Surprising Lessons from the Weight Room

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I recently wrote about my experience hitting the heavy weights at the gym. How I got fed up with feeling intimidated and outnumbered over there and vowed to get comfortable with the heavy stuff. If you’re looking to do the same this year, may I also recommend my accompanying post with tips on how to feel much more comfortable among the big dudes and big barbells.

Like I said in those posts, I’ve done pretty much everything in my fitness life. From yoga and Pilates to a Tough Mudder and a half marathon, I’ve dabbled in everything. I’m a dabbler. But I’ve never taken weights too seriously when I wasn’t working with my own personal trainer. That’s why I wanted a concrete workout program that I could use to help me get over my lifting anxiety, so I turned to a book we’ve reviewed before: The New Rules of Lifting for Women. I’m over a month in to the program, and I can even more wholeheartedly recommend it to the person who wants to step off the treadmill to make the most of his or her gym membership (yep, I think even the dudes can benefit from the book).

One of the first surprises for me was how quickly my strength progressed — and how I had not been pushing myself by not picking up the heavier dumbbells. Because my focus had been on running over the recent months, I hadn’t been lifting anything other than my 2-year-old. I progressed quickly from 7.5-pound weights for dumbbell shoulder presses to 17.5 pounds — a weight I don’t think I’d ever picked up before for that particular exercise. I was also a bit surprised at one of my weaknesses — grip strength! Using heavier weight for exercises like step-ups does more than just tax your lower body; it taxes your grip too. Sometimes my forearms would be crying uncle well before my glutes were.

The book emphasizes following it by the book (har har), so if you’re tempted to add moves to make your workout more difficult, resist that urge. Likewise, they say that if you want to skip the rest periods to speed up your workout, go for it, but they let you know that you’re deviating from the written workout. I heeded their recommendation and do my 60 seconds of rest between exercises, which feels really, really odd to me. Standing around waiting for the next move instead of rushing on isn’t something I’m used to. And okay, I may not give it the full 60 seconds each time, but I give it a good 30- to 45-second college try for the times I don’t do the whole minute of rest.

Another thing I love is the online following this book has. There are numerous forums that pop up when you have questions about any of it, so there is almost always someone who has asked the same question you’re wondering about the program (see grip strength above). In a way I feel like I’ve found a bit of a workout home in the book, and there are a great many sequels that will give me a place to go when I’m ready to move on.

Now I’ll just have to figure out how to scale back the lifting when I have to scale up my running for my next half marathon. Always something to figure out… —Erin

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