I've just finally managed to start my very old and unfulfilled resolution to exercise regularly. It has admittedly been a struggle, and some days it's still hard to generate any enthusiasm for willingly exhausting myself. But I've noticed improvements in myself, in my health, fitness and even just how I feel from day to day.
A couple weeks ago, though, I was told that I needed to switch my exercise routine to include more weight lifting because of some pain I've been feeling. I was ecstatic to learn that my "prescription" was just a different kind of exercise instead of something like surgery or lifelong drug usage. However, I was a bit hesitant to start weight lifting when it wasn't something I had done in a long time, so I did some research and what I found was really informative. I think it's important to share what I learned, because I'm sure there are plenty of women out there under some of the same misconceptions and feeling the same hesitations that I was.
To start with, you should know that it is absolutely healthy to lift weights. It is not purely a "man's field" of exercise. Just think, all those female athletes you saw on the Olympics this past summer most definitely go to the gym to get some resistance training going. "But those are athletes!" you might be thinking. "They have to train like that to stay competitive!" Well, what if I told you that it makes you healthier overall to strength train? Putting on muscle helps strengthen your bones, which really, really helps as you start to get older. You're less likely to develop pain or serious bone and joint issues if you lift weights. Lifting also helps lower your potential for heart disease. Overall, you'll just be much more healthy, and who doesn't want that?
Something women definitely need to unlearn is this idea that they'll get really big and bulky if they lift weights. It takes a lot of effort and time and specific dedication to get to a bulky look as a woman. We simply don't have the same hormonal makeup as men, so it very likely won't happen that lifting heavy weights will make you look like your arms are bursting out of your shirt.
Also, in terms of what is better for "burning calories and getting toned," cardio alone just won't do it for you. Yes, every body type is different and a lot of how you put on weight and muscle is genetic, but just think, more muscles mean more energy being consumed throughout your day, even during resting periods. So yes, putting on muscle can do more for you than cardio (although really diet is a huge part of that, so eat healthy too if you're trying to achieve a look...or just in general because it's good for you).
Also, just be aware that muscles don't magically manifest after your first session at the gym. You might be sore, you might feel stronger, but it does take time to see any effects. It's true too that muscles aren't always visible even if they are there because fat lays over muscle in the body, so be aware that you can have lots of muscle but not look it. Again, diet plays a big role.
Finally, don't be afraid to push yourself. Form is important, and of course never try more than you really can do, but always try for more than what you're completely comfortable with. You never want to flat line in your routine just because you've achieved the look or the amount of weight you can lift that you were initially aiming for. As I stated earlier, a woman is unlikely to get bulky, so you'll be able to lift so much more than people might think just by looking at you. Don't be afraid of adding more weight; you can definitely get to where you can compete with everyone, man or woman, in the gym that you see around you. Don't be afraid to get strong!