Learn to Lift Weights And Love It

Some of you might not know this about me, but I didn’t always love working out. When I first started in 1993 — overweight, completely out of shape, scared— I loathed working up a sweat, and I followed the conventional wisdom that said I should go hard for at least an hour and never lift barbells heavier than 10 pounds.

The notion of a cardio workout that lasts more than 20 minutes and not lifting really heavy things strikes me as funny now. But you know what’s not funny? That so many people still feel intimidated by the idea of lifting weights. If you’re one of those people, I hope this guest post from Jen Sinkler will help alleviate your fears and inspire you to pick up something heavy (then put it down, then pick it up, then put it down…) I also hope it encourages you to check out her new program Lift Weights Faster 2

And in case you’re not already a huge fan of Jen Sinkler like I am: She’s a longtime fitness writer for national magazines such as Women’s Health and Men’s Health. A former member of the U.S. national women’s rugby team, she currently trains clients at The Movement Minneapolis. Jen talks fitness, food, happy life and general health topics at her website JenSinkler.com.

Not included in that official bio is the fact that I find her immensely inspiring and terrifically smart. She manages to wear eyeliner, lift ridiculously heavy things, and somehow make fanny packs not seem too terrible — all at the same time.

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If we take a quick glance back into the annals of recent fitness history, one thing becomes quite clear: When it came down to exercise popularity, strength training ran a distant second to aerobic activity for quite a while there.

People who were serious about their workouts went jogging. Or did step aerobics. Stationary bikes and treadmills were the ultimate in fitness equipment. (Who’s still got an old Nordic Track gathering dust in their basement?)

Today we know more about the human body than ever before, and the science is telling us a slightly different story, one that extolls the virtues of time spent hefting the iron. Researchers now know that strength training offers a treasure trove of goodies — and not just for improving body composition (though it does that, too, and very, very well).

But just because strength training is getting a shining moment in the sun — or, at least, in research facilities and gyms worldwide — it doesn’t mean that there’s no need to elevate the heart rate from time to time. It doesn’t erase the benefits of aerobic training from the historic record. What research does show are the super-charged benefits of combining the two fitness protocols.

In fact, when you combine a set number of strength-training movements and perform them consecutively, for a predetermined number of sets and reps in a given amount of time (otherwise known as metabolic-resistance training or circuit training), and you perform these movements at a quick clip (lifting weights faster, if you will) you can reap the rewards of conditioning and traditional strength-training.

These rewards include firing up your metabolism and strengthening your bones — both nice little side effects of increasing muscle mass, and both of which are especially important as we age. Plus, strength-training has a sneaky-cool way of expanding into your life outside the gym, boosting self-esteem, fighting insomnia, and reducing anxiety, to name a few.

This is all to say that while strength training can’t clean your bathroom or go to work for you, it can do almost everything else. Almost. Many experts now consider it an imperative for physical, mental, and emotional health, and it is available to everyone.

You might be thinking, “I’m in! … Now what?” If the thought of lifting intimidates you, or you’re just starting out, it’s time to learn the (battling) ropes of strength training, lift weights faster–style. Let’s get down to what you need to know to get started:

Lifting weights is only scary when you don’t know what you’re doing.
I cannot recommend this first step highly enough: It’s more than worth your time investing in a training session (or three) with a pro you trust so they can assess how your body moves, instruct you on using equipment best suited for your current fitness level and goals, and get you off on the right foot, so to speak, programming-wise. Knowing what you are getting into, and why, will go a long ways towards mitigating any lingering lifting anxieties.

If that’s not in the cards for you at the moment, instruction can come in many other forms: reading books or online articles, or joining a respected online forum, for example. You can also make a smaller investment in group training in the gym — many clubs offer specialty classes on kettlebell and circuit training. Good instruction helps protect you against injury and a little knowledge goes a long way when it comes to wear and tear on your bod.

In this case, familiarity breeds strength. Literally.

Remember, everyone starts at the beginning.
The people who float around the gym lifting like a boss? They weren’t born magical Olympic-lifting unicorns. They had a beginning, too. If some of the stuff you see seems out of reach, remember that we all learned math starting with 2 + 2.

Learning how to lift (see above) will make the process much more enjoyable right from the start. And, consistency is the name of the game when it comes to strength training. Lifting weights is a skill that gets better with practice. Add a dash of joy to further improve your chances at success — because it’s not hard to stick with exercise you have fun doing.

Finally, be patient. Give yourself a little bit of time to settle into the process and soon enough you’ll be your own magical unicorn.

Start light.
If you’re just getting started, use very light weights or stick to bodyweight movements for a bit. Attempting to sling a weight that is too heavy for you leaves you open to injury and there simply isn’t any workout that’s worth getting injured over.

Progression, or increasing the weight you use. And as you get stronger there are even more ways to continue to challenge your body, whether that means adding more weight, squeezing in a few extra reps, or completing the same amount of work in less time.

It’s truly when you listen to your body where the good stuff happens. If you consistently meet yourself where you are right now, the needle of progress is going to move. Slow-and-steady isn’t the sexiest advice, but it works.

Modify freely.
You may not know this but you have the authority to adapt any movement to better suit your body. At my gym, The Movement Minneapolis, we like to call these “pregressions.”

Do your knees ache when, even with good form, you squat past parallel? Or does your right shoulder ping a little bit when you press a dumbbell overhead?

For any movement, you have options: lighten the weight, shorten your range of motion, take longer-than-prescribed rest breaks, or even swap out an uncomfortable movement for one that better agrees with your body.

It’s also worth a mention that if anything hurts, say something. Exercise is not meant to be painful, especially if we’re talking about back or joint pain. Let your trainer or group exercise instructor know what’s going on, and speak to a medical professional, if needed.

Bringing it all together.
You might have already picked up on the fact that each one of these points ties into the other. Exercise is certainly more enjoyable when you know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and you’re performing movements that feel good for your body, right now. Keep at it and soon enough, you’ll be the struttin’ around the weight room, strong as can be.

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LWF2Ready for these results… faster?

If you’re looking to learn to lift in creative and productive ways, I’ve put together a mammoth 181-workout pick-and-choose library called Lift Weights Faster 2. Complete with a full exercise glossary that includes written descriptions and photographic demonstrations of nearly 270 exercises (from classic moves to more unusual ones), a video library that includes coaching on 30 of the more technical lifts, 10 challenge-workout videos, plus a dynamic warm-up routine, I’ve combined my training and athletic experience with my long background in magazine publishing to create a clear-cut, easy-to-use resource that you’ll want to turn to all the time.

Every workout is organized by the equipment you have available, how experienced a lifter you are (with lots of options for beginners!), and how much time you’ve got, with options that last anywhere from five up to 30 minutes.

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention I teamed up with my husband, David Dellanave, to create a strength program companion resource called Get Stronger Faster 2 to help you take your strength to the next level. This completes the total workout package and helps you get results, faster.

For more info on Lift Weights Faster 2, head right over here!

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  • Lydia says:

    This post came at a perfect time for me (as so many of your posts do–are you psychic?). I’m already a fan and subscriber of Jen’s and every time I read her newsletter it makes me *that* much more excited to return to lifting. Well, last night during yoga, I noticed an alignment/rotation issue that I think has been causing many of my back problems/injuries. Dunno why it took me so long to notice it, but I’m going to be scouting for local PT recommendations and will (fingers crossed!) be back on the weight-lifting road again sooner than I thought. SO EXCITED!

  • The Movement is literally .5 miles from my house! I need to get over there!

  • Karen says:

    Yes! I love Jen Sinkler! it is so hard to remember that everyone has a beginning. I am just now getting into strength training and occasionally have to remind myself that I can’t compare what I am lifting to what others who have been at this a while are able to lift. We all have our starting line.