Quick: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone says weight lifting? Seriously jacked up bodies? Intimidatingly heavy looking dumbbells? Chest-bumping bros? If any of those mental images have scared you away from the weight room, you’re missing out. Because as great as cardio is, weight training is the perfect complement to your hours on the elliptical — and, sometimes, it’s even better for your body.
But staring at a rack of weights with no idea where (or why) to start is a waste of your gym time. So, before your next sweat sesh, get schooled in strength training. We tapped Erica Giovinazzo, a CrossFit Coach at Brick New York and a registered dietitian with her master’s from New York University, to answer all your weight lifting questions. If she can’t convince you, we don’t know what will.
- Why should I lift weights? Duh — it builds muscle. But there’s more to that than just a buff body. “Increasing muscle is important, because it also increases your metabolism, which means that you burn more calories in a day. That’s what you want to hear, right?” says Giovinazzo. “And resistance training helps increase bone density, which helps to prevent osteoporosis.” Then there are the less physical elements: who doesn’t want to feel stronger (no need for help lifting your luggage or opening that stubborn jar of almond butter) — or more confident? “When a woman I’m training lifts a heavier weight than she ever thought possible, it is perhaps one of the most empowering feelings she will have in her life. Imagine that on a repeated basis!” she adds.
- Does lifting have to mean bulking up? This is one of the biggest fitness myths out there. “Women aren’t biologically designed to have big bulky muscles,” explains Giovinazzo. “If you feel like you ‘get bulky’ when you lift weight, it’s likely because you are eating too much. Women with big muscles work very hard to ‘get big’ by eating a lot and following a very specific exercise program.” For you, lifting means stronger muscles, which means a more toned look over all. “I always tell women who are afraid about this, just try it. If you don’t like it, a trainer can help you change up your workout. No woman has ever come to me while training with me and said they were getting too bulky. Actually, more woman who are not my clients come to me and say, ‘I want to look like that!’”
- What’s the right technique for lifting? “It is so important to see a trainer who knows about lifting so they can teach you the correct movement pattern,” says Giovinazzo. “That being said, some of the key things to remember are to keep a neutral spine — this means to keep your back flat as well as your neck, so your whole spine is in one straight line — keep your core tight, and keep your shoulder blades back. If something hurts … stop!”
- What kind of weights should I start with? Obviously, there’s no one answer — it all depends on your personal strength. “What’s most important is that you start with weights that you can lift without too much strain and have good form. Technique precedes weight,” explains Giovinazzo. “Most of my new women start with just the women’s barbell (35 pounds) or the training bar (22 pounds).”