Strength training. You may have heard that phrase thrown around here and there but do you know what it really means? Strength training is exercise using resistance in order to build strength, anaerobic endurance and size of muscles (more on this later).
This simplest form of strength training is using dumbbells. Dumbbells are usually used in slow, methodical movements that focus on one muscle group at a time. It’s generally pretty difficult to hurt yourself using dumbbells (unless you drop it on your foot, which is bad), and you have to really focus on form, so your muscles learn to adapt and stabilize as you complete each movement. Dumbbells are inexpensive on a piece by piece basis, but you’ll need a relatively large set to work the entire body.
Barbells are the grown up version of dumbbells. Using barbells as a form of exercise is generally referred to as “lifting heavy”. This is because a standard bar, without plates, starts out at about 45 lbs. The main exercises in lifting heavy for the average heavy lifter are deadlifts, squats, chest presses and snatches. My personal favorite is the Romanian deadlift. This is the easiest for a beginner to learn, as you start from a standing position holding the bar against your thighs with your arms extended, then push your butt out, keeping your back straight, and bending at the knees until you lower the barbell as low as you can without breaking form. It can be pretty easy to hurt yourself when learning to lift heavy, so I recommend having someone who knows what they’re doing show you the proper form. I had a friend show me how to do a proper Romanian deadlift, although there are really good YouTube videos out there if you really don’t know anyone. Practice the form with just an empty bar in front of the mirror so you can check your form before you add any weight to the bar. And definitely, before you add weights at ALL, check to see how the barbell clamps work. You want to clamp the plates on properly so they don’t slide and throw you off balance when you’re lifting. If you’re a woman, the BEST way to get introduced to lifting heavy is to take a Body Pump class. In Body Pump you’ll learn the proper form for Romanian deadlifts, barbell squats, dead rows, clean and presses and chest presses. Then once you have that basic knowledge you can move on to the squat rack!
Weight machines are another form of strength training if you have access to them at a gym. However, weight machines vary from dumbbells in that many of them inhibit the body’s natural movement. This can actually cause injury more frequently than dumbbells. Personally I find most weight machines useless, although some (such as the lat machine or the assisted pull-up machine) can actually help build muscle that’s harder to build with free weights.
Kettlebells are a really dynamic form of strength training. You swing an iron ball with a handle on it and brace your body against the resistance as the weight of the kettlebell pulls it away from you. There are a plethora of different moves you can do with a kettlebell, and the speed of the movements creates a faster moving form of strength training. Many kettlebell moves are also full body exercises, so you’re working on more than one muscle group at a time. Kettlebells are how I got started in strength training. They’re cheap (you can get them for about $1/lb), especially if you buy them on eBay or Amazon, and you only really need 3 of varying sizes to have a full arsenal.
Resistance bands are a less obvious option for strength training. Like giant rubber bands, the stretch that resistance bands provide add tension for your body to work against. You can slide one over your thighs and side step to make your legs work harder against the band, or you can anchor it and use it to assist you in pull ups. The possibilities are vast! Plus, they’re cheap and easy to pack when you travel.
You can even do strength training without any equipment at all, although it might be less obvious. Pushups, wall sits, squats, lunges and ab exercises are all great strength training exercises that just use your body weight. There are even some classes that are strength training without weights, such as barre and pilates. Even some yoga poses challenge the body to increase strength.
Now remember I mentioned muscle size? This does NOT mean women will bulk up. It is VERY difficult for women to get bulky, and they often need to, *ahem*, supplement in order to get that size. In fact, when I hit my goal weight I was 160 lbs. I started doing kettlebells 3x a week and guess what? Six months later I had gained 10 lbs. Yup. I GAINED weight. But I dropped 2 pants sizes. So strength training made me LEANER, NOT bulkier. Also, if you’re in the process of losing weight and eating at a deficit, it’s very hard to ADD muscle. In order to build muscle you have to eat at a surplus. Strength training while losing weight is more about keeping as much muscle as you can while you lose fat.
A note on reps: The amount of reps you do when you strength train has a lot to do with what your end goal is. If you want to gain strength, you’ll want to do reps with the heaviest weights you can lift with proper form, up to 6 reps before you can’t keep your form anymore. Each time you train, you’ll attempt to lift even heavier at a low rep count. If you want to get bigger muscles, you’ll want to use a weight that allows you to do between 8 and 12 reps before you can’t maintain your form. Training for endurance means being able to use proper form for 15 to 20, or even more, reps. My favorite class at the gym, Body Pump, is mostly an endurance class, since we do high reps of moderate weights. You don’t need to stick with one rep style in your workout either: your body responds better when you change things up.
Lastly, strength training shouldn’t be done two days in a row if you’re doing the same muscle groups. Alternate your strength training with cardio if you absolutely must work out every day. This allows your muscles to heal and recover. That soreness you feel the day or two after a good workout? When you work out, you create microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, which strengthen as they heal, and that’s what helps your body get stronger. Drink plenty of water and keep moving if you’re sore, but don’t re-work that muscle group if you’re too sore, or you’re just working against yourself.
I love strength training because it’s dynamic and it makes me feel strong and powerful. When I’m done with Body Pump or a session of kettlebells I feel like I can take on the world.
What’s your favorite form of strength training? Let me know in the comments!
I’ve learned a lot about myself during this 4-week challenge. I’ve learned that if I plan my beverage purchases correctly (Coca Cola specifically) I can save a lot of money. I estimate I usually buy 2-3 Cokes a week from CVS. At $2.09 apiece, this averages out to about $20 a month on Coke alone, and that’s not drinking it every day. I’ve also learned that the more the restrict myself the more I want to rebel. Okay, I knew this already, but this definitely reinforced it. If I had tried to just cut out soda the entire month, I would have not lasted the month without buying soda.
This challenge also reinforced that I overeat because I am trying to avoid my feelings. For someone like me, who is highly emotional, this can be a disaster. There were a few occasions where I purchased food specifically to soothe myself. It was not food I needed, and certainly not calories I needed. Watching my budget so carefully really made those purchases stand out.
Onto the food! As I write this I just finished my last portion of Slow Cooker Beef Arepas with Homemade Pico de Gallo and they were SO YUMMY. By the end of the week my arepas became crunchy, which, to be honest, I kind of liked. Usually they’re more like a thick corn tortilla and have some flexibility.
Making Pico de Gallo in a food processor is the easiest thing on the planet. You don’t even need to use super prime ingredients: I used the stems of a bunch of cilantro, some scallion scraps, wrinkly grape tomatoes, fresh jalapeno and some (decent) limes and made a very serviceable pico.
I made this delicious spicy Asian chicken soup with the bones I carved the chicken from last week. There was still enough meat on “them bones” to give the soup plenty of protein, and the soba noodles really “beefed” it up. I had a teensy bit of liquid broth seasoning I’d bought from the local Asian market over the summer, so between that and the homemade chicken stock from the bones it was deeply flavored. The only thing I had to buy was the cilantro!
The Shakshuka came out so good, too.
If I can use pita to shove anything into my face I’m on it. I mean, pita is a pretty perfect food, amirite?
Snacks were homemade Balanced Breaks. I never wound up making the Boston Brown Bread, but I did use the cottage cheese and frozen berries I bought to make a yummy dessert. All I added was some vanilla and sucralose and blended it all in my food processor and it made a delicious ice-cream-like product with TONS of protein (17g). It freezes pretty hard though and I broke the plastic container it was in trying to scoop it out later in the week!
I made it until February 27th without purchasing anything AT ALL from CVS! And even then I spent $3. Not bad.
Onto the money: my final total for this 4-week challenge is $153.13. Still significantly below my usual monthly budget of $230! So I managed to save almost $80 this month despite my extracurricular purchases. If only some of that extra money hadn’t gone to buying beer for strangers because a date decided to buy a round on MY tab. (Long story, but let’s just say there will NOT be a second date. In fact, I’m giving up on dating altogether for the moment, but that’s a tale for another time and place.)
So all in all, despite the emotional eating transgressions, I’m pretty darn happy with myself. I’m even continuing the trend, albeit on a little less strict basis. I’m going to use up the meat in my freezer as best I can before refilling it, unless there is a SUPER good deal, but I’m going to be a little more relaxed when it comes to snacks and restocking my pantry. A little bit of flexibility in the hard edge of budget actually helps me be less rebellious.
How did your own personal challenges go? Let me know in the comments!
This past week was kind of stressful. Less emotional than the week before, but stressful nonetheless. I frequently forgot to take pictures of my meals and I had an unplanned meal out. As for the pics, several of the meals, like the chili pasta with cheese, and the protein porridge with Greek yogurt, weren’t very photogenic.
The mixed grain pilaf wound up being so delicious I definitely want to make it again! I used some leftover steel cut oats, the rest of my quinoa, the rest of some Texmati rice I had, and some pumpkin seeds and seasoned it with chicken stock (from bouillon granules). The texture was great!
Things I am proud of: I STILL have not purchased any convenience food from CVS since I started this challenge!
Things I am less proud of: I have continued to purchase a few (inexpensive) things on a whim. This weekend it was a French baguette and a package of sandwich cookies. It was about $3. I did wind up buying a Diet Dr. Pepper at the bowling alley Sunday morning for $2. Still cheaper than CVS, amirite?!
So onto week four!
What I’m working with this week:
Breakfast for this week will be Shakshuka! I’m so excited because I had everything I needed to make this from scratch except for feta, a bell pepper and I was two eggs short. So I got a pepper, eggs (which were on sale for $1.99 for 18ct) and some pita to dip in it. I also grabbed some bananas and a jar of peanut butter for breakfasts later in the week on the protein bread I have in the freezer.
I still have some Swedish meatballs left for lunches early this week, and I plan to make Instant Pot Red Beans & Rice for the remainder of the week, so I bought some red kidney beans, celery and scallions for that.
The chicken bones I had left over from last week still had some meat on them, so I’ll use them to make a Spicy Asian Chicken Soup with Soba Noodles, so I’ll get some cilantro for that, which I’ll also use later in the week in my Slow Cooker Beef Arepas w/ Homemade Pico de Gallo. The arepas will used some chuck roast I have in the freezer, the masarepa, as well as some tomatoes I bought on a whim a couple weeks ago that are wrinkly but still good enough for Pico de Gallo.
Snacks will be homemade Balanced Breaks and leftover Almond Joy Protein balls, which were delicious! I might also make some Boston Brown Bread. I think I have all of the ingredients for that.
I wasn’t super enthused by anything on sale at the grocery store this week, again. But this time, despite buying unplanned things, I didn’t spend very much at all. Between Shoprite and Walmart I spend $19.02, less the $0.10 from an iBotta rebate, so $18.92. My running total for this 4-week challenge so far is $132.65. Still significantly below my usual monthly budget of $230!
How are you own personal challenges coming? Let me know in the comments!