For those who know me it’s no secret that a lot of my spare time is devoted to strength training. Women often ask me various questions on the topic, but there is one question, without a doubt, that is asked more frequently than others: how to get started. I’m not talking about picking up dumbbells for curls or tricep extensions, though those things have their place. I’m talking about approaching the big lifts: squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press.
Here’s a little background on how I got started…
For years I was a runner. I would run 6-7 days a week, around 25 miles per week. I loved running. Or that’s what I told myself, though I loved aspects of it. But I was mostly doing it to maintain a certain physical appearance. If I missed a day, I felt guilty. It wasn’t the best relationship.
In 2013, I was living in Manchester, England and joined a gym. I met a trainer (who just happened to become my husband, but that’s a story for another day) who would invite me to lift with him. He was deadlifting the first day I joined him. And to be honest, I had to google what that was. It sounded awful. But we started light and have worked the weight up from that day. That sparked a love affair (technically two) with the weight room that hasn’t quit.
Getting started, especially as a woman in a weight room where women are few and far between, can be intimidating. And for me, it was intimidating at first. These were the keys I found to getting started and sticking with the training:
I had a trained eye showing me the ropes. Not everyone has a resource like this, but most lifters I know would gladly show you how to properly perform the lifts. But beware, because not all lifters know what the heck they’re doing. This is a great resource to learn about the basics if a trained person isn’t available.
I took videos of my lifts (and continue to do so) especially when I didn’t have Andre there with me to keep an eye on my form. I review the videos between sets and adjust accordingly.
I had a program to follow. Andre and I are big fans of the Starting Strength approach. Having a program mapped out meant that I had a plan once I got to the weight room. I think a lot of people struggle with what to do once they’re there, so having a program eliminates this variable.
I was making progress, again, thanks to the program. If you’re all over the place with the consistency and type of training you’re doing, progress isn’t going to be as evident. You’ll be eager to get to the gym if you know you’re going to accomplish something you weren’t able to do before.
I was able to do less cardio and maintain my weight (hallelujah!). After a few years of gaining muscle I’m now able to eat more and completely opt out of cardio if I want without worrying about increasing my body fat. However, powerlifting has given me a new appreciation for my body that I didn’t have before. It’s no longer about what my body looks like, but what it is capable of achieving. That’s a huge motivator to keep going. But let’s be honest–less cardio helps, too.
I learned how to fail. The idea of attempting to lift a weight you’re not sure you can handle can be intimidating, and for good reason. But once you fail a lift and get out unscathed, it’s so much easier to get past that fear. On that note, I won’t attempt weights that I’m unsure about unless I have a spotter, safety bars are properly set up, or I trust that I can fail safely.
I continually learn about the process: the anatomy behind the lifts, the reason behind certain programming, what to expect as I continue on a program. I mostly get all this information through my research-ridden human weightlifting encyclopedia that is my husband, but the wealth of knowledge he shares keeps me very aware. With this also came the realization that media very frequently feeds us a load of nonsense. The quality lifting programs that I’ve come across aren’t found in glossy magazines covered in glitter and photoshopped abs. It’s probably not going to appear glamorous. And it’s definitely going to be damn hard.
I accept that I won’t always be drenched in sweat, and at the same time I anticipate hard work. I often don’t break a sweat when I’m at the gym, and in the past I would’ve thought I didn’t work hard enough. My soreness, full-body cramps in the middle of the night, and inability to use the stairs afterwards tell me differently.
I appreciate recovery. The fatigue from a tough session sometimes doesn’t set in right away, so early on I thought doing more was always better. But when my next session would come around, I’d still be so gassed from earlier in the week that I couldn’t perform nearly as well. Now I know I need to stick with the plan and let myself recover in between sessions. This means getting quality sleep, hydrating, and fueling my body with food.
I do what makes me happy. For instance, I didn’t truly enjoy competing, so I’ll likely just carry on only competing against myself. At the end of the day, that’s all it’s really about. If I didn’t actually enjoy all that’s involved with this process, then I wouldn’t stick with it year after year.
If I could choose one word to sum up everything I’ve learned about strength training over the years, it would be consistency. You could be using an optimal program, but if you’re not doing it consistently then you’re unlikely to take it as far as you had hoped. If choosing a less efficient program with a little less time or energy commitment means you’re able to be more consistent with your sessions, I believe it will take you further than the program you can’t commit to regularly.
I find myself trying to sell people on the idea as if I’m going to get commission if they decide to start training for strength. It’s because lifting was a game-changer for me. It has allowed me to witness my body getting stronger over time and achieving the seemingly unattainable. It has given me a persisting purpose in the gym beyond burning calories. It has challenged me to work hard and to get better. I feel like I’m no longer battling with myself because I have a new appreciation for my body and my abilities. So when someone asks me how to get started, I want them to have all the tools to be successful. They might not marry their trainer, but they can gain a whole lot of self-love in the process.