamed to want? Here is some random girl on the internet telling you IT IS OK TO WANT TO LOOK DIFFERENT. OR FEEL DIFFERENT. IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO HATE YOURSELF OR HOW YOU LOOK/FEEL NOW. Same with non-aesthetic goals. It’s OK to want to be stronger. Wanting change is not admitting defeat to the social construct. You don’t have to feel guilt when you decide you want to look thinner, thicker, stronger, or healthier then decide to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
- Get real about your goals. And what they mean. OK so you’ve “admitted” your goal. Now what does that actually mean? This is the number one thing I see girls struggle with. You have to know what you want and what that actually means/looks like/feels like. Maybe you see some girl with a large backside on Instagram and you decide you want that. OK, cool. This means you’re going to gain weight. Maybe you decide you want to be stronger, lift heavier things. OK, cool. You’re going to need to practice that….as in trying to pick things up that are heavier than anything you’ve ever picked up. Maybe you just want to feel more athletic in day-to-day life. Great, this means you’re going to have to truly challenge your body, hit limits, and be OK with failing. My bottom line is you’re probably not going to reach your goals if you are not OK with change. & change can be uncomfortable. It’s not all fun.
(Personal thing relating to my own change, I am still often insecure about my weight. I know, I know. I’m “so tiny” and blah blah. There’s no denying the numbers, I am overweight for my height (hello muscles). I am not skinny. I’ve had to go up in sizes. Like every few months for the last 3 years. It’s frustrating. I’ve cried in dressing rooms when I can’t get a pair of jeans over my thighs. Or when my back doesn’t fit into a shirt I used to love. Some parts of me look more masculine. Very rarely, but sometimes, I look in the mirror and wish I had long, skinny legs. Thighs that don’t rub. A flat belly. Or breasts that look more like breasts than pecks. There’s nothing wrong with having or wanting those things either. And I could set goals to attain those things and go after them. No thanks. I’d rather have my muscles. Point is, there is a cost to getting stronger and building muscle. You’re building muscle…muscles are big. They take up space. They weigh a lot. They look different than fat.)
- Have a plan. I mean this long-term and short-term. Long term, make a goal and then a plan to get there. Set up timelines, etc. E.g. In 8 weeks, I’ll be able to do a set of 5 pull-ups with no assistance. Here’s what I’m going to do each week to work towards that. Short-term, plan your workouts. Go into the gym knowing what equipment you’re going to use, where you’re going to be, and what you’re going to do. I hate to see girls just wandering around because I know they must feel so out of place and weird, maybe even embarrassed, etc. It’s so much better to go in knowing what’s about to happen, smashing it, emptying your tank, and leaving knowing you did what exactly you set out to do.
- YOU WILL NOT BULK UP. ALSO, Stop using the word “tone”. It’s really hard for me to phrase this nicely…..there is nothing more annoying than a woman who doesn’t want to lift heavy because she is afraid of getting bulky……..girl you ain’t getting bulky. (Open your eyes to the men around you. Even they can’t get bulky that easily.) Bulking up and getting big is hard. It requires a lot of testosterone which we have a lot less of compared to the men of the world. If you’re not supplementing testosterone, eating huge amounts of food and ‘roiding you can rest assured you won’t be bulking up and looking like John Cena 2.0 any time soon. (Now maybe you avoid shrugs and other trap work, I’m in support of this. lol) Saying you’re going to go to the gym to get toned and use 5lb dumbbells for every exercise isn’t cute, feminine, smart, or educated in any way. Now if you enjoy that, do you. But the word “tone” really strikes a chord in me. That word has absolutely no substance and is used to target women in a backwards way. UGHHHHHH tone. The fact is, you’re either building muscle or losing fat. If you don’t have a fat to lose, you’ll lose muscle instead. So what a lot of girls are actually doing when they are “toning” with those 5lb dumbbells is a whole lot of nothing. (OK, maybe an argument for like muscle endurance but let’s keep it simple here) Doing reps with 5lbs at a faster pace while incorporating cardio and probably eating in a deficit will get you “toned” if that word means skinnier. Because you just lost weight. Yay for you. This has a place in the world. But it’s not called toning, it’s called losing weight. Losing weight can sometimes bring out muscles that were once hiding under body fat. I think this is what tone is referring to.
- Go heavy. Going on with what I said above. Ditch those stupid 10lb dumbbells you use for every exercise. Lift heavy weights! This is not for everyone. But damn, do you see results when you start upping the weight. Get real, your legs are stronger than your arms. You should be using different weights for different body parts. I know some of the equipment can be intimidating. But start slow, use heavier and heavier dumbbells. Then work your way to a bar and let the magic happen. A good rule of thumb for how heavy: those last 2 reps should feel impossible (but not be). Breath heavy, make mean faces, some noises should leave your mouth involuntarily. It’s nice to have a partner or someone to spot you so that you can challenge yourself with weight without fear. BUT ALSO, use those little self-spotter things in squat racks. Don’t be afraid of failure. Bailing out of your squat is not a fail. It is a win because you went heavy and reached your limit. That was the goal. “Failing” at the gym is not failing. It is 100% succeeding.
- Eat. A lot. & enough protein. Here’s another big one for us ladies. We under-eat. Like crazy. EAT, GIRL. Your body needs calories to function. In the context of lifting, you need calories to build muscle. After a couple months of lifting, when you’ve got some muscles, guess what? Muscles are hungrier than fat. (Muscles literally burn calories. All by themselves. Just by existing.) Now you need even more calories to function. Want more muscle? More food. Got more muscle? More food. FOOD FOOD FOOD. Food is intimidating. And just like our bodies, there is a ton of food sh** in the world that makes us feel inferior and wonder what to do. Should I be low-carb? Keto? High-starch vegan? Just eat chicken and rice for every meal? Just drink juice? (definitely not this one) I’m not here to claim I know what you need to eat. Different food makes different people feel differently. Do some experimenting without going crazy and just see what makes you feel best. BUT EAT ENOUGH. I’m also not going to sit here and be like hey, we should all count calories/macros so we’re eating enough. Some people don’t enjoy that or get an unhealthy obsession, etc. But it may be a good idea to do the math just for a day or week or month and see what’s going on. Calculate your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure), there are a ton of pretty accurate online calculators. If you want to gain muscle, eat that amount of calories + 500. What about protein? (Don’t get me started on the commercialization of protein. You don’t need that sh**. If you like it, eat it. No one cares. But it’s not healthy just because it was injected with some weirdly processed protein concentrate.) If you’re trying to build muscle aim for a gram of protein per lb of lean body mass (your weight – body fat). Again, don’t bother yourself tracking every day (unless you like it) but see how much protein is in your normal food routines and maybe up it if you need to. I could do a whole post all about diets, my experiences, etc but I’ll spare you.
- Do compound lifts. Correctly. Back squats, deadlifts, bench press, standing overhead press. There’s more. A compound lift is just a lift that works multiple parts of your body together. (Imagine that, muscles working together. Almost like they do every single day in your day-to-day life.) Learn how to do them correctly, ask friends, watch videos, whatever you need. Have someone watch you/spot you your first few times as you get used to the movement and figure out which weight is best for you to start. THEN, do them! Try to have at least one compound lift in each workout you do. (My workouts include compound lifts & are public to you, here they are) Not only are compound lifts a great way to test yourself and watch your own progress, they are very efficient ways to work out and build muscle. They are also movements that are not just for fun (cough bicep curl cough), but mimic the movements of everyday life, making you stronger and more prepared for living!
- Train your upper body. I see girls in the gym constantly training their lower body. Now, I understand that the female physique tends to focus on the lower body – having lean legs, a nice booty, abs, what have you. HOWEVER, training your upper body is equally important and not to mention, fun. Let me give you a few reasons a) the most obvious, you will get a stronger upper body. A sexy, sculpted back, capped shoulders, cleavage, defined arms. Stronger compound lifts (even for your lower body!). A well rounded physique. b) The muscles of your chest & back are some of the larger in your body. What does this mean? Well, building those muscles will be very helpful in losing body fat, attaining muscle mass, and as stated earlier, allow your body to burn more calories. c) Building your lats (upper back) and shoulders will actually help build that feminine hourglass shape by building the top of that figure, making your waist appear smaller. d) I will get more into this in a second but upper body training allows your lower body to REST & RECOVER which is essential if you want to build muscle efficiently, pain, and injury free. It’s not useful to train your butt 6 days a week. It’s just not. e) Most injuries that occur from over training or straining during exercise could have been prevented by having a stronger more stable upper body. f) Training upper body is fun and bad ass.
- Rest. YES. Rest. It is not useful to train every single day, especially when training means lifting. That may sound counter-intuitive but your body truly needs time. Time for what? Well, a key aspect of lifting and building muscle is damaging your muscles. Yes, we are literally tearing them apart. On purpose. The healing process is what brings the growth woohoo. Jury’s out on how much time is enough time to recover, I always say, if it feels OK (not sore anymore), I can train that muscle group. But I usually don’t get sore (don’t get me started. SORE IS NOT THE NAME OF THE GAME.) anymore so I give about 3 days rest to each major muscle group. I organize my split so that each muscle groups has about 3 days to recover, usually training 2 other muscle groups, then resting. So beyond just allowing each muscle group to rest, you need to rest. Your body as a whole. How much rest is enough depends on your body and how much activity you’re used to. I try to take about 2 days off from lifting per week.
- Skip some cardio. No more of this show up, get on an elliptical (or cardio machine of choice) for an hour then leave. NO MORE. WE ARE DONE. LET US EVOLVE. I’m not saying leave out cardio for good. Cardio is good for you. But be smart, be efficient, and don’t wear yourself out. Now in regards to lifting, maybe a short warm-up on a cardio machine is OK……….but the main event is still to come so save 100% of your energy for your lift. If you are incorporating cardio for weight loss, do it after the lift. Personally, I try to steer clear of cardio when I can because my day-to-day life is very cardio-filled. I walk everywhere I go (& now I bike next to real cars!! 2 miles 2x/week. Living in a city is fun. Pedestrians rule. Dreams of never having to drive really do come true 🙂 ) and teach yoga & fitness classes a few times/day. So I’m good on the cardio. BUT, I do like cardio so I incorporate in very small doses to my workouts here and there. Usually a “functional” (what does this word even mean cmon) burnout at the end of my lift where I up the speed and down/ditch weight to get my heart rate up and feel toasted after my workout. For gals not interested in losing weight but rather building muscle, stick to short HIIT bursts only once or twice per week AFTER a lifting session.
- Don’t obsess over numbers. Kinda said this earlier but let me restate. MUSCLE WEIGHS MORE THAN FAT. IF YOU GAIN MUSCLE, YOU WILL GAIN WEIGHT. Also, if you want to gain muscle quickly, this usually is accompanied by an increase in body fat. Do not fret, girl. Let it be, let it be. Don’t obsess over some number on a scale. Just go by how you feel. Feeling strong? More capable? Curvy? Sexy? Muscular? Totally bad-ass and amazing? Then who cares if you put on weight?! You are rocking it! It’s not about minimizing that number and we really need to get over that idea. Ugh.
- Support your fellow gals. (Don’t come at me for being sexist or something because of these generalization. The internet is a generalization.) Here it is. It’s time to take all of the girl power, women empowerment sh** OFF OF THE INSTAGRAM FEED and into real life. There is no denying the gym is a masculine environment; there is testosterone bouncing off the walls. Which is great, we’re going to need that for our gains. But I know some women can feel out of place at the gym, especially when they venture away from the cardio corner and into those heavy weights. A really sad vibe I often feel at the gym in is a competitive one. Girls side-eyeing each other. Sizing each other up. Girls allowing other girls to bring out their insecurities. There’s no room for that. Remember, another girl’s beauty doesn’t take away yours. Another girl’s gains don’t take away yours! What can we do for each other? Smile. Compliment. Spot. Make other women feel confident. DON’T JUDGE. Like post-workout selfies instead of hating in your own head. Allow girls to be different from you, different bodies, different goals, likes, dislikes, comfort zones. All we have to do is give love. ❤
More to add???
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