Women, Don’t be Afraid of the Weight Room

I used to be envious – and curious – about the women I saw using the free weights in the weight room at the gym. Envious because they seemed so confident, so sure of what they were doing. Curious because I wondered if – and how – I could be like them.

I was working with a personal trainer at the time, a woman, and when I suggested she show me some exercises with the weights, she discouraged me.

“No, I want to make sure you know how to use the machines first. If you don’t do the exercises properly you could hurt yourself. The machines are better.”

Well, I didn’t stick with her much longer. I wanted someone who would work with me and help me get to the next level. Besides, I wasn’t always going to have a gym around. I wanted to learn to use the free weights so I would be free from a gym membership.

The next personal trainer I hired there did expand my exercise options. We worked out mainly in the weight room, working with dumb bells and bar bells.

I wasn’t afraid of “bulking up.” I’d read enough to know that wasn’t going to happen.

It’s impossible for us to bulk up like the guys do because we don’t have the testosterone levels they do. It just ain’t gonna happen unless you are a serious bodybuilder and even then, you can’t compare to the guys because our genetic makeup is different.

No, I wanted to use the weights to get stronger. I’d seen older folks around me become more weak and flaccid as they aged and neglected their health. I didn’t want to be like that.

One thing I’ve learned over the past five or six years of consistently working out is that you can’t stay with a low weight or you aren’t going to make any progress. Women tend to pick lighter weights and do more reps. That’s ok for toning but if you want to get stronger, you have to go heavy.

How heavy? Most people should train at 65% to 85% of their “1 Rep Max.” A 1 Rep Max is the heaviest weight you can lift one time. So if you can lift a 40-pound dumb bell once in an overhead press, then 85% of that would be 34 pounds. If you’re just starting out, try 65% of your 1 RM. In this case, it would be 26 pounds.

There are other benefits of strength training:
• You feel stronger and have more confidence
• Your “after burn” lasts longer. Muscle is metabolically active so it’s going to continue to burn calories even after you’ve left the gym
• Increases bone density which strengthens them and helps prevent osteoporosis

One thing to remember though. Numbers on a scale can be deceiving. Muscle weighs more than fat so as you lose the fat and gain muscle, your scale isn’t going to reflect how healthy you are. I haven’t owned a scale in years and go by how my clothes are fitting.

Women tend to be intimidated by the weight room – the grunting men, the barbells, how heavy of a weight should they use and what if they injure themselves.

The next time you’re at the gym, don’t be shy. Go in, take a peek inside, ask some questions.

Step into the weight room and step up your workout for a stronger, leaner you!

How to Do a Plank

There are probably a dozen variations of a plank exercise but before you can do even one of them, you need to learn how to do a proper plank.

Planks are great for building core stability. You can do them on your hands or elbows; on your toes or knees. Once you’ve mastered the basic plank, you can add some variations.

Remember to keep your legs steady, tighten your abs and don’t your wrists under your shoulders. Keep your neck neutral and don’t tilt your pelvis.

Here’s a video demonstrating how to do the plank properly.

5 Essential Exercise Types

Some time ago I came across a blogger who was writing about “the best exercises.” I can’t remember the person’s name but he classifies exercises based on their movement. He groups exercises as being a push, pull, squat, lunge or hinge.

The day after I read that, I happened to be in my boot camp class and realized he was right. As our group did the prescribed circuit that morning, I realized everything we did fell under one of those categories, along with plyometrics.

Push (press)

The most obvious exercise involving a push is the push-up. The push up’s focus is primarily on the chest, triceps and anterior deltoid, the front of the shoulder. In addition, the rectus abdominals – the “6-pack” muscles that run down the front of the torso.

There are lots of push variations, including:

  • Pushups
    • staggered pushup
    • one hand on a medicine ball
    • with your feet on a box or oversized exercise ball


    • on a flat bench
    • on an incline
    • with a barbell or dumb bells


Pulling exercises target primarily the back muscles but also the triceps and deltoids (shoulder)

These sorts of exercises include:

        • rows
        • lat pull downs
        • seated rows
        • chin ups
        • pull ups


Squats focus on the quadriceps and the glutes

There aren’t many squat variations but you could include a barbell or follow a squat with an overhead press with a dumb bell.


Lunges target the quads, hamstrings and gluteus maximus. One caution about doing lunges is that stability can be an issue so be careful how much weight you hold if you add to the basic lunge. That’s what happened to me. The kettle bell I used for a walking lunge pass-through was too heavy, I lost my balance, turned my knee out and sustained a minor knee injury.

Some lunge variations are:

        • reverse lunges
        • walking lunges
        • split squat jumps
        • side lunges
        • reverse lunge with your back foot on a plyo box

Hip Hinge

Hinge exercises are those that involve moving the hips and strengthen the hamstrings and gluts.

Hip hinges movements include:

          • deadlifts
          • kettle bell swings

Include a variety of these five exercise categories and you’ll have a well-rounded workout, especially if you include some cardio, flexibility and agility exercises as well. Focusing on these movement exercises will also help you meet the functional fitness training that is so important in our daily activities.


3 Magazines Worth Reading

My husband and I enjoy going to the bookstore where we can drink coffee and peruse magazines that we normally wouldn’t buy or don’t have time to read.

I often end up buying the magazine I’m looking at, especially if it’s one of the three below. I’ve found a lot of useful information in all of them and I hope you do too.

OnFitness OnFitness cover

This bi-monthly magazine is geared toward fitness professionals and readers interested in achieving peak health and fitness through a natural approach. The focus is on a healthy body, rather than a beautiful body.

I’ve been looking at this magazine for a number of years, shortly after I started attending the boot camp class I’ve been taking the past six years. I first picked it up because I was looking for some extra tips on the exercises we were doing and liked the healthy focus. What I also like about it is that its articles are solidly based on research.

The Department of Weights and Measures, which gives tips on how to do various exercises and snippets of research is one of my favorite parts of the magazine. Are You Fit Enough? discusses how to train for specific goals. Performance Nutrition is about just what the title says – organic foods and research on nutrition and supplements and how they all interact with the body. Smart Training has longer articles on various training techniques, why to do them and how to do them properly. The Trainer’s Forum is written by three-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane. This section is written for fitness trainers and offers them business help and tips on working with clients.

One thing I especially like about this magazine is that it features strong, well-toned women. However, one type of person I’d like to see more of here as well as in other magazines, is mature adults who are healthy, fit and toned, not just buff young adults.

Runners World Runners world cover

The iconic running magazine is for a general audience that has a wealth of information on its website and in the print magazine. Regular features include Personal Best, helping runners cope with issues such as mental blocks and fueling for a race. Newbie Chronicles is something all runners will appreciate as they either go through, or reminisce, their early running days.

No doubt many people pick up the magazine to read the Race Spotlight, listing races throughout the country and world.


Experience Life Experience Life cover

I don’t know how I managed to miss this magazine. Maybe the bookstore never carried it before but I only just recently picked up a copy there. According to their mission statement, they’re about “empowering people to become their best, healthiest selves and supporting their enjoyment of a balanced, sustainable, deeply satisfying way of life.” That’s my kind of magazine. I’m at a point in my life right now that I’m looking for a balance and joy. Including meditation and spirituality into the mix of healthy eating and body fitness is an important part of the magazine for me.



Why is Functional Training Important?

As the saying goes, “Use it or lose it.”

As people age, too often we become less active. As we age, we get a little slower. We start to get some muscle stiffness that makes it less fun to do what we once enjoyed. The problem is that the less we do, the harder it’s going to be to age well.

That’s where functional fitness comes in. Functional fitness training helps us with daily tasks by mimicking common movements we might do at home or at work. It’s about doing exercises that will help us improve the quality of our lives.

Many functional fitness exercises are multi-muscle or multi-joint. In other words, rather than just do a bicep curl (how often do will you use that motion exclusively at home?) you’ll do a step-up with a weight. That simulates carrying a bag of groceries up a flight of stairs.

Pick a set of weights that you can do 8-12 reps. If you don’t have a step platform such as the one in the video here, you can use the bottom step in stairs or a bench. After a set of 8-12 reps, pause for 30-60 seconds, then repeat.

Katherine Switzer, A Woman of Determination

I should have known it. Or at least, I should not have been surprised to hear this.

I only discovered this past spring that women weren’t always allowed to run the Boston Marathon. At one time, it was thought that running would hurt their “delicate natures.”

In 1967, women were supposed to be content to stay on the sidelines, watching men live life instead of living it to the fullest themselves.

It was also a time when women were starting to break barriers, the days of women’s liberation.  It was also the year that one woman broke a barrier and made “strides” for women runners everywhere.

Katherine Switzer loved to run and had been running since she was 12. As a student at Syracuse, she was running with the men’s cross-country team because there were no women’s teams around. As she and her coach, Arnie Briggs, were finishing a 10-mile run, he challenged her that if she were able to prove to him in practice that she could go the distance of a marathon, he’d take her to Boston.

She did, so he did. She, Arnie and two others signed up to run the Boston Marathon. You’ve probably seen the photos of her being attacked by a race official.

 (photo credit: CORBIS)

(photo credit: CORBIS)

She finished the race but women still were not officially allowed to compete in the marathon until 1972.

She paved the way for women such as Kara Goucher, a 2:34 marathoner. She represented the United States at the London Olympics in 2012.

In an April 2012 ESPN interview Goucher said, “It is fair to say that her courage to run the Boston Marathon paved the way for me to live the life that I do. Thanks to her bravery, I am living my dreams and running professionally.”

Photo credit: marathonfoto.com

Photo credit: marathonfoto.com

You can read Katherine Switzer’s remarkable story of that history-changing day in Boston here as well as her work to create running events for women all around the world. In 1977, she created the Avon International Running Circuit, a global series of women’s races that became her life work. She also lobbied to have the women’s marathon included in the Olympics, which it finally was in 1984.

Two years ago (2011) at age 66, Katherine Switzer ran her 39th marathon in Berlin. She plans to run Boston again in 2017, marking the 50th anniversary of her famous race. When she does, she should be issued her original bib number – 261. After that, this number should be retired, just as a football or baseball star’s number is retired.

How to Do a Lunge

Lunges are a good body weight exercise that can be can be performed anywhere. They primarily work the glutes, quads and hamstrings. The core and lower back muscles also get developed as they work to stabilize you and provide balance.

There are a few variations you can do as well. Side lunges target the inner thigh. Reverse lunges can be helpful for those with a knee injury.

Runners will find lunges improve flexibility in the hip flexors.

Like all exercises, it’s important to have good form. This video will show you how to do a lunge properly so you don’t injure yourself and will get good results.

Summer Runnning Tips

Today is the first day of summer and what better time for tips on running in the heat.

I live in the Mississippi Valley region of Illinois. It not only can get very hot during the summer, but very humid as well. On top of that, some of us have to be very aware if it’s a green or orange air quality day.

I don’t mind the heat; I prefer it over the cold. But running in it poses a few challenges that need to be met if we’re going to stay healthy and safe.

  1. Stay hydrated!

Most of us don’t drink enough fluids overall, so drink even when you don’t feel thirsty. I used to not like drinking water but I trained myself to drink more by first adding a slice of lemon to it. Eventually I stopped using the lemon.

Drinking water throughout the day keeps our muscles hydrated. According to Brandi Barbre, Training Manager at Fleet Feet in St. Louis, “Well-hydrated muscle cells favor anabolic (build-up) processes, while in dehydrated muscle, catabolic (teardown) processes predominate. Rapid recovery after a workout relies upon anabolic processes to build and repair muscle tissue and to restore muscle glycogen – the internal carbohydrate fuel that is used during exercise.”

If you’re training session or run is going to be longer than 30 minutes, plan to drink at least 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes to replace the fluids we lose through sweating. And when we do sweat, we’re going to lose essential minerals and salts that our body needs. After about 30 minutes, start drinking some Gatorade or Nunn. These replace electrolytes in the body.

2. Wear the right kinds of clothing and accessories.

Wear loose, light colored clothing. Skip the cotton shirts and go for moisture-wicking apparel that keeps you cooler. Wear sunglasses and a hat or visor. Don’t forget a waterproof sunscreen.

3. Time your runs.

Try to do your runs early in the morning before the pavement starts to reflect the heat of the day. Evening runs are another option. And if you typically run through your neighborhood before anyone is up and around, then an evening run will give you another perspective of your neighborhood.

4. Learn to listen to your body.

Perhaps this is the most important tip of all as this applies not just to running in hot weather, but any time you run. If you feel ill even after you think you’ve taken in enough water, stop. Find some shade. Learn the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These are serious conditions that need to be treated right away.

It is possible to run in summer’s heat. So take these tips to heart and get out there and enjoy your run!

Feel the Fear

Feel the fear…and do it anyway.

That’s the title of a self-help book I read many years ago. In it, Susan Jeffers provides a practical guide on self-empowerment, helping readers turn fear and indecision into action.

While I barely recall the details of it, I do remember the impression it made on me. I was a young woman at the time, in my late teens and early 20s. I was full of self-doubt, anger and angst. I hated having to make decisions, fearing that whatever I decided would be wrong.

Of course, I didn’t immediately turn my life around. But I did start taking steps in a different direction, one that led me to a new way of thinking about life and where I was going with mine.

In fact, the book helped me make the decision to join the Navy, which led to my meeting my husband. He encouraged me to get a college degree and that has led to many job and writing opportunities.

We fear many things – changes, success, failure. In fact fear of change is probably one of the biggest fears people have, which subsequently keeps them stuck in their lives, afraid to move in any direction, like a deer in the headlights.

What does this have to do with fitness?

Fear can keep us from reaching for our goals, stretching ourselves – literally and figuratively. We can overcome our fears of a challenge by reaching out for support from more experienced folks.

Sometimes, we just have to acknowledge our fear and do whatever it is we’re resisting.

Is a Minimalist Shoe For You?

My first “real” running shoe was an Asics. By “real” I mean one I bought at a running store that was fitted to my foot and gait, not something I pulled off the shelf at Lady Foot Locker. I’m not knocking the store, but about midway through training for my first half marathon with Fleet Feet in St. Louis, I realized I needed a better shoe. I had been dealing with a “runner’s knee” injury and plantar fasciitis and it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable to run.

The woman at Fleet Feet talked to me about my running goals, where I was in my training and any foot issues I had. After watching me run in the shoes I had, she suggested a stability shoe to help with my tendency to over pronate. She also gave me inserts for my plantar fasciitis.

I walked out of the store feeling 100 percent better, like I was walking on air. I loved my shoes! What a difference a well-chosen pair made in comfort.

I completed my first half marathon and decided I wanted to become a better runner. To that end, I needed to improve my speed and form.

My husband and I need no excuse to visit the bookstore. It was during one such visit in December 2012 that I perused Chi Running and Santa delivered it that Christmas. Since then, it’s become one of my favorite running books and one I recommend for a number of reasons.

I first learned of the book when I had a conversation about running form with a fellow runner. He told me about Dreyer’s metronome method of running and also suggested I become more of a mid-heel striker, rather than heel-striker. These would help me with my form, speed and runner’s knee.

Two other conversations happened around this time. I started hearing other runners talk about minimalist shoes, and I had an appointment with an Air Force doctor who worked with athletes. He also talked to me about running form and heel striking. He cautioned me that if I were going to move to a minimalist shoe in an effort to improve my foot strike, I should start out with a very low mileage (for instance, just one mile) and slowly build up. The calves, he said, need time to adjust to a lower shoe.

All of these discussions converged and I decided that my next pair of running shoes would be a transition shoe rather than a full minimalist shoe. This past May, I went back to Fleet Feet and, with the help of another knowledgeable clerk, purchased a pair of Saucony Guide6. Like my first pair, I love these shoes!

(Can you tell I’m easy to please?).

Saucony Guide6Asics

What makes a shoe minimalist or transition?

While I was being fitted for the Saucony shoes, the clerk who was helping me told me about heel-to-toe drop. According to the website RunningShoes.com, the heel-to-toe-drop is “the difference between (midsole + outsole) heel height and (midsole + outsole) forefoot height.”New Balance Shoe Anatomy

I don’t remember now what she told me my shoes were. I think the Asics were about a 12 mm midsole, while the Sauconys were about a 7. Not a big drop but significant nonetheless. I can definitely feel a difference when I run.

I know I’m hitting the pavement with my mid-foot, rather than my heel because my plantar fasciitis has kicked in a bit and the ball of my foot is feeling calloused. But because they aren’t truly minimalist, I haven’t experienced any issues with underused muscles suddenly being called to perform.

vff gray palm single

Vibram Fivefingers KSO

I have no desire to go down to absolute “barefoot” running, such as wearing something from Vibram Fivefingers.

I’m not even sure I’ll buy a shoe with an even lower heel-to-toe drop. For now, I’m happy with my new shoes. I figure from here on out, my results will be more dependent on my efforts to improve my speed, stay focused on my form and build up my endurance.

Do you wear a minimalist shoe? If so, what kind?