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.

http://l1.yimg.com/bt/api/res/1.2/2N7u0QgKKJjBszTG5zJAnA--/YXBwaWQ9eW5ld3M7cT04NTt3PTI3Nw--/http://media.zenfs.com/en/blogs/thesideshow/Photogenic.jpgWe 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.

http://i1264.photobucket.com/albums/jj491/tropaze/5lbsfatandmuscle-2.jpgBesides, 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 MayoClinic.com)

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

Just Dance (Or Have Fun)

Hi everyone! It’s Monday! For those of you on a true summer break – enjoy it! One day you’ll be spending your summer days working, volunteering, studying…or all of the above. Currently, I work full-time as an intern at a local utility company. I always stay up later on the weekends, despite the best of intentions, and so Mondays are always tough to make it through. That’s why today I thought I’d spread a little cheer by sharing something I’ve been doing lately that makes me super happy and excited.

What is it? What could I be doing that has me smiling and laughing the entire time? For those of you that know me personally, please don’t laugh, but…


More specifically…I do Zumba at the local YMCA, and Hip Hop Abs (by my true fitness idol, Shaun T) in my house.

Now, a disclaimer: I don’t know how to dance. Sometimes, the “dancing” one thinks of at college parties isn’t really dancing at all, if you catch my drift. It wasn’t until this year that I actually met a guy who knew how to dance the real stuff, and was willing to put up with me trying to learn.

I don’t have him as a dance partner anymore, but I do thank him for showing me the fun world of dancing. (As a side-note: I kept practicing dance almost just to spite him, which is super immature, but now I really, really like it. Something positive coming out of something negative,  suppose!)

A year ago, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a Zumba class – for fear of embarrassing myself, and also because I didn’t think it actually did anything in terms of a workout. And Hip Hop Abs? Like I would do an in-home workout video…please.

How could I be so wrong?


The Original Dance-Fitness Party

Are you ready to party yourself into shape? Forget the workout, just lose yourself in the music and find yourself in shape at the original dance-fitness party. Zumba® classes feature exotic rhythms set to high-energy Latin and international beats. Before you know it, you’ll be getting fit and your energy levels will be soaring! It’s easy to do, effective and totally exhilarating.

From the Zumba website

First of all, Zumba does have the potential for some serious calorie burn – depending on your instructor. At my Y, there are between 4 and 5 instructors, and they’re all different. For instance, Monday’s class kicks my butt, because the girl teaching it gets pumped up, and we do a lot of cardio-intensive moves – like jumping side-to-side or doing power squats. Friday’s class, on the other hand, feels more like a dance class and doesn’t make me sweat as much, but it is so fun because the guy teaching it just loves to dance. He also has longer and prettier hair than I do…and he can sure move those hips!!

ZumbaActual story of my life.

I don’t know what the classes are like at Rice’s Recreation Center (my university’s on-campus fitness center), or other fitness places – but I intend to find out! I totally recommend taking a Zumba class – but try it out with different instructors, because they can make all the difference in the workout you’re getting. By the way, I’m not just talking to the ladies here – guys, Zumba is super fun, despite being dominated by the females. You might stick out…but that’s not always a bad thing, is it?


If you love to dance and you want to lose weight and tighten your midsection without doing sit-ups or crunches, Shaun T can show you how. Shaun uses a technique called “Tilt, Tuck & Tighten” to help you burn fat as you dance your way to six-pack abs.

In Hip Hop Abs®, Shaun breaks the dance moves down into steps, so almost anyone can do them. And the workouts are set to hot dance music, so they’re high energy and fun.

From Team Beachbody website

Then, there’s Hip Hop Abs. I won’t lie to you – I feel like a huge dork doing any in-home fitness program. (I’ve been doing INSANITY, too…starting Week 4 today, yikes!) Hip Hop Abs is no exception to the rule, but I finally realized: why does it matter if I look like a dork? I am a huge nerd, no doubt about it, but I like working out, and dancing – and this program does both. Might as well embrace the “dork”side (haha, like “darkside”…ahh…not funny?) and admit that I love these videos!

Hip Hop Abs is a collection of videos by Shaun T, released back before he created INSANITY. Clearly, it’s focused on targeting your abs, but it does so without all the situps, crunches, planks, and the likes. Even better, it is FUN. I feel the burn, but it doesn’t matter to me, because I’m enjoying everything about it. It doesn’t make me want to quit, or take a break, or anything – and yet, according to my trusty heart rate monitor, it does get my blood flowing.

HipHopAbsIsn’t he wonderful?

Now, the music…again, kind of dorky, but easy to follow and Shaun T is hilarious. Seriously. There’s a part where “Don’t Cha” by the Pussycat Dolls comes on, and he throws a fit because it’s one of his favorite songs. I crack up EVERY TIME.


Speaking of laughing – that’s the main point I’m trying to get across today.

Back in high school, even though I had plenty of emotional turmoil because of tennis – just ask my coach – in the end, I enjoyed the morning workouts, the drills, and all the matchplay we did. It was exercise, but I liked it because it was a means to get better at a sport I loved.

It was when I let ideas like “I ate too much today, I need to burn X amount of calories to get rid of it” and “I don’t want to get chubby, or else no one will like me” dominate my reasoning for working out – that’s when exercise became negative and boring and eventually seriously unhealthy in my life.

I can’t yet attest to the pure physical results of Zumba or Hip Hop Abs – or any dancing or fitness program. But I can tell you about how they make me feel. As of late, dancing helps me let go of my stress, relax, and just enjoy myself. It’s strange, but amazing.

You know, a lot of times I don’t want to exercise. Realistically, sitting on my booty watching Game of Thrones and stressing over Jon Snow usually sounds more appealing than getting sweaty and sore in a workout. That’s why on a lot of nights, my reward for completing an INSANITY workout is being able to pop in Hip Hop Abs shortly after.

Finding something that puts the fun back into your workouts – now that can be HUGE.

Now that I’ve revealed my super dorky nature (who knew, right?)…it’s time for you to fess up! What do you do to keep your workouts fun? How do you keep yourself happy and entertained, but in healthy ways?

No matter how silly or funny it seems – if you’re smiling and enjoying it, then keep it up!

Categories: Exercises, Motivation | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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