May 03, 2007

Strength Training Made Slightly Less Unpleasant

You know you should be doing some strength training, right? Along with your regular cardio, and stretching, and not eating triple cheeseburgers for dinner every night?

Yet strength training is one of those particularly loathed good-for-you things like broccoli or flossing your teeth. Many otherwise sensible people, women particularly, tend to plug their ears and sing "la la la I can't heeeear you" whenever the subject comes up.

Crabby hates it too, but she does it anyway. Two or three times a week, bitching the entire time.

Does Crabby need to go over the reasons for lifting weights? There's a summary here.

Just a few highlights: you can rev up your metabolism and stay leaner; keep your bones from disintegrating when you get old; relieve depression; fight various diseases; and just generally become a superhero with extraordinary powers who never ever dies. (Crabby is paraphrasing here).

Of course, the usual caveats apply about seeing your doctor first, getting help from a trainer, starting slow, etc. Crabby doesn't want you to hurt yourself or threaten her with litigation.

Here's the important thing: Keep it short and simple. As soon as you figure out what you're doing, ditch the teeny tiny weights. Find a few good exercises, use heavy enough weights, and just do One Set Apiece. (Unless you're really into it). You don't get that much more out of a 2nd or 3rd set.

Why do so many women torture themselves by doing 10 sets of 9,000 repetitions each with tiny little dumbells? I see that at the gym all the time. It takes forever, hurts, and won't do any good anyway.

Instead, choose an amount of weight that's hefty enough you can only lift it for 6-12 reps (advice varies depending on expert and body part) before you physically can't do it even one more time.

This sounds hard but it actually it's easier. The first couple of times feel "heavy," but not painful. The next few are still okay, but you realize you won't be able to do this forever. During the last couple you'll be moaning "this sucks" but then congratulations, you're done!

This isn't enough training, obviously, to turn you into a hard-core body builder. But no hard-core body builder in her right mind would come to Crabby for weight lifting advice.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I'm with you ... I don't like lifting weights at all. But I just joined a gym that has these classes which combine weight lifting and cardio. They are really hard but pretty rewarding too, and not boring like reps and sets. I think I'm going to write a post on them soonish.

  3. I used to love lift weights! Okay, I am crazy but, now I really do hate it. Power Yoga is a great alternative to weight lifting, with out all the stress. I love it.

  4. oh my god, i love your blog! i do not like lifting weight because my muscles really respond and bulk up. can't wait to read more about crabby fitness though!

  5. So the answer for my flabby arms is to not lift a tin of baked beans in each hand but a box! Great. I'll just pop down the shop and buy more food.

    How many creamfilled apple donuts would I need to lift, Crabby, to get the toning that my arms obviously require?

  6. Hi all!

    Martha, thanks for stopping by! Hope I'm not making a pest of myself over at Thatsfit. I'll watch for your post and send my not-yet-vast readership over to take a look. Does the weight lifting alternate with the cardio or both at once? If it's the latter, I think I'd die of exhaustion.

    Hi Samantha! Good to hear from you again, although I'm still pouting over your unwelcome information about roasted nuts. I might just pretend I didn't read it.

    Haven't tried power yoga yet. Lots of people love their yoga but somehow I haven't succumbed yet. I know its supposed to be very good for you.

    And Veo, welcome! Readers, Veo is an actual Smarty Pants Scientist and if you want to meet more of her kind go over to one of her several blogs. I love places where intelligent women gather even if I don't always understand what they're talking about.

    And Dawn--you're going to have to stop being so damn funny on my blog. It makes people wish they were on your blog instead.

    Plus you've now got me totally craving those cream filled apple donuts and I don't even know what they taste like! I suppose it's only fair retaliation for the cupcake picture.

  7. Sorry Crabby,

    I'll pretend I didn't say if you do:)

  8. Hi Crabby,
    Not at all ... we love hearing from you at That's Fit!
    This time I've featured you in my post. Check it out:

  9. Hi, I've been doing "bodybuilding" (as well as aerobic exercises) off and on for years, starting at the late age of 35. I'm a guy and I kinda like it, but I guess it's just the masochist in me. Actually it's more than that, it's the thought that when I'm reasonably well trained I can defend myself against a larger segment of the population. Well, I should probably take some martial arts or other self-defense class for that, but I do think raw strength is a positive, and it just made me feel better physically.

    Years back I read "The Nautilus Bodybuilding Book" (probably out of print, but cheap used copies are just about everywhere) and found it excellent, but it's longer than I think it needs to be. I'll sum up everything I learned from it here - much of it repeats what you've already said (such as one set of each exercise, every other day):

    If you're not currently doing freeweights or weight machine training, do it every other day for a few weeks and start of with LIGHT weights. I think this is applicable to freeweights as well as the weight machines, but you get different benefits from each, and some things can only (easily) be done with the machines. Your muscles are probably going to hurt, but you shouldn't start off trying to kill them, else your muscles could hurt for a long time. Do one set, as the main blog says, and GO SLOW. Take two seconds to lift the weight - whilie you're lifing, you should be able to say "One thousand, two thousand" as you lift from one extreme to the other. When you reach the top, immediately start lowering the weight, but go slower. Take twice as much time lowering the weight: "One thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand." Do this for one set of 8-16 reps (just 8-12 and very light weight when starting out). If something feels too easy, and the affected muscles don't hurt over the next two days, add a weight the next time (that is, when you come back to the gym in two days) you do the exercise.

    Once you've done this every day for several weeks, you may notice you can lift more weight than when you started, and you don't hurt afterwards, whereas you may have hurt after the first few times. Now's time for the big stuff. Increase the weight to where you can only do 8 to 16 reps. This may well make you hurt for a few days. If so, perhaps take an extra day or two off from the every-other-day routine, but after a few time of this it will only hurt for an hour afterwards.

    Once you've gone a few more weeks of that, you're ready for the really heavy-duty stuff. You need a machine that when you lift one arm (or leg), the bar moves for the other arm (or leg) as well. If you're doing freeweights, you need one or perhaps two people to help you. For machines where one handle stays in place when you move the other, use both hands on the "active" handle to lift, then lower with one hand as directed. Set the machine to about 30 or 40 percent less weight than you normally use. Lift the weight with both arms, at same two-second rate. Let go with one arm, and lower the weight at the four-second rate with the one arm. This will be more weight than it's used to, but it can hold more lowering than lifting. Repeat this with the same one arm lowering the weight until you can no longer control the weight (taking the full four seconds to lower it). Give yourself a couple minutes to recover, then do it again with both arms lifting, but the OTHER arm lowering the weight each time. Don't alternate arms between reps, use the same arm to lower the weight for the whole set. Lowering the weight does at least as much as lifting it to strenthen your muscles.

    This built up my muscles, though not my arms and chest as much as I would have liked (you know, the Arnie look). But I really built up my legs. I could do a 12-rep set of the leg extension (Quadricepts) machine using both legs with the full 250lbs of weight on the stack. What I usually set it at about 140lbs, then did the lift-with-both-legs, lower-with-one leg routine, for a set, then do the other leg for a set. Not bad compared to when I first started out, I remember doing something like 70lbs using both legs, and it hurting. At my peak, I would be lifting the most amount of weight with a particular set of muscles in my life, yet my muscles would hurt for only about the first five seconds after doing an exercise (as opposed to hurting for DAYS when I had overdone it in earlier training). The rest of the time, I felt great.

  10. Hi Ben,

    Wow, that was really informative. We must have read similar books because most of that sounds like what i learned too, only I've forgotten half of it and I don't usually bother doing the lowering part (eccentric maybe?), just the lifting part. (Didn't get the name McSlacker for nuthin'.)

    Thanks so much for taking the time to explain it all so carefully!

  11. I'll trade someone who wants to do my cardio for me and I'll do their weights for them. I HATE cardio, but I actually like weightwork. I particularly like the s-l-o-w days, where it's an 8-count up, 18-count down. You want to feel burn? Try'll feel burn. But be sure to go considerably lighter than you usually do...the more you slow down, the less you'll be able to do.

    Great blog, Crabby.

  12. Hi Laura,
    Love those Women of Mystery!

    So you totally have a deal--I'll do your cardio if you do my weights.

    And I can't believe you do the super-slow! I tried that a few times and about died. They say it's awesome for you but so few people can stick to it because it's so challenging. I sure couldn't. Wow!


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