I mentioned in my post-summer update that weightlifting is my new thing. I like to change how I exercise every so often, to stop it getting boring. So for the time being at least, I’m all about the weights. If you’re a woman who’s thinking of getting into lifting weights, I hope this’ll give you some pointers when you’re getting started.
Why weightlifting for women?
Pretty much every health and fitness guide recommends weights as A Good Thing. If you’re a woman, that advice only increases as we age. Weights are the bees knees for women over 40.
Our bone density, muscle tone and metabolism all decrease as we age. But you can do something about that if you work out with weights. By increasing your bone density, you also decrease the risk of getting osteoporosis. Lifting weights is even supposed to be good for brain function – weightlifting just twice a week has been shown to slow down age-related brain shrinkage. It’s all good stuff.
Weights for women – where to start?
The easy thing to do would be to hire a personal trainer to get you started, but I always did prefer a more circuitous route. The first thing I did was read these two books: The New Rules of Lifting for Women and Thinner, Leaner, Stronger. Apparently these are regarded as the best books about weightlifting for women (thought if you know of a better one I would love to hear about it so tell me in the comments). Both are a pretty good read.
TLS is good for background information and general motivation. New Rules has better pics of the exercises and a more straightforward plan to follow, so that’s what I’ve been doing.
The other thing I did to prepare was watch videos of people doing the exercises and using weights equipment. You’ll find tons of these on YouTube and Instagram.
There are seven, progressively more difficult, phases to this plan. The idea is to complete them over around six months. In phase 1, which I’ve been doing, each routine is composed of 5 exercises. I added in a 15 minute treadmill run to warm up, and some stretches to finish. All in all it takes maybe 40 minutes to an hour.
How much exercise?
I’ve been doing this threeish times a week, plus a Body Combat class on Saturday mornings and the occasional abs class for funsies. Yes I know this is a lot, but I’m turning 50 quite soon and needs must. Plus I have anxiety. Exercise helps with that, and more exercise helps more. So that’s my excuse. You don’t have to do that much if you don’t want to.
The workouts start with two sets of 15 repetitions, and as the weeks progress, the number shifts to 12, 10 and then for the last couple of weeks you’re doing 3 sets of 8. The idea here is that as the number of reps decreases, the weight you’re lifting should increase.
Don’t fear the squat rack
The one big message that I got from both books is that as women, we shouldn’t be afraid of heavier weights. They won’t kill you or bulk you up too much. Don’t be afraid to lift up a bigger weight and put a bit of heft into it.
Also, don’t be intimidated by the weights section in your gym. The weights area has a reputation for being an intimidating space for women, mainly due to the presence of so many large, grunting men.
My experience is – it’s rare that I’m the only woman in the weights area, but it’s generally at least 90% men. But, like me they’re just getting on with their workout. I doubt any of them mean to be intimidating, even the ones who’re grunting.
It’s up to you how much of a shit you choose to give about that sort of thing. Personally, I choose to give zero shits. I never feel intimidated at all. I suspect that this has a lot to do with being over 40, which is very much the Zero Fucks Given zone for women. Middle aged women are often rendered invisible by society, but I think invisibility is a superpower.
No gym, no problem
So if you do feel a bit scared of the weights area of the gym, just channel your inner midult and you’ll be fine. One thing that helped was having watched all those YouTube videos, I knew what to expect from the equipment and felt confident in handling it.
And if you don’t have access to a gym, it’s still perfectly possible to do a weights workout at home. If you’re really pushed for time and space then a couple of kettlebells are a good investment. There’s so much you can do with such a small piece of equipment.
So far I have been doing the routines for around 10 weeks and have made quite a bit of progress in terms of upping the weights. I find it fun and interesting, and that really makes a difference when it comes to being motivated to exercise. We can all find time for the things we think are fun.
As far as results go, I’m definitely stronger than I was when I started. My position as the go-to person to get a stubborn lid off a jar is unchallenged. I was never able to do full press ups before (dodgy wrist) and now I can do a grand total of six. Don’t laugh, that’s a big achievement for me. I am much better at grunting now, and hopefully my brain has stopped shrinking. Who knows where that will lead?