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Why lifting heavy weights is the best workout you’re probably not doing


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Photo: Stocksy/Suprijono Suharjoto

Barry’s Bootcamp CEO (and trainer extraordinaire) Joey Gonzalez is here to bust through the myths around weight training. Here, the Well+Good Council member explains everything you need to know about upping the size of your dumbbells.

When it comes to strength training and weight lifting for women, I notice a lot of misconceptions. It seems like no matter how much we write and talk about it, many women still think that lifting heavy weights will bulk them up. I’m not sure why, really, because it’s just not true.

In the year 2017, we’re still talking about whether women should lift heavy.

This subject is personally important to me. More than 10 years ago, I started learning more about why weight lifting is so good for you. Then I began to witness my clients’ bodies change when they got past the idea of lifting heavy. So when I think about how, in the year 2017, we’re still talking about whether women should lift heavy, it seems crazy—because I believe it’s one of the best things anyone can do for her health.

(Here’s what I mean by heavy versus light weights, by the way. Five and eight pounds are light weights, then up to 12 pounds is medium, and 15 and above is heavy. At least 50 percent of the time that you’re spending lifting, it should be with something heavy.)

I know some women worry about bulking up (and yes, I know that’s a generalization, but bear with me here). One great thing to know is that women actually need excess testosterone to build those huge muscles. Women simply aren’t wired to get there—your bodies won’t allow that to happen! In fact, men struggle with bulking up as well, and they typically have to end up taking supplements in order to do it.

Lifting heavy creates a body that has tone, shape, definition, and lines.

So what does happen for women who lift heavy weights? In my experience, it creates a body that has tone, shape, definition, and lines. At Barry’s, we have a wide range of students, but typically they’re in what we call a physique-building stage. In other words, they’re not looking to lose mass amounts of weight. They already have a fitness routine, and maybe they’ve worked with a trainer, but they’ve plateaued. That plateau looks different for everybody—and every body!—but typically, it involves a little bit of stubborn fat that’s not falling off the body, fat around the midsection, or arms that are just not tight. We address all of these issues by introducing heavy weight lifting into a program.

A few weeks into doing that, your triceps start to tighten up, and muscle replaces the fat. Then, because weight lifting raises your resting metabolic rate, you burn more calories throughout the day. For every pound of muscle you put on, you burn more calories whether you’re idle or working out.

For every pound of muscle you put on, you burn more calories whether you’re idle or working out.

And you’ll get stronger. Lifting lighter weights and using higher reps helps build what we call muscle endurance, but muscle strength can only be increased by lifting heavy weights. You need both, but the difference between those two is like being able to run long distance but not sprint. You have to be able to use your strength. I’ve seen how that builds confidence, whether it’s carrying your three-year-old or groceries or being able to push a car that breaks down. So many women have told me, “I can’t believe how much stronger I’ve gotten in my everyday life.”

Plus, there are studies showing that staying strong prolongs life. You look better, you live longer—what more could you want? I recommend trying it. Commit to lifting heavy for one month, and just see what happens to your body.

As a trainer-turned-CEO of Barry’s Bootcamp, Joey Gonzalez has a holistic view on wellness that includes family, mental health, and, of course, fitness. Since he took the top job in 2015, he’s grown the popular fitness empire to 35 studios—10 of them international.

What should Joey write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to [email protected]