Gazette Gal

Less explosive exercise, like cardio, yoga, and pilates, has made a favorable comeback in contemporary exercise circles. As women, we’re encouraged to a) be as small as our bodies allow, b) equate strength to physique, and c) never get “too big.” We’re encouraged to follow the peaks and lulls in our menstrual cycles and to not press up against the “constraints” of our physiologies. We’re here to inform you on (and possibly) convince you otherwise.

Why should you think about weight training?

Weight training, lifting weights, pumping iron (AKA all of the above) is one of, if not the most, effective way to build muscle mass. Increased muscle mass has a multiplicity of benefits: you are physically stronger, your metabolic rate speeds up, your immunity is steel, your body composition is malleable, and your mental state of being can benefit from feeling the presence of strength.

Weight training is one of the only known ways to increase bone density, which is crucial for warding off osteoarthritis, osteopersosi, and age-related joint diseases. It's also known for both its somatic and mental effects: being associated with decreased feelings of anxiety and increased feelings of general satisfaction.

In the same vein of increased satisfaction, links between consistent weight training and improved quality of life are currently being researched and backed up. This link has been established with other forms of exercise, like yoga as a manifestation of mindfulness. However, the mental benefits of weight training outpace those of less intensive exercise: a 2018 study published in JAMA Network found that people engaged in weight training two times per week experienced a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. So, if you’re searching to fulfill physical and mental goals, you might want to steer away from lower-impact exercise--start pumping that iron!

What should you know before hitting the gym?

Getting started lifting, especially as a woman, can feel daunting and impossible. Although the advice might be tired, it’s true: everyone started in your shoes. Getting used to starting is the hardest part, and acknowledging that you’ll get to where you want to be is an important motivator. If you’re a novice, here’s where you might want to start.

Emphasis on form

To prevent injury, maximize the efficiency of your workouts, and target specific muscle groups, you want to first focus on your form. Here, form refers to the orientation and posture of your body while you’re engaging in a specific exercise. Some exercises require a tight core, an extended part of your arm, or a hugging in of the arms or legs for the exercise to be largely successful. First, look for a YouTube video that details the form of a given exercise. Try practicing it in front of the mirror and with light weights at first. You can check out a resource that details the importance of form and the consequent mind-body connection here.  

Circuits

Think about how you want to structure your weekly workouts. One common circuit is P-P-L, or push-pull-legs. You train the “push,” “pull,” and “leg” muscles on three different days: this gives the muscle groups adequate time for rest and restoration. You can cycle through PPL about twice a week if you take one rest day (which you absolutely should--there are no gains without proper rest). Write down your circuit and keep track of it in your planner.

Protein intake

You’ll want to think about diet adjustments to account for achy, growing muscles. The most basic unit of muscles are amino acids, which make up the macro category of “proteins.” Try supplementing your diet with additional protein shakes and/or other sources of protein to make sure your gym efforts aren’t in vain. 

Asking for help

Although it might feel awkward at first, it’s the quickest way to facilitate your gym learning curve. Ask people for help! If you have a friend who’s also starting at the gym, go with them; learning with others’ help and guidance is a surefire way to tackle that initial gym anxiety.

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What kinds of exercises should you be doing to start and why?

Primarily allowing yourself to get comfortable with machines will be your best bet. If you feel entirely unprepared, watch videos of people using the machines before going in yourself! Larger organization gyms are normally beginner friendly as most machines have some sort of digital monitor and/or a diagram breakdown on how to use it. The videos show you how to use and adjust the machines, perform the intended range-of-motion, and how to target certain muscles during use. 

Once you feel comfortable operating the machines, start thinking about form. Are you keeping your core activated? Are you letting the machine slam when you’re done with the movement, or are you slowly releasing it to take advantage of your full range of motion? This is an excellent way to prepare you for free weights, or lifting without the assistance of machines.

Lunges

Lunges are a fantastic way to enhance balance, practice your form with relatively few consequences, and start targeting certain muscle groups with the mind-body connection. Step forward with one leg--making sure that your body doesn't extend beyond your knee--keep your core engaged and back straight, and "dip" your body down. Check out this TikTok that details common mistakes that beginners are prone to making, as well as the rationale for performing certain types of squats over others.

Pushups

Perhaps the most well known yet poorly executed exercise. You likely remember them from high school P.E.--and might resent them--but their benefits are unparalleled, both in terms of preparing you for more strenuous exercises and helping your body adjust to exercise more generally. When performed properly, pushups target your core, the chest muscles, and several large muscle groups in the upper arms. Your arms should be shoulder length apart, your elbows shouldn't flare out when you lower your body, and your core should be tight for the entire duration of the pushup. Start off your day with a few pushups--you'll notice a significant difference in your strength in just a few weeks' time.

Deep Core Work

The very "core" (no pun intended) of abdominal focused exercises: quite literally your core!

Sit ups, crunches, and planks, although great are seemingly outdated now. Deep core and pelvic floor workouts are powerful and helpful for the gals for many reasons related to their overall health, fitness, and well-being. These muscles target the muscles deep within your abdominal region, including the transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor.

1. Pelvic Floor Support: strengthening the pelvic floor muscles helps in preventing or alleviating issues like urinary incontinence and is beneficial during pregnancy to support the increasing weight of the uterus and help in postpartum recovery.

2. Core Stability: you can increase better posture by strengthening the muscles that support the spine. This is particularly important for you if you spend long hours sitting or have postural issues. Strong core muscles also provide stability to the spine, reducing the risk of lower back pain and improving overall back health.

3. Enhanced Sexual Function: strengthening your pelvic floor can enhance sexual function by increasing sensation and responsiveness.

4. Postpartum Recovery: deep core exercises aid in the restoration of muscle tone and strength after the stretching and strain experienced during pregnancy and childbirth.

5. Improved Core Strength: these workouts contribute to overall core strength, which is essential for everyday activities such as lifting, carrying, and bending.

A few of our favorite deep core exercises:

Pelvic Tilts:
  - Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  - Tighten your abdominal muscles and tilt your pelvis upward, pressing your lower back into the floor.
  - Hold for a few seconds and then release.
  - Repeat for several reps.

Dead Bugs:
  - Lie on your back with arms extended toward the ceiling and legs lifted.
  - Lower your right arm and left leg toward the floor while keeping your lower back pressed against the ground.
  - Return to the starting position and switch sides.
  - Repeat for several reps.

Bird-Dog:
  - Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position.
  - Extend your right arm forward and your left leg backward while keeping your back straight.
  - Hold for a moment and then return to the starting position.
  - Switch sides and repeat.

Vacuums:
  - Stand upright and exhale all the air from your lungs.
  - Pull your belly button in towards your spine as much as possible.
  - Hold this contraction for as long as you can while breathing shallowly.
  - Release and repeat for several reps.

It's crucial to maintain proper form during these exercises and to progress gradually, especially if you're new to deep core workouts. If you have any pre-existing health conditions or concerns, it's advisable to consult with a fitness professional or healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine.

Don’t let gym anxiety prevent you from going at all--you have all the tools you need to both prepare for and execute those gains. You’ve got that feminine strength.

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