Lifting for Women

Lifting for Women | CorporetteDo you lift weights? I’ve noticed a TON of readers mentioning how weight lifting and strength training “changed their lives,” and so I thought it might be a good idea to round up some of the oft-cited resources to learn more about it, and have a discussion in one place. As I’ve mentioned before I’ve been a fan of heavy toning videos like Jari Love, but doing deadlifts or squats with serious weights is an idea I’m only getting used to now. (I’m even pondering joining a gym again!)  I thought I’d round up some of the resources most readers have recommended:

Some questions for those of you who have been doing it:  what weight ranges did you start out with — and what are you up to now? (Go ahead, brag a bit!)  Did anyone do it without a gym or trainer?  If you want to buy weights yourself, can anyone recommend a particularly good set or place to buy weights?  (Also: has anyone done video programs like Body Beast to get started?  I know in previous threads readers have recommended T25 or Ripped in 30 for body weight exercises; before I got pregnant I was working out with the bodyweight version of the Rebel Strength Guide.)

Psst: we’ve already talked about how to find time to exercise, as well as how to find a trainer you like.

Update: If you’re worried about getting too bulky, check out this blogger’s before and afters, after doing four stages of NROLFW — she’s lifting serious weights and not showing any bulk at all.

Pictured: dumbells_adjusted, originally uploaded to Flickr by jerryonlife.


  1. Myrna lift’s weight’s and guy’s tell her that her bodie’s RIPPED! That is a compliement for a woman. I wish I could be more like Myrna. She get’s a lot of guy’s who want to date her. All I get are kid’s in college and a guy who is the manageing partner’s brother, and I think they both just want to sleep with me. FOOEY!

    • Anonymous :

      Holy hell with the grammar. Learn possessive apostrophes and spelling, please!

  2. When I was lifting consistently, I was most proud of being able to chest press about 55 lbs, to squat about 75 lbs, and to deadlift about 65 lbs. That was with a trainer, I’ve never been disciplined enough to build up weight on my own like that.

    I also recommend the videos from Fitnessblender(dot)com – they have a good number of strength training videos.

  3. I never really comment but thought I’d add to the conversation that I recently (June 01) started working with a trainer for this purpose (beginning at a super beginner level). I’ve made great progress in ability and form, working out 3x per week for 45 minutes each session. The mix has been about 50:50 cardio to weights. Notably I feel great, sleep amazingly well however I have actually not lost an ounce. (And I have like 30+ to lose). I’m wondering ing if anyone has experienced this too. My diet is very reasonable (low carb) and approx 1200/day. (I’m 5’10, 175 lbs). I thought for certain I’d. Have lost some weight. Have lost about 5 inches and gained 2 lbs total (11 lbs of muscle) so I guess I should be happy. But I can’t help but be disappointed that the scale hadn’t really budged. Wondering if I should amp up cardio on non workout days?? Any advice??

    • You might be eating too little to lose weight. But HIIT for weight loss, not strength training.

      Also, maybe look at different metrics to measure effectiveness – inches and ability to lift are probably better than the number on a scale.

      • Anonymous :

        Or, you’re lying to yourself about how much you are eating. Much more common. Unless you are using a scale and cooking 100% at home and measuring everything, you’re probably eating too much. With no change in months, I’d try weight watchers.

        • I hear you. I’m painstaking about my intake, eat nothing out and am religious about weighing. I don’t know what gives.

        • Student4Life :

          You’ve made amazing progress…don’t pay too much attention to the scale as long as your body is changing. I was working out 4-5x per week doing spin classes, zumba and body pump and didn’t lose the extra 15 lbs until I joined Weight Watchers and started tracking every single thing I put into my mouth. Turned out my concept of portion sizes were skewed! I didn’t really know what 5 oz of wine or 4 oz of chicken should look like in a glass or on a plate. I still track everything I eat 1.5 years later, just out of habit- its helped me to keep the weight off despite scaling back my workouts to 3x per week.

      • Thank you. I shoukd have mentioned that the cardio portion is hiit. 50/50 ratio. Thank you!!

    • I don’t know enough to tell completely, but if you’re lifting and doing that much cardio, I wouldn’t think that 1200 calories a day would be sufficient. It seems really low. Maybe add some more lean protein in?

    • I have noticed the same. I am 5’4 and when I started working out, I was 160 Lbs. I didn’t have a trainer. I started with Jillian Micheals 30 Day Shred. I worked out like 5 days a week and scale was not budging. I could see that I was becoming smaller because I started wearing my old jeans after 20 days but scale showed I have lost just 2 Lbs. I was so disappointed. But after like one month or so, I saw all of a sudden the scale dropped. I have no explanation for this. I am doing level 1 and level 2 of that work out video (so roughly 50 minutes of workout)now 5 days a week. I feel really good and my old clothes are fitting me well. My husband and people at work have noticed that I have lost weight. But the scale is not moving much again. So I have decided not to look at the scale for a month but continue working out. Looking at the same number every day after working out so hard can be very demotivating.

      • I’m with you re: the de motivating aspect. At least your clothes are a REALLY good feedback loop!!! Congrats in your progress!!!

        • I would highly suggest taking your focus off the scale. It really isn’t a good indicator of overall health or fitness. If you are getting stronger- you are more likely to add pounds than lose them but that is a positive thing! Even though we’re raised to think that “healthier” means “lighter,” I’d really encourage you to try to move from that philosophy. I bet you both look amazing and feel much better. I would suggest keeping track of your workouts so you can visibly measure your progress that way – instead of through a scale (eg. 4 months ago I deadlifted 60# for 10 reps now I can do 80#). Happiness will ensue!

          • I’ve created a spreadsheet recently to do just that. I’m considering getting rid of my scale altogether since it’s so worthless but I can’t help but weigh myself if it’s there in the bathroom! Thanks for the note!!

    • Related question (just so I don’t have to google this at work :P): How do you track inches lost? Is it just around your waist? Other parts?

      • For me (not OP), it’s whatever I want it to be. When I have done it, usually I do waist, hips, bust, bicep (arm held up but not flexed), thigh (about halfway up from my knee), and calf.

      • For me, my trainer did it at our one month mark. He used the US NAVY body fat calculator.

    • AnonInfinity :

      I’m doing NROLFW right now, and there’s a nutrition chapter in that. It had a formula to figure out calorie ranges, and I used to that to find that I should eat 1800 cals for maintenance. I want to lose weight, so I took 300 off of that per day, then I eat most of the cals I estimate that I burn in exercise. I’d always eaten 1200 cals before when trying to lose weight, so it seems like so much some days. I have definitely been losing fat.

      However, the scale hasn’t gone down much, but I have lost inches. I decided not to weigh myself for the next couple of months and instead will take measurements at the end of each Stage of the workout program. The scale was driving me crazy, and my goal is to fit into my clothes. I figure why stress myself out if the number on the scale isn’t necessarily correlated with fitting better into my clothes.

    • Losing 5 inches is progress! It’ll take time for you to lose weight if you’re mostly strength training, though it does seem weird with your strict diet. If you’re measuring/weighing your portions and are sure you’re getting 1200 net calories, you may want to see your doctor.

      Otherwise, 20 minutes of cardio 3x per week (60 minutes) may be on the lower end of activity if you’re otherwise sedentary – the minimum recommended by the American Heart Association is 150 minutes of moderate cardio. It goes down if you do vigorous activity, but if you’re cruising along on an elliptical it may require a longer duration. Exercise machines are also notorious for over-reporting your activity.

    • That was me… I started tracking on myfitnesspal and that’s helped movement on the scale. Maybe it’s not enough calories and your body is holding onto what it has. I just read Tom Venuto’s Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle and it was interesting (he comes froma bodybuilding background).

    • I worked out with a trainer for 12 weeks a few years ago, and did not lose a pound, although I got into great shape as far as firming and endurance. I really needed to lose 40 pounds though. I have found that I can’t lose weight doing strenuous exercise – it makes me very hungry, and if I don’t eat enough, my body just tries to hang onto every calorie. For the last 14 weeks I’ve been doing 30 minutes of walking or jumping on my rebounder, with hand weights, 3-4 times per week, and eating 1200 calories per day, and I’ve lost 25 pounds. I’d say my exercise level is barely moderate, but I’m able to lose weight. Once I reach my goal, (15 more pounds – hopefully by Oct. 1) I plan to ramp up the exercise and weight training, and build muscle to help maintain. Everyone is different though.

    • WorkingMom :

      You’ve lost 5 inches!! That’s incredible! You should be really proud of yourself! It’s easy to be stuck on the number on the scale because it seems like the easiest/best way to measure success, right? Don’t! Someone very wise once told me your weight means nothing. It’s literally the measure of your gravitational pull against the earth. (Okay not sure if that is scientifically correct, but I like the message.)

      The point is – 5 inches is HUGE. Focus on the fit of your clothes, how you feel, your energy levels, etc. Stop thinking about that stilly number on the scale because it means VERY little. Muscle weighs more than fat – so the more muscle you have, the more you will weigh.

      You’d be surprised how much some of those fitness models weigh, very likely more than you would think because they have so much muscle. Congrats to you and all of your progress – you should be very proud of yourself! WAY TO GO!

      • Aw. Your message is so supportive. Thanks for that! Good advice!! Off with the scale!

    • Best guess from here s you aren’t eating enough. Add more calories- lots of protein- on days that you’re lifting. I used myfitnesspal (dot) com to track food and it has a pretty good idea of how much you should be eating given your stats and activity level. On days that you work out, eat more food. Fuel that body that’s working so hard!

    • I am not a nutritionist, but from everything I’ve read, I agree with other commenters that you’re probably eating WAY too little, particularly for your height. I love Molly Galbraith and Neghar Fonooni for real talk about stuff like that. Good luck!

    • I have been lifting three times a week with a PT (coming off a zero base) for four months now. Every session includes three minutes of HIIT (30 sec on, 30 sec off – we’re talking HIGH intensity).

      First thing he did was up my calories (to 1735 per day) and change my macronutrients so protein is a big contributor (never less than 45% of my intake and often up to 75%). After three months there was ZERO weight loss but I went down a dress size and went from 41% to 34% body fat (told you it was a zero base!!)

      Then – two kg just dropped off in a week, then another two kg – and ALL OF IT FAT!! I’m now five kg down overall but have gained five kg muscle and LOST TEN KG FAT!

      I did increase my activity levels but not with HIIT or cardio – just added a couple five km walks to my week and went rowing on the river once (my first time, so it was more about not falling in than getting any serious work done).

      You need to eat a LOT of food, and MOST of it protein, to get the best from this.

  4. Rachelellen :

    Noodle, I’m guessing 1200 calories a day is low.
    For the others, a decent community/resource is the Makeupalley fitness chat board. They talk about all kinds of topics, but lifting seems to get the most chatter, and a lot of the regulars are fans of New Rules of Lifting, aka “NROLFW”…

    • Thank you rachelellen. I shall check that out. Thanks for explaining the acronym tooo ! I was all “…rolling on the floor something” in my head :)

  5. is a great website if getting points for doing things is motivating to you. also provides a very common sense program, although the fact that the copy on the site is all about “getting guys stronger” is like, come on.

    I’ve gotten really strong, and my arms look awesome for the first time EVER (I’m 36), and I’m only getting stronger. Best of all, powerlifting is very time-efficient! You’re working a ton of muscles at one time.

    Stronglifts starts you out with the bare bar (Olympic bar is 45#) for squats, bench, and overhead presses, and 65 for deadlift and rows (if I recall correctly.) Definitely get someone to walk you through proper form, though. It’s not hard, apart from the whole LIFTING HEAVY THINGS aspect, but if you do it wrong you could slip a disc or otherwise hurt yourself.

    You can do it, ladies!

  6. I’m seriously contemplating hiring a trainer at my new gym. I’ve never done any sort of strength training and I’m starting to feel like I need to if I want to be healthy at 50. But I am 100% not interested in being yelled at, collapsing, or stress generally in my workout. I want a trainer who will make me feel like I have done a fabulous thing just by showing up, and be happy to build a plan for someone who has zero interest in major athletic challenges and just wants to take care of herself. Those people are out there right? And can I ask for a trial session before committing?

    • My trainer is kind of like this, definitely doesn’t yell at me or stress me out, and takes into account the fact that I’m not super into exercise when designing my program. We meet about once every six weeks so he can evaluate where I’m at and change up my exercises. I’m sure you can explain to the coordinator what you’re looking for and they can find someone who matches your goals.

      At least at my gym, you purchase one session at a time, and never have to commit for more than one session.

    • Yes to all of these. Weightlifting is so good for your body, especially as you get older. Yes, trainers out there exist who are more encouraging than angry, and yes, you can do trial sessions with most gyms/trainers before committing.

      • Anonymous :

        And related q, man trainers are expensive! $100 a session at my gym. Reasonable plan to go weekly for a month (and ask them to tell me what to do on other days) and then once every two weeks once I’m in a rythm?

        [cobfession. My greatest fear is someone yelling at me for doing/saying the wrong thing at the gym].

        • Wildkitten :

          That’s totally reasonable. My gym has the regular 1 hour option, or you can buy a large package of 1/2 hour sessions that are less expensive. That might also work for you once you’ve got things figured out enough to do part of it on your own.

    • I had a trainer like this a few years ago – super encouraging and friendly. Showed me what to do, gave corrections on my form, counted reps, kept me moving from one thing to another, and was encouraging and cheerleader-y (in a non-annoying way) when I was getting tired.

      I would have loved to stick with her, but after the introductory sessions ended, the price was too much for me back then. I also worked with her just once a week, and then repeated the same workout without her later that same week (in addition to some days doing just cardio or going to yoga), in order to extend the intro sessions over a longer period of time.

      Also, when matching me with a trainer to test out, my gym asked questions about what kind of personality I wanted to work with (apparently some people actually respond well to being yelled at and prefer that?).

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      Two suggestions. One, Planet Fitness gym is geared towards people that aren’t gym rats. They have unlimited sessions available w/ a trainer for free as well as group training sessions. They also have a 30 minute circuit (a little like curves). My elderly dad needed to join a gym to continue his physical therapy. He learned all the exercises but just didn’t have the equipment. The place was very welcoming to him and the trainers were very helpful in making sure he was using the right settings on all of the equipment.

      Second, my mom bought a book at least 15 years ago called “Strong Women Stay Slim” There was a section on beginner weight training that could be done w/ soup cans. They were very basic exercises to help you strengthen the muscles you need to put a suitcase in an overhead compartment for example. The book was probably pretty sexist and pretty geared towards stay at home moms but I read it as a teenagers and did a lot of the intro exercises and got some quick visible definition in my arms from it. I think it is a great starter point and you can work your way up from there.

    • Trainers that are nice and encouraging are the norm, not the exception. Seriously, they want your repeat business and if you mention it at the beginning, they’re going to oblige you. What you see on tv with Jillian Michaels and crew is not how it works in most gyms.

    • I’m was in the same boat as you. I went to the gym all of the time yet muscle definition is definitely something for me to work on us the need to have stronger bones. (Via weight training). My trainer is AWESOME and just like you describe. Being 42 yo, I was also highly interested in preventing injury to my back or knees. I feel like it’s a very very easy thing as a novice to create bad form. Additionally I knew i would never push myself hard enough to see a result. I read a book called “body by science” and it supports working muscles to exhaustion under heavy weight, so of course proper form is key. Most trainers I’ve encountered offer trials. Chemistry and style are so important too.

  7. Until about 3-4 months ago I focused heavily on cardio at the gym, or very low-weight/high cardio circuits. Recently, I mixed in a good amount of weight lifting, including squats, bench press, etc. I think the biggest change I saw as a result of adding weight lifting to my workout routine is that I am no longer as focused on working out to be “skinny”, but to be fit and strong. My mentality and relationship with working out has become so much more enjoyable as a result. No longer is it a stress tied to just losing weight. Instead, working out makes me feel empowered and healthy and as a result, I want to work out more. And the bonus is that in terms of body shape/size, I am seeing great improvement without obsessing on weight loss. Seeing muscle tone in my arm, legs, and abs is better than focusing on a number on a scale. The hardest part about starting was not being afraid to figure out the machines and your appropriate start weight. For example, the first time I tried the bench press at the gym, my husband had to come over and lift the bar off my chest because I started at too high of a weight and got stuck. However, you quickly figure it out. Also, a lot of gyms have a free or low cost option where a trainer can teach you how to use the machines. I would highly recommend adding weight lifting to your workout routine!

  8. It may sound crazy and scary, but powerlifting has made SUCH a difference in my body composition. I work out four days per week, with one workout devoted to each lift: squat, deadlift, bench, and overhead press with accessory work thrown in after each session. (the program is called Wendler 5/3/1). I squat 175, deadlift 215, bench 105, and press 90. I eat about 3,000 calories a day at 5’9/165 pounds, and the fat has melted off me. I aim for 150 grams of protein and can hit it with 3 meals and a protein shake. I came to lifting through Crossfit, which I’ve stopped doing since.

    Most women I talk to that are reluctant to lift are afraid of getting “bulky” or “looking manly.” Trust me, you won’t accidentally become a bodybuilder. You’ll get some definition from increased muscle size and decreased body fat, but you won’t look like a guy (whatever that means, anyway).

    • Wow! How long did it take you to get to where you are now? What weight did you start with?

      • It took about 18 months to see solid progress on the numbers. I started with just the bar. Not every week is awesome, and I do get stuck sometimes. If I’m not seeing progress in my squat, I’ll switch from back to front squats. It’s important to be patient with increasing your PRs. If you try to make too much of a jump you may end up hurt and lose a month of progress while you heal.

    • What does a typical day of food look like for you? I used My Fitness Pal for a few days to try and track protein but it just made me nuts.

      • Breakfast is always 3 eggs and a handful of berries or sweet potato. Lunch is a big salad with 4 or 5 ounces of protein. Dinner is salad, 4 or 5 ounces of protein and a pile of veggies. I try to measure my protein portions by the size of my palm and I have giant hands. I follow Paleo pretty closely so no grains or legumes, but it certainly isn’t for everyone.

        I’ll also try MFP or Fitocracy’s macro tracker every once in a while, but it is really frustrating and I give up in a couple of days.

      • WorkingMom :

        “…track protein but it just made me nuts.”

        HAHA. Get it, tracking protein made you nuts. Nuts!! :)

    • I’ve been (passively) thinking about starting a new lifting program ever since quitting Crossfit. I think I’ll give the Wendler program a try. Thanks!

    • Anonforthis :

      I love to hear about other women lifting heavy- awesome numbers! I totally agree. I squat 230, DL 250, bench 145, and press 115. I don’t think I’m too scary, though men definitely take issue sometimes if I tell them what I lift. Haha. I eat about 2200 calories a day (still trying to lose the last 15 lbs or so), including 200 grams of protein. Its hard to eat that many clean calories, but doable if you track it in myfitnesspal or some other similar program. Way better results than doing just cardio.

    • locomotive :

      powerlifting has also made a huge change in my life – I’m still ~135 lbs at 5’2″, but I went from 31% body fat to 20% body fat in 3 years and it’s amazing. I have a flat belly for the firm time in my life, and I maintain enough muscle that I can do 1-2 ‘cheat’ meals (e.g. a LOT of alcohol and fried food) and I still maintain my weight/fitness, so I feel like I get to indulge in life. I also started using crossfit, then stopped that and used a trainer, and now know enough to keep lifting on my own. I used a program called starting strength and now I use one called stronglifts (very similar programs). More advanced lifters seem to be a fan of the Texas method, but I haven’t personally tried it. I was pretty happy with both SL and SS for a beginner’s program. Form is SUPER important, and I would recommend a good trainer for that – be sure to ask them for olympic lifting or power lifting credentials to make sure they can teach you the proper form.

    • That’s amazing!! Good for you!!!

  9. Spirograph :

    I’m intrigued by the New Rules of Lifting for Women, and just reserved it at my local library.

    The best I’ve ever looked/felt was when I followed the Body For Life workouts. The writing in the book is pretty cheesy and bad, and I think the whole thing is marketing material for their protein shakes, but the actual workout plan is great. 6 days of workouts – 3 lifting, 3 cardio intervals. There are a few exercises for each muscle group described and illustrated, and the inverted pyramid sets are really effective for building strength. Overall, it’s a really efficient workout – I got better results in less time than anything else I’ve ever done.

    I would definitely advise anyone new to lifting to have a trainer show them correct form the first few times; a couple of my friends have hurt themselves trying to go it alone, even with videos as a guide. As a total aside, I took a gym class in high school that was basically “try out every workout fad ever.” I didn’t appreciate at the time how awesome it was that the class was definitely for girls, but it included power lifting.

  10. So happy to see this topic! I’ve been lifting seriously since September. I started with a small-group training session offered by my gym that they called “Women and Weights.” I would recommend something similar because for me, it was really helpful to start out with other women. Some kind of training is a must to get good form.

    I do Stronglifts 5×5 and yesterday I squatted 205 and benched 90 for 5×5 reps. My deadlift is around 210 and I use a hex bar, which makes form easier (no scraped shins!)

    What I like about it: in about an hour, twice a week, I can see that I’m getting stronger and making good progress (the weights I can lift are going up.) I can feel like a real athlete in that amount of time a week, which just wouldn’t be the case with the elliptical.
    I can definitely see that I’m increasing in muscle tone. I have abs I couldn’t see when I was a ballerina in high school.

    One “downside” or at least not positive is that my arms and thighs are getting bigger, which means some of my clothes fit worse than before. I try not to focus on weight or size, which I feel is best for my mental health, but that’s something I can’t help but notice in the way my clothes fit.

    Still, I would recommend lifting to anyone. It’s the most consistently I’ve been able to stick with a workout routine since high school and I think that has a lot to do with the ability to see results in your numbers going up.

    • Word. Even at my fittest I was never going to be one of those girls with a thigh gap and my upper arms and shoulders were too big for most fitted tops. I sort of made peace with it after some time, but its not easy!

    • Diana Barry :

      This is what I worry about getting back into lifting – when I lifted seriously (120 lb dead/squat) my arms and thighs were definitely bigger and I didn’t like how I looked as much. Bah.

  11. The one thing I miss about crossfit is the lifts. Especially the Olympic lifts (fast lifts where you jump under the bar, usually cleans, jerks, and snatches).

    I was at a 200+ lb deadlift, 100+ lb clean, 150+ lb front/back squat, 100 lb chest press, I can’t recall my max press or push press but my jerk was approx. 125 lbs. The snatch was not my friend: about 30 lbs maybe 40 on a good day.

    Yes, any heavy lifting should be learned from a trainer. Once you know the moves, work out with a buddy who can critique your form. Don’t be afraid of shooting for a max weight. Guys will hurt themselves, yes, but most women know when to quit.

  12. Strong is the new beautiful! Work with a trainer – at least at first – to get your form correct. This will help to prevent painful injuries. Many gyms will let you share a trainer, so you and workout buddy can get schooled together. If you plan to got the CrossFit route, check the credentials of the crossfit affiliate. Not all crossfit “boxes” are created equal. Most, if not all of the staff should be certified trainers. Safety should be a higher priority than saving money. Finally, encourage your daughters, nieces, etc to emulate strong, athletic bodies. Not the stick thin fashion models VS and other companies use for advertising.

  13. It’s been a while since I’ve lifted weights regularly. I got into it in law school when I had regular access to the gyms on campus and more free time than I have now. I was already pretty slim from doing a lot of cardio and eating pretty well, and I wanted to develop some muscle definition and strength.

    It only took a couple a sessions of weightlifting before I started to notice a difference. I would get much more of a workout high after lifting weights than I would from cardio. My energy level increased tremendously, and I was sleeping better. I loved how I felt when I was lifting regularly, but after graduating and starting a job, I got out of the habit and never really got back into it. I have some free weights at home, and occasionally I’ll start lifting again, but I’ve never been able to build it back up into a regular thing.

  14. Related question to this (and sorry to the non-parents):

    I’ve reincorporated cardio into my routine and now run 3-4 times a week in the morning. I get up at 5 am and just run outside. With two kids that get up early and a working husband, I just don’t have time to go to the gym and back each morning. Nighttime workouts are out because by the time my husband and I put the kids to bed, have dinner, do the dishes, and get bottles, etc ready for the next day and actually talk to each other, it’s 9:15 and I’m exhausted from the day.

    I’d love to get back into a lifting routine because I enjoy it so much. I just don’t know how I’m going to fit it in, time-wise. I like having one or two days a week to sleep past 5, but I guess I should just suck it up and lift at home on those mornings. Any other tips/tricks?

    • If you have enough time, maybe you could do the weights and cardio on same morning so you can sleep in on the other mornings?

      Or try to get in at least one lifting session on the weekends?

      Or try to push yourself to lift at night just for a short time, maybe 15-20 minute sessions a few time a week from 9:15-9:30? (I find I can lift at night without it affecting my sleep, but cardio will perk me up and make it harder for me to go to sleep on time)

      Try to do some socializing with your husband while you’re working out? I don’t have kids, and my partner and I don’t often eat together because of differing schedules, but I’ll usually keep him company while he’s preparing and eating his meal. Maybe your husband could do that with you while you lift weights at home?

      • There’s a lot you can do at home in under 20 minutes. Have you tried kettlebells? Google Neghar Fonooni/Lean and Lovely or Jen Sinkler/Thrive as the Fittest. They both have programs for sale that aren’t expensive (I think I paid $49 for each of them) and are VERY time conscious. They also have free workouts on their sites. You could also invest in a TRX for home ($200) or just pick up a bodyweight program somewhere. Imagine what a badass you’d feel like repping out 100 pushups every morning.

        • Second this recommendation for Lean & Lovely! Very approachable program complete with training plans and youtube tutorials

    • locomotive :

      Is there a gym near your work that you can go to during lunch? At my last job, I did 20 minute lifting workouts 3-4x a week during my lunch break which was perfect. I’d do one big compound lift each workout and it would be quick, plus I wouldn’t get sweaty enough to need a shower so I could just wipe myself down, deodorize, and go back to work.

    • Spirograph :

      +1 for kettlebells, they feel like fun to me, even though they’re a great workout. Plus you really only need a couple of them for a whole body worth of exercises.

      As for squeezing in workouts,in my pre-kid days, I had a very all or nothing approach: if I didn’t have an hour to spend on my workout, I just didn’t do it. Now I’ve embraced the idea that 15 minutes is better than nothing, and 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes before bed is better still. I do a couple sun salutations and then squats, lunges and push ups in my pjs and bare feet on mornings I wake up before my toddler. (These are admittedly few and far between.) I do the same at night on nights I can’t go to the gym. It’s obviously not a perfect substitute for actually being able to lift with weights, but it’s a decent stop-gap.

    • anon eagle :

      Hi JJ,

      We shared our busy schedule commiseration on the mom’s board. I’m in the same boat as you and I’m looking into the TRX/Kettlebells. I’m pretty wimpy, but I used the TRX and kettlebells when I was in the military. I also LOVE my “the stick” to roll out my sore muscles I think it really helps my recovery, especially when I am first getting back in to lifting. I also squeeze in a workout about once a week. I know it’s not enough to get real results, but at least it is something. I figure I can improve when the kids get older. wah wah.

    • Thanks, ladies! Before kids I loved P90X, but I just don’t have the time for 1.5 hours of lifting so often and prior athletic injuries prevent me from doing Insanity-type stuff. This is great advice and I’m going to look into a lot of it.

      • There’s a new P90X that’s only 30 minutes. I was skeptical but was amazed at the results. Helped me get my abs back after baby #3. It’s kind of expensive, but that kind of motivates me.

  15. In my younger, healthier years, I lifted quite a bit as part of swimming training (I benched my body weight and I am not a small person.) It is very important that you learn proper technique ESPECIALLY if you’re going to be doing squats, snatches, or any of the more “jerk” like lifts. Occasionally I see CrossFit videos that make me actively wince because I’m deeply worried for the people’s knees and shoulders. I don’t think you necessarily have to work with a trainer (though that’s probably not a terrible idea) but make sure you take the time to sit down and watch reliable you-tube videos and read articles about form. And use a mirror to WATCH your own form – that’s really important (those big beefy lifter guys aren’t looking in the mirror just to see their pecs bulging, lol.)

    • lucy stone :

      YES! I used to be a competitive shot putter and the poor form I would see at the gym was insane.

  16. Blonde Lawyer :

    I started weight lifting when I thought I would be applying to a job with a strict physical fitness test where I had to be able to bench press (just one time) 98% of my body weight. At the time, that was 125 lbs. I was a runner with no upper body strength. I went to a Gold’s Gym that catered to corrections officers and police. I inquired about personal training and when I explained my goal the gym owner said I could get a free session to set up my plan, do my plan solo, but check in on progress with him every few weeks and he would tweak it. That is where I learned everything that formed the basis of what I do now at the gym. However, it was not free lifting since I was working out solo. I was using machines, except for bicep curls.

    I’ll be honest though, to go from being a runner with very low arm muscle to a serious lifter in a short period of time took a ton of training. I was probably working out 2-3 hours per night every day of the week for about three months. I hit my goal but never ended up taking the test because I took another job.

    Now I’m a fan of the Planet Fitness 30 minute circuit. I feel I get a great full body workout, strength training included, in a short amount of time.

  17. I just posted about this on Saturday. Lifting weights, strength training, balance exerciseses, along with flexibility work, are all really important to remain vital as in you age. Build the infrastructure now, and getting older won’t feel so bad.

    • Anonymous :

      Your post was what made me consider hiring a trainer. I’m 31 and I want to make sure I’m in good health 20 years from now.

  18. I love to Crossfit because the programming encompasses lifting! As an ex-college athlete, it was a no brainer for me. The great thing about Crossfit is that there are different levels of women in our gym. I like to lift heavier, and some women go lighter and faster in their workouts. It really is up to you. And for those who say Crossfit causes injuries, I disagree. I was able to Crossfit throughout my entire 1st pregnancy (with my docs approval), and I am currently half way through my second one and still going strong. As long as you find a reputable “box” with qualified trainers, and are smart with what you do, you will remain injury free (and able to lift more and more weight). Pre-pregnancy, I was able to deadlift #335, squat #220, and clean and jerk #175 but that didn’t come until a lot of hard work went into learning form and building that strength (years!). Those who allow their egos to get in the way are the ones who get hurt. If your body is screaming at you to stop, DO IT! Don’t get injured and turn around and blame anyone else!

    • You sort of just put your finger on the problem with Crossfit is – its great for experienced lifters and athletes (like you) but there are lots of relative beginners who show up at gyms of varying repute and that’s where the injury rep comes from. I mean – sure – possibly the people shouldn’t be doing the work-outs in the first place, but the gyms themselves don’t necessarily ease new people in particularly gently. I mean, almost any exercise is safe if you do it slowly, build strength, and watch your form. The problem is that Crossfit (at times) creates an environment that encourages the exact opposite.

      Shrug. I don’t think Crossfit is evil or anything – I just think it may be a fitness fad that has proliferated past the ideal clients it was meant to serve. You know?

      • Disagree completely. I was not a college athlete, but rather a very average runner that enjoyed working out when I started CrossFit. I had not lifted a weight a day in my life. I started 2 and 1/2 years ago actually because I HAD a shoulder injury and someone suggested weights might help. My life has changed and I’m never looking back. I started lifting barely any weight. My deadlift was probably 75 pounds. My squat was 45#. My clean was 45#. I could not do a pull up nor was I ever able to do a pull up at any time in my life. I’m now 44 years old and can deadlift 250#, squat 210#, clean 125#, snatch 125# and do 100 pull ups(kipping) consecutively. CrossFit gets a bad rap because those with injuries complain about it being due to CrossFit. If you train with a reputable box, start slow, work hard and regularly and listen to your body you will see amazing results. Plus you’ll do it in a supportive community with people all interested in helping you get there.

        As for the weight comments — stop looking at the scale. In two years I have gained, yes GAINED, 20 pounds. I don’t look at the scale but at my annual doctor’s appointment. My clothes size has not gone up and I am stronger and in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life. With strength comes amazing self-confidence. I recommend CrossFit to anyone looking to change up their routine and build strength. You won’t be sorry you tried it and you’ll never look back.

        • I’m impressed that you can do 100 consecutive kipping pullups when the female winner of the 2014 CrossFit Games Open can only do 80!

          • I’m a huge believer in CrossFit. I started at age 47 with little athletic background. I can’t lift the numbers that some of the other commenters can, but I love the fact that I’m still able to lift what are pretty heavy weights compared to the rest of the world. It’s been 1.5 years for me and it has absolutely changed my life. The keys are finding a reputable box with good trainers and leaving your ego at the door. If you are a beginner, don’t try to compete with the more experienced members. Move slowly and pay attention to your form while you are learning. Just do what you can do and be glad you got off the couch for an hour. You’ll improve with time. I’m often the last person in my box to finish the workout of the day, but I’m about 20 years older than most of them too. I can’t say enough good things about it.

      • I’m a fairly experienced athlete and still hurt my back fairly badly doing Crossfit. I loved my Crossfit gym, but the problem was that, even as someone who understands the difference between “good hurt” and “bad hurt”, it was difficult to determine when trying something new if I was doing too much. The problem with advising people to listen to their bodies is that all serious athletes train themselves to listen to the body’s pain signals but to disregard them until they reach a fairly intense level. Crossfit’s competitive nature is what makes it fun, but it also means that if you’re a competitive person (as I am) and you’re conditioned to disregard pain signals (as I am), it’s an ideal environment to push yourself to injury.

        In my case, I fairly badly compressed the discs in my lower back box-jumping; it took about 6 months of physical therapy to fix the problem. My Crossfit trainers kept insisting that if I would just shift to a forefoot strike while running, the problem would go away (don’t get me started on that advice, by the way – suffice to say that when the pros change their form, they do it under the supervision of very experienced running coaches and still often get hurt; amateurs often don’t need to try to shift their natural form in the first place and attempting to force a change on a DIY basis is a generally not a good idea). I don’t discourage people from trying Crossfit, but I wouldn’t return to it personally.

        • Back issues :

          Thanks for mentioning back issues – I have some old back injures and every single time I try to get into a weight lifting program my back goes out. And yes, I hired a personal trainer and started slow but within 3 weeks I was back at the physio and eating the cost of my training sessions. if you don’t mind me asking, has your back healed and how do you manage it so that you do injure it again? Even cardio (running, rowing) can be a problem. I do great with power yoga and I’m beginning to think I just need to stick with that and add some pilates but it doesn’t feel like enough to keep me healthy.

  19. BankrAtty :

    What a well timed post–I just started the program out of The New Rules for Lifting for Women this morning. I got a bit burned out on lifting in February, so I started doing more cardio focused programs. But I never loved how my body looked more than I did when I was lifting heavy and eating A LOT.

  20. AnonInfinity :

    Has anyone tried any of the Nia Shanks programs (Lift Like a Girl)? I am going to be in trial in a distant city for 6 weeks this fall and was considering getting her bodyweight program to do in the hotel. Just wondering if anyone has experience with it?

    I am very glad we’re talking about this. Strength training is so important for women in maintaining bone health and overall fitness. I’m a little ADD when it comes to fitness routines, but I got started weight lifting with a trainer. She integrated some basic lifts into my routine. When that got too expensive, I started taking her powerlifting class at my gym. That was awesome until the trainer had to leave, so then I was on my own again. Since I’d had training in many of the lifts, I started New Rules of Lifting for Women, and I love it. (I promise I’m not paid by the authors or their publisher.) This has been the first really consistent training program I’ve done where I’m tracking my weights and trying to make progress. It’s also been the first fitness adventure that’s resonated with me so much. I love being able to lift more than the last session and the feeling I have after every workout.

    My goal by the end of this program is to be able to do at least one straight pull up (no kipping).

    • Honestly, when I was a college athlete and lifting 3-4 days a week and practicing 5 days a week for hours at a time, I still couldn’t do a single pull up. I’m always awed by women that can.

      • As a woman who does lots of pullups (strict, not kipping), the only thing that consistently gets people (men and women) to improve their pullups is pullups. Start assisted, gradually work up to full pullups, but all the lifting in the world won’t get you there unless you’re actually going through the pullup motions.

        • Pull ups are hard! :

          The only times in my life I was able to do pull ups: At the end of military basic training (2). The year I was rowing and rock climbing 5+ times/week (2) and then made a concerted effort to be able to do pull ups on top of that (8).

          When I was in the military (and push-ups are part of your fitness test … and therefore linked to promotions), a wise SNCO used to tell us, “If you want to do a lot of push ups, you have to do a lot of push ups.” Same is true for pull ups, at least in my experience. Some things you just can’t really shortcut.

      • Wildkitten :

        Ditto but my sport didn’t involve doing pull-ups. So it’s kind of like saying I practiced soccer for 5 days a week and still couldn’t swim.

    • Pull-ups are achievable!!! I never thought I’d do them, but worked up to it quite quickly by … doing a lot of them. Starting by jumping a bit, and reducing the jumping over time. Also, lowering yourself down verrrrry slowly from pull-up position does wonders. Good luck!!

      • AnonInfinity :

        Thanks! My book actually has an optional stage that is focused on getting you to a pull up (lots of lowering yourself from pull up position, for example).

        I’ve been using bands for assistance and have been able to lower the resistance somewhat. It’s just such a slow process for me so far. I have faith that I will get it one of these days.

    • This might sound odd, but pole dance is great for this. I started pole classes and went from totally unable to do a pull-up to doing 2 in a row, in less than three months.

  21. Kontraktor :

    I don’t do heavy lifting, but I do a barre class which uses light weights, high reps and a lot of body resistence training to gain strength. I’ve also started some power yoga type classes which get at the same type of thing. Both of these have supplemented a cardio routine of trying to run at least 3 miles a few times a week, but some weeks these classes are my only work out.

    I’ve definitely seen huge improvements in muscle tone and strength in the 18 months I’ve been at this, especially since I started from 0. I don’t think just running or cardio would have been nearly enough to help with my fitness goals, which are to become just generally stronger, more flexible and more healthy. I want to avoid pain as I get older. Granted, I still have a ways to go before I feel I look super toned, but I still have a bit more weight I could stand to lose (5 lb?) and progress to make in terms of actual strength abilities.

    The thing I like about barre and yoga is they emphasize a) stretching as a component of lifting/strength training which helps keep me safe and b) focussing on exercises that help build long lean muscles. I would absolutely recommend a strength training class for anybody looking to add this into their work out routine but maybe they don’t know where or how to start.

  22. IDK if this is too off-topic, but I’d love to see a running version of this thread!

    • Totally agree… It has really changed my life and I would love to chat with other similarly minded women about how to progress and encourage each other.

  23. For Corpor****s reading who are not yet lifting, it’s great for calming your mind! Nothing clears my mind faster than focusing on lifting weights because it takes 100% attention to lift a challenging weight.

  24. I love weightlifting. I only found it via crossfit, I’d never have considered otherwise. I know everyone has divided feelings about crossfit, but here’s my story:

    In 2 years, I lost more than a quarter of my body weight, went from a 10/dress size to a 0/00 for most things. I’ve actually not been at the gym since about February, because my contract lapsed, but also I have been having some health issues.

    I’ve re-learned how to do handstands, strict push ups (no knees! elbows in!); strict/deadhang and kipping pullups, and a deadlift of more than 2x my body weight.

    I love to lift.

  25. I have had great success with BodyPump (a Les Mills class taught at most gyms). It’s a hour long class that focuses on the 8 main muscle groups.

  26. I have been taking “Les Mills Bodypump” classes at New York Sports Club for several months. I absolutely love it and it’s really popular. It’s high energy, motivational and pretty easy to pick up the routines. Started off with very low weights- lifting ten pounds total on the bar bell. Now I’m up to 30 pounds total for the heaviest lifting. Some girls do a lot more, some less, for various reasons. I am not sure if I will go heavier than this as I do not want to strain my back or lift too much too soon.

  27. Red Beagle :

    I don’t lift. I will run marathons in the pouring rain or blazing sun without a complaint, but you cannot get me into a gym to lift. I don’t know why. It is just a block I have not been able to overcome.

  28. I can’t say enough positive things about starting a serious weightlifting program. I learned all that I know from a few semi-serious weightlifting guy friends and (a pretentiously named but surprisingly helpful website). I find that it’s been way easier for me to stick to the weightlifting programs than other fitness routines (I don’t do well with anything too planned, so classes are just not for me). And the results are simply incredible. You may not notice it on the scale, but I look and feel totally different in unbelievably positive ways! I used to run quite a bit and have always been a sort of serious swimmer, but the efficient and comprehensive gains from weightlifting just can’t be beat!

    It can be hard to get to confidence up to try powerlifting moves, especially those that are highly technical (i.e. deadliest). Just go for it! I’ve lifted at several gyms (in different states and even in other countries) and have universally found a supportive environment for me as a casual female lifter. I’ve found the serious (male) lifters to be encouraging, helping me with equipment when I needed it and giving me advice without seeming condescending.

  29. For DC readers, I adore Reformation Fitness in Shaw. Can’t recommend the TRX/kettlebell and MetCon/HIIT classes enough.

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