Strength Training with Heavier Weights: Why We Need It & How to Do It Right

If you make a beeline to the cardio equipment whenever you head to the gym, or your main form of exercise is a daily run, you’re missing out on some major body benefits that come from hitting the weights. You may have already read about the positives for strength training here on scoop, or elsewhere, but there’s more you need to know.

We spoke to OrthoCarolina Occupational Therapist Meredith Bumgarner, who told us all the new research says that those 3-5 pound dumbbells some women pick up for their weekly weight training session aren’t enough.

“If you’re doing three sets of 10 bicep curls with five pounds, you’re not really going to reach your goal,” Meredith said. “That’s because you aren’t taxing the muscle. Go in there and make your body tired with a weight to see a benefit.”

Lifting heavier weights will increase the number of calories you burn all day long, increase physical strength faster and even help prevent osteoporosis.

So don’t be afraid to head down to the other end of the barbell rack. Meredith says if you’re in moderately decent shape, you can likely handle eight-to-10-pound weights, but listen to your body. If you can do 10 reps of your chosen weight training exercise without breathing heavily, you can increase weight. If not, go down a pound or two. Or start with the 8’s and move down to the 6’s after 1 or 2 sets. And plan to work into 8-10s for all 3 sets over time.

Meredith, who also owns a studio called HardBodies Fitness in Granite Falls, said some women tend to be scared or nervous about weight training for several reasons: they don’t want to “bulk up,” they don’t want to push past a herd of grunting guys to get to the dumb bells or they just plain don’t know what they should be doing. Thus, sometimes we often just plant it on the treadmill for an hour and hit the showers.

But if you’re hoping to look better in a bathing suit, the treadmill is just one tool in your arsenal. Meredith said strength training will increase your lean muscle mass and burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.

In addition to a better-looking body, strength training offers many benefits to women of all ages. Premenopausal women who strength train regularly could see better posture, less stress and a general strength increase that will make it easier to do everyday tasks like lifting their children.

For post-menopausal women, Meredith said weight training can reduce body fat, increase lean muscle mass and build up bone mass. Studies show women of this age can even improve their balance by lifting moderately heavy weights on a regular basis.

So how do you get started?

Meredith says to obviously check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to start a strength training program, and then seek out a professional trainer. They’ll be able to assess your current ability and start you on a simple program that will help you achieve your goals.

A trainer will also help you learn proper form and technique. One big area of concern for women is proper squat form, because women are more likely than men to have knee injuries or torn Anterior Cruciate Ligaments (ACLs).

Proper squat form: Place your feet hip-width apart and, making sure your knees don’t extend past your toes, sit back as if you’re sitting in a chair. “I tell women to hover like you’re going to hover over a public toilet seat,” Meredith says.

Good beginner exercises: Focus on multi-joint exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, tricep dips and planks, says Meredith. She also likes a squat with a shoulder press while holding weights.

Steer clear of: Machines that isolate just one muscle like the leg extension or leg curl. Meredith says those machines won’t give you much benefit unless you’re using them for rehabilitation purposes.

Of course, consult with a professional trainer to find out a routine that’s right for you. Lots of Meredith’s clients are surprised by how much they enjoy weight training once they get started.

The bottom line is conquer your fear by nudging past the men and grabbing some dumbbells. You may just love it.

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Meredith Bumgarner, MS, OTR/L, CSCS, has been in the fitness world for more than 17 years working in various gyms in the Hickory area. She’s a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)-certified strength and conditioning coach and leads various types of small group classes including, boot camps, obstacle course racing, metabolic conditioning, Olympic lifting, youth agility, marathon running and dance fitness. By day, she’s an occupational therapist at OrthoCarolina Hickory. She’s been with OrthoCarolina eight years after completing her Master’s degree at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She opened her own studio called HardBodies Fitness in Granite Falls five years ago. She currently lives in the Hickory area with her wonderful husband, Brock, and their four dogs.