Three years ago, Megan Garvey hit an all-time low. She had gained 30 pounds while going through fertility treatments, and after more than a year of trying for a baby, she and her husband decided to divorce. “That was a really hard time,” says the 39-year-old from Philadelphia. “What made it even harder was that I felt stuck in a body that wasn’t mine.”
So, 8 months ago, Garvey decided to make some changes. She cleaned up her diet and joined a gym. While she’d always focused on cardio when she exercised, she knew lifting weights would help fast-track her results. So she scheduled a session with Christine Chiaccio, a personal trainer and nutrition coach at Retro Fitness in Bensalem, Pa. Just as Garvey predicted, Chiaccio brought her straight into the weight room.
“Megan told me that she wanted to get toned and look more sculpted,” says Chiaccio. “This is part of a huge shift that’s happened in the fitness industry in the past few years. Women used to come to me with the primary goals of losing weight and looking skinny, and now they want their outward appearance to mirror how they feel inside—which is strong.”
Garvey was sore for 3 days after that first session with Chiaccio. Sore—and hooked. “I’ve never really had confidence in myself—and that was especially true after I gained so much weight,” says Garvey. “I didn’t feel like myself. But now, I love me. I’ll see new muscle definition and feel good about myself. I’m like, ‘Alright! Get it, girl.’ I feel like a badass.”
While the needle has definitely moved on the number of women who are lifting weights, we still have progress to make. According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, of the 12.7 million women who belonged to a commercial health club in 2015, about half used weight machines and only one-third lifted free weights. While those numbers were up slightly from 2011, they’re still lower than personal trainers like Chiaccio would like to see.
“More women are lifting weights now than ever before, and yet I still find myself reassuring a big portion of my female clients that lifting—not cardio—is the real secret to burning more fat,” says Chiaccio.
Muscle burns more calories than fat, so having more muscle stokes your metabolism. A recent study found that 9 months of resistance training increased the participants’ resting metabolic rate
by about 5 percent.
Whether you’re a regular in the weight room or have never picked up a dumbbell before, here are Chiaccio’s tips for getting stronger, leaner, and more comfortable lifting weights:
- Spring for a session with a personal trainer.
In an ideal world, you’d work out with a personal trainer a couple of times a week. But if that isn’t financially feasible, schedule just one session—and ask a ton of questions. “Ask the trainer to look at your form so you can be sure your alignment is on point,” says Chiaccio. “You can use a personal training session as a learning tool.” Another tip: Ask the trainer to write down the workout, so that you can do it on your own. Then, when you’re ready for a new workout, schedule another session.
- Do body-weight exercises, especially if you’re a beginner.
No gym membership? No problem, says Chiaccio. Exercises that use your own bodyweight as resistance—think squats, lunges, push-ups, and plank variations—can be very effective, and they are less likely to over-stress your muscle tissue, adds Chiaccio. Once you’re comfortable with these moves, you can invest in a set of free weights and start incorporating them into your workouts. The bottom line: You don’t need a fancy weight machine or spendy gym membership to start weight training.
- Find inspiration on the internet.
If you’re bored with your same-old weight-lifting routine, Chiaccio recommends looking for new exercises on YouTube. “You’ll find a ton of how-to videos that make it easy to do the moves on your own, either at home or at the gym,” she says. Not only will this breathe life into a tired workout, but it’s also a great way for beginners to learn new exercises and proper form, which can stave off injuries.
- Lift in front of a mirror.
Watching yourself as you lift has a double-whammy effect, says Chiaccio: “It keeps your form in check and lets you look at those pretty muscles you’re building, which can help keep you motivated.”
- Set clear goals.
If you’re lifting without a clear intention, you’ll be more likely to fall off the wagon, says Chiaccio. So, keep your target at the top of your mind and return to it whenever you need a little push.
3 Moves for Life
Benefits: Full-body work, engages core, increases heart rate
How to do it: Holding a barbell on the back of your shoulders with your chest and head up, stand with feet slightly turned out and a little wider than your hips. Sit back as if lowering down into a chair. Pause when your knees reach a 90-degree angle, then stand back up, pushing through your legs and rear end. The goal throughout each squat is to keep your knees aligned with your feet and your torso as upright as possible.
Benefits: Core strength, joint stability, isolation work
How to do it: Plant your elbows directly under your shoulders like you’re about to do a push-up. Ground your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes to stabilize your body. Keep your head neutral and in line with your back. Hold this position for 20-60 seconds.
Benefits: Hamstring and glute strength, incorporates core and shoulder blade stability
How to do it: Holding two 5 pound dumbbells or a single 10-pound barbell, stand with feet hip-width apart. Lean forward with a flat back, lowering weight(s) toward shins until your back is parallel to the floor. Press through your heels to return to standing, then lift elbows straight up and out, bringing weight(s) toward your chest. Hold for one count, then lower arms down and repeat forward bend.