Get Strong with Strength Training

Hello there! Long time no blog, I know. Time for an update!

First of all, this happened, which everyone thought was SO funny: photo

I ran an introductory session for women on how to use various strength training machines in our recreation center. The people that witnessed the event found it entertaining as I led 15-20 girls around the equipment and demonstrated how it all worked.

Funny or not, it got me thinking about why some people find themselves quite uncomfortable in the weight room (or in the recreation center in general). I think a lot of the uneasiness derives from feeling self-conscious – about how to work the machines, how we look while we’re using them, or how many people are around. But it also seems to come from misguided beliefs about lifting (especially the “I don’t want to get bulky” attitude from the female perspective), or an overall apathy towards it.

Today’s post (long overdue!) is about some of the benefits of strength training, and some ways to incorporate it into your current exercise regimen.

As a reminder, I am no expert on this topic. I speak from personal experiences, as well as the different websites I’ve sifted through, and the opinions of other weight room enthusiasts. All I know is that I love strength training. Lifting is cool you guys, I promise!

So, let me start by debunking some of the common reasons for not strength training.  

1. “I don’t know how to…work the machines/use the free weights/do the proper form/etc…”

You definitely aren’t alone. Depending on what gym you’re at, the machines and adjustments can be strange and tricky. If you don’t know how something should be used, just ask an attendant or worker to show you. It’s kind of our job to help. Plus, once you understand how to work one machine, it’s easier to figure out how the other ones work.

Free weights are more versatile, but also more dangerous if the proper form is not used. Again, depending on the gym you attend, there may be personal trainers that can teach you some basic free weight exercises. Or, you can do research online by looking up YouTube demonstrations or sites like ExRx.

If you’re just starting out, I would highly recommend sticking to the “selectorized” machines or to body weight exercises, as they are much safer. Never hesitate to ask how something works, or the way to do an exercise. Your safety is of the upmost importance here!  

2. “I look silly in the weight room.”

First of all – no, you don’t. You’re working out, and that right there makes you awesome. But secondly, even if you do think you look funny – so what? Most gym patrons probably aren’t paying attention to what you’re doing, because they’re focusing on their own workout (and maybe feeling a little goofy as well). Exercising in general leaves people looking sweaty and tired, so seriously – just relax and workout. can’t all be ridiculously photogenic while working out…

3. “There are too many people in the weight room.”

This probably holds especially true for women, and especially in a college setting. (I’ve found this less true at my local YMCA, for example.) It’s crazy to see the dichotomy between the weight room and cardio room at times: 15 guys and maybe 3 girls in the weight room, while the reverse is true for the cardio side.

Ladies, you’re entitled to use the weight room equipment, too. Even I struggle with this at times, as I feel like me benching the bar (and a little more!) might be annoying to the guys who come in and do 20 pull-ups without breaking a sweat. I understand that thinner males, or those that have never strength trained before, can also feel intimidated when the weight room is packed.

However, I’ve talked to a few of my regular gym-fanatics, and the general consensus is that they don’t care. Really, they’re just doing their own thing.

But if they do seem annoyed, or if you don’t feel comfortable working out at peak times (I don’t – but mostly because it’s crowded and I can’t do things quickly), then try testing out different workout times. Early morning, lunchtime, and immediately post-dinner are a few options to check out.

4. “I don’t want to bulk up.”

I hear this one all the time, and it still surprises me! Check out this article if you’re curious about the differences between toning and bulking up.

For girls, first and foremost, most of us don’t have the testosterone levels that bulking up requires. And secondly, 3-4 sets of exercises using moderate weight (or body weight) will not be enough to transform our bodies into that of a body-builder.

In general, for both genders, to build the kind of muscle we think of when we picture bulking up takes an incredible amount of work and planning. Individuals may have higher testosterone levels, and thus muscle gains come more readily, but even then it is no walk in the park. Unless you’re lifting heavy weights and changing your diet to compensate for the training you’re doing, it is highly unlikely that you will bulk up., which would YOU rather have?

In Summary

If what you’re doing is working for you, then by all means – keep at it! Cardio it up – work on the elliptical, go for a long run, cycle for as many miles as you like. But still, there are benefits of strength training that you can reap, including:

  • weight management
  • increased stamina
  • reduced risk/symptoms of chronic conditions (like diabetes and heart disease)
  • increased bone strength
  • and more! (information courtesy this article from

And the best part of all? There are many simple ways to add strength training into your routine. You can go for the basic squat, push, pull, and core combo (pick one exercise of each type and use the machines or body weight). You could also check out Tabata training, which is a quick but challenging way to workout. (We do it a lot for rugby fitness…it hurts so good.)

I’ve just recently gotten back into strength training, and I can’t tell you how much I missed it. I’ll be back with posts about specific workouts and exercises, because seriously…this is some great stuff!

Do you use strength training as part of your workout routines? If not, how do you feel about the idea? Let me know what you think! As always, this is your life and your body. I’m just here to help you if I can!

Categories: Exercises | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Get Strong with Strength Training

  1. Saskia

    I was hoping you would write about this! I started lifting seriously about four months ago. It’s completely changed the way I go to the gym, starting with my emotions. When I would head to the gym for my daily 30-45 minutes of elliptical/swimming or running outdoors, I felt bored and fretted about the time I was wasting. Now that I have a weightlifting plan and goals for how much I’ll lift each day, I feel excited to try and hit my mark– and proud when I leave the gym! I’m almost at a 135 bench press and will be super psyched when I hit that.

    I’m at the point now where friends are noticing changes in my body composition– my arms look hella strong but at the same time, my waist and thighs are tighter and people have asked if I’ve lost ten pounds (er, no, I’m actually eating a lot more to build muscle).

    Anyway, I know I’m not in the Rice area, but if you or any of your friends want to chat about weightlifting/ lifting nutrition, let me know!

    • A 135 bench press?! Please tell me when you hit that…wow! I think my max EVER was 85. I should get back into that.

      Hands down, of all the conditioning/training we did for tennis, it is the lifting that I miss the most. I felt strong and accomplished every time we finished, especially because I could see such tangible results both in my body and in my strength on the court.

      Also, I completely agree with the shift in the mindset. I’ll probably do another post on this later, but it truly makes a difference when our attitudes shift from working out as a punishment or an obligation, versus working out as a means to improve for a sport or to relieve stress. It’s strange how the same workout can be so different, depending on the mood associated going into it.

      Serious congrats on the consistent lifting, and all the awesome marks you’re hitting! And I’m definitely interested in chatting about what you’ve been up to. Talk to you soon! 🙂

  2. Sara

    Love this Ariel! We do a lot of basic strength conditioning in our Krav Maga training… as someone who stuck to cardio work beforehand it was pretty tough at first but now I love it! Sometimes finish with a round of Tabata and it’s a killer, but feels so great afterwards. Haven’t been game enough to try the free weights yet (I use the gym at work which doesn’t have awesome people like you to hold intro classes!) but hoping to get some of the guys at work who head to the gym regularly to show me 😀

    • Thanks, Sara!

      Tabata really is killer. I don’t usually sweat that much during strength training…but the constant intervals put me to work! Also – so happy you’re doing Krav Maga! My dad does it on occasion (both parents did it more so in the past), and it is intense.

      Using free weights is probably my favorite type of strength training, and it actually makes me kind of sad that I can’t lift as much as I used to a year or so ago. 😦 Let me know if your work friends teach you how to use them…you’ll probably be hooked!

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