Home Friday 5 Friday 5: 5 Common Questions About Working With Weights Answered

Friday 5: 5 Common Questions About Working With Weights Answered

by Erika Nicole Kendall
Friday 5: 5 Common Questions About Working With Weights Answered

Last week, a long-time #bgg2wlarmy member reached out to me and shared that her workouts weren’t burning anymore. She was getting it in with regard to time, but the workouts weren’t feeling the same afterwards as they used to feel. Happens to the best of us, literally, because we’re at our best and it’s time to step our workouts up.

That being said, as long as I’ve been lifting and loving it, it’s embarrassing how little weight lifting and strength training information there is on the blog. And, while I realize that part of this means I really need to go into videos and doing them seriously (after I give birth, that is) so that I can go into detail about training, this also means I need to dedicate some serious time talking about weight work. #datwork

There are a few key questions that I receive very often when it comes to strength training and weight lifting – because you can strength train without weight lifting, but can’t weight lift without strength training, the two aren’t totally interchangeable – that I want to address, and hopefully use this as a jumping off point to open up conversation here on BGG2WL about training for strength.

After having watched some of the convo around my favorite athlete, it’s clear that lots of women are interested and invested in the idea of becoming strong, but the myths out there are making it difficult. Annnnd, as someone who lifts for the love of it as well as for vanity (hello, booty!), if I can help, why not?

What are things you can do if you can't go to the gym? Share on X

1) “What are things you can do if you can’t go to the gym?”

So, this is why I built the #ScaleFreeSummer training plan the way I did – it is built to be able to be done at a facility, but also at home. If you’re interested, check it out. There’s an infinite number of exercises you can use to shape your figure, and they don’t require a gym to get it done.

Aside from the fact that there are tools you can buy pretty inexpensively to get the job done – things like resistance bands, free weights/dumbbells, TRX bands, exercise balls, and so on – you can make your own weights, too. I talked about this years ago in the beginning of my own journey – I set up my own weights as necessary so that I could have something to challenge my muscle and encourage it to grow. A pair of empty gallon jugs will get the job done – fill it to the top with water, and voila: you have two 8lb weights for the low low price of free-ninety-nine. A backpack filled with books will give you weights for squatting or lunges or any upright lower-body move, really. It can also be used similarly to a kettlebell for many exercises.

I’m a free weight kind of trainer, anyway. I understand the purpose machines serve, but the goal should be to try to get you as close to training in a way that improves how you live as possible, and many machines can’t do that particularly well.

Will I see faster results doing lifting over doing just cardio? Share on X

2) “Will I see faster results doing lifting over doing just cardio?”

So, it’s sort of complicated. For all intents and purposes, let’s consider “results” to mean “pounds lost on the scale.” You’ll likely see faster results with cardio, but your results will last longer with a focus on strength training.

Straight intensive cardio can result in more calories burned per hour – something like a spin class, perhaps, or running somewhere above 5 mph – and you’ll likely see lots of pounds drop, but people who take this route often find it unsustainable. They can’t manage the workout routine, they can’t manage the post-workout hunger, they’ve likely lost so much muscle that it’s negatively impacted their metabolism to the point where they have to eat far less than they’re used to in order to maintain this. It either breeds a frustrating cycle of yo-yoing, or a growing obsession with maintaining it all. (It’s worth noting that some people do manage to maintain this, but it certainly isn’t easy for the average person.)

With strength training, however, your training routine ultimately creates your weight maintenance plan – because an increase of muscle also results in an increase in your metabolism, you are a) burning more calories throughout the day because of the increased presence of muscle tissue; b) burning more calories outside of your training session (which is different from cardio, where the burn essentially is reduced after the end of the training session) because the tear down and rebuild process requires energy, which means burning calories; and c) setting yourself up for a being able to handle things like social events and, um, cake cake cake cake cake cake cake.

I digress.

There’s a difference between “quick results” and “quality results.” And, when you’re talking about a shift in the way you live, you want it to be something beneficial to your daily life, easily maintained, and conducive to your ultimate goals. So, cardio will get you there, but strength training will keep you there.

How do I incorporate strength training in an already active lifestyle? Share on X

3) “How do I incorporate strength training in an already active lifestyle?”

In my mind, the benefit to a lot of activities like Zumba and other forms of dance is that they are, in their own way, a kind of strength training. They’re incredibly time-conscious – you need to stay on rhythm, you need to move fast, and they keep you interval driven – and you do remarkable things with your body. I mean, everybody thinks The Butterfly is just old, until you realize that the dance we replaced it with is a repeated squatting motion, and most of us did it for an entire chorus. Hell, those count as reps and sets to me. (Kidding… sorta.)

That being said, I can appreciate wanting to make sure you’re getting that full-body action in there. You have to remember that good strength training is going to only improve your abilities in the things you love. If you’re taking your dance lessons seriously, then a good strength training routine will only go hand in hand with that – it’ll improve your abilities on-stage, and it’ll make you feel better about your progression as a performer.

Shop around for the one thing that sets your heart ablaze, and excites you to the point where you’re excited to go in every day. Discover the thing you enjoy the most, and dive into it with your whole heart, and let your strength training – which would then serve under the title of “cross-training” – aid you in becoming better at this thing you enjoy so much, be it modern dance or Zumba or Polish folk dance or ballet.

I mean, all one has to do is look at Misty Copeland to realize that ballerinas can be strong, too.

Are calisthenics - strength training using body weight only - legit? Share on X

4) “Are calisthenics – strength training using body weight only – legit?”

‘Bout as legit as they come. This question is why I didn’t touch on calisthenics in the first point.

Calisthenics are invaluable. Calisthenics are an ingenious way of combining gravity and physics in a way that requires your muscles to work harder than normal. Wall sits, tricep dips, pull-ups or chin-ups, squats, lunges? These were all body weight exercises before companies convinced us we needed weights to make them “better.” I talk about this team a lot because I stan for them so hard, but consider the following:

This is calisthenics, and this is how these folks stay in shape. That’s years of training to get that strong and capable to do these moves, sure, but that’s still calisthenics. Much of the work you see done by Laura Sykora on Instagram – yes, the yoga – is calisthenics, as well. And it’s legit.

How yogis flip over to tan evenly… A video posted by Laura (@laurasykora) on

(It’s also worth noting that the #ScaleFreeSummer training plan can be done without weights as well as with, too, for anyone interested in getting into calisthenics. Juuuust adding. : )

How do I figure out how much weight I should be lifting? Share on X

5) How do I figure out how much weight I should be lifting?

So, what you’re looking for is called your “one rep max” – meaning, you’re looking for the answer to the following question: “What’s the most weight I can lift in one rep without my limbs falling apart?” This is the maximum amount of weight you can lift using just your muscles – not momentum, not weird jerking motions, nothing.

Your one-rep max will differ for different exercises – it’ll be higher for something like a squat than it would be for something like an arm curl – and you will go through a lot of frustration to figure out what that one rep max (also known as a 1RM) might be. But, once you do, it’s a game changer.

When you step into the weight area, start with one exercise – the shoulder press. Guesstimate how much weight you can hold in your hands while safely executing the exercise. If you don’t know, there’s nothing wrong with starting with a 2 or 5lb weight just to be on the safe side. Perform the move one time. If it feels too easy, no worry – put it back and go up to the next weight. Perform the move again. If it feels too easy… you get the picture. The cycle continues until you get to the point where you feel like you literally cannot do it. The weight before that one – the last weight you were able to successfully lift while also not sacrificing your form is your 1RM for this move.

Now, let’s say your 1RM is 20lbs for the shoulder press. Nice! But that doesn’t mean that you’ll constantly lift at 20lbs. Absolutely not. Optimal strength training happens when you are using somewhere around 70% of your 1RM. Constantly hammering away at 100% is a recipe for disaster, pain, muscle soreness, and sometimes even kidney issues. So, if your 1RM is 20lbs, multiply that by .7 to find out what 70% of 20 is, and you get 14.

From here, you round your number off to the weight it is closest to – if it’s closest to 15, go with 15. If the answer were closest to 10, you’d go with 10 (of course, in this case, it wouldn’t be, but still).

If this still feels like a little more than you can handle… good! This is what you need to challenge your muscle and encourage it to grow. Before you know it, those 15s will feel too light, and it’ll be time to reach for that 17.5 or — gasp — that 20.

Who’s got strength training questions for me? Let’s hear ‘em!

You may also like


Gigi July 25, 2015 - 4:42 PM

I’ve been doing some workout videos that incorporate cardio with weights. Compound weight moves (e.g., squat with lateral raise or dead lift with upright row) with cardio intervals or compound weight moves done in quick succession. With regard to the amount of weight I am using, I know I could handle a higher weight dumbbell, but because of the cardio and the combination moves I know I will either be too fatigued to complete the workout with a higher weight and I might compromise my form. I enjoy the workouts because they are efficient & I work up a good sweat & feel that I have worked my muscles when I’m done. My question is, is it okay to do just weights on certain days in addition to these workouts or am I compromising my progress by potentially working the same muscle group on consecutive days? I want to be able to lift heavier to get stronger & I’m not sure that doing the cardio/strength combo workouts are the best for that, although I like them more than doing straight cardio.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 25, 2015 - 8:47 PM

So, what it sounds like you’re doing is high intensity interval training, and that’s GREAT! It can help you in preserving your muscle that you’ve already got, while you burn fat. I’m skeptical on whether or not it can be used for serious muscle building, though, especially if the weights are especially light. Your nutrition would have to be top-notch, and your pre-and post-workout training (stretching, pre-workout warm-ups, etc) would have to be on point.

Can you work the same muscle groups on consecutive days? I wouldn’t. Muscle building is the tearing down and re-building of fibers – when do you get to re-build if you’re constantly tearing down? You’ve got to give muscle groups off-days.

Doing weights for certain muscle groups on certain days is perfectly fine. Orrrr you can do three full-body days a week, with off-time in-between where you do other things that you enjoy. Doesn’t have to be straight cardio, but it wouldn’t be mad-challenging strength work, either.

Janine July 29, 2015 - 3:45 PM

Hi Erika!
Great blog post. I’ve been doing anaerobic muscle-building stuff (Pure Barre) 5x/week for the past several weeks. I’ve noticed that I’ve gained a lot of weight, but I don’t know if this is due to muscle growth or overeating as I am quite a snacker and haven’t been counting calories as of late. Is there a way for me to figure out what is “good” weight gain vs “bad”?

Erika Nicole Kendall July 31, 2015 - 11:19 AM

This is a reeeeeeeeally good question – one for which I could easily write a blog post in response. Think you can hang on until then?

Comments are closed.