Friday, October 16, 2009

Weight Lifting Anyone?

I often have women complain to me that they cannot lose weight no matter what they do. When I ask if they lift weights they look at me like I'm suggesting they pluck their nose hairs.

If you aren't lifting weights you are missing out. Many women shy away from strength training because of fears and misconceptions. Strength training is the most effective way to lose weight, change your shape, and increase daily stamina.

Following are some common questions answered to help you get started.

Q - Will weight lifting make me bulky?
A - No. To bulk up you have to have testosterone. Use weights that challenge you (you should be ready to be done after 8-12 reps) and make sure you lift slow, especially on the eccentric or lowering phase and you'll increase strength and metabolism without increasing size.

Q - What is proper form and how can it help me?
A - Proper form is your basic good posture - head in alignment with spine (I like to push my tongue against the spot between the roof of my mouth and my upper teeth, it naturally pulls your head into alignment) shoulders down and back, abs in tight, bum tucked under. Proper form not only prevents injury it makes your weight lifting and cardio more effective and good posture will also make you look ten pounds lighter.

Q - I want to lose weight on my abdomen, how do I do that?
A - You cannot spot reduce (lose weight or fat off any one spot). Any product or person that claims they can burn weight off a certain part of your body is lying to you. You will burn fat off your entire body as you strength train effectively, include cardio (especially intervals), and eat right (5-6 small meals or snacks, lots of veggies, water, lean meat, etc.).

Q - How heavy of weights should I lift? I need a number.
A - It really depends on your strength. I recommend at least 8 to 15 pound dumbbells, but if you're just starting out 5 pounds might be a challenge. Be careful not to hurt yourself with too heavy of weights but at the same time you need to challenge yourself to improve. Don't feel stupid if you have to try out different sizes of weights in the sporting goods aisle at Target. As I said earlier, the proper weight should fatigue you by 8-12 reps. Bands are also a great option because you can up the resistance by simply holding them differently.

Q - I've recently started weight lifting and I swear I'm gaining weight. Help!
A - I've seen women gain weight initially - muscle weighs more than fat - so until the metabolism kicks in you may not lose weight and you could even gain a bit. Please be patient. It can take 6 weeks to 3 months before you start seeing the results you want. Remember, being healthy is not a quick fix. This is a lifestyle, not an overnight weight loss scam. But I promise you if you will lift weights, eat sensibly, and do effective cardio you will be fit and healthy for life. Also, concentrate on how you look and feel, not the weight on the scale. A body fat test is a fabulous indicator of how you're doing. I weigh a lot more than anyone could guess but I fit into the size of jeans I want and I feel strong and full of energy so I don't worry about the scale overly much (of course I still worry a bit, I'm a woman!).

Q – What if I’m over sixty and have joint issues?
A – You should always speak with your primary care doctor before starting any weight-lifting program. If you have joint or health issues I would strongly recommend a qualified personal trainer (make sure to check their credentials and talk with past clients who have similar health issues to yours).
Be smart when you’re exercising. You want to make your muscles sore, but if your joints start hurting – stop. Usually hips, knees, and feet are the worst offenders. If you have lower body pain, be careful with squats and lunges. You may want to stick with machines that work quadriceps and hamstrings like the flexion and extension machines.
There are also wonderful machines like the Elliptical, Stair Master, or spin bikes that give you a great cardiovascular workout without damaging joints like a treadmill can. Find what you are comfortable with and what you enjoy doing and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your doctor or a qualified trainer.

Q - I've done Body for Life twice. The first twelve weeks I lost weight, but the second twelve weeks weren't as effective. What should I do?
A - Change your program. There are a lot of great weight lifting programs out there, but your body is an amazing machine and it will adapt to the demands placed upon it. You've got to change the order you lift, the size of weights, the number of reps, etc. We all know that cross-training is important with cardio. The same thing applies to weight lifting. Go very slow one day with heavier weights. Another day do higher reps - 12-15 reps with a comfortable weight and a normal pace (but never fast, please, I hate seeing the bounce and swing). I try to change things up on the blog, but sometimes I forget as well. I'll try to do a better job of varying the sets and reps.

Q - You're always talking about metabolism. How does strength training help my metabolism?
A - Strength training increases the size and density of your muscle fibers. Muscle is hard to maintain, so your body kicks into overdrive to keep up. Therefore you burn fat and calories even when you're sitting around. Isn't that fun?

Q - How many sets and reps should I do?
A - The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on the major muscle groups at least two times a week. Here's the link to their current recommendations -
That's your basic answer, but like I said earlier - variety is a very good thing. You can do 5 sets of 5 or 2 sets of 15 and still see results. There has also been research that one set is almost as effective as three. I said almost, it will take longer to see results with only one set, but if you're crunched for time, it's okay to just do one. The important thing is that you're doing the reps slow and controlled and lifting heavy enough weight to challenge or overload the muscle. If you aren't overloading that muscle (no, you don't have to kill yourself every time, but you do need to feel that muscle working) you're wasting your time.

If you have any other questions, please post a comment below. Also, please share any strength training success stories. I personally have helped two friends lose seventy pounds each with strength training, effective cardio, and a healthy diet. If you want to feel great, give strength training a try.

Cami Checketts is a wife, mother, exercise scientist, and author. For more information on her books -


  1. Cami,
    Great post...and YES I LIFT WEIGHTS! Bodypump is an AWESOME UPLIFITING weight training workout and I love teaching it! I also do strength training of various forms after the cardio portion of the Mommy and Me class... the last 20 plust minutes we use handweights, bodybars, BABIES, bands, medicine balls...etc. I must say that BODYPUMP has REALLY made the difference for me...being able to increase my strength dramactically!

    Thanks for the comment about my arms! Been working on those and shoulders!

  2. It's pretty obvious you lift weights my friend! Congrats on working hard and looking fabulous.
    I wish we had a Mommy and me class at my gym. My forty pound three-year old would be some great resistance!