First of all, in this post I mean no disrespect to any woman who is brave and curious enough to find herself in the weight room typically surrounded by a surplus of testosterone and body odor. I give credit to any woman who makes the choice to touch iron, despite a lot of forces in our society telling us we should be doing otherwise. However, I want to shed light on some things I frequently see women doing that could really be hindering their results. Now, I'm not trying to be sexist with the title of this blog. I see some of these mistakes being made by men as well, but not all of them (although some men could afford to make some of these mistakes. More on that later..) Plus, this blog is predominately geared towards women, hence the article being geared toward women, so you'll just have to deal with the title. Again, I'm not picking on anybody by pointing these out; I seriously believe being aware of these mistakes will help a lot of ladies achieve some results they've most likely been striving for. Here we go.
1. Not focusing on breathing:
I have to admit, when I started lifting weights I was SUPER guilty of this. I think part of the issue was not wanting to grunt/make loud noises like many of the guys around me. In addition, when you first start out lifting weights, your neuromuscular efficiency (the ability of the nervous system to properly recruit the correct muscles to produce and reduce force while stabilizing the body's structure) probably isn't going to be amazing. I was so concentrated on what I was trying to do with my arms or legs that I often found myself holding my breath. However proper breathing is key during weight lifting. You need to make sure the blood is circulating to your working muscles, keeping them oxygenated and removing waste products. In addition, when you find yourself holding your breath while lifting weights you are really messing with your blood pressure. You could cause dramatic increases in your blood pressure, leading to injuries or even fainting. Proper breathing consists of inhaling during the eccentric phase of the exercise (the "negative" portion of the exercise or when the weight is being lowered), and exhaling during the concentric phase (when you are pushing the weight up). For example, when performing a bench press you would inhale before lowering the bar to your chest and exhale as you push the bar upward/move the weight away from you.
2. Not having a set routine/switching your routine up too much
Now I'm not going to say I've ever observed this one in the gym, because if I get to the point where I know a stranger's routine (or lack of) it's probably time for me to start focusing on myself a bit more and doing less people-watching. This is less of an observation and more of a mistake I found myself making in the past. It's really easy to walk into the gym and "do what feels right" - and don't get me wrong, some of my best lifts have come from days when I don't go to the gym with a set plan and I just kind of wing it. Sometimes even when you do have a set plan, the more lifts you learn the more tempting it is to swap things out of your plan that you don't love to make sure you hit all of your favorite lifts that day. There are a few issues with this. The first is if you are not sticking with a consistent routine, it's going to be really hard to gauge your progress. If you dedicate Mondays to lifting biceps and triceps, it's going to be a lot easier to see how you're progressing if you can remember the amount you lifted the week prior, how many sets you completed, how many reps in each set, etc. Unless you're going to the gym and hoping for zero results (which I don't think is anybody's goal), it's going to be really hard to see if your strength or endurance are increasing when you're just doing whatever the heck you want whenever the heck you want to do it. Also, usually the lifts you are tempted to skip are actually the lifts you should be doing the most of, because more than likely they are your weak points. Set a plan, and stick to it.
3. Using the same plan for too long
Opposite end of the spectrum here. In addition to not having a set routine, it can also be detrimental to your progress when you're using the same routine for too long. For one thing, you will probably become bored and it will seem mundane. If you're dragging yourself to the gym to go through the same routine you've done the past 3 months, you're probably not going to go at it with the same intensity you once did. You'll probably also see your progress stall. There is only so much weight you can lift and if you continue lifting the same amount for 3 sets of 12 reps without fail every time, you're going to hit a ceiling and stay there. You will see yourself plateau. To break through that plateau you need to switch up your routine. Maybe it's adding another set to each lift. Maybe it's going up in reps. Maybe it's going down in reps but going up in weight. Maybe it's starting an entirely new routine all together! I tend to stick with a plan for 6-8 weeks. Once it's completed, I have a week or two of workouts where I "wing it" and have some fun to give my body a break, and then start another consistent 6-8 week plan.
4. Not concentrating on what you're doing
I'm talking about being present in the lift you're performing and giving it your undivided attention. Focus on the mind-muscle connection here. I see women doing this a LOT. A girl who goes into the weight room, goes through the motions looking like she's not trying at all (but at least she can say she did it!) and then heads up to the cardio machines. Again, I've been there. Focusing on the mind-muscle connection was one of the biggest ways I started seeing progress in some of my most stubborn muscle groups. When you lift - lift with a purpose! THINK - hard - about the muscles you are trying to recruit when you're performing a lift, and visualize those muscles contracting and relaxing. When performing a bicep curl, flex that bicep at the top of the lift as hard as you possibly can. When performing tricep exercises, contract that tricep as hard as you can. When performing a cable row, engage your back muscles by imaging you're squeezing a quarter between your shoulder blades. When performing a hip thrust, squeeze those glutes stupidly hard at the top of the lift. As stupid as it sounds, if this is a technique you're not familiar, spend some time flexing your brain. What I mean is spend some time with your body learning how to flex certain muscles without weights. That way, when it comes time to perform a lift you know how to recruit the specific muscle you're targeting.
5. Not using appropriate (read: heavy enough) weight
This. One. Is. So. Huge... Picture this: A lady at the gym picks up a set of 5 lbs dumbbells. She performs some tricep kickbacks. Then, using the same 5 lbs dumbbells she performs a chest press, shoulder press, bicep curl, lunges, squats, and every other exercise you can imagine - all with the same 5 lbs dumbbells. Have you ever seen this girl at the gym (or maybe it is you)? Here's the issue: the 5 pound dumbbells were probably appropriate for the tricep kickback exercise, or maybe some lateral raises. The primary muscle used in lateral raises (the deltoids) and your triceps in a tricep kickback are relatively small muscles, so most likely we can't lift huge amounts of weight with them. However, muscles like your pectorals, your latissimi dorsi (lats) or hell - your quadriceps and hamstrings are much larger muscles and can handle a lotttt more weight than 5 pounds. Again, if you want to spend an hour every night at the gym and not make any progress, be my guest. But I'm guessing that's not your goal. So up the weight, ladies.
6. Being the form police/being afraid to struggle
Wait, what?! Isn't good form the most important part of lifting weights?? Generally speaking, yes - I would always encourage someone to try to use proper form, to both ensure the lift is working the muscles you intend it to, and also to prevent injury. Usually when I see women at the gym, their form is nearly perfect. To be honest a lot of guys could afford to take a lesson from ladies on proper form.. there's been more than one occasion I've seen a guy slinging some weight around and worried I was about to watch someone pop their arm out of its socket. However, in the middle of these two extremes, there are the guys (and sometimes gals!) who are pushing themselves to the edge of acceptable form in an attempt to get one or two more reps in, or to hit a new personal record. THAT is the part I'm talking about. As you lift more, you learn to trust your body more and you can understand when to push yourself to get that last rep (and it might not be pretty). However, a lot of women don't do this. They perform their 12 reps, without question, in perfect tempo, with perfect form, never making a face that even hints this might be difficult. They finish their workout without breaking a sweat. This kind of goes back to point number 5. If your 12th rep feels as easy as your 1st, you need to increase your weight. And sometimes when you increase your weight, that means having a couple reps that you pump out at the end with all your might, as ugly as they may be. It also means you will probably make a face or two that isn't the cutest. I used to avoid should shrugs like the plague because my lip did this weird Elvis curl. Get over it. Weightlifting isn't glamorous. If it is, you're not doing it right.
There you have it. Those are the biggest issues I see women making. Interested in weight lifting but not sure where to start? Shoot me a message and I'd be glad to help! I also highly recommend checking out www.bodybuilding.com as a place for beginners to look around and find some routines.