Be Well: Choosing Your Weight

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Not a single Workout Wednesday blog post goes by here on Name's Not Ashley without me harping on the importance of lifting heavy weights. But "heavy" encompasses so many things - how do you know which heavy weight to choose?

My husband and I had a conversation this past weekend on the efficiency of inefficiency. I realize that makes no sense in 99% of contexts - but in weightlifting it does. Your workout is more efficient, meaning burns more calories, if the weight you are using is just heavy enough to make your movements inefficient. (This is also one of the reasons to choose free weights over machines, but that's a topic for another day.) In other words, the more you physically struggle with the weight, the more calories you're burning, and the more lean muscle you're building.

This is not to say that you should be struggling on rep #1 of any given workout set. If you can only do one rep with a certain amount of weight, you are not maximizing your overall efficiency. Instead, you should be struggling by the last few reps in the set. If you're doing 10 reps of tricep extensions, for example, reps 1-7 should be doable, reps 8-9 should be a challenge, and it should be very, very hard for you to complete rep 10. Lifting that amount of weight won't be fun and it won't make you feel strong while you're doing it, but it will be good for you. Let me repeat: struggling is good. You should struggle every single day in the gym.

To help flesh this out, let me put a few real numbers to this concept from my own experience to help you gauge what you should be picking up next time you're in the gym. Let's talk bicep curls. It is easy for me to do a bunch of bicep curl reps with 10 lb. weights. I'm not sweating or shaking by the end of those sessions. However, if I pick up 15 lb. weights and try to do 15 reps, or 17.5 lb. weights and try to do 10 reps, I probably couldn't finish the set. So 15-18 lbs. is the perfect weight for me (until I've trained my way up to 20 lbs.!).

Finally, I want to repeat for the millionth time that lifting heavy weights will NOT make you bulky. It absolutely will not. Something I read online recently made a very good point about choosing weights - if your free weight is lighter than your purse, then you are definitely not getting a good workout. Challenge yourself, and you will rise to the occasion. I promise.

I hope you find this advice helpful enough to put into action, and, as always, if you have questions do not hesitate to send me an email!

Be Well: Deadlifts

In honor of Halloween, I've decided to feature deadlifts (get it? GET IT?) as my weekly workout. They're great for your hamstrings and glutes, two areas of my body where I could always use a bit more toning.

#1 most important thing about deadlifts: your back should be flat THE WHOLE TIME. Sourcing your power from your legs and not your back will give your legs a great workout while protecting your back. Whenever I can I do deadlifts at a 90-degree angle from a mirror - that way you can look over your shoulder and monitor the position of your back.

Start with a heavy barbell on the floor in front of you. I used a 30 lb. bar for this demonstration, but I try to do 40 lbs. whenever a barbell that size is available. I should really push myself to do even more. Choose the heaviest weight you can lift without rounding your back while picking it up.

Stand up slowly, keeping your back flat and lifting from your legs.

Now slowly lower the bar back down to the ground, controlling your pace with your legs and not your back.

With each rep you should set the bar back down on the floor and then pick it right back up to complete a second, third, fourth, etc. rep. You want to set the bar all the way down on the floor so it forces you to expend the energy to pick it up each time.

Do three sets of ten reps each and you should feel it in your hamstrings the next day!

I hope anyone from the East coast who happens to stumble on this blog is staying safe, dry, and entertained. I know firsthand from growing up in hurricane country that things can get mighty boring once your power has been off for hours or even days. Here's hoping you've got a stack of good books to keep you company!

Be Well: Bicep Curl to Overhead Press (Workout Wednesday)

Today I'm excited to start writing about something that is very important to me: weight lifting in women's workouts. As I said in my first post, I think that women are often deprived of an education on the importance of weight training and how to do it. My hope is to make this blog a source of educational material on weight lifting for those of you who'd like to learn a bit more. I want to say this up front (and will possibly repeat it in all subsequent workout-related posts): lifting weights will not give you bulky muscles. It will not happen unless you are hitting the gym every day of the week while eating an extremely high-protein diet. And even then, your hormones will still go a long way in preventing you from building bulky muscle. What weight training will do is strengthen your skeleton, improve your baseline metabolism, and make you a healthier (and hopefully happier) human.

One more thing about weight training: you should be lifting AT LEAST 10 lbs. More importantly, you CAN lift at least 10 lbs. Anything less won't get you stronger, leaner, more toned arms. In order to get results, you should choose a weight that is challenging to lift. I know from experience that the rack of weights at the gym can be remarkably intimidating when you're a woman. Combat that intimidation by walking up to that weight rack, grabbing a set of 10 lb weights (or even heavier ones!) and doing the exercise outlined below the next time you're at the gym:

1) Start with your hands at your side.

2) Slowly curl the weight towards your shoulders.

3) Once you've lifted the weight to your shoulders, rotate your arms outward until they're in a goalpost position.

4) Press the weight overhead until your arms are straight. Avoid arching your back. Finish the exercise by completing the moves above in the reverse order. For beginning weightlifters, I suggest trying to complete one set of ten reps lifting at least ten lbs. For more experienced weightlifters, try for two or three sets of ten reps with 15 lbs.

Have a very healthy Wednesday!