Hi there! I am so excited to share this post with you. My gym friend (and birthday buddy), Ashley, is such an inspiration when it comes to working for something you want. She has worked SO HARD at achieving her fitness related goals (pull-ups, to be one of them) and the research and knowledge gained throughout this process can be portrayed throughout so many areas of her life, which is just one of the many reasons why strength training is so wonderful. Ashley is so honest, open, insightful and encouraging in this post and never mind this being a guest post, I just think it’s an incredible piece of writing and I hope you all feel as motivated to tackle your goals as I do after reading it!
7 tips to help your strength training journey
Hey Burpees to Bubbly readers! My name is Ashley Parent, and I’m a friend of Monique’s from (you guessed it) the gym! Monique asked me to come on the blog to talk a little bit about how I got started with strength training, where I am now, and to share some tips. For the sake of transparency, you should know that I don’t have any sort of fitness, health, or training certifications. Because of this, I’m going to talk less about the specifics of exercises and programming and more about tips regarding how to get the right background information and how to get in the right mindset for strength training.
I have a few years of experience and lots of casual studying on the subject. I have a training age of about 7 years (I was 21 years old), and I first got started learning the very basics of strength machines and free weights at a college class at Hampshire College (man, I miss the days of free gym classes that actually give you credit towards a degree). Looking back, I knew pretty much nothing then compared to what I know now, but it gave me the confidence to know my way around the weight room and do some basic moves. Fast forward to 2013 when I decided I wanted to practice some more complex moves (i.e. deadlift, turkish get-up, etc.) and start to go much heavier, so I contacted a local strength coach for some assistance. I learned so so much working with a coach for about 9 months, but I couldn’t afford to do it forever. Luckily, he’s a great person and lets me check in every now and then to make sure my form is still on point.
Currently, and for about the past 8 months, my main focus/goals have been sustainable fat loss and being able to do my first unassisted chin-up. Strength training should still be at the forefront of your training program when your goal is fat loss, so my fat loss goal has mostly been accomplished through my diet. I accomplished my chin-up goal on my birthday (April 14), so now my goal is just to do more chin-ups, of course! There are many articles out there about how to get started in the weight room if you’re a complete beginner, so I’m going to try to share some tips that are different from the ones you might see on those articles. If you want one of those, see number 6 below for some blogs where you might find one. Without further ado, here are 7 tips for strength training (I’m going to count them down, and number one is the most important, so skip ahead if you have to!):
- Know your goals and what you need to do to get there.
If your goal is fat loss, make sure you read the article called The Fat Loss Hierarchy by Alwyn Cosgrove. If you want to get better at deadlifting, then deadlift. If you want to do a triathlon, make sure you swim, bike, and run. If you want to run a marathon, follow a marathon training plan. Seems simple, but I know lots of people who only run and expect to lose fat. I know others who think they might be able to do a chin-up because they do heavy bicep curls. For example, most people don’t realize at first that a chin-up requires tons of core and grip strength along with upper body strength. Whatever your goal is, make sure you do the research and get educated on the best and safest way to work up to it.
- Know the pros.
If you’re serious about getting into strength training, there are some people you should know about. First of all, start by downloading a free podcast called The Fitcast. Kevin Larrabee, a strength coach in Boston, hosts the show and has all the great experts (read: people who practice based on SCIENCE) on to talk about training, nutrition, and sometimes nerdy movies. Some of my favorite names, in no particular order: Molly Galbraith, Neghar Fonooni, Jen Sinkler, Jill Coleman, Tony Gentilcore, Bret Contreras, and Dan John. In my opinion, each of these people have their own little area of expertise, so one might jive with you more than another, but they all have something to contribute. Molly is great for changing your mindset on body image (if you have any negative thoughts about your body, please start here and complete the 28-day Love Your Body Challenge, Neghar mixes in yoga with strength training, Jen does powerlifting and has great workout clothes, Jill knows a ton about nutrition, Tony is the master of deadlifting, Bret is “the glute guy,” and Dan is a retired discus thrower and all-around badass.
- Avoid programs that promise quick results.
Quick results are possible, but not usually sustainable. I’m guessing if you want to work on something, you want to work on it in a way that it lasts for a long time. If someone is selling you something based on “quick results,” they probably care more about making money off of you than helping you in the long-term. For example, exercise programs that promise “a flat tummy in just 30 minutes a day!” without talking about nutrition at all are total BS. If you are serious about making fitness and health part of your life, be prepared to do your research, look for programs that are based on science, and make sure you’re committed to making changes to both your fitness regimen AND your diet. In my experience, the most successful journeys come about by making small changes slowly over time.
- If you hate an exercise because it’s hard, do it more.
There is a fine line with this one. If you hate an exercise because it causes pain or doesn’t feel right for some reason, you should trust your inner cues and stop until you can get an expert to help you out. BUT there are many times I’ve found myself saying “Oh, I hate these [insert difficult exercise here]” when the only reason is because it doesn’t come easily to me and I’m not good at it yet. For example, deadlifting was always easier than squatting for me. I still deadlifted of course, but I made sure to really focus on getting my squat form better and my squat mobility (how low I can get) has greatly improved as a result! Similarly, I hated doing chin-ups for a long time because I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that they were so difficult assisted, so how was I EVER going to do one unassisted? It wasn’t until I powered through that and just did them anyways when I finally made some progress (FYI: it took me about 2 years to do my first unassisted chin-up!). We all instinctively want to do what we’re already good at, but the real gains in strength come from working at what is difficult for us.
- Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s.
First of all, everyone has different goals. Second of all, everyone has a different body. If you’re a woman, you have most likely grown up being taught to compare yourself to other women. This stops in the weight room. If you see a badass woman in the weight room (which is every woman in the weight room) busting out an unassisted chin-up, encourage her. If you see someone with perfect deadlift form, let them know you noticed and it’s awesome. The only person who suffers when you compare what you’re doing and where you are in your journey to other people, is YOU.
- Be patient.
When you’re working towards a SUSTAINABLE goal (this is what we all want, right?), it takes time. There are going to be moments where you think, “Why am I doing all this work when I don’t seem to be getting anywhere?” Trust the work. Trust your program. Sometimes you just need to put your head down, power through, and TRUST the system. It’s a mental game at this point, but it’s one of the hardest things you’ll have to do in your journey of strength training.
1. PROGRESS IS NOT LINEAR
If you remember nothing else from this article, please please please remember this. In fact, say it out loud right now to yourself three times. This is now your mantra for the weight room. Today, Bret Contreras and I are on the same page because he posted this on his facebook page: “It would be much simpler if progress was linear, but unfortunately it’s not. One out of every four workouts will suck, one will be awesome, and two will be mediocre. One week out of every month will suck, one will be awesome, and two will be mediocre. The body adapts in waves, so don’t let the low points get you down. Trust that you’ll steadily improve every few months as long as you’re training hard and eating well.” You won’t believe the number of people who commented on this post saying “I needed this today” and simply “thank you.” This goes hand-in-hand with number 2, but on your “bad workout” days, you just have to trust the system. For example, I did my first chin-up on my birthday and couldn’t do it again until today (3 weeks later). You would think that I’d do one on my birthday, then be able to do two by the next week, and so on. That’s not how it works unfortunately, but that’s okay because we’re on a life-long journey for sustainable strength and health, so we have all the time in the world!
I hope these tips helped and either encouraged you to start strength training or to keep pushing on with your goals. Strength training has led me on a wonderful journey of self-discovery. I have learned SO much about my body and its strengths and limitations. I have also learned a tremendous amount about my mental strength (see numbers 1 and 2 above). The things I have learned have carried into my work and personal life and made me a better and happier person. I wish these things for all of you, and please reach out if you have any thoughts or questions!
Thank you, Ashely, for sharing such a wonderful post with really great tips. It’s so clear all you’ve gained from your strength training journey, which goes far past just gaining muscle.
Questions for you: What’s a fitness goal you have? What do you struggle with at the gym?