Monthly Archive: June 2012

What does it mean to “lift heavy”?

You hear a lot of people advocating for men and women to forgo the mindless reps and trade it in for “lifting heavy.” Much like “clean eating” this is an ambiguous term that is often met with blank faces.

What is “heavy”?

How do you judge “heavy?”

Can you look at someones workout and say with assurance, “Yeah, that’s heavy”?

Nope, you can’t.

Heavy is a relative term. To “lift heavy” means that your 8th, 10th or 12th rep is extremely hard. Some people would argue that “lifting heavy” means your 5th rep should be nearly impossible. It’s really up to the individual to decide what is or is not heavy for that person.

For example, when I first started lifting weights it was really hard for me to curl 7 pounds. I think in December of 2011 I was fighting for that 10th rep. Now, some 5 months later I feel the same way about 20 pound weights.

As your level of fitness changes, so does what it means to “lift heavy.”

Don’t feel bad that you’re squatting the bar, or benching the bar, or even are trying to work your way UP to the bar. EVERYONE started at square zero, and if people make you feel inferior because you’re not squatting or dead lifting two plates then they’re judgmental assholes and you shouldn’t listen to them anyway. Once upon a time these same people were struggling to get one rep at the same weight you are.

No one comes out of the womb with a two plate squat.

In conclusion, “heavy” is a relative term. As long as you’re working hard, breaking a sweat, finding your workout challenging, etc. you’re lifting heavy. There are no rules, no guidelines, just you and your body.

You know your body best. Heavy is relative. 

The Myth of “Toning”

When asking people (especially women) about their goals with weight loss and fitness they normally respond with, “Well, I’d like to tone up.” Like “clean eating,” the term is ambiguous. Google it, you’ll get THOUSANDS of articles. “Want to lose cellulite? Tone!” or “Tone up those problem areas!” has a definition after a long list of ones involving sound that basically says “strengthen ill-used muscles.”

Lots of weird words for a very simple concept.

First of all, “toning” implies that you can spot reduce. They give you specific exercises for specific areas of the body, like your inner thigh, muffin top, etc. They have you powering out multiple exercises targeting one or two muscles in hope that you “replace that fat with muscle!”

It doesn’t work that way. Fat and muscle are two completely different things. Fat is our storage form of energy, muscle is what we use to move (along with tendons, ligaments, etc). They are two completely different things and one does not simply *become* the other. When you do strength training exercises you are increasing the diameter – not the length – of the muscle. Increasing your heart rate, eating below your maintenance calories, etc. will cause fat loss – but in no particular area.

Let me repeat that – fat loss does not happen in one area because you “worked” that area out. It is 100% determined by genetics as to where you gain or lose weight first/last.

That’s the myth of toning – the idea that crunches will give you a 6 pack, that the adductor machine will give you a thigh gap, or that running will only burn leg fat. You lose fat based on genetics, you gain muscle

A case for the Barbie weights

Lots of forceful, albeit well meaning, Tumblrs often lament how impractical it is to use “Barbie Weights.” The idea of lifting something lighter than your purse is silly to a lot of them, so they will brush off the entirety of these weights. These weights are usually a pastel color (or any color other than black and iron, like the “mens weight”) and aren’t generally located anywhere near the “mens lifting section.” Because of this they can offer security for female lifters new to lifting, as well as an easy way to increase your weights.

So, I will make a case for the “Barbie Weights”, because they do have their place.

Now, I am in no means defending people who pick up a 5 pound dumbbell and curl it for 40-50 reps with their right hand while picking their lunch out of their teeth with their left hand. I’m referring to the women who are just beginning their journey and find that 5 pounds, or even 2 pounds, can be a struggle.

First, let’s refer to the location of these weights. They’re often nowhere near the typically male dominated area of the gym with the benches, squat racks and other barbell accessories. This is important because this area is extremely overwhelming to anyone – male or female – new to the gym. Having a safe haven where they can lift lighter weights without feeling intimidated is important for growth. Gaining confidence while using these lighter weights will translate to confidence when they grow into higher weights and relocate to the traditional weight lifting area.

Second, let’s look at the general progression of weight in the Iron Garden. You typically have 5 lbs, 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs, etc. The progression adds 5 pounds to every weight. Imagine you’re lifting 5 pound weights and have found you can now do 20 reps with ease, so it’s time to move up to 10 lbs.

The jump from 5 to 10 lbs is a 100% increase in weight. If any other person were to attempt the same jump they’d be seen as insane. Sick of lifting 20’s? Let’s pick up a 40! The progression of weights by 5 pounds does not make sense to many new lifters – male or female. Having the “Barbie Weights” that increase by 1-2.5 pounds per weight is extremely beneficial in advancing strength without compromising form or risking injury.

Lighter weights have their place in starting lifting routines, as well as lifters looking to progress. The gentle increase in weight can allow gains in strength without sacrificing form and they lower the risk of injury when “normal iron” has only 5 pound progressions.

Getting over your fear of the weight room

It doesn’t matter who you are, the first trip to the weight room can be scary. Here are some simple tips and tricks to help you slowly acclimate to the weight room.

1. Scope it out

If you’re new to the gym ask for a tour. Make sure you tell the tour guide that you’re interested in incorporating free weights into your exercises, so to focus on showing you where they’re located. If you’re not new to the gym, scope out the weight section from where you’re most comfortable. For some people this means picking a cardio machine near the weight section and people watching. See where the weights are, how people use them, etc.

2. Bring a friend

If you have a friend that knows their way around the weight room, bring them with. Ask them to show you some basic stuff. If your friend doesn’t know anything about weights, just ask them to wander through the section with you.

3. Ask a trainer

Most gyms give you one free workout with a trainer when you join. Ask if your gym offers this and tell them you’d like to see the weight section. Ask them to show you basic moves for arms, legs, abs, etc. Even if your gym doesn’t offer free training sessions, make sure to ask anyway. Tell them you don’t want to become injured and would like to see how the move is done.

4. Come with a plan

If you’re new to weight lifting start small – one or two exercises at the most. While feeling sore is an amazing feeling, being unable to move at all is not. Start small. If you’re not sure what to do, there are some great resources – Despite the name, this is not just for body builders, but for anyone looking to get into shape. They offer plans such as Jamie Eason’s LiveFit program, which is very popular amongst Fitblrs, and a database showing you how to do each exercise. – They interview competitors (figure, body building, bikini, etc.) and ask for their basic plans. Most break it down by body part, others alternate between upper and lower body exercises.

Write these exercises down in a notebook or on your phone or iPod so that you can refer to them later. Sometimes nerves can make you forget.

5. Practice the moves at home

As silly as it may seem, practicing the exercises at home without weights can make a huge difference. If the first time you’re doing an exercise is at the gym with weights you may rush through it. Knowing exactly how the move feels will help build confidence and ensure you’re doing the move right.

6. Headphones!

Headphones are the universal sign for “don’t talk to me.” They’re also a great distraction from the rest of the people in the gym. If you have an amazing playlist of all your favorite songs it’s easier to get in the zone and focus just on yourself and the music. Make a playlist beforehand and have it ready.

7. Find times when the gym is empty

Ask a trainer or someone at the desk when there are less people at the gym. This usually means less people in the weight room. It’s a lot easier to navigate when there are less people, and you have less of a chance of being unable to do a certain exercise because there are people using your weights. Plus, the less people there are the less intimidating it is. Knowing your gyms empty hours can translate into a great workout with less stress.

8. Find a class that focuses on free weights

These classes have names like “Body Pump” or “Weighted Blast.” Read the descriptions of these classes and see which ones incorporate free weights and general strength training into them. You can use these moves on your free time, learn form, and do so in a great group environment that is generally less intimidating than the free weight section.

9. Identify your fear

If you’re afraid that people are going to judge you, some of these tips may not help. Why? Because you’re prioritizing what someone else may or may not be thinking over your health and happiness. You have to reach a certain point where you accept that you’re afraid of being judged, then acknowledge that it’s a silly fear. Once you do this you put your health and happiness first.

Other fears involve snide comments, staring, etc. Having a plan and a great playlist can really help with this. If you focus only on yourself, your music, your movement, etc. it’s easier to ignore those around you. If you do not make eye contact with people they often will not talk to you. Even if people do comment on what you’re doing, it’s just as easy to tell them to mind their own business as anything else. Don’t let ignorant people ruin your quest for a healthier, happier self.

Once you identify what you’re afraid of you can make steps towards remedying this fear.