Lift Weights Faster. But How?

If you do a lot of reading about strength training, or are familiar with the female strength and conditioning world, you’ve probably heard Jen Sinkler‘s famous line. When asked how she works out, her reply was “I lift weights”. Well what about cardio? “I lift weights faster”.

Steph Deadlift

Weight room and cardio combined? Sign me up. 

“Lift weights faster” has become sort of a creed in the fitness world, and for good reason. It’s not always necessary to spend long, drawn out sessions on the treadmill or elliptical in order to get your cardio in. It’s just as easy to get cardio in by simply “lifting weights faster”, if that’s more your speed (pardon the pun). If you enjoy your time on the treadmill as a way to de-stress, that’s one thing. But if you’re hating every second of it, and doing it just because you think you need to, well, you’re in luck.

But when many people hear this, they don’t quite understand what this  means. Do you literally just lift your weights at lightning speed? Won’t that lead to bad form and maybe injuries? And won’t you look just a little bit ridiculous?

So today, we’re going to get into a few of the ways in which I typically “lift weights faster”. These are great ways to sneak workouts in when I don’t have a ton of time, but you can also stretch them out and get in a nice long, full workout as well.

When I’m doing one of these types of workouts, weights are not at or near my max. I keep the weights to a level where they are challenging for the sets that I will be doing, but remember that you’re generally doing more reps, and that these are not true strength building days.

Ladder Sets

I use ladder sets when I am really strapped for time and have a couple of exercises that I can string together for full body workout in just a few minutes. I’ll also use a ladder set as a finisher at the end of a strength day, doing just one round for speed. For a ladder set, you will start with a higher number of reps — let’s go with 10, for this example. Perform 10 reps of exercise A, 10 reps of exercise B, then 8 of each, then 6 of each, all the way down to 2. After you reach 2 reps of each exercise that you have chosen, start again with 2 and build your way back up to 10.

The beauty of ladder sets is that you have to so much freedom to get creative. For heavier exercises, I would stick with the 10-2 rep scheme. But for more cardio based exercises, such as body weight jump squats, or KB swings, you could go into a larger rep range, doing 20, then 15, 10, and 5 reps before building back up.

Some suggested pairings for ladder sets, although the possibilities are endless:

– Ring assisted pistol squats with ring inverted rows

– Jump squats with skater jumps

-Kettlebell swings

-Burpees

-Bulgarian split squats with elevated push ups.

Super Set Everything

To lift your weights faster, you can also just super set everything, cutting way down on the rest and recovery time in between sets. Remember, this is not done at max weight loads, since you’ll risk injury without the proper recovery between sets/exercises. To superset simply means to do two separate exercises back to back, generally with opposing muscle groups, without resting in between. Say you have 8 exercises that you plan on doing in your lift. You can superset these into 4 sets of exercises, alternating between each set of 2 with little to no rest, instead of resting between each set of each of your 8 exercises. Some common lifts that I superset are:

-Barbell Squat with overhead press

-RDL (romanian deadlift) with bent over dumbbell row

-Barbell reverse lunge with push up

Active Recovery Between Sets

This will vary slightly from supersets, although you’re still completing sets of two separate exercises back to back. However, the difference here is that the “in between” exercise is more of an active recovery than an actual lift. You’ll be keeping your body moving and heart rate up, but this secondary exercise will be more about recovery and mobility than building strength. This is done in the same manner as super sets, in which you complete the active recovery exercise between lift sets instead of resting. Some common active recovery exercises that I use between lifts are:

-Spiderman Lunges

-Medicine ball lunge/twist

-Downdog/Push-up/Up-dog repetitions

-Body weight deep side lunges

You can also check out this post for some additional hip mobility exercises that you could use here as well.

Barbell Complexes

Barbell complexes are probably one of the most common ways to “lift weights faster” in the strength training world. All it takes is a barbell loaded up with relatively light weight, and a string of movements that you’ll do with little to no rest. I usually try to string together about 5 different movements, and will go for 4-5 rounds of a complex. These can be extremely taxing, so go lighter on the weights than you think you might need to — maybe even just the barbell for the first time you try one of these. Especially if you’re stringing together both upper and lower body  movements, you’ll need that weight to be fairly light to get through all of the reps with little to no rest.

A barbell complex will get your heart pumping and breath elevated like no other, so get ready to work!! Below is an example that I’ve posted previously, but as with the other ideas here, there are endless combinations you can do for an effective workout. Just remember to rest thoroughly between each complex, and work with a weight that allows you to maintain proper form for every exercise. If you feel yourself fatiguing to the point where form is compromised, stop and rest in the middle of a complex, and/or lessen your weight/reps. 

barbell_complex1

Readers: In what form do you prefer your cardio? Weight room or traditional? 

Advertisements

Workout Wednesday: Rethink Your RDL

My oh my, it’s been a little while since a Workout Wednesday post appeared here on I Train Therefore I Eat!

(Side note, I just realized that I could call this ITTIE… and while it’s kind of cute, it kind of reminds me of another word that I’d rather not have my blog called. So… yeah.)

Get ready, because we’ve got this one and then another one all lined up for next week already. I know, I know: Steph planning ahead? What is this about? Turning over a new leaf my friends.

At least momentarily.

Anyway, today I have a new lift for you. I’m certainly not saying that I made it up, but I haven’t seen/done it before so it’s new to me! I popped this into my workout a couple of weeks ago on a whim, when I wanted a little bit of extra glute/posterior chain work but my SI joints were a little too angry for heavy RDLs, deadlifts, good mornings, or any of the usual posterior chain lifts.

And for some reason, I hate doing SL RDLs with dumbbells. There is no explanation for this, I just would much rather do them holding on to a barbell than the DBs, so this was a perfect substitute for me while keeping them relatively light.

Introducing the Cable Single Leg RDL (with optional row). 

This is an accessory lift to your lower body or posterior chain days, primarily targeting the glutes and hamstrings, and also challenging components of your adductors/abductors and hip stabilizers.

The Setup

Stand facing the cable machine with the rope handle attachment set down low. Grasp the ropes with your palms facing each other. Step back so that you’re in a hip hinge position with your arms extended out in front of you, weight stack still resting so that there is no external load yet.

The Action

Brace your core, ensure your back is nice and flat, and raise one leg straight behind you. Hinge up to top, bringing top leg down towards ground leg, as in a traditional RDL. At top, add in optional horizontal row, bending elbows and bringing hands to sides, palms still facing in. Reverse the motion. Complete all reps one one side before switching to the opposite side.

Keeping those SI joints happy at 29 weeks pregnant is a bit of a challenge! 

Special Notes

It is extremely important in this lift to be conscious of your back position throughout the movement. Because the weight stack will be pulling your center of gravity further out in front of you than you would normally have with an RDL, it is not recommended to go extremely heavy with these. Form is key to keeping this a healthy movement, and it’s a great lift to help groove your hip hinge movement pattern, particularly with single leg variations.

As mentioned above, this is simply another accessory lift for your lower body. This is not better or worse than dumbbell RDLs, but rather provides your body with a slightly different line of pull, thus challenging the muscles in a slightly different way. You could certainly do this as a traditional RDL as well, which would essentially be the reverse of a glute pull through (another of my favorites).

To program these, as I mentioned above I would keep them relatively light, especially if it’s a new movement for you. I would recommend adding these in to one or two lift days per week, starting with an 8-12 rep range. Increase weight as tolerated, and utilize them in addition to other accessory lower body lifts.

Readers: Give it a try and let me know how you like it! I’ve done these a few times now, and they’re pretty quickly turning into one of my favorite posterior chain accessory lifts, so hopefully you feel the same! Has anyone done this variation of an RDL before? 

 

 

3 Exercises I Won’t Program For Online Clients

While today is not exactly a Workout Wednesday post, it is something important that I think is worth going over.

These days, there are tons of fitness professionals offering online training (myself included!), or distance coaching programs. These can be excellent if you can’t afford personal training, or if you want to work with someone who is outside of your geographical area. The internet has allowed us to be able to reach clients just about anywhere, no longer being limited to those who live in our general vicinity.

But with this, comes some pretty serious responsibility. If you are doing a program that has been created by someone and has been sent to you without an in-person assessment (as is the case with most online programs), there are certain things to know ahead of time in order to keep yourself safe.

How should you properly warm up? How do you know when to back off or take a rest day? How do you know when to push yourself harder? But most importantly — how do you know that you’re doing the exercises correctly?

Some coaches will send you a program and you’re on your own. Some coaches will send you descriptions and/or videos of exercises so that you can make sure your form is correct. And some will even go so far as to schedule video/skype sessions to monitor your form on specific movements, noting ways in which you can improve to make your workout safer and more effective. I offer the last two of these options (both PDF descriptions and skype check-ins, as either of these can be beneficial depending on the client). Click [HERE] for more info.

When it comes to exercise form, however, there are some lifts, particularly if you are involved in a heavy lifting type of program, that you should really have checked out in person by a qualified professional before attempting them on your own. Certain lifts can be extremely technical, and without proper form and real-time cues can lead to injury and/or inefficient training. And while obviously none of us want to get hurt, inefficiency in training is also a huge no-no. Why waste time on a program if you’re not going to get the results you want to see?

While most lifts and exercises can be “taught” via descriptions, videos, and video chat sessions, there are a few that I strongly believe should be taught in person. Does this mean you have to spend hundreds of dollars training with someone just to learn a lift? Not necessarily. Many gyms offer introductory PT sessions, and most personal trainers can be hired on an hourly basis. Find someone who is local and qualified, and have them help you with these crucial lifts before beginning a program on your own. Your body will thank you later!

Exercises that should be done WITH a trainer:

Deadlift

The deadlift is a highly technical lift that utilizes just about your entire body. From head to heels, there are important movement and stabilization cues that a trainer can give to you in real time that you just can’t get through video or descriptions. When this lift moves into the heavy weight ranges, improper form can be dangerous (although proper form makes this one of the most beneficial lifts you can do, period).

Without proper cues and corrections, an improper deadlift can lead to muscle strains (best case) or spinal injury (worst case). I’m not saying this to scare you, but I am saying this to let you know that if you have a trainer who has prescribed you traditional or sumo deadlifts and you have never performed them before, it’s essential to work with someone in person before performing this lift with any significant weight. Heck, even light weight deadlifts can pose a problem with horrific form.

Steph Deadlift

The deadlift incorporates different phases and essential movements, all of which are important to master before ever weighting the barbell (or picking up the barbell at all). Find someone who can train you on proper hip hinging, grip, core stabilization and lock out mechanics, and you’ll be good to go.

The exception to this would be dumbbell or lighter weight Romanian Dead Lifts or Trap Bar Deadlifts. Both of these can be performed safely with good instruction, but I would still recommend a video session with your trainer to ensure that your hip hinge is sufficient to be performing these types of lifts.

Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell swings, just like deadlifts, are extremely technical in terms of proper form. From your set up before even touching the KB, to the way in which the KB is placed on the ground at the end of a set (and every important aspect in between), there is a lot of room for error here. The swing is something that should be learned incrementally, with a trained professional before attempting it on your own. With the combination of the all-important hip hinge, plus the highly dynamic momentum of the movement, there is too much potential for injury if done incorrectly. Not only is this a technical lift, but it is also pretty advanced.

KBswing

If you are someone who has little experience with weight lifting and proper movement patterns, I would suggest staying away from this one until you A)have gained a little bit more experience in the weight room building your base strength movements and B)have perfected the hip hinge with a qualified professional.

Olympic Lifting – Clean/Snatch/Clean and Jerk

Olympic lifts are far and away some of the most technical lifts that you can do or be asked to do. Yes, your neighbor Susie does these all the time at Crossfit (at insanely high reps, usually with questionable form), and she’s never lifted before joining this gym! But that doesn’t that you should be doing them too. I am a firm believer in mastering the major lifting motions (push and pull for both upper body and lower body movements) as well as proper core bracing before attempting anything as advanced as a clean and jerk. Hoisting a heavy barbell over your head without first properly addressing strength and mobility concerns is just asking for disaster — whether that means injury or sheer embarrassment in the gym. Do yourself a favor, and stay away from these unless you have considerable time to work with a coach one on one. And this shouldn’t be just any coach — you should see someone who is experienced and trained in olympic lifting. Otherwise, it’s not much better than doing it on your own, to be honest.

These are lifts that I won’t program for my own clients if I’m not seeing them in person (and I don’t program olympic lifts in general). Please be wary of trainers who will throw highly advanced exercises at you without any sort of movement assessment or in-person session ahead of time. If something feels too advanced for you, check in with your trainer before charging ahead. Keep yourself safe, and worry about impressing others later. You won’t be impressing anyone when you’re sidelined from injury, so always remember: form comes first! 

Note: If you’re interested in in-person (Boston area only) personal training or online/distance coaching, please check out my page at Rondeau Heath and Wellness. I have several packages/offerings to fit any level and/or budget. Happy training! 

Fitness Myth Busting Part II: Long and Lean Muscles

About a week ago I posted Part I of this series, talking about the myth behind lactic acid. If you didn’t check it out then, go now! And then come back here of course.

Today we’re tackling another myth, and it’s one that seriously blows my mind every time I hear it. It’s something that you hear come from the mouths of many people in the fitness world, and I’ve never understood why.

Check out any women’s magazine, a million articles online about how to build/maintain the “perfect” physique, and in the press of many, many celebrity trainers and you’ll see 3 words that make me cringe like no other:

Long, Lean Muscles.

What does that even mean? If you’ve seen that before and wondered weather you too could turn your short, stumpy, unattractive* muscles into long, lean and lovely ones…

….well…

I hate to break it to you, but it ain’t gonna happen. And you’re in the right place to set that thinking go, let it be free to fly away and never come back again.

If you have long a long, lean muscular frame, then congrats! You win at life.** But if you’re one of us who wasn’t born that way, I can tell you with 100% certainty that you’ll never, ever reach that goal.

No, I’m not here to trample all over your dreams like a mad woman, I’m just telling you the simple truth. Muscle length comes down to one thing: genetics, and if you don’t have it, you can’t create it with any workout plan. No matter how flashy the marketing or how charismatic the spokesperson, you cannot create long, lean muscles. It’s impossible.

Not with yoga, not with barre, not with pilates or yogalates or whatever you choose to do.. and certainly not with 2 lb pink dumbbells.

pilates

#nope 

Let’s break it down to the science for a second.

Your muscles are attached to bones through tendons at each end. Some muscles have just one tendon at each end (origin and insertion), and others have multiple attachment points, such as your bicep which splits into a long head and short head, which attach within the same vicinity of your shoulder, but separate from each other to provide a more complex movement pattern for that particular muscle.

Each and every muscle has a muscle belly (the main part of the muscle), the musculotendinous junction (where the muscle fuses with tendon) and the tendon which then inserts into bone. These attachments form levers in your body, which is the reason we can move, jump, dance, wiggle, and any other type of movement your body desires. Without these insertions, our muscles would have no way to move our bones, thus, we would be left lying around like a bag of rocks.

Now let’s think about what people are implying by talking about forming “longer, leaner muscles”. They are, in essence, implying that through training, you can detach the tendon from one part of your bone, and re-attach it somewhere farther away. This is the only way you could form longer muscles (and I’m not sure where the leaner portion comes into this equation).

piyo lies

“The PiYo workout can in no way make your muscles longer, but through proper nutrition and exercise you could potentially become leaner!” There, fixed that for ya. 

Sound ridiculous? Of course it does! Because it’s pure nonsense. Without changing the positioning of your muscles and tendons, it’s impossible to make them longer than they already are. I hate to break it to you, but the length of your quad muscle is determined by the length of your femur, not the way you train it. Want longer thigh muscles? Get new parents. Before you were even born, your DNA determined how long your bones would be, thus how long your muscles would be. There is no way to change this through training, no matter how much Tracie Anderson tries to get you to believe otherwise.

But what about stretching? Doesn’t that make my muscles longer?

Nope, sorry. We’re not changing muscle length here. We can change elasticity to some extent through manual therapy, proper warm ups, and possibly stretching, but these things will not alter the physiological length of your muscles. You can get all of the soft tissue work in the world, stretch for 30 minutes every morning, and your muscle will still originate and insert on exactly the same points of your bones, and unless you suffer a tendon rupture (trust me, this is NOT something you want to happen!), these attachment points will never change. You will never, ever create a longer, leaner physique.

Let me say that again: Never, ever, ever will you create longer muscles through training.

If you look at your legs in the mirror and see some short, stumpy muscles, I hate to break it to you but that won’t change. Embrace the shape that you have developed, and embrace the shape that you can someday reach through training. But the present you needs to understand the realistic boundaries of the future you. If you’re not Giselle and have legs for days, you’re never going to have legs for days. But so what? Giselle is Giselle and you are you. And unless your life’s dream is to join the Radio City Rockettes, those legs don’t mean a thing. Seriously!

But what about becoming leaner? I can do that, right?

Of course! Through the process of decreasing body fat, which will come from a combination of proper training and proper nutrition (mostly nutrition here), you can absolutely become leaner. The problem here is when this is combined with “longer” in the original phrase, and then it becomes unrealistic. Training (and eating) for leanness is a commitment and a challenge, but it has nothing to do with the length of your muscles. In addition, training with certain weight or rep schemes to make your muscles appear leaner, as some fitness pros would like you to believe, is also not possible. You can become leaner through one means, and that is decreasing body fat. You can not change the shape of your muscles to make them appear leaner, and you can not train in certain movement patterns to alter their shape or form. 

Muscles are fairly unique from person to person, yes, but they are all built up of the same building blocks. We can not mold them into new shapes, we can only help them to become stronger, larger, smaller, or more defined, depending on your training and nutrition.

Next time a trainer or fitness personality tells you that they can help you change the shape and look of your muscles, stop and ask yourself if what they are proposing sounds like it is even remotely based in reality. And then ask yourself why you should be bothering with someone who wants to change who you are genetically, to change what it is that makes you really you? And then, last but not least, run away. Run far far away (whether that’s through internet clicks or through your gym door), and find someone who will train you for you. Someone who will train your strengths and help you reach your goals, not try to push some magical fairy dust on you just for a few bucks. You can do better, your body can do better.

Embrace your body for what it is, and train to reach your best potential every day. Forget the length of your muscles, and focus on the strength, the power, the ability to help you perform every day tasks with ease. That is what trainers should be pushing on you, because that, my friends, is real life. 

*that’s what they want you to believe. Trust me, even if your muscles are short and stumpy, they are beautiful because they are yours! 

**Also what they want you to believe. However, lovely as they are, it’s just the luck of the draw, folks. No winning here! 

Fitness Myth Busting Part 1: Lactic Acid

The fitness world is full of myths, legends, and downright BS. Sometimes I think it’s harder for people to sift through the nonsense on the internet than it is for them to complete their first workout.

Should I lift weights? Should I do cardio? Should I NEVER do steady state cardio? Will I get bulky? Higher reps, lower reps, heavy, light…wait, WHAT?

There are a thousand questions you can ask about fitness and exercise, and odds are you’ll get a different answer for each of them depending on who you ask. While there are some things out there that are just a matter of differing opinions, there are others that are continuously shared in the fitness world, despite heaps of evidence and science disproving (or at least strongly questioning) their validity.

I was going to take today to talk about 3 of the top three fitness myths out there, and why you need to stop believing in them, stat. However, once I got started on the first one, I realized it was a post in itself. The other two in this series will be coming soon, but for now, myth #1!

The Lactic Acid Myth

We’ve all heard it: if you work out at a high intensity, lactic acid will build up in your muscles. And if you don’t do something to “get it out” at the end of your workout, it will stay there and cause soreness later on. I’ve always pictured this like Ghostbusters slime that seeps into your muscle belly and just sits there for all of eternity.

So, what’s the truth here? Well, get ready for the shock of your life:

Lactic acid doesn’t “build up” in muscles. In fact, lactic acid basically doesn’t exist.

*Mic drop*

whatdidshesay

So, that thing you’ve been hearing about since your days as a middle school track star is nonexistent? Than why oh why does everyone keep talking about it? That’s honestly a good question. So here’s the breakdown:

When you exercise, your body uses different substrates to create energy for your muscles to continue to contract (so that you don’t end up a heap of Ghostbusters Slime on the floor).Energy for your muscles comes first from carbohydrates and fats, and then in more dire times, from protein. The first and easiest source of energy for your working muscles are carbohydrates, which can be turned into energy rather quickly. However, the one downfall to this is that your body needs plenty of oxygen to convert glucose into energy, and when we do high intensity exercise — think hill sprints, sled pushes, heavy KB swings, sets of dreaded burpees– the body lacks enough oxygen to continue this energy making process.

So instead of just shutting down, since our bodies are wild and crazy machines that power through some of the most amazing circumstances, lactate is formed.  Essentially (without going into too much detail and losing all of you), during normal aerobic energy production, glucose is broken down to form pyruvate, which is then converted into energy through a series of steps that utilize oxygen. When oxygen isn’t available, however, pyruvate is converted into lactate. Lactate allows the glycogen breakdown and energy production to continue, even when you’re sucking wind and have very little oxygen on demand for your cells.

crazy-dog

If all of that science talk makes you feel like this, I apologize. It’s almost over! 

Lactate, commonly called “Lactic Acid” is then utilized during those periods of low oxygen. And I’m talking just a few minutes at a time here, not days upon days of some slime sitting inside of your muscles making you sore.

But, here’s the catch that most people don’t realize: once that period of low oxygen is over and the body recovers from that last sprint, sled push or set of burpees, lactate is shuttled out of cells, converted back into pyruvate and the oxygen utilizing process of energy production continues. Thus, lactate is almost immediately cleared from your muscles after a tough workout session; it is only there for the short time that your muscles absolutely need it for energy production. Once it’s need has passed (that is, once your high intensity bout has finished), the body gets rid of it rather quickly and efficiently. Essentially, lactate is an important form of fuel for your muscles, not the enemy. Converting that built up lactate into pyruvate allows your muscles to keep contracting (and your exercise session to continue).

So, lactic acid doesn’t build up in my muscles?

Well, yes and no. During those times of high intensity exercise — I’m talking short bouts of about 1-3 minutes here, lactate does build up in your muscle tissue. And it can build up to quite high levels –but your body will use this quite efficiency as fuel. 

After that high intensity bout though, that lactate does not just hang around. It does not become comfortable, kick it’s shoes off, and crash on your bicep’s couch for a few days. It is just about immediately converted back into a usable form for your muscles, so that you don’t end up in a sweaty heap on the floor.

This cycle can happen over and over again, depending on your fitness level and “lactate threshold”, which is why we are able to do things like HIIT incline hill sprints, and still have legs to walk on afterward. The recovery period is key when training into your lactate zone, and is what allows you to do rep after rep of those torturous hill sprints.

So Why did You Say Lactic acid doesn’t exist?

Because it’s a misnomer, and one that people overuse in the fitness world. Yes, lactate is very important when training at high intensities for short bouts; it allows us to take our training to the next level. However, that’s all it is. Lactic acid is not a byproduct of lactate that hangs around and creates soreness, and in the fitness works, it’s simply a different name for lactate. That’s it. 

Now, at times of high intensity exercise, your body produces lactate, while at the same time producing hydrogen ions (acid). When people refer to lactic acid, they are referring to this acid formation, however that assumption is incorrect. This acid does not stay with lactate, and therefore is not “lactic acid”. There is lactate (fuel for your working muscles) and acid — these are two seperate entities. That acid, along with other metabolites in your blood, contribute to the burning sensation during exercise. But again, this is not lactate or “lactic acid”. 

Now, all of this being said, lactate is very important to training, especially if you are trying to improve performance, or perform at higher intensities for a longer period of time, as in cycling or running road races. Or heck, just squeezing out a couple more hill sprint reps. But training to improve your lactate threshold is a completely different post for a different time (and one that you can find a thousand articles about on the interwebs with a quick search).

The bottom line for this post is that I hope you understand one thing: lactic acid does not build up in your muscles long term and it is not what causes that crippling delayed onset muscle soreness after a tough gym session. And next time someone tells you otherwise, hopefully you’ll be prepared to let them know that any lactate that did form during your workout has cleared rather quickly on its own, thank you very much.

If you want to really sound like a smarty pants, you can even throw around some fancy words like pyruvate or glycolysis. Now go drop some knowledge bombs on those gym bros!

 

Workout Wednesday: Full Body Lift for Beginners

Years ago, when I first got into weight lifting, I remember how aimlessly I would wander around the gym trying to figure out what the heck I should be doing. I knew I wanted to get stronger, and I had a great working knowledge of most of the equipment, but it was putting it all together that was giving me the most trouble. I found myself just doing things haphazardly — a few bicep curls here, some walking lunges there, and then calling it a day.

Sure, I was beginning my journey of building muscle and getting stronger, but I definitely wasn’t maximizing my time in the gym. And I certainly wasn’t getting the most out of my fitness experience that I could have.

Since then, I find that this is true for many people who are just starting to explore the world of strength training. Maybe they have been shown how to do a few lifts with good form, but without a program, what does that matter? Many women, especially, who are new to the weight room might be scared off because of this (maybe leading to the lack of women in the weights area, as discussed in this recent post). Even if they’re not totally scared off though, they  might just do a couple of things and then go back to what they are used to. A few exercises are better than none, but what would be even better would be to go in there with a plan, lift like a boss, and know that you’re getting the best work in.

Today’s full body lift is for the person (man or woman) who has a basic understanding of movement patterns but isn’t quite sure yet what to do with them. As I’m a believer that beginners should start with full body days before moving on to upper/lower body splits, this will target the whole body and hit the major movement patterns that form the base for all of our daily movements.

Full Body Lift

One important thing to remember is that this shouldn’t take you very long! When I first gave one of my clients her first program, one of her early questions was “These workouts are only taking me about 45 minutes, shouldn’t I be doing more?” And the answer is no! At least at the beginning, many highly effective workouts can be done in an hour or less. There is no need for everyone to be spending two hours in the gym every day, and frankly many of us just don’t have time for that. As long as you’re working hard and doing the work you need to do, the time is really the least of your concerns.

Goblet Squat – Hold a dumbbell, upright, at your chest. It should be right against your chest, not out in front of you which can strain your shoulders and upper back. Starting with your legs at about shoulder width apart, sit your hips back into your squat, imagining that you’re squatting between your hips — not pushing your knees forward like many people want to do. Keep your core engaged and back flat during the entire movement.

DB Bench Press – DB = Dumbbell. Choose two dumbbells that you know you can lift. Start out on the lighter side for your first set to get the movement down and to warm your shoulders up a little bit. After this warm up set, then go into your 3 work sets. Lying flat on your back, feet flat on the floor, engage your core and squeeze your glutes. Begin with dumbbells at chest height with palms facing in front of you. Raise up over your chest at an even pace, then lower carefully just to chest height — not below.

DB Romanian Deadlift – Again, this is for someone who has been shown the proper movement patterns, i.e. hip hinging. If this is not familiar to you, work with someone to practice this movement before trying to load it with weight. Standing with feet hip width apart and “soft” knees (not bent but not locked), hold 2 dumbbells in front of your thighs. Keeping your core engaged and shoulders pulled back (lats turned “on”), push your hips back until your torso bends forward. Dumbbells should be traveling right along your thighs, not farther out in front of you.  Keep pushing hips back until your dumbbells reach about knee level or you feel a tightness in your hamstrings. Allow your knees to bend slightly with this motion. Squeeze your glutes and return to the top position, being careful to not over arch your back at the top.

Bent Over Single Arm Row – For this you will be at a bench with one knee and corresponding hand resting on the bench. The other leg will have your foot on the floor, and you will be holding the dumbbell at that side. Bend so that your back is flat, and DB is down by the side of your down foot. Keeping palm facing in and elbow tucked towards your body, raise elbow so that dumbbell ends up next to your side. Squeeze your back muscles between your shoulder blades, then return to bottom position. It is extremely important to keep your back flat during this entire exercise.

Dumbbell Rear Lunge – Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step one foot back into a lunge. Make sure that you step back and then straight down, instead of letting your front knee fall forward over your foot. Alternate feet to complete set.

Standing Cable Row – Set the cable machine so that it is at about waist height. Holding the handles so that your palms are facing each other, stand with your core braced and knees slightly bent. Squeezing those back muscles between your shoulder blades, pull arms back, elbows bent, until hands are about at your sides. Slowly return to start.

Standing Pallof Press – Check out this post for explanation if you missed it!

Side Plank –Pretty self explanatory, no? For more of a challenge with this, stack your feet one on top of the other. For a little bit of an easier exercise, stagger your feet one in front of the other.

Key Points:

  • Know your abilities. If any of these are foreign to you, consider working with a professional in person to learn the specific movement patterns of the squat, hip hinge, push and pull.
  • Always begin with a dynamic warmup to get your body  moving properly before you load any movements. This is not optional! For a dynamic warmup, click here.
  • When working with weights, be conscious of form at all times. Yes, this includes when you’re picking up your weights from the floor — never let that back round out, especially when there is weight on the other end.
  • Take your time! Don’t rush through these. Make each movement slow, deliberate, and take care of your form. Rest in between sets and in between exercises.
  • Challenge yourself! If you go through this and don’t feel like you did a whole heck of a lot, that means you need heavier weight. Don’t go too far too soon, but use weights that are challenging, that you can’t just fly through each exercise without thinking about it.
  • Enjoy! You’re getting stronger today! 

Where Are All The Ladies?

On Saturday I tried out a new gym, just for the fun of it. I was able to get in a good workout, spending about 35 minutes on a spin bike and also getting in a good upper body lift.

Let me tell you — working out at my gym at work, I’ve forgotten what it was like to train in a public gym.

Lots of big, sweaty dudes crowding the weight area like it’s their job to just take up space, strategically maneuvering to use the equipment I need, and generally just feeling like the idea of personal space in the weight room is not possible.

liftthingsup

Maybe it’s for those reasons that my next observation comes into play: I was the only woman in the free weight section. Yes, in a crowded gym on a Saturday morning, there was not one other woman lifting weights. Don’t get me wrong, there were tons of women in the gym at that time — I could see them! I know they were there!

But for some reason, it was like there was a bubble around the free weight area, and I was the only one who had been able to cross to the other side. I honestly didn’t even notice it at the time, and it wasn’t until a friend (who was there) was joking later that I was in the “guys section”, that I noticed that I really was the only female in the vicinity of the weights. All of the treadmills and ellipticals had been full, I had noticed at one moment while scanning the crowd. There were people waiting on cardio equipment like vultures. And there I was, little old me, alone in the middle of the sweaty, grunting, men.

Steph Deadlift

This was not Saturday. This was me recently in my current gym, feeling at home among the power racks and the pretty even mix of males and females who frequent the weight room. 

I’ll be honest, I’m totally at ease in the weight room. Put me in the middle of a squat rack, a bench, and some dumbbells, and I could stay all day. Throw some extra barbells and specialty equipment in there and I’d be happy as pie. So yes, that does give me a little bit of a leg up when it comes to braving the “guys section”*.

*Yes, please know that every time I type that, my eyes roll so far in my head I’m at risk of going blind.

But I couldn’t help thinking about this afterward. Where were all the ladies? Why, in hundreds of people working out, were there absolutely no other females in the weight section? Over the past few years, I’ve been so happy to see a huge increase in pop culture writing about women and weight lifting. From popular women’s magazines, to celebrity workout features, to the insane popularity of the CrossFit games, we’ve seen women slinging iron at a much higher rate.  So while I’ve been sheltered and spoiled at my gym/weight room at work, I’ve watched more and more females enter the weight room, and yes, they even frequent the power racks and barbells. Winning!

But stepping back into the real world of public gyms and catching a glimpse of what I thought was a thing of the past makes me wonder: are we really coming as far with women and weight lifting as I thought we were? Has it really translated into the real world or do strength training women really only exist on the web, in the blogoshpere, and in your women’s magazines?

Of course, it was just one day, one small slice of time. Hardly a reliable sample size for any study. But I wonder if I kept going back to this gym, would I see the same thing day in and day out — women on machines and in group classes, and men wherever the heck they please? The only thing that I can think that it really came down to is comfort. Comfort in doing what you already know, and the possibility of serious discomfort when entering the “guys area” (or maybe just in trying something new).

Many women are probably very uncomfortable in entering the free weight area, especially if it’s in a separate room than the rest of the equipment. True, there are a lot of big, sweaty men in there, but truth be told, most of them couldn’t care less about who else enters the weight room. Sure, there may be some jerks who think that “women don’t belong” (it pains me to write that, but it’s true), but you’ll find a select few jerks in every walk of life, and we can’t be avoiding all new places just because of the unfortunate few.

So today is a call to women everywhere. Pick up those weights, use that bench, pick up a barbell to feel the weight of it in your hands (it’s powerful, trust me). Let everyone know that the weight room is not the “guys area”, it’s the weight room, plain and simple. We all belong, we all have a place in there, and we all have the right to better ourselves through strength. And if there is some jerk who makes you feel small for entering “his” area of the gym, pay him no mind. He is not worth your time, and your energy is better spent on the barbell, anyway.