Wow, it feels like it’s been weeks since I’ve said that. Oh wait – it has.
Guys, this whole blogging 2 times per week goal of mine for June has been great because it’s allowed me to do so many things I’ve been wanting to do, but I definitely miss you! I’ll talk about this more in my goal check-in post on Monday, but in the meantime, for those of you who have written to me to say you’ve been really missing Fitness Fridays, I hear ya. For the past couple of weeks I’ve just had more to say on Mondays, but don’t worry – there are lots of Friday workouts coming up. Let’s start right now – this is a meaty one!
Work It Out
I mentioned that I’d start sharing some of my heavier lifting sessions, so while today’s routine might not look very exciting, it’s what I think has been helping me make the biggest strength gains since the beginning of this year. Before prioritizing strength training, I wasn’t unfit, but endurance was my jam and I’d run for hours. In retrospect, I was aerobically fit (and maybe even anaerobically fit), but I wasn’t strong.
I’ve learned loads about body awareness and mobility by making strength training my focus. I now know how to really engage my glutes, back and core, and it’s even more clear to me that total-body moves like squats, barbell complexes, kettlebell swings and pull-ups do more for one’s core definition than any number of crunches ever will. There’s also no denying that lifting heavy things has made me feel more confident and empowered in my skin too.
Before we get into sets and reps, here are 3 tips to keep in mind – all of which are based on my personal experience:
- Lifting heavy will not make you bulky. There’s a million articles on the internet about this, and if you were to meet me in person, you’d see that it’s true. Women naturally have less testosterone than men, and thanks in part to this, it makes it biologically harder for us to pack on muscle. Don’t fear the heavy weights – embrace them!
- Form first. I can’t stress enough how important this is. Undoubtedly, lifting weights as heavy as I can has made me stronger, but that implies that it’s done with proper form. I know that some of the niggles and pains I experienced back in February were because I was trying to take on too much load too soon, and as a result, I had to really scale back, check my ego and not try to set a new PR every time I tossed a barbell on my shoulders. The best improvements happens when our muscles are moving through the entire range of motion intended for each exercise, so don’t be afraid to scale down until you’ve got your form right. Doing a session with a coach or trainer who knows what they’re doing (many do not) can definitely help with this. It’s the approach I took, and this was especially helpful for lifts I was less comfortable with like cleans and push jerks.
- Building strength takes time. I’ve talked about patience in the past, but it’s something I’m getting more and more experience developing by the day! Adding weight to lifts feels great. I was getting used to doing regularly back in January because at that point, I was still pretty new to all this. As is the case with many things, as a beginner, you make gains quickly. But then progress slows and it’s harder to increase pounds lifted without 1) compromising form, 2) injuring yourself, or worse, 3) both. In my case, I’ve been able to develop lower body strength much more quickly than upper. Just like any goal, anything worth having takes hard work and commitment. Don’t give up!
Right, now for the specifics.
The Lower Body Blitz Barbell Workout
This one is heavy on the back squats (literally), with some Bulgarian split squats and weighted step-ups after. There are a bajillion ways to squat and I’ll talk about other variations in future posts, but for now, let’s keep it simple. If you’re like me, you’ll probably find you need to back the weight off a LOT for the Bulgarian split squats. Of the 3 moves, these always tend to be the reason for my hurts-so-good muscle soreness the next day. Oh, and don’t be fooled by the name – it’s called the lower body blitz, but your core will be PLENTY fatigued by the end.
For the first part of this routine, you’ll work up to a weight you can only do 6 back squats with, and the reps will decrease as that weight gets heavier. I’ve written the weight indications as a % of your 1-rep max (1RM), which is the absolute maximum amount of weight you think you could back squat (properly) for 1 rep. At each percentage, the last 2-3 reps should be challenging. A lot of people (myself included) don’t practice with a 1 rep max weight very often, so for the purposes of this workout, you might want to check out this 1 rep max calculator. Write down your percentages (or put them in your phone) so you’re not trying to do math when you get to the gym.
Weight for the Bulgarian split squats and step-ups will stay pretty consistent, but remember that if your form is starting to suffer significantly, it’s best to scale back and focus on nailing that first. And lastly, a note on rest: Take 2-3 minutes between each set. So for example, you do 10 reps, then take 2-3 mins rest. Do 10 more, 2-3 mins rest. 8 reps, 2-3 mins rest. Yes, that may feel like a long time if you’re used to doing the metabolic conditioning routines like the ones I posted last month. However, lifting heavier means the muscles need more time to recover, and your next lift will be better for it.
Disclaimer: This routine isn’t really one I’d recommend for beginners who haven’t had any sort of introduction to strength training. If this sounds like you, I’d recommend checking out some of my other workouts here (there are almost 300 of them!), and always adapting for your fitness level.
- Barbell back squat: Video demo here.
- Bulgarian split squat: Video demo here, except you’d have the barbell across the back of your shoulders. Try a few completely unweighted until you get a feel for your balance. I prefer to use a lower box for these – a 1-foot tall box will give you plenty of a challenge.
- Barbell alternating step-ups: Using the same box you used for the split squat, place the barbell across the back of your shoulders and stand facing it. Leading with your left foot, step up, then follow with the right. Step down with the left, then right. On the next rep, do the same but lead with the right leg. Continue alternating, ensuring that your core and glutes are engaged the whole time to help you balance.
Turn It Up
Guys, I’m completely obsessed with Carly Rae Jepsen’s kinda-new song, Cut to the Feeling. I may have listened to it 3 times in a row while doing my Wednesday morning run earlier this week, and like so many songs, they just fire me up so much more when listened to using earbuds than out of computer speakers. Enjoy!
Can’t see the video? Click here.
Have A Read
- Sustaining a lifetime passion for your sport – via Outside Online. This was SUCH a good article. If you’ve ever felt any sort of pressure, whether self-imposed or otherwise, to stay in a sport (or keep doing anything) that’s just not jiving with you, read this!
- Understanding fasted cardio + weight loss – via Born Fitness. Great simple breakdown here, and worth the (quick) read if you’ve been wondering.
- Why slow fitness was what finally worked for this fitness fiend – via Mind Body Green
Now let’s hear from you! Of your fitness regimen, about what % would you say is dedicated to lifting heavier weights? I know I’ve been more of an endurance athlete in the past and I assume many of you are too, but I’d love to hear your perspective on all this. Is this something you’d like me to talk more about? Do you lift regularly? If not, what prevents you from doing so?