I don’t look like the kind of girl who lifts heavy weights, in fact, I probably don’t look like the kind of girl who goes to the gym at all. But – plot twist alert – I make sure I get to the gym four or five times a week. Why? I love weightlifting.
Weight lifting is perfect for those of us who don’t enjoy cardio (so that’s pretty much all of us). I started weight training about seven months ago, and only plucked up the courage to lift heavy weights (squatting, deadlifting etc.) about two months ago. I started because although I’d lost weight through running, my body was… Not looking the way I wanted it to. I wasn’t toned, I had zero muscle, and I still felt kind of like a blob if I’m honest. I followed lots of fitness accounts on Instagram, and all these girls had the bodies I wanted (check out Georgia Hickey for an Irish example, her figure is on point). What did they all have in common? They lifted weights, so I said I’d try it out too.
Although I started using machines like the leg press, I was still afraid to head over to the free weights section of the gym. A lot of the time it’s a male dominated area, and I was really intimidated by it. Even though I’d wanted to learn how to squat for months, I was afraid of trying it out and looking like an idiot. But now that I know what I’m doing on “the other side”, I’m kicking myself for not starting sooner. So for any of you girls thinking about using the free weights section, I’d say to just go for it. Here are my tips for getting started and not feeling like the most awkward person in Europe while doing so.
My first piece of advice is to research before you step foot in the gym. Take note of the exercises you want to do, find out which muscles they help to build up, and learn how to use the machines. My favourite method of research is Youtube, and my workouts come from a compilation of Jen Heward, Robin Gallant and Nikki Blakketter’s videos. I have three workouts planned for myself: legs, arms and shoulders, and back, chest and core. Write a list of the exercises you want to do for each of these groups and bring it to the gym with you; you can always tell that somebody is a beginner if they’re standing around looking confused about what to do next. Your list will keep you focused, and with all your research you’ll know exactly what you’re doing.
Don’t be afraid of what other people think of you. I know that’s easier said than done, and I still worry that I look like an idiot, but I always remind myself of this: when I’m exercising, I’m too focused on myself to notice what anyone else is doing, and this is the same with almost everyone. If someone is looking at you, chances are they’re just trying to figure out how the hell you’re using that confusing looking machine.
Everyone has to start somewhere, so don’t be embarrassed when you’re finding it difficult to squat with just the barbell at first. And if people are at the gym to stand around staring at others, they’re clearly not there for the right reasons. I’ve dropped weights on my feet and I’ve hit my head off barbells more times than I’d care to admit, but you know what? Who cares! Everyone makes mistakes, so just keep thinking to yourself, “I’m doing this for myself, and I’m going to get strong.” To hell with what other people think.
If you’re still feeling a little intimidated, I’d recommend going to the gym at a quiet time. I’m always the first person in there at ten o’clock on Sunday mornings, because I can head straight to the squat rack and there’s no waiting around. Once you get more confident, it’ll be easier to hit the gym at 4 o’clock on Mondays.
What helped me the most when it came to lifting heavy weights was going into the free weights section with someone who was familiar with it. Although I love hitting the gym by myself, I wouldn’t have had the courage to teach myself how to squat or deadlift. But what if you don’t know anyone who uses the free weights section? Well, I didn’t either. As I said, I followed lots of people on Instagram who had an interest in fitness and weight lifting, so when I noticed that one of them used the gym at UL, I asked him to help. Luckily for me, he was more than happy to show me what I wanted to know and had the patience of a saint when I could barely balance the barbell on my shoulders. It might take two or three times before you’re comfortable going it alone, so don’t be afraid to keep asking for help.
And my final tip is to be consistent. Contrary to belief, weight lifting doesn’t make you bulky without years and years of work. It takes a while for muscle to build up, but it’s so rewarding when you hit new PR’s and can lift heavier weights. Also, unlike cardio, weight lifting helps to speed up your metabolism. Even when you stop exercising, you continue to burn fat all day after a workout. And the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so it’s a win-win situation really.
If any of you have questions about weight training feel free to ask me on Twitter @micwbu. I’m no expert, but I certainly know how scary it can be when you’re a beginner.