When I began my athletic endeavors in middle school, strength training was not part of my fitness regimen. I would do conditioning drills and core exercises, but my coaches never instructed me to lift weights to be a better swimmer or gymnast. This lack of exposure to weight lifting may be because I didn’t play sports at the collegiate level, but nevertheless, I grew up thinking the weight room was only for the boys.
It wasn’t until graduate school that a friend pulled me into a squat rack and began teaching me how to lift. I was so sore after the experience that I didn’t touch a barbell for two years. When I started working as head of nutrition and supplements at Lifetime Fitness, everything changed. I decided to ask a co-worker, who was a personal trainer and, in full disclosure, is now my husband, for a few sessions to teach me how to use all of the fancy equipment. Much to my chagrin, he put me back into a squat rack. I left the session walking like a newborn deer, and struggled down staircases for the next week and a half. But this time, I returned to the weights and had no idea that this new sport would not only improve my health and my physique, but it would begin to develop something in me that had never developed before, confidence.
Strength training for females has become a movement. This may be due to the popularity of sports like CrossFit and Olympic weight lifting, along with the advent of social media and gym-time selfies. Still, weight training for women has become more commonplace. This was not the setting while I was in college. At the time, I started long-distance running. I didn’t really want to, but I thought running was what I was supposed to do as a woman, specifically as a woman who wanted to lose weight. Cardiovascular training has its merit, but running did not help me find myself or meet any of my goals. I was at a loss, since all the magazines I was reading at the time told me this would work.
Weight training boasts just as many health benefits as cardiovascular training. Research has shown that weight training promotes improvements in LDL cholesterol, insulin resistance, and other markers of cardiovascular disease (http://www.clinsci.org/content/115/9/283). A recent article in TIME Magazine (http://time.com/4824531/strength-training-women-exercise/) provided data that shows women who trained with weights had an easier time maintaining their metabolic rate throughout their lifespan along with maintaining lean muscle mass and supporting bone density. My personal story reflects these findings; I am healthier, happier, and more confident in my body than ever before. I see these changes in my patients as well.
Self-help books and weight loss manuals often discuss how to be a strong female, but feeling like a strong female may be difficult to replicate. I push my clients and patients to incorporate weight training into their workout routines so they can see their own strength and gain the special type of self-confidence that comes from knowing you can pick up something heavy or pull your body weight off the ground.
Weight training has shown me that I am strong and capable of anything I set my mind to, and that confidence has reflected in all areas of my life, including my job, dietary goals, and learning to love who I am. Basing my self-worth off who I am and what I am capable of doing, versus what I look like, is a new concept for me and one I was unable to adopt until I started lifting.
I hope this message inspires you to venture off the treadmill and onto the weight room floor. Get into a squat rack and discover what your body can do and how strong (mentally and physically) you are and can become.