In the summer of 2017, I agreed to do six weeks of personal training as an introduction to lifting for an article.
I’ve always tried different things as a lifestyle journalist, but these were mostly fleeting content interests.
Strength training, however, was different. Little did I know when I agreed to write this article that it would ignite a passion that would grow into a lifestyle.
I had never picked up a barbell when I started, and while I enjoyed dancing and netball as a teenager, I didn’t consider myself a “fitness person.” Occasionally, I’d undergo a boring stint on a cardio machine.
But five years later, the discovery of strength training not only changed my body, it changed my whole life. Fitness is now my specialty as a journalist, I have a healthy relationship with food and am also stronger, fitter and leaner.
“Resistance training is key to pretty much any training goal,” personal trainer Luke Worthington previously told Insider.
I’ve been lifting weights consistently for five years, it makes me feel empowered and instead of seeing the workout as punishment, I look forward to hitting the gym.
I learned valuable lessons along the way that would have helped me when I was starting out, including that exercise alone won’t make you lose a significant amount of fat and that there’s no such thing as “toning.”
1. Exercise is overrated for fat loss
Despite exercising more than ever before, I didn’t lose any weight for almost two years during my fitness journey. I actually gained weight, and while some was muscle, it was fat as well. I just ate (and drank) too much.
I didn’t lose fat until I educated myself on calories and minimized overeating. Strength training and a high-protein diet also helped me maintain muscle.
After I lost body fat and lost 35 pounds, people mistakenly assumed I was just getting into fitness. But I was already strong (I could deadlift 255 pounds), I just didn’t fit the image most people have of someone who works out.
Formal exercise accounts for just 5-10% of the calories the average person burns in a day, personal trainer Graeme Tomlinson previously told Insider. That’s why I train to get stronger, fitter and stronger, not to burn calories – if I want to lose fat, I aim for a calorie deficit in my diet.
2. Lifting weights doesn’t make you bulky
Contrary to popular misconception, lifting weights doesn’t automatically make women “big.” Building muscle is actually a really tough, slow process, especially if you’re not eating in a calorie surplus.
“If you do it three times a week, the muscle gains won’t be noticeable for most people,” personal trainer Sarah Carr previously told Insider.
Female weightlifters’ physiques are the result of hard training and dedicated nutrition, Carr said, and genetics also play a role.
Five years later I love the muscles I have and I still haven’t gotten big.
3. Muscle building is a myth
Lifting heavy weights can help create the “toned” physique that many women desire. But it’s a myth that muscles can be exercised – they just grow or shrink.
Looking “toned” essentially means having some muscle mass and little body fat to look at, personal trainer Pete Geracimo previously told Insider.
The way to get there is to build muscle through resistance training and lose fat through a slight calorie deficit.
4. Consistency over perfection
Not every workout will be great. Some days my workout feels harder than others. Sometimes I don’t even want to go to the gym. But 90% of the time I go, I show up and do something.
Knowing that I don’t always feel motivated to exercise and sometimes have to force myself to hit the gym has been key for me to stay consistent and reach my fitness goals. I also don’t worry if I have an easier workout sometimes.
Overtraining doesn’t help me reach my goals faster, and I sometimes take an extra rest day, but I’ve made progress — and made fitness a part of my lifestyle — by realizing that consistency is more important than perfection.
5. Changing up your training is good, but the basics always work
Every time I’ve changed my training style (e.g., from a bodybuilding program to a CrossFit-style training plan), my body has adjusted.
This often leads to delayed muscle soreness (DOMS), which is mistakenly seen as a sign of effective training. So I don’t change my workout every month in search of DOMS.
My workouts will always include basic movements like squats, hinges (deadlifts), presses (bench presses), pulls (pullups), lunges, and carries.
The basics are basics for a reason, and to make progress you need to train them consistently and use progressive overload, Worthington said.
6. Anyone can become a “fitness person.”
I used to think that “fitness people” were born that way, and if I wasn’t there was no hope.
The last five years have shown me that this is not true.
Finding a way to move that I actively enjoy has changed everything for me. Not everyone is going to love lifting weights, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an exercise type for you. Maybe you just haven’t found it yet.