There's no denying that lifting weights is an essential part of your fitness routine. For many years, the fitness industry encouraged cardio as your main source of fitness (particularly for women). However, we now see all of the benefits of weight training as part of a well-balanced fitness routine. Just a few of these include:
Higher metabolism (i.e.: burn more calories even at rest)
Increased bone density
Fewer chance of falls and injuries
Muscle... looks great on the body!
But how much should you be lifting? And, if you're new to fitness, where do you even start?
The answer is not as simple as "men, lift this much, women lift this much". Lifting is very individualized based on each persons needs, injuries or pain, abilities and disabilities.
Words you will hear me say often in any class I teach, whether it is yoga, spin or a lifting class, is LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! It will tell you if you are doing an exercise incorrectly. It will complain during the workout or after. If this is the case, hiring a certified personal trainer to watch you and give you corrections and workouts to help improve is an integral part of lifting correctly.
Ok, Tami, I hear ya; but how much weight should I be lifting?
When I am programming for most of my clients, I consider a full body lifting program. This will include the following major muscle groups:
Shoulder girdle (all the muscles of the shoulders)
In order to break down the tissue to build muscle, we need to ensure we are putting the muscle under enough tension and bringing it to fatigue. You will know this is occurring when you can no longer lift the weight effectively (keeping form and performing the full range of the exercise).
If you are doing 2 sets of traditional biceps curls, for example, with 10# weights and you can complete the first set of 6-10 reps no problem, but in the second set can only complete 4-6, then you are achieving muscular failure (which is a good thing!).
If you are doing these same exercises and are completing 20+ in both the first and second set, then you will want to explore increasing your weight.
Now, I am a group fitness instructor (and I LOVE my group fitness!); so I teach classes where we are completing many more reps than listed above, but working the muscle in different ranges of motion or performing multiple exercises for 1 major muscle group. In this case, we are working towards muscular endurance (also a wonderful thing!) and can perform more reps. However, if you attend the instructors class regularly and are not fatiguing by the end of the track or muscle group you're working, that is when you know to increase the weight.
In the end, the goal is to listen to your body (did I already say that?). When performing an exercise, set a goal of how many you would like to complete within 2-3 sets. Recent research indicates lifting heavier with fewer reps (6-8) is a great way to go; but I will say it again, it depends on your abilities and goals. There is no "one size fits all". Play around with your workouts and find out what works best for you and your body.
And ladies, please remember... you will not bulk up with heavy weights! This is a huge myth that has limited us from reaching some pretty awesome milestones. The majority of us do not have enough testosterone in our system to "bulk up".
Another question I get asked frequently is, "how many days a week should I be lifting"?
Again, the answer is not going to be relevant for all people. But something to keep in mind: do not do heavy lifting on the same muscle group 2 days in a row. Your body needs time to recover (that is not just something we say, it is scientific!). If you are short on time, find a full body weight workout to complete 3 days a week (every other day). If you enjoy lifting weights every day, change up your workout by doing upper body one day and lower the next, for example.
New to lifting weights? I cannot stress enough the value in hiring a certified personal trainer. The benefit to having a professional watch your form, helping correct your form, and writing up a program to get you started is high. If you're not ready for this just yet, then search up "beginner weight lifting" on YouTube. There are many wonderful personal trainers and group fitness instructors out there who share beginner workouts.
The next time you are lifting weights, ask yourself if you're challenging yourself enough. Because if not, is it worth doing the workout?