Lifting weights can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Learn how to conquer the weight room with confidence with tips from NASM CPT, Kayla Kleinman!
Hi everyone! My name is Kayla Kleinman, and I blog about all things fitness and wellness at Kayla in the City. I’m a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and recently completed my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training.
Thanks so much Nicole for the opportunity to guest blog over here!
I know that walking into the weight room at the gym can be intimidating stuff. When I first started working out in college, I stuck to the elliptical or stationary bikes and finished off my workouts with some core work—that was it.
I had done a tiny bit of strength training during high school phys ed classes and when my best friend acted as my personal trainer before prom, but I had no idea what to do on my own in a room full of dumbbells and barbells. I avoided the weight room at all cost because I was afraid others would judge me for my cluelessness.
The thing about strength training is that while it may be more intimidating than a cardio machine, it is also a more effective way to workout than a routine of all cardio all the time. I know this is a concept that gets beaten over the head in the fitness world, but females are afraid of getting “bulky”, which I totally understand and empathize with because I wouldn’t want to get bulky either. Females don’t have enough testosterone to truly bulk up without supplements. Body building females follow a strict diet specifically FOR bulking which includes supplements and whole lot of weight training geared towards gains– hypertrophy. They are working out with heavy heavy weights for very short reps. But that’s not strength training for your average Joe (or Jane!)
Strength training is SO important for everyone, whether you are looking to lose weight, “tone up”, feel confident in your body, run a half marathon, or simple live a longer, healthier life.
The Benefits of Strength Training Include:
- mo’ muscles, mo’ calories torched. Muscles are more efficient at burning calories than fat. The more muscles you have, the more efficient your body becomes at burning calories. Adding strength training into your routine = adding muscle to your body.
- the gift that keeps on giving. Although cardio workouts may burn more calories while you’re actually doing them, strength training is the beautiful gift that keeps on giving because your body continues to burn calories hours after your workout is done.
- bone health. Youngins like me may not be thinking about their bones quite yet, but strength training helps increase bone density. At my towering height of 5’2” I’m short enough as is so I definitely don’t want to lose any more height when I’m older!
So, how do I get started?
If it’s available at your gym or there’s affordable boutique fitness options in your city, I highly recommend hitting up a handful of group fitness classes that focus on strength. Even if you are new to group fitness and it terrifies the bejesus out of you, I swear no one is watching you. Everyone had to start somewhere in their fitness journey and we were all newbies to group fitness at one point in time. I think group fitness is an amazing way to learn the basic moves and have someone watch your form without shelling out extra money for a personal trainer.
Working with a personal trainer is also a great way to learn the ropes, but can cost a lot of extra $$. Many gyms offer a free personal training session when you first join a gym. In my experience both as a gym member and personal trainer at a gym, this is mostly a sales pitch, but if the trainers at your gym are “less sales oriented” they should be more than happy to show you some basic moves so you feel confident enough to execute them on your own.
There are also a lot of great (and not so great) online videos that can be a used as a resource for how to do certain moves.
Creating a Strength Based Workout
The way I view it workouts, whether they are strength training based or even pure cardio, have three main components: the warm up, the “meat”, and the cool down/ stretch.
Part One: The Warm Up.
Warming up is important because it gets the body ready to move by increasing the heart rate, increasing the respiratory rate and increasing the body’s temperature.
I personally like to start off with some foam rolling focusing on my tight calves, the outside of my hips, hamstrings, lats and glutes.
Next up is dynamic stretching to get the blood flowing and the body limber. My favorite dynamic stretches are inch worms where you walk your hands out into a plank and then walk them back or “baby burpees” where you go through the motions of a burpee (stand up, go into a plank, bring your feet back in and stand up) without the typical jumps and push-up.
Last bit of my typical warm up is a brief cardio segment, only about 5-10 minutes at a moderate level of intensity. I usually hit the treadmill out of habit, but the elliptical, step machine or bicycle will do the trick as well.
Part Two: The Meat of the Workout
Here’s the fun stuff! One of the things I love about strength training is there’s a bunch of different options for how you can format the workout.
There are a lot of theories about how you should split up your workout week. It’s typically an old school male body builder thing, but some people have a specific day of the week devoted to a body part (i.e. Monday is chest day) and some people alternate upper and lower body every other day.
I personally prefer to “mix it up”. Since I don’t strength train on my own every day, when I do I want to hit the big muscle groups.
I’m a big fan of circuit training where you do 3-4 exercises for 45 seconds or so, switch to the next exercise, and then repeat the circuit before moving on to a new one. Circuit training is great because it beats boredom and can be more effective since it keeps the heart rate up if you mix in cardio moves.
One of my favorite classes in Manhattan, Uplift Studio’s Strength class, goes through the muscles one at a time burning them out and then moving on to the next muscle. I love this method as well because mentally you can “give it your all” knowing you’re only focused on a body part for only short period of time.
Here are some of my favorite moves and the muscles I aim to hit in every workout:
Legs / Glute movements
** note: I usually combine lower body movements with upper body ones such as a deadlift with a row, squat to overhead press, sumo squat with a high pull or lunges with shoulder raises.
- planks (pushup position, forearm, side planks, variations with lifting legs, etc)
- bicycles crunches
- pilates roll-up
- jumping jacks
- high knees
- jump squats
- squat thrusts / burpees
- rowing machines
Of course this is just a small list of all the great strength training moves out there. ACE has a great exercise library broken down by body part and equipment.
So how do I incorporate these moves into a killer workout?
One way is to do circuits that include 3 strength moves for 45 seconds (for example a push-up, a squat to over head press and a plank) and 1 cardio move for 45 seconds (i.e. jumping jacks). Repeat this circuit 1-2 more times before moving onto a new circuit. I use the Seconds Pro app on my iPhone to keep track of time.
Another method is to do one muscle group at a time completing multiple exercises in a row that focus on one muscle group such as pushups followed by chest press followed by chest fly… and then you move onto the next body part. For workouts like this you want to use slightly heavier weights than a circuit since you are only doing the move once.
To spice things up I also love throwing in tabata rounds to get my heart rate up. Tabata is generally 20 seconds of intense activity (i.e. squat jumps or rowing on the row machine) and then 10 seconds of rest. I love doing tabata drills because it’s a quick burst of cardio and really gets that sweat flowing. Tabata is great in between circuits or as a grand finale to a workout.
Part Three: the cool down
Yay, the tough stuff is over now it’s time to rejoice and stretch it out! There’s a lot of theories about whether or not dynamic stretching does anything, but for me personally I like to finish off workouts with another round of foam rolling (can you tell I love foam rolling?) and some basic stretches or yoga moves while my heart rate comes down.
- Remember variety is important in fitness! You shouldn’t run every single day, nor should you hit the weights hard core every day. A balances workout week is one that includes a variety of modalities in intensities as a way to mix it up. Try and aim for a mixture of strength training, cardio and low-impact (pilates, barre, yoga).
- I highly highly recommend coming in with a written workout plan. It will take you an extra 10 minutes before you run out the door to the gym but will save you from awkwardly shuffling around weight room not knowing what to do.
- I haven’t used all that many strength training apps, but I really enjoy Nike Training Club for quick strength workouts.
Now go forth and show that weight room who’s boss! And of course, join the Fit & Fashionable Friday Link Up!
How did you conquer fears of the weight room?
Any tips to add?