Helping a petite ballerina perform her first chin-up and dead-lift more than she weighs is a special moment. Helping a woman become comfortable in the gym and look at herself in the mirror with pride reminds me of why I left medical school to pursue my profession in health and wellness in the first place.
None of this is to brag. Instead, it's to spread a message that strength training possesses an array of benefits and special powers that extend beyond aesthetic goals. It's easy to marvel at the women in the CrossFit games and the plethora of fitness superstars on Instagram who are seemingly perfect
However, before any of those women were seemingly confident and could do no wrong, they were beginners at some point. They had the same fears and doubts. Here are 11 tips I remind each woman to keep in mind when beginning her weight training story:
1. It's never as scary as it seems.
Fear is a powerful substance that if not acknowledge and contained possesses the power to stop us in our tracks. While it's normal to feel intimidated, this doesn't mean you shouldn't persist. Fear is beneficial—it's our body's way of trying to keep us safe. Don't fight your fear. Instead, acknowledge and walk with it, then politely tell it to go away.
2. Think like a scientist.
Adopting a strength training habit is less like playing Simon Says and more like playing the chemist. Just as a scientist needs to mix and match doses until the perfect formula is established, your strength training operates the same way. Explore many different types of strength training until you find one that suits your goals and provides enjoyment.
3. Just start.
In this world, fortune favors those who take action. Develop a bias for taking action. Large leaps aren't required; just take one small step at a time.
4. Don't train for soreness and exhaustion.
Women work twice as hard as men do at the gym (sorry, guys). However, I've also noticed that many of the women I worked with have a tendency to equate the quality of their workout with how exhausted and sore they are. Strength training is different from running or other types of cardio. Sweat isn't going to come as easily since you're taking rest breaks in between and it's likely cooler in the weight section.
5. Compete only with yourself.
It's tempting to read a transformation story of someone and expect those results in the same time frame. However, the human body is complicated and results don't operate in a linear fashion. Due to hormones and lifestyle factors, none of us will achieve results in the exact time frame as the other person.
Protect your self-worth and sanity and only compete with yourself on your strength-training journey.
6. Be proud of yourself no matter what you do.
If it's only 15 minutes at first, it's still a success. If you can't lift a lot at first, feel awkward or uncomfortable, but you still finish your workout—that's a success. The fact that you did something already separates you from the majority who may be letting fear stop them. Don't be so hard on yourself; progress is progress.
7. Proper form is priority No. 1.
Not paying attention to your form makes as much sense as me trying to perform fancy salsa dancing moves without learning my basic step patterns (embarrassingly this was a true story). At the end of the day, weight training first and foremost needs to be executed in the safest manner as possible.
8. Think efficiency over duration.
Resist equating a number of exercises, reps, and sets to the quality of your workout and instead use the quality of movements and how they supplement your goals as the main measure of effectiveness for your exercise program.
9. Being strong is cool and beneficial.
Strength training provides myriad benefits for women and one of those are the strengthening of their bones, which helps with osteoporosis (and, no, strength training won't make you big and bulky).
10. Consistency trumps everything else.
Consistency, repetition, and time are the equation for getting results. It's better to make small but realistic commitments that you can stick with rather than large and daunting commitments that cause unnecessary friction within your daily lifestyle.
11. Set motivating but realistic goals.
It's important to remember that you're on a specific journey with your goals, not on someone else's timeline. Each woman will have different hormonal levels, lifestyle stressors, different commitments, experience, and comfortability. Just focus on getting 1 percent better each day. The better exercise fits into your ideal lifestyle, the likelier exercise will be a mainstay over the long haul.