Making the Case for Lifting Weights


shelley squat art

Let me start off by saying I suck at running. Sprinting can be sort of a thrill but even with a good sports bra there’s nothing so dreadful in my opinion, as a long distance run. My experience with endurance exercise is probably a contributing factor of my enthusiasm for a more primal approach to exercise. However, as a long-time internet over-researcher, I also believe there is solid evidence to suggest that in terms of exercise, lifting heavy weight (I’m not talking about 3lb dumbbells here is the most effective way of reaching the most common body composition goal less fat to lean mass.

Women are especially prone to overlooking weights in lieu of aerobic exercise or fitness gadgetry. I can sympathize. Not very long ago I was that woman. In fact, the Turbo Jam DVD’s are still in my basement. I knew that if I wanted to ‘get in shape’, I needed to work hard. I assumed that meant jumping around breathlessly for long periods or putting in at least 30 minutes on a machine. If only I had the discipline to go for a nice long run! I also thought that since I didn’t know a whole lot about exercise, the best thing I could do was put my faith in a program that made extraordinary promises. There must be a magic bullet out there somewhere.

Well, guess what There kind of is a magic bullet but you won’t find it on infomercials. You might not even see it at your gym. If you’re a woman, you may not even know another woman who lifts weights beyond a perfunctory stop-off at a machine or two after their real workout on the treadmill. I am here to tell you that lifting heavy weight does amazing things to your body, it is fun, and it is an interesting engagement of your time. Allow me to elaborate.

shelley-dumbellBeing Leaner
If you’re a woman, and you’re not satisfied with the way you look, chances are your goal is to lose weight. The problem with losing weight is that your body will shed a combination of fat and muscle. An ideal situation would be to lose as much fat as possible while maintaining your muscle. While this will result in fewer pounds lost overall, the end result will be a leaner, more fit looking physique. So instead of ‘weight loss’ as a goal, you might be better off thinking in terms of ‘fat loss’.

Endurance exercise causes your body to break down muscle in order to become more efficient. This means that fat loss is accompanied by a higher proportion of muscle loss. There have been times in my life when I’ve been at the low end of a healthy weight for my height but I still felt kinda fat. Now I get it. It’s not that I had unrealistic expectations, it’s that despite my low weight, I had a high percentage of body fat (I hate the word ‘skinny fat’ but essentially that’s what Im talking about. Over time, if you maintain a calorie deficit through diet and/or regular aerobic type exercise and don’t engage in any type of weight training you can expect the same result that I got.

Weight training allows you maintain as much of your lean muscle as possible while losing fat. And when youre done losing fat, you will have created an efficient fuel-burning body that might even require more calories to maintain than you ate before. Awesome! Aerobic exercise, while possibly helpful in increasing a calorie deficit (if it doesn’t just make you more hungry is overrated as a method of fat loss and in my experience, totally unnecessary.

Being Stronger
Back when I was torturing myself with aerobic exercise I may have improved my endurance somewhat but I certainly never got any stronger. In fact, I never expected to get stronger nor did I really care. I just wanted to lose weight. I didn’t know it at the time but I was really missing out. It is a pretty amazing feeling when you suddenly start to notice that you can lift, push and pull stuff you used to find too heavy. You’ll also start to notice the relative ease at which you can move your body around in your environment. Instead of dragging yourself up the stairs you are leaping up two steps at a time. Suddenly, you lose your fear of book boxes and economy-sized bags of dog food. One cold night you might even find yourself having fun manhandling the snowblower down the driveway. If you’ve never experienced an increase in strength like this before, I cannot recommend it enough. As far as I can tell, it is the closest we can ever come to feeling like super heroes.

Being in Control
As we all know, when we were kids, we exercised via play. Wrestling with siblings, riding your bike around the neighborhood, and building stick forts in the woods were all, in their own ways, forms of exercise. Don’t worry, I’m not going to make some banal suggestion that you rediscover your inner child (personally, stick forts just don’t have the same draw they used to. My point is that you were the director of your physical activity. You did stuff that was fun and interesting to you. Imagine yourself as a child in front of an aerobics video or on a treadmill. You would have been bored to death. What’s the fun in just following orders or running in place

If you are bored with your workout or are just following along someone else’s workout, lifting weights can be a way to take back control. Choosing your routine, deciding when to go heavier, setting personal bests, tracking progress, learning new exercises, noticing relative strength from one day to the next, improving form these activities engage your mind as well as your body. And I think its fun. Or at the very least, I don’t need a TV to stave off the boredom of my workout.

Okay, now that I’ve laid all that out there, let me remind you that I am not a personal trainer and have no formal training whatsoever in the field of exercise science. My goal is to share with you what has worked for me so take all of this in the context of an informal chat with a friend over a cup of tea. I plan to write more on this topic in the future but I highly recommend the following resources for learning about weight training:

Mistress Krista will tell you how to become the ultimate badass and feel like a ninja, too. Hands down my favorite weight training site. Content is geared towards women.

Gym Junkies
A man by the name of Vic Magary quit his lawyer job to open his own gym in Ohio. He takes a no-bullshit approach, has great advice, and is fun to read.

Fitness Spotlight
Lots of training articles and advice. Also, nutrition info that is consistent with primal/paleo.

The New Rules of Lifting for Women

The first book I bought about weight training. Includes lots of info on how to get started and has a 6 month program you can follow.

9 Responses to “Making the Case for Lifting Weights”

  1. liz says:

    Ooo, great article ! I am really enjoying your blog (I linked over here from Mark’s – I am just dicovering that !) .. the food amd recipes look awesome 🙂

    I have to say I am glad you listed Krista’s site – her site got me started lifting heavy 4 years ago and I love it !!!

  2. Melli says:

    Thanks for this great article and sharing your experiences and great recipes on the blog. I enjoy reading and trying by myself 🙂
    I had to laugh so much when I read the sentence about being “skinnyfat”. That´s exactly how I felt these days 😉 I´ll try the weight lifting. Thanks for the hint.
    Oh..,I found your blog through Dave´s article about primal chocolait cookies on Facebook…

  3. shelley says:

    Hi Liz – Always glad to meet another Stumptuous fan!

    Melli – Glad you found the blog and are enjoying it. I hope you give the weight training a try. When I first started out I was in it for the fat loss, but along the way I was surprised to find how much I just enjoy it for its own sake.

  4. chrystie says:

    One word…Crossfit!

  5. Joanna says:

    I also love Stumptuous! It was that site that got me interested in lifting a while back. I am getting back to the gym now and trying to focus on weights, but I am scared of the big freeweights section. I’ve seen the meatheads that hang around there…

  6. shelley says:

    Chrystie – There’s a crossfit gym a reasonable distance from where I live. I am very intrigued by their oly weightlifting classes! If I ever get a chance to try it (read: children start school) you can bet I’ll blog about it here.

    Joanna – I think a lot of women feel uncomfortable in the free weights area and legitimately so. It can be awkward if you’re the only female there and you feel like people are checking you out. I work out It’s hard for me to make it to a gym on a consistent basis so I mainly workout in my basement. For a long time all I had were a few dumbbells, a weight bench and a 45lb olympic barbell with 35lbs worth of plates. If the gym environment is keeping you from doing your thing, you might consider whether you can do your lifting at home. Another idea would be to go there on a Sunday morning or another less-busy time and get your routine down. Then, if you’re drawing attention as the only female within 20 feet, you’ll at least feel confident about what you’re doing. If you can brave it a few times, you’ll probably start to feel a lot more comfortable.

  7. Tom says:

    Hey Shelly. If you haven’t yet, I’d also recommend the Crossfit website http://www.crossfit.com/
    which gives not only the workout of the day, but is also loaded with instruction on workout form and theory. BrandX has the Crossfit WOD scaled (fortunately) for people who aren’t up to the full workout http://www.crossfitbrandx.com/index.php/forums/viewforum/16/

  8. Hi Shelly, I have just stumbled on your site as I have recently done the switch to Primal eating via the Primal Blueprint. I struggle with getting my 4 kids on track but we are making progress slow and steady. Life style changes all around.
    I also am a Crossfitter and have developed great strength not only in body (what I can lift) but also in mind. I have been lifting among other things for 3 years now and feel like I am in the best shape of my life, but I need to work on the bodyfat loss still, thus my switch to Primal..I finally got it.
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog…I hope to be able to share some recipes and stuff along the way once I feel like I have abetter handle on the eating routine.

  9. cris says:

    You’d probably love Zuzana from Bodyrock.tv. She focuses on bodyweight interval training, posts a new worout almost on a daily basis, so you never get bored with them, and usually only need 24hr rest period in between. I visit her site almost everyday, and have just got hooked on yours as well!

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