I was never that strong. In primary school the boys would challenge us girls to arm wrestling matches (probably not the best or safest thing!!) and I would ALWAYS lose! When it came to doing gymnastics, it took me forever to finally achieve a "circle-up" on to the low bar. It felt like it took years to gain strength for that skill, no joke!
Fast forward into my early twenties, my strength was still looking pretty darn bleak!
These days, things are looking a little different, and i'm loving it!
I first started getting into strength training in a "traditional" gym setting. Weights machines, dumbbells, and small barbells were my weapons of choice. They were all perfectly acceptable, but I soon realised their limitations for what I personally wanted to achieve, and how I viewed the human body's movement patterns.
A lot of women are scared (or at least hesitant) to try weights training. Gaining too much muscle, or getting bulky, is less than desirable. We are somehow taught that we'll end up looking like men, and will lose our femininity if we do weights. I personally don't buy into that, because everyone's perception of masculinity and femininity is quite varied. Also, regular folks like you and I just won't give ourselves the same training and nutritional stimulus to end up looking like a competitive athlete or body builder (more on that later).
Back in 2011, I decided to head to some adults gymnastics classes. Not only was I incredibly unfit, but I was weak too! Here we go again - after so much effort, so much time, I would finally achieve the basic level one skills I had learned as a child. This what one of the things that kick started not only my health and fitness journey, but more specifically, my strength training.
I started up at a gym not long after I finished my time doing those gymnastics classes, and got stuck into a number of years doing variations of traditional strength training workouts. Because I wasn't able to go back to my gymnastics classes, I decided to try pole fitness instead! Yes, my strength had improved, but there were still weaknesses. After about four or five months of pole fitness classes, I finished up and continued with my traditional weights workouts at the gym.
This time in the gym served my body really well, especially when I decided to get back into gymnastics a number of years later. Achieving old and new skills was so much easier, now that I had a solid foundation of strength and had been using a variety of training methods. Not only had I been using machines and dumbbells, but I enjoyed using various tools such as suspension training (e.g. TRX straps), kettlebells, and larger / heavier barbells.
It was during this time that I gradually built up the strength to deadlift 67.5kg, which was about 1kg heavier than my bodyweight at the time. People would often comment that I was looking fit and strong, but they were surprised when I said that I could deadlift that amount of weight. No - I did not look like a hulk! No - I did not look unfeminine! I looked exactly how they described me, a normal woman who was fit and strong. I was someone who could do a chin up, and was working towards doing more chin ups. I could do push ups on my toes! I could hold a decent plank.
What am I trying to say?
I started off with very little strength. And because of that, I had very little confidence in my physical abilities. Strength training has changed all that.
I'm more confident. It doesn't matter that I'm not hitting the same "numbers" as my friends. The fact that I can still deadlift my bodyweight is a real achievement for me, and anyone else who can. The fact that I can lift a nearly 30kg barbell over my head is something that I wouldn't have had the confidence to do all those years ago. Strength training gives you confidence. A barbell (or whatever piece of equipment you chose to use) has a unique way of assuring you that you're actually more capable than you think or feel.
Start lifting weights and not only will you have more confidence, but you'll be opening tight jar lids like a pro! It's actually kinda funny... for me, jar lids are a challenge. I hate them with a passion but I will open it!! My husband often tells me "I can help, you know!" And I'm super grateful for that because as a mechanic he has awesome grip strength. But of course, the challenge of a jar lid makes me much too stubborn to ask for help as often as I could :)
I hear it all... the... time...
"I want to get more toned."
I'd like to educate you, and reassure you of something: lifting heavy weights is not going to turn you into the Shulk (She-Hulk). As females, we are just not made with enough testosterone to allow that to happen. Plain and simple!!!
If you are wondering how body builders look the way they do, it's because they spend ALL of their time eating and training in a very specific way. Their lives revolve around it! And those really big body builders..? Supplements. You can read into that any way you like. Supplements that natural body builders use, or "supplements" (insert winky-face emoji here) that the highest of high level body builders use.
The everyday person uses strength training to not only get stronger, but to create shape. What creates that toned look? Muscle! And as females, we need to lift heavy in order to create that shape. Of course, we need to do this sensibly - start off light and progress heavier as we get stronger, under supervision of someone qualified. But still - we need that stimulus.
Remember - if you think you're getting too big, just tweak your training until you achieve what you're happy with! Easy!
Also remember - "heavy" is not a pre-determined weight range that you can google. "Heavy" simply means that you need to work hard to move the weight. Don't ever compare your heavy to someone else's heavy. We're all different, all at different stages of our strength training, and we all start somewhere.
3: More Confidence #winning!
I'm sure you're not looking to get so much confidence that you end up with your head in the clouds and a superiority complex. But because you're strong, fit and healthy, and you actually like the way you look, you're going to feel awesome and you can rock virtually any outfit you choose, Summer or Winter.
Don't get me wrong - you may not have the perfect body (newsflash - nobody does), but being happy with how you look will make a trip to the beach or wearing your favourite skirt or shorts so super enjoyable!!!
4: prevention is better than cure
And that is certainly true! Did you know that once we turn 30 years old, we start to lose muscle mass and bone density. But that's not the only thing to go. If we're not careful, we set can set ourselves up for falls, easily broken bones and extremely crooked posture in our elderly years. Strength training along with good healthy eating can prevent many of these issues.
Strength training creates strong bones, strong muscles (including a strong pelvic floor - nobody likes incontinence, right?), and better balance. We will be healthier and more confident in our "golden years" if we put in the work now.
Picture yourself when there's more gray hair on your body than your natural colour:
5: mental mastery
Confidence, shape, and healthy ageing are all very important. But one of my absolute favourite things about strength training doesn't have anything to do with a muscle. It's got to do with your mind!
When you are presented with a workout that challenges your body in more ways than one, you have to think about it. You need a game plan. You've already committed. You committed when you started training, and when you signed up to the gym (if you go to a gym). So, how are you going to get through the next 12 - 60 minutes without burning out?
When I was doing gymnastics, one of the apparatus that I trained was vault. It's quite possibly the most intimidating thing that I have had to conquer in a sporting or workout sense, ever. And I'm not even doing anything fancy on vault! It's just plain intimidating! Standing at the end of the runway, your mind tells you that it is not a good idea to throw yourself at a stationary object, let alone do it while upside down! This is where mental mastery comes in. You gain control of your thoughts. You understand the process of doing the vault, you've broken it down and done it all before. You know that once you start running, you are committed. The chances of injury are much higher if you bail at the wrong time. Run, jump, rebound, stay tight and powerful deflect, look at your toes, land. Visualise it in your head, take a deep breath, and go. There is no time to doubt your abilities.
A workout is similar. Probably less intimidating than a vault, but similar! You know what you're capable of, you know how far you can push yourself safely. All you need to do is conquer the will to be lazy and give up on your goals and stay in bed instead.
Visualise the end goal, take a deep breath and go! You should never doubt your abilities, because you're stronger and more awesome than you realise!