Straight to the Bar

All Things Strength


Oh Ladies, Time To Start Strength Training…
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Kelly MillsRemember last time I said ladies should lift? Nothing has changed. But some of you may now be saying, “Well, I’d love to start a strength training program, but I have no idea where to start.” And others of you might be saying, “Why should I listen to this bitch anyway?” Okay, let’s tackle the latter first. I have no idea. But, I mean, you’ve read this far, so may as well keep going.
Look, I avoided weight training for years. Going to the local gym and putzing around on the little dumbbell curl machine had about zero appeal to me, and though I tried to get into it from time to time, I could never really commit to what felt boring and pointless and much less appealing than staying home and watching bad sitcoms on TV while eating spoonfuls of peanut butter right out of the container. (I suppose my blog in those days could have been called, “Straight to the Jar”.) But then I found a style of weight training I loved, namely this kickass combination of plyometric drills and running and jump-rope with technical lifts and cool tricks mixed in for a terrifyingly hard and super fun workout, and I got hooked. I’m not saying that will absolutely work for you, but there’s probably something out there involving barbells and exercises that will. Oh, and did I mention that this training also made me lose body fat, get muscle definition, speed up my running, protect my bones, feel super strong and badass, and lift my ass a good inch higher without Spanx? And that I’m not one of those naturally skinny people who can eat anything and look like a rail? That my metabolism is so slow I could probably survive as long as the cockroaches after the nuclear winter wipes out all the food supplies? Just saying.

So here’s what I’d suggest if you think you could be ready to take the plunge.

  1. Optimal situation? Work with a trainer or coach who knows what he or she is doing in terms of lifting. The truth is that some lifts require a little technical expertise, and it helps immeasurably to have some good instruction. Personally, I like going to classes because I do much harder stuff when someone else tells me to than I ever would on my own, but I’m lazy and compliant like that. Personal training or classes are great starting points, though I will caution that it’s best to find someone who will help you get full benefit from weight training. The high school student who half-heartedly shows you how to change up the weight plates on the lat pull-down machine doesn’t really qualify in my book, nor does the body sculpting instructor who never touches anything heavier than five-pound dumbbells. You are better than that.
  2. But perhaps you have neither the time or money or location to do a class or work with a coach. You still don’t have to let go of your dreams of pumping iron. What I suggest to people in this boat is that you focus on simpler movements for a while, and do lots of body weight exercises. Find a good resource for proper form, like this site, and choose some exercises that target muscle groups. You might also find some inspiration here, because it’s an awesome place for women who love iron. If you have limited time, go for a series of things that hit more than one group, meaning you might want to do things like rows that require a tight abdominal area and work back and shoulders and arms instead of tricep kickbacks, which are fine but mostly just use your triceps.
    I mentioned last time that I like free weights best, but a combination of free weights and machines works okay. If you are straight-up lifting and you don’t know how much weight to use, here’s a helpful rule of thumb: do three sets of eight to twelve reps. The weight should be heavy enough that the last few reps of set two are challenging, and the final set should be a real bitch to finish.
  3. If you claim you still have no extra time to do any of this training at all, add some to your day or your cardio workout. Do three sets of ten push ups in between ten minute sets on the treadmill, and if you start on your knees–and we won’t call those “girl” push ups here–keep the goal of moving to your feet in a couple months. I even recommend doing as many as you can from your feet, even if that means one, and then switching to your knees when you have no more reps left. Do squats and lunges every morning and night. (Proper form tip: your knees should never go past your toes, so focus your weight towards your heels. Stick out your chest and your butt like a swimsuit model to get a nice curve in your lumbar spine. And go for depth.) Work on dips from your office chair. I don’t care how you start, but get something strength-train-y in your workout, with the goal of adding more later. It was a real exercise epiphany for me to realize that something–anything–is better than nothing.
  4. Finally, I want to reiterate one thing again: Please don’t be so scared of “bulking up.” I know, I know, I talked about that last time, but I still hear it almost daily, so I’m underlining it. You know what? If it was so easy to bulk up, we’d see way more big, giant, muscle-y dudes walking around, because loads of them want to bulk up. It’s hardest for ladies to do, so just let go of the fear. And if you do find that you get enormously ripped with giant muscles right off the bat doing weight training, let me know because I’d probably want to be your representative in body building contests. I like a winning horse.
    Oh, and let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be over here licking the peanut butter spoon.

Over to you. Drop us a line on Twitter ( @scottbird ), or add a comment below.



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Straight to the Bar is the online home of fitness enthusiast Scott Bird, and looks at the many training approaches, essential techniques, uncommon exercises and superb equipment to help you become as strong as humanly possible. In short, this site is the home of all things strength.

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Kelly Mills blogs at Fitness Fixation, That's Fit, and Babble; and is an author for Straight to the Bar.
Drawing of Scott Andrew Bird performing a deadlift. Artwork by Vince Palko.