If you read my blog for sometime you may know I used to be anti "normal" exercise. I hated the gym and I didn’t do any structured workouts. Don’t get me wrong, I stayed active, walked, danced even liked going to the park for a long hike but you wouldn’t catch me dead in the gym. I lost my weight through diet alone and I have to admit I did successfully "shrink" my body.
To accomplish the "shrink" I was super strict on my diet and I started to realize for me to maintain that body weight and stay slim I was going to have to add more activity. I also knew that just because I achieved the "thinness" I longed for my entire life that didn’t necessarily mean I was "healthy". Something was missing.
Many people may think that when they reach there goal weigh, or ideal size that all of a sudden they will be happy with themselves and confident in there new body. That everything will just fall into place and all will be right with the world. Maybe that happens for some (although I doubt it) but for me, I still lacked the confidence I thought weight loss would provide. I was still very body conscious.
About a year and half after reaching my goal weight I started working out regularly. I didn’t start going to the gym to lose weight, I started because I thought it was a piece of the bigger fitness puzzle and that is what I’m now after.
I knew that just because I was "thin" now didn’t mean I was healthy. So I signed up for the local YMCA. I started doing basic routines, treadmill and the nautilus machines. Within months I moved to classes and free weights. At 31 years old, I learned to LOVE working out! Tell that to the 20 year old version of myself and she’d laugh you out of the room.
To my surprise, the exercise I gravitated the most towards was weight training. There was just something so empowering about lifting weights. At first, I was scared to walk into that intimidating free weight room with all the muscle bound, testosterone filled athletes but I took the leap and never looked back.
With my new found love of working out and weight training came a confidence I really didn’t know I had. In the last year I’ve watched my body change. Even though I’m about 12 pound heaver then my lowest weight I’m more confident and happy with my body then ever, especially my upper body. I feel strong and healthy no just "thin" and I think there is a big difference between the two.
Not being an expert on the subject I thought I’d ask a personal trainer about the connection between body image and weight training plus get some of the my own personal fears, concerns and questions out of the way.
Please welcome Andy Dick from Optimum Results!
- Hi Andy! Before I ask away I was wondering if you could tell us a little about yourself and your personal trainer-ness. ;~)
- Well, I have been nationally certified through A.C.E. for the past 8 years or so as a personal trainer as well as a Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant. I run a small fitness company that specializes in all varieties of in-home health services, training, yoga, pilates, aerobics, massage, etc… I personally believe in a lifestyle that incorporates everything you like in moderation. Trying too hard at something that does not fit your lifestyle or personality rarely results in long term success. I also believe in real life goals: training for a 5K, looking good in your wedding dress, fitting in the same size you wore in college, etc… While these goals generally incorporate weight loss, it is much easier to focus on something tangible than a number.
- As for myself, I have always been active in team sports, soccer, hockey and volleyball notably. Even now, I stay active as a semi-pro beach volleyball player on the Jersey Shore as well as actively cycling. And I just completed my first sprint triathlon with one of my clients.
- OK, here’s goes. Do you know of any studies that link weight training to body image? Especial for women. Would you recommend weight lifting for your female clients?
- There are countless studies that link any and all types of exercise to positive body image. While many studies in this area will tend to focus on women, I do not feel that there is much difference in the mindset between men and women. As a general rule, if you do something that you perceive to be good for you, you will feel good about it, and the intended results will be magnified. The same can be said in the opposite direction, unfortunately. How many people “feel fat” after one huge dessert?
- I recommend strength training for anyone of both genders, any age, and any limitations. The positives are endless. Increased muscle mass will lead to fewer injuries, increased energy throughout the day, increased physical performance, fewer aches and pains, better physical performance, and a more efficient body just to name a few. Under the correct supervision, every person can achieve each and every one of these benefits. And there are very few negatives. Initial soreness if not done correctly and the occasional pulled muscle is about all there is to worry about.
- As a women should I fear "getting bulky" by lifting heavy weights? I’ve heard that lifting less weight for more repetitions helps you stay lean but higher weights will bulk you up, is that true?
- Not at all. The misconception of getting bulky has been around forever. The fat in a woman’s body is not naturally intended to build that much muscle mass without really trying to. Multiple lifting sessions per day followed by the correct supplements will help some women develop larger than normal muscle mass. However, even with that dedication, your genetics will probably not allow too much growth in this way. However, it is important to note that any positive from strength training is a result of increased muscle mass. Toning, “being cut”, “having a 6-pack”, or just trying to look a little better, all comes from the same principal: less exterior fat and more visible muscle.
- As for the type of workouts most women should concentrate on, it will probably vary dependent on the goals of the individual. However a basic workout should focus on all the major muscle groups and aim for 10-15 reps with a minute break in between each set. Doing a set over 15 is generally not any more effective. Simply adjust the weight being used so that 15 is a difficult set. True bodybuilders will aim for sets of 2-6 of maximal weight with longer breaks. This is not particularly efficient for a normal person, regardless of gender.
- How many weight training sessions should I shoot for in a week to achieve a good level of physical fitness?
- Once again, this will probably vary from person to person, but a good rule of thumb is 2-3 training sessions of 45 minutes each week in addition to 2-3 cardio sessions of equal length. Note that cardio can be done on different days, or before or after strength training. It is important to have one pure rest day per week from exercise. While there are some goals where cardio or weights may dominate the program, it is never good to completely abandon either.
- Is there a difference between the nautilus machines and the free weights?
- A little. There was a time when weight machines were not very ergonomic. However, most newer equipment does a good job of mimicking free weights. Free weights forces the body to work equally on both sides, regardless of the exercise. If possible, use machines that allow for bilateral movement (both arms work independently of each other) This avoids allowing your dominant side to do the majority of the work. However, machines are much safer to use, as they contain safety features. Also, remember that variety is key. So mix it up.
- Ok, this may be a stupid question but I really like to workout my upper body but not my lower with weights. I do run and take step classes, do I still have to weight train my lower body? Are my other activities enough?
- It is important to remember that you do not turn fat into muscle. Also, cardio is a completely different exercise than strength training. It is like comparing sprinting 50 yards to running a marathon. Therefore, jogging on the treadmill will give you a moderate amount of toning for your legs. However, the fat burn you receive through jogging occurs equally throughout the body. Some classes may give you a little bit more strength training, but not enough. Therefore, you should never substitute leg exercises with cardio. It is not effective in any way long term.
- My weight is up since weight training. Is the old adage "muscle weighs more then fat" true? How can I tell the difference between gaining muscle and gaining fat?
- This is true, sort of. Muscle is denser than fat, therefore it does weigh more. But remember that you are not turning your fat into muscle. So cardio burns your fat away, as does a good lifting session. The strength training builds muscle separately. This muscle may weigh a tad more, but it is easier to lose a pound of fat than it is to gain a pound of muscle. So I would not worry too much about this.
- I know everyone likes to scale watch, but I would prefer that clients start with a body fat percentage baseline and monitor this instead. A body fat reading is the most effective way to determine how much fat has been lost and/or muscle gained. Or better yet, monitor how your clothes fit. Unless you plan on walking around in a t-shirt with your weight and body fat printed on it, who will really know. It is more important to look and feel good than to have great numbers.
Andy, I’d like to thank you SO MUCH for clearing up some of my weight lifting concerns and helping me spread the word about exercise! :~)