By Leanne Shear, Founder of Uplift Studios
When I started Uplift over four years ago, it never occurred to me that empowering women to engage in strength training would be a euphemism for empowering them in all aspects of their lives. When you really examine it, the parallel is clear — strong muscles yield strength in so many other capacities: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. If I can curl 20-lb dumbbells, I can get through anything.
But it’s not always that intuitive. People — especially women — tend to fall into their myopic workout routine: all they see is their SoulCycle class, or their Barre class, or their hot yoga class.
Strength training in particular is often ignored. Why? Some common refrains I hear at Uplift are:
*I don’t know what I’m doing
*I’m intimidated by weights
*I don’t want to bulk up
*Cardio and ONLY CARDIO makes me skinny
I understand all of these fears, because in some form or another, I’ve experienced them myself. However, that’s all they are: fears, not reality. I see women lifting weights every single day (myself and my colleagues included), and I can attest to the fact that the benefits are manifold. Most women don’t get at all “bulky” — we don’t have enough testosterone for that to happen — and in fact, lifting heavier weights makes us look even leaner.
It’s also a fallacy that strength and resistance training isn’t “cardio” to a degree. I challenge you to do some squats with a bar and heavy plates, without watching your heart rate escalate instantly. I also believe getting stronger via weights is a way to make your cardio sessions so much more efficient. When I PR’d in the Boston Marathon a few years ago with a time of 3:29, I attribute that to all of the lifting I did during my training period, not my long runs — because it was a cold and snowy winter, I honestly didn’t do all that much running in preparation.
How to get started with weight training
Understandably, intimidation and/or a lack of knowledge is a barrier to entry when it comes to lifting. But with a little preparation and research, lifting can become a girl’s best friend.
*Start small and progress, keeping track of your progress with one of the numerous fitness tracker apps out there.
If you start with 5-lb weights one week, progress to 7.5-lb weights in another two weeks, and so on. A person can plateau in lifting just like she can plateau in another fitness format, so it’s important to keep things dynamic, within the reasonable confines of your body and abilities.
*Think muscle groups: make a plan for working on chest, legs, back, triceps, biceps and shoulders, spreading those groups out over the course of your week.
Combine with your cardio for added efficiency. For instance, head out for your usual 4-mile run and then hit the gym to work on chest and back one day, and then another day hit spin class and afterward focus on legs.
*Foam roll and stretch before and after sessions to mitigate soreness.
*Strength training doesn’t have to be just about lifting weights: using just your own body weight is a perfectly acceptable way to fit in your strength/resistance training.
Think pushups, squats, dips, lunges, and planks for an equipment-free and hassle-free boost in strength.
*Work with a personal trainer, even just for a session or two.
This is a great way to learn proper technique and develop programming that works for you, your body, your goals, and your schedule.
Leanne Shear is Co-founder, President, and Head Trainer at Uplift. Always an athlete, Leanne played competitive basketball through high school and ran Division I Varsity Cross Country and Track in college. Once she moved to NYC, along with weight training, biking, circuits, yoga and swimming, she became a part of New York Road Runners and started racing and eventually running marathons, with a PR of 3:29.
Before co-founding Uplift, Leanne graduated with honors from the University of Pennsylvania and has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies and Cultural Politics from New York University. Leanne is also the author of The Perfect Manhattan, published in 2005 and Cocktail Therapy: The Perfect Prescription for Life’s Many Crises, published in 2007. Her writing has also been featured in The Nation, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Glamour, Life & Style, Maxim, and Men’s Health.