Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Weight Lifting FAQ; Part One: Starting out!

I've noticed a lot of other bloggers mentioning incorporating weight lifting into their routines as part of the new year and we all know that January is the busiest gym month, so why not start a series of FAQs about lifting?
(Make sure you are healthy enough to exercise before beginning any sort of routine. I am a certified trainer, but your doctor knows best.)

What is the best routine for losing fat?
In order to lose fat your nutrition and calories in vs. calories out must be on point.  You can do all the routines in the world and not lose an ounce if you're not eating correctly and creating a deficit.  Although, lifting heavy is a great way to burn calories because it keeps your metabolism elevated after your done working out. (This is referred to as "after-burn". By lifting you are damaging muscle fibers and your body must use more energy throughout the day in order to repair them and make them stronger).

I want to lift, but I don't want to look like a bodybuilder, should I still lift?
In order to look like that you must truly dedicate your life to bodybuilding.  It takes a lot of hard work, persistance and time to develop a figure like that, especially if you are a woman (we do not have enough testosterone to "get big"). If you are just an average lifter who wants to incorporate weights into your exercise routine this is not something you have to worry about.  So, yes, lift! It is amazingly beneficial to your overall health.

How much weight should I use for each exercise?
In order to experience all of the benefits of weight training and change your physique you have to stress your muscles with more resistance than they are used to.  Start with a lighter weight and keep working your way up to a weight that you can perform (with proper form!) for the number of reps your routine calls for and you feel like you can't push out another rep. It is very important that you have proper form.  If you can't perform your set with good form, stop, and drop the weight.  Remember that weight is relevant...what's heavy for Joe Biceps over there might not be heavy to you, vice versa, so lift enough to challenge yourself..forget everyone else.

How can I tone such-and-such body part?
"Toning" is usually viewed as an evil word in the weight lifting community, so be careful when ya use it ;).  You simply can not "tone" muscle, you either gain 'em or lose 'em.  Tone/sculpt/firm are all words used to make muscle gains sound less threatening to those who have pink dumbbell syndrome and are concerned with "bulking up." You can not spot train or "tone" a particular body part, you must build muscle and lose overall body fat in order to reveal the muscles underneath!

How do I choose a routine?
If you are a beginner you're going to want to do a full-body routine 3x a week on non-consecutive days (ex. Monday, Wednesday, Friday).  It is important to work all of your major muscles in order to prevent imbalance.  Your routine should work your chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, quads and hamstrings.
  • Chest- bench press, chest press with dumbbells, push-ups.
  • Back- lat pull-downs, one-armed dumbbell rows, barbell rows, pull-ups.
  • Shoulders- overhead shoulder press, lateral raise, front raise.
  • Biceps- bicep curls, hammer curls, concentration curls.
  • Triceps- dips, tricep extensions, kickbacks.
  • Quads- squats, lunges, leg presses.
  • Hamstrings- deadlifts, lunges.
These are just examples of base exercises, there are tons of variations of these exercises, but these are the simplest and most straight forward.  You'll want to choose atleast one exercise per muscle group and perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps of each exercise with atleast 1 minute rest inbetween.  Your routine should take you no more than an hour to complete.

The more I train, the more I gain, right?
Wrong! More time in the gym does not mean more muscles. Get in the gym, do what you gotta do, do it well and get out! Your rest days are just as important as your workout days, your muscles need adequate time to recover (you're stressing and tearing them, remember?).  This is also why you should not train on consecutive days.  Your body builds muscles when you are resting, not training and not getting enough rest will lead to overtraining and will make it nearly impossible for you to make any gains.  You are also putting tremendous stress on your nervous system, so make sure you are getting enough sleep as well!

Will I keel over if I don't have a protein shake after my training session?
No, there is no secret muscle building or weight gaining ingredient in protein shakes or anything in them that makes them superior to real food.  However, they do offer a very convenient way for you to get enough protein quickly after your workout. This is very crucial to helping your body replenish itself and begin rebuilding your muscles after you workout. Ideally you want to consume something protein-rich within 30 minutes of weight training.  If you go home to a nice slab of chicken waiting for you as your protein source that's great, if you don't have time for that..a protein shake is perfect!
Conclusion: there is nothing special about protein shakes and you will not miss out on strength gains if you do not consume them, as long as you are getting enough protein otherwise and have another protein source after training. Shakes are a mere convenience to add more protein to your diet since sometimes it is difficult to get adequate protein through food alone.

What about cardio?
The amount of cardio you do is up to you and your goals.  This is a highly debatable question that I really don't want to get into, but if you do decide to do cardio while you are trying to make muscle gains make sure you are eating enough calories so that you don't create a deficit!! Cardio is great for your health, but if you want to change your overall physique you should be focusing on lifting. High intensity interval training and plymometrics are great forms of cardio because they are both anaerobic activities.
If you can't do cardio on non-weight days either do it after lifting (so that you are able to devote more energy for lifting) or incorporate a few plyometric moves in between weight sets.
If you are wondering, I do one day of light cardio (incline walking and plyos) per week and four days of split bodypart lifting.

Always remember, GO HARD! I promise you that you are stronger and more capable than you think you are! "If you don't get nervous before you train, you don't train hard enough." ;)

Stay tuned for more FAQs! And please don't hesitate asking me any questions!! xoxo


  1. Strong is the new skinny!

    Love this post and I love HIIT for my cardio when I do cardio ; )

    Great post girl!

  2. Great tips!! I've actually never seen a natural "big or bulky" women before unless they've gotten super lean (like Pauline Nordin) or steriod users, so I'm not why so many girls are afraid!

  3. Great post...I LOLed when I saw pink dumbbell syndrome haha...And I love Ava Cowan!

    I agree with you that its so hard to get "bulky"...those women work out 3-4 hours a day!

  4. I geek out to weight lifting posts such as this one! I found a link to your blog on April's page... I LOVE it! Definitely going to keep reading your blog :)

  5. Love your blog! But I don't get nervous before training, I get excited. I can't push myself as hard as I would like to with weights, and that is because I seem to be very susceptible to injury!
    6+ injuries in 2 months, hamstrings strain, tricep tendinitis, shoulder tear, etc. Its annoying.
    Right now I'm really soft so I'm trying to lower my body fat by HIIT, and decreasing carbs. I lift 6 days a week, and eat 100+protein,60+ carbs,60g fat, but caloric intake doesn't go above 1200. People think this is too low, but if I go above I then can't fit in my clothes and get cellulite. I do not have a job and sit at home all day, if I had a job I would drastically increase my caloric intake. Either people don't understand that or I'm gravely mistaken.

  6. Thanks for the advice! I'm exactly 5 feet and after all my years of crash diets my metabolism isn't what it used to be. 2.5 months ago when I became serious about putting on muscle I ate a lot. 1500-1700 was the norm. I increased slowly. It wasn't until about a month after that my cellulite reappeared, and I looked soft, jiggly and disgusting. I then decreased down to 1200 and I'm trying to lose some but its very very slow in coming off. I was going to try and get past my body fat being higher, but I can't afford to buy new clothes! And right now, since I'm not happy with my body, and can't fit in my clothes I feel horrible! Should I try going up to 1800 slowly? What do you recommend? How do you keep your intake so high? I'm having a hard time as it is keeping it up to 1200. Since I eat whole foods I find it difficult unless I consume a ton of carbs and fat. Thanks!

  7. I wanted to ask you something else. Do you like/love you job? I have wanted to be a personal trainer for a long time, but feel that I don't have the personality for it. I'm shy, but I'm currently working on improving my mental health and plan on becoming an entire different person so maybe after my mental work is done I will be ready for it. I also don't think I could remember all that information in the text book to pass my tests!