This article was written by guest contributor Liz DiAlto. The views expressed herein are hers. For more from Liz, visit her website and follower her on Twitter.

A rampant concern for women who exercise all over the world is this:

If I lift weights, will I get bulky?

And it’s a legitimate concern considering these two things:

  1. Positive results of weight lifting for women can take several months to achieve depending on someone’s initial fitness level, workout experience, injuries, etc.
  2. There are images of female body builders out there indicating that it’s possible for women to “bulk up,” but most people don’t realize how much preparation and planning that would actually take. It’s not accidental.

After training hundreds of clients (and myself), I’ve learned it’s easier to build muscle than it is to shed fat. This can be especially discouraging in the beginning of a weight-training program for women.

DiAlto When you start working out with weights, you’re using muscles in ways you either haven’t ever before, or haven’t in a really long time. Your body responds quickly to this exercise by building muscle (especially if you were ever athletic and your muscles have any kind of memory). Now, because it takes some work within the metabolism to actually unlock fat from cells and put them to use as energy, there may be a period of looking and feeling a little bit bulkier than before the weight-training program began.

This brings us to a crucial fork in the road.

Choice #1: Throw in the towel and go back to doing long, slow bouts of cardio.

OR

Choice #2: Trust you’re on the right track and keep going. While aerobic exercise burns calories during the workout, muscle-building activities such as weight training can create caloric expenditure long after the workout is over. One of the main reasons why is repair. Working with weights breaks down muscle tissue and, naturally, energy (calories) is required to repair the tissue. Also, larger bodies and those with more muscle tissue burn more calories both at rest and during exercise. Five lbs of muscle will look leaner and more contoured on the body than five lbs of fat.

Here are five tips you can take action on now to start incorporating weight training into your routine:

1. Heavy weights are your friend and could be the very thing your routine has been lacking. Doing the same exercises with the same 3-10lb dumbbells will only get you so far. How do you know when those weights are no longer effective? You’re never sore after a workout.

Soreness means you broke down your muscles, a stimulus that requires the repair I mentioned earlier.

This doesn’t mean automatically jump from 7lb dumb bells to 25’s. Do some trial and error (a 2-5lb increase is a good place to start) and remember that the goal, after all, is to increase intensity, not the likelihood of injury! See how you feel after the workout, and adjust accordingly the next time.

2. Work out a minimum of three or four days/week (maximum of 6, be sure to take a day off for rest and relaxation).

3. Lift heavy one or two of those days. If you are crunched for time, focus on the larger muscle groups like the chest, back, and legs. Smaller muscle groups like biceps and triceps assist these big movers anyway. Also, rest as little as possible between exercises and try your best to keep it moving. Keeping your heart rate up and feeling breathless is a great way to achieve EPOC (Excess Postexercise Oxygen Consumption) which can result in burning more fat and calories for several hours after the workout is over.

Can you still do your favorite classes, go to yoga, and do cardio? Absolutely keep those in the rotation, but add in these heavy days for a fat-blasting boost. In fact, such workouts will serve you well as “active rest” days between your workouts with weights.

4. Compound exercises. It makes a lot of sense that moving more muscles simultaneously will result in burning more calories. Compound movements typically require more balance and stability as well, so another benefit is core engagement.

Squats, lunges, planks, and sit-ups are great foundation exercises for combinations meaning, you can add a lot of moves to them. Examples include squat press, lunge with a side raise, sit up with a chest fly and plank rows.

5. Interval training. (Sorry, girls, that doesn’t mean hop on the elliptical and select “interval”) Interval cardio done properly will burn more fat than hitting “manual” and going at the same pace with little to no resistance for the duration of your workout.

Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Think in terms of work to rest ratio.
  • For runners, a track workout is a perfect example. Indoors on a treadmill or outdoors on a real track, sprint for 100, 200 or 400 meters, then walk or jog it out until you’re ready to go again. Repeat 8-12 times for a great workout that will have you burning fat and calories way after you finish. Here’s a great treadmill sprint workout if you don’t have access to a track.

Last but not least, I know some of this advice goes against long established fitness myths you may be comfortable with…growing (and in this case, shrinking and toning!) is all about stepping into the realm of the uncomfortable. You can do it!

What are your experiences starting off with weight training? Share in the comments below!

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