Ask a Swole Woman: Can I Start Weight Lifting if I've Basically Never Exercised?
Strength is for everyone, but it's especially for women. Ask a Swell Woman is a column for people who are tired of trying to always be less, eat less, do less, and make it look perfect and effort-free. Have a question for me about weight lifting, strength training, or anything related? AASW@self.com.
Dear Swole Woman,
You are a very impressive person, which has motivated me to, you know, actually do stuff, and try to improve...as a human being, which involves exercise, theoretically! But here's the thing: I have not exercised a single day in my life. I don't run, I don't know how to use the machines at the gym I went to once for 10 minutes before fleeing in terror, I don't stretch, I'm barely even willing to bike up a hill. I know you were a runner before you started lifting, so you were at least adjacent to being in good shape, but I am not. Can I just roll up to the gym and start lifting heavy things? Will I break something? Will I die? Should I do cardio first because my heart is probably slowly atrophying? Also the answer to this is probably "get a personal trainer to show you how to do things, idiot," but I don't really have that kind of budget.
It is in my nature to be combative, so let's just try this out and see how it grabs you. The fleeing in terror? That was exercise !! If you've ever happened anywhere, that is exercise; if you've ever picked up, I do not know, a bag of groceries, that's also sort of exercise. You are, firstly, better at this than you might think.
Some training programs are ridiculously convoluted, and many people think weights are abracked for abs , calf raises for calves-until the point of exhaustion. But you can also combine moves and get a lot done with less effort. In other words, you can make working out endlessly complex or actually pretty accessible and simple.
There are a lot of kinds of exercise that are just doing. For instance, heavy lifting, including squatting, benching, and deadlifting are not random movements pulled out of the ether; they are movements that maximally use as many muscles as possible, together, to move as much weight as you possibly can while mimicking the movements you're making in your everyday life. Picking up a heavy object? That's a deadlift. Getting your luggage into the overhead bin? Pressing. Lifting movements come from and how efficiently. Of course, different body proportions have slightly different advantages in different lifts, but my point is: Lifters, coaches, and fitness. They continue to choose them. 49 training these compound movements.
So, that said: I did a lot of running training before I started lifting, which prepared me for strength training very poorly. A balanced training program can include lifting, but I was terrified that if I touched a weight I'd suddenly look like a peak Arnold Schwarzenegger, so I just skipped it. I also played sports in high school, but that, too, involved no lifting whatsoever. I'm not really muscular at all, and it's hard for me to build muscle51as it is for the vast majority of women). So, I did not start from exactly zero, but I was closer to it than you could think. Even now, four years later, I do not think I've gained more than ten pounds of muscle overall.
Walking into a lifting-focused gym was also intimidating, and mine just happened to be the dirtiest, most poorly-lit box filled with men who had huge, rippling arms and teeny little legs. There was equipment, plates, and dumbbells scattered all over the floor. I wore several layers of clothing and headphones and mostly pretended not to hear anyone who spoke to me; I went in with a plan, having practiced my lifts. The first time was extremely uncomfortable, not least because you have to figure out where even things are; the second time. By the second month, I barely thought anything about what people would think of me and how to accomplish what I wanted to do.
I approached learning by learning the movements of books (/ 57Starting Strength and New Rules of Lifting for Women were two of them and videos online (Layne Norton and Girls Gone Strong are good resources), and using, I do not like you, a Swiffer as a "barbell," just practicing alone in my house. Even then, I was not doing the therapic, but it gave me a chance to see everything. . Between gym sessions, I'd practice some more, a few minutes each day.
At first I could not lift the barbell for any of the movements. I started with dumbbells until I got enough to handle the barbell setup for the major movements (squat, bench, deadlift, row, overhead press). That happens much faster than you may think; most popular beginner heavy lifting programs (like StrongLifts or the GZCLP program) instruct you to add weight ( usually five pounds, but you need to be able to do it every time, every time, every time, you are in the beginning, so even starting from nothing, you can be able to go from a bodyweight squat to a squatting the barbell, which is 45 pounds, in about the weeks.
In contrast to me and my spindly experience, there are many women out there who have to go to barbell and, say, squat close to their own bodyweight. You might surprise yourself! But either way, absolutely everyone starts somewhere .
By the way, a just-in-the-case detail: You should not actually roll up and start lifting the heaviest weight you can budge. As I've mentioned before, form matters, and warming up matters, too, so please take care of both of things .
And if you have any health concerns or are worried about your mobility, old injuries, aches and pains, or whether your level of fitness is right now can support a new workout routine, check in with your doctor, who can help you figure it all out.
So, what I'm saying is, is, do, you, you, do, Learn from trusted sources, start slow, master the movements before throwing on weight, and see where it takes you.
Casey Johnston is the editor of the Future section at The outline and a competitive powerlifter with a degree in applied physics. She writes the column Ask a Swole Woman for SELF. You can find her on Twitter: @ caseyjohnston.