So you want to start weightlifting?

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’weights1m 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 hweights2ell 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. weights3

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.

Does Exercise Cure Anxiety?

It’s true what they say, another year older, another year wiser. Over the past year, I’ve experienced some of my worst bouts of anxiety; times where I wouldn’t leave my house for days because I was afraid of all the things that could anxietygo wrong. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d ever improve. There were a countless number of nights where I’d just cry and cry and cry, I was so afraid I’d be stuck that way forever. But the last four months have been a turning point for me, and thank God because I was like a raging antichrist there for a good while. Since my mental health is something that I’m so open and honest about, I thought I’d share with you how I’ve made these improvements.

The main thing that’s helped improve my anxiety is exercise. If you have anxiety you’re probably rolling your eyes and sighing right now, and I don’t blame you. Every time I went to see my doctor about my anxiety I was advised to do more exercise, and every time I heard that I wanted to scream at him that I didn’t have time and it wouldn’t work anyways. Low and behold, every time I was told this I’d head off on a walk, and after no immediate anxiety relief, I’d give up. That was that, exercise did
n’t help and it was back to the drawing board.

And I was right, exercise doesnanxiety3’t really work as a once off cure, but if you’re willing to stick to it you’ll definitely see results. I’ve gone from doing no exercise at all, to going to the gym three times a week, and by doing that I’ve gone from having three panic attacks a week to having three panic attacks a month, if even. For me, exercise is a preventative measure for my anxiety. If I go more than three days without going to the gym, I’ll start to feel my anxiety creeping up on me again.

With me, when I have nothing to do I get anxious. I get anxious that I should be doing something, and in the space of about ten minutes I’m panicking about all the things I have to do. Exercising helps to fill these gaps in the evenings, or mornings, or even between classes when I have some spare time. I’m one of those people who just has to be kept busy, and exercise fits perfectly for this.anxiety4

One of the biggest excuses I had before when it came to exercising was that I had no time to do it. And now, I still have no time to do it. I have college, and assignments, and studying, and trying to keep up blogging, and maintaining the social life of a college student, and everything else going on in my life at the moment. But I make time, because I have to. Every Tuesday I start college at 12 o’clock, but I’m always up at 8am to go to the gym. You have the same amount of hours in the day as everyone else, you just have to make good use of them. Prioritise, try to go to sleep an hour earlier and get up an hour before you usually would. anxiety2

So if you’re at your wits end with anxiety like I was, go back to the basics. I know that exercising won’t help everyone, but after experiencing the huge improvement in my mental health I’d be wrong not to promote it. Go to a Pilates class twice a week, start running, dancing, whatever it is that you think you’ll enjoy the most. When a doctor tells you to exercise it can be difficult to listen when you’re thinking, “You have no idea what this is like”. But this is something that really, really helped me and I’ll never go back to not exercising again.

Staying Healthy and Losing Weight in College

The thought of going back to college this year filled me with anxiety. Why? The fear of gaining weight. I was afraid that all my hard work over the summer would be undone, and I’d go back to being miserable about my body. College this time last year consisted of endless takeaways, drinking the cheapest and most fattening form of alcohol out there (€4 Aldi wine, would not recommend) and general laziness. But this year I was determined not to fall back into old habits, and I didn’t. I’ve even managed to lose 4lbs this year, bringing my total weight loss to 2 stone. You can see my before and after pictures below, if you dare, you’ve been warned.

One of the main things that’s helped keep my weight down since getting back to college is exercising. Gym membership is the best thing I could have spent my money on, and I actually go this year. I aim to go to the gym three times a week, but sometimes I could go twice and other times I could go four times – depending on my enthusiasm and workload. Treadmill, rowing machine, leg press and ab workouts are all things I try to incorporate into my hour in the gym. My excuse last year was that I never had time for the gym, but you can always find some if you look hard enough.

The amount of takeaways I eat has decreased a huge amount this year, and the “group meal” scheme in our house has contributed to that. Me and my housemates take it on turns to make each other dinner, which is usually something healthy. It works out a lot cheaper and means you only end up cooking once a week, so if you and your housemates eat similar types of food I’d definitely recommend it.

I stopped drinking/going out last semester, and it’s something I really regret. It made me a bit of a recluse if I’m honest and it only meant that I had more money to spend on takeaways. I thought it was improving my mental health, but it probably made it worse. Anyways, I don’t do that anymore. I go out twice a week, which is fairly standard for a lot of students in Limerick. Now when I go out, I stick to vodka and a diet mixer. It’s all about being smart about what you drink. I won’t lie, after a few too many I’ll end up buying garlic chips after the nightclub, but sure what harm when you’re up at 9am the next day for the gym?

There are also little changes I’ve made that have improved my diet slightly more. If my housemates are getting pasta carbonara or pizza from the heavenly Italian place beside our house, I’ll buy a panini instead. I eat dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. I drink unsweetened almond milk or soya milk instead of cow’s milk. I use cinnamon on my porridge instead of sugar. It’s all about making little changes that will lead to a big change in your weight and how you see yourself.

So as you can see, I haven’t made any drastic or horrible changes in my life. I still go out and drink, but I balance it with going to the gym. I still get takeaways, just not as often and I go for a healthier option. You don’t have to completely cut yourself off from the norms of college life, you just have to learn to find a balance.

January 2015                                                                                                     twostoneOctober 2015

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