The gym can be an intimidating place, especially for females like me. I remember walking into the newly constructed gym on campus my senior year of college and having no earthly idea how to use any of the machines. And the free weight room? Forget it. It seemed like that was for boys only. Even until recently, I was afraid that if I lifted weights I would get “big” or “bulky” and develop a masculine physique. Not only is women “bulking” to a manly size a myth for most women (you have to take a significant amounts of supplements and have weightlifting be your JOB in order for that to happen), it’s a terrible reason not to venture off the stationary bike and into the free weight area.
I started doing weight training for physical therapy after knee surgery two years ago and I’ve never been able to stop (it helps that my husband lifts weights). There are so many reasons why I love hitting the weight area, but I thought I’d share a few.
1. I hate being sick.
With the exception of the Gastrointestinal Virus Honeymoon Meltdown of 2016 (thank you, Mexico), I have been sick maybe one day in the last two years. For some of you with strong constitutions that may not sound like much, but for me that is a HUGE deal. I have had a very sickly constitution my whole life and usually get some kind of cold/flu/sinus infection at least twice per winter and twice per fall.
Since working out regularly? Nothing, and science backs me up.
Studies have shown that regular moderate exercise (not just weightlifting), can give your immune system a huge boost. Since your bones, lungs, liver and lymph nodes are all working together to keep you from getting sick, regular exercise (real exercise, 45 minutes a day, five days a week) helps activate both your lungs and your liver to do their jobs of flushing the bad guys out of your system, not to mention strengthening your bones. All in all, if you’re sick of constant trips to the Urgent Care or your primary care doc because you just can’t seem to get healthy, you might want to consider some regular exercise.
(Note! Studies have also shown the regular extremely strenuous exercise — I’m looking at you marathon runners — can have a negative effect on your immune system)
2. I want strong bones.
Given my strong family history of osteoporosis, I’m at a high risk of developing this disease when I age if I don’t take certain measures now while I’m young and healthy (AND when I’m older).
When I was a little girl, Chiquita Banana had these commercials of all these old people running and swimming and playing tennis, and then eating a banana as a reward. That had a profound impact on me. I remember thinking, “THAT’s what I want to be like when I’m old. Super strong and healthy.”
Thankfully, weight bearing exercises (especially resistance training) have been shown to help keep your bones strong and healthy and help prevent bone density loss. This can be achieved even by walking, but the only bones bearing any weight are your legs. I want my WHOLE body to have strong bones, so I lift!
(Note! I also get plenty of plant based calcium from kale and other greens and take regular supplements of vitamin D. Both are essential for healthy bones!)
3. I deal with anxiety.
I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb anxious. I have dealt with it one way or another my entire life (ask my friends in high school about me puking on dates from nerves, or ask my sister about the constant night terrors I had as a little girl, also unfortunately involving vomit). My mom would paint me pretty pictures with helpful Bible verses on them for me to meditate on to keep me from coming to pieces (a very helpful practice at the time, even more effective now, no lie. Thanks Mom.).
So, it’s a thing for me. And lifting really, really helps.
“Working with weights — anaerobic exercise — stresses and tears muscles, which increases endorphin production based on the intensity and duration of exercise.” (LiveStrong) Endorphins, if you don’t know, help make your brain feel happy and mellow. Exercise in general, but especially weight training involving multiple joints, is great for reducing stress and helping to alleviate anxiety.
For me, the mental exercise involved in focusing my mind on how I’m breathing, how are my muscles properly contracting, is my knee ok, counting my reps, etc, all help in focusing my mind on something other than what I may have been fretting about before and I leave the gym feeling great.
4. I need to keep my metabolism up.
One of the keys to a healthy weight is having a healthy metabolism, and for a mesomorph like me, that can take some work. (I’ll do a separate post on metabolism types and how to maintain a healthy metabolism in case you’re curious) Before I started weight training, losing weight was really difficult because my metabolism was so slow. I weighed 30 lbs more than I did in college (which was 15 lbs more than high school) and my weight seemed to yo-yo to no end. But real weight loss seemed impossible even though I was juicing and running regularly (before my knee injury).
But within weeks of going to physical therapy after my knee surgery, I found that weight was floating off of me. This was because I was weight training my legs.
“Working bigger muscles in multi-joint exercises like squats, deadlifts or lunges will require more ‘work’ from the heart and brain and higher levels of metabolism compared to exercising smaller muscle groups,” says Jon-Erik Kawamoto, CSCS, a personal trainer in Canada. Your legs do a lot of work during the day just to keep you standing upright, so training your legs with weights wakes them up a good deal and kicks your body’s ability to burn fat into high gear.
If you want to lose weight, you have to move weight. And never skip leg day.
(Note! All total I lost almost 35 lbs, and then gained 10 because honeymoon food)
5. I like feeling strong
I cannot do a pull up, nor have I ever done one ever. I cannot do a *real* pushup. I see women in the gym in much worse shape than I am moving way more weight than I can. When I started lifting, I was building muscles from nothing. I had NO upper body strength, and no real visible muscles to speak of. Just squish. When I started training with my now-husband-then-boyfriend I could barely move any weight with my arms, I was so weak.
I might not be able to move much weight compared to other people (I literally have to put all my weight on the paper cutter at work in order to move it), but I sure can compared to myself from the past. There are some exercises that I have tripled and quadrupled the amount of weight I can move (not hard when you start from scratch).
I love how that feels. There’s a boost to my confidence not just in how I perceive my looks, but in the fact that I am actually physically stronger. That is empowerment.