One Mom’s Journey from Fat to Skinny to Confident

INSIGHTS

Weight Training and Body Image

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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!

Roni:
Hi Andy! Before I ask away I was wondering if you could tell us a little about yourself and your personal trainer-ness. ;~)
Andy:
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.
Roni:
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?
Andy:
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.
Roni:
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?
Andy:
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.
Roni:
How many weight training sessions should I shoot for in a week to achieve a good level of physical fitness?
Andy:
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.
Roni:
Is there a difference between the nautilus machines and the free weights?
Andy:
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.
Roni:
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?
Andy:
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.
Roni:
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?
Andy:
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! :~)




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Discussion

There are 20 comments so far.

    Geri

    August 13, 2008

    Thanks for this Roni and Andy!

    I recently read that having a leaner body can aid metabolism – and that was my cue to start weight training recently. Regardless of whether this is true or not, I want to keep going as I feel so empowered, strong, and confident now! I am mainly working with free weights, resistance bands and fitness balls at home.
    I’ve been doing some reading, and I really want to keep this up. Thanks for the timely post guys!

    Ideal Weight

    August 13, 2008

    Blind trials found no effect of 3 to 6 grams per day of HMB on body weight, body fat, training football players or other trained athletes. Ideal Weight

    Crabby McSlacker

    August 13, 2008

    Great post!

    I HATE weights, yet I’ve been doing them for more than 15 years because I love what they do for me! I only go usually twice a week, lift as heavy as I can but only do one set of each thing. But it really does boost my metabolism and keep things feeling firmer as I age. Having a more athletic shape really does help my body image.

    Wish I loved it like you do Roni, but I do it anyway and I’m really glad.

    Sara

    August 13, 2008

    Thanks for confirming that I can loose the weight by diet alone. I have started journaling my calorie and fat intake each day. Planning ahead on meals. I would rather lose the weight through diet first and get my head straight on that before I start a exercise routine.
    Keep up the good work!

    Kate

    August 13, 2008

    Like yourself, I used to be the anti-working out, always had some excuse, but after I lost the initial 15lbs, my weight loss kinda stalled, so I begrudgingly started workout in order to lose the last 10lbs. And while it started off as a “chore”, it turned into an addiction for me now. Now not only do I exercise, I’m looking forward to running my first marathon in the future. Now that I’m at goal weight, I know with the new found love of running, it just makes me weight even more maintainable. I love it. I’m healthier, fitter and thinner than I ever have been.

    Janice

    August 13, 2008

    Thanks for covering the topic of not working out the lower body with weights. I workout on an elliptical most of the time with resistance so I have always figured that I did not need to use weights for my legs. I usually only do upper body nautilas machines. This was a great help to me.

    Thank you.

    rachelle

    August 13, 2008

    Wow thank you so much! I am a weight lifter too!!!! moderately I might add…. after reading perhaps I’ll PUMP it up a notch! It’s so nice to see the evolution of Roni! you rock! so when are you going organic? haha

    Zoey

    August 13, 2008

    Hi Roni,

    This was a great post. One of the benefits of weight lifting for me is that I feel so much better on the days that I lift. I started out doing The Firm workouts, and then after a few months I moved on to Get Ripped. Now I pretty much do my own thing, but I still do the Get Ripped workout if I want to challenge myself.

    Thanks for making a post about weight training, even reading about it got me in a better mood and I am going to go do some reps right now!

    marcie

    August 13, 2008

    Great post! I used to be anti-workout, too, but I am currently in Week 5 of the Couch to 5K running program and happy to report that, surprisingly, I LOVE it! I feel so strong when I complete a workout.

    I still need to work in weight training, but one step at a time.

    marcie

    August 13, 2008

    I forgot to add that I’m doing my running at the GYM which is a huge step for me!

    GymEquipment1

    August 13, 2008

    The best exercise plan should have cardiovascular and weight training exercises. This helps burn calories and increase the muscle to fat ratio that will increase ones metabolism and lose weight. You can get more information about Gym Equipment which I browsed on internet can fetch you help.

    Annette

    August 13, 2008

    that was great Roni and Andy. Since I have started moderate strength training (20 min 3x a week) and using weighted balls when I do my Walk away the Pounds videos, I can see a big difference in my upper body…..I Love it! Carrying around my twin 25 lb little ones is easier now too. I think strength training is addictive and so worth it. I have been at it for about 3 months now and I can see the work I have put in.

    Brianne

    August 13, 2008

    I really enjoyed this post. The interview was great and informative–I’d love to read more like this!

    Sweets and Sweats

    August 13, 2008

    I loved the interview. Now if only I could ingrain this statement into my brain “Unless you plan on walking around in a t-shirt with your weight and body fat printed on it, who will really know.”

    sweets&sweats.wordpress.com

    joni

    August 13, 2008

    Roni.. I’m so glad that you posted this. I have been in a real struggle lately. I have found that I am a TOTALLY converted runner @ 4days/wk and 10 miles (If you would have told my 20 yo self that she would laughed right?), but despite not using AP’s or even all my FP’s, and following the plan to the letter (including 8-10+ of water and 5-7 fruits and veggies) I have actually gained weight. I saw my doctor who told me that I should sleep more because the issue is porbably hormonal due to the constant deprivation (because as a night shift worker I tend to pull a lot of “all nighters” and 24-36 hr stretches with no sleep) but the gain had me puzzled. I’m doing yoga 1-2 days a week and strength training once but I think I’ll up it to 2 after reading this. Thanks again Roni and Andy!

    Shanna

    August 14, 2008

    Roni, this is just what I need to hear. I have reached my goal that I set when I first started my journey. Now I am asking myself why I am still not happy. Do I need to lose more wieght? Now I need to focus on losing body fat and gaining muscle. This is going to be a totally different journey for me. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. And thanks Andy for the advice.

    RooBabs

    August 14, 2008

    This was such a great post- thanks Roni and Andy! I have to agree that strength training and even exercising in general helps how you feel about your body, and usually accelerates weight loss (versus diet alone). A few years back I lost a lot of weight due to stress, but I still felt fat, because my body was very jiggly and squishy. Although I am bigger now (and about 20 lbs heavier than at my lowest weight), many parts of my body feel firmer and stronger than at that time. A big part of that has been because of running, and I know once I get back to a regular strength training routine, I will feel and look even better.

    Ellie

    August 20, 2008

    Thank you so much for sharing. Your daily blog is always such a motivator for me. I’m the most horribly shy person and so being able to read your entries is like having a friend tell you some helpful advice each day which I find a huge help.

    With that in mind, you mentioned that you didn’t work out until about 1 1/2 year into your weight loss. How long did it take after you started going to the gym that it wasn’t so hard to do each time? Right now it’s just horribly hard and embarrassing for me.

    Do you think it made a difference that you’d already lost the majority of your weight in Phase One, so you were improving a body that was lighter and more lean into something healthier by now going to Phase Two and toning it now?

    Thank you again!

    roni

    August 22, 2008

    Ellie – At first it didn’t seem like a chore because I was going with the family then I started to get hooked but I think it was because I was ready. I mean REALLY ready. And I DO think it made a difference. Even though I was thiner I wasn’t as confident as I am now but I was more confident then I was 70lbs heavier.

    That being said (and this is easier advice to give then to get) you can’t worry about it. Honestly, I still have body image issues but for some reason while I’m working out they seem to disappear I see all shapes and sizes in that gym and everyone is doing what works for them and that gives me such a great feeling I tend to forget about my own body. I’m not sure if that makes sense.

    Anyway, I hope that helps a little. :~)

    weight training benches

    March 23, 2012

    Being in great shape can certainly boost our outlook in life thus it will improve our personal image.