Home Exercise 101 Q&A Wednesday: When Should I Start Lifting Weights?

Q&A Wednesday: When Should I Start Lifting Weights?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

You'd never knw what this was until you saw someone use it!

Q: Erika, I don’t know when to incorporate the weights. What weight machines to use first. At what point in the weight loss do you start weights? What machines, weight exercises work for arms, legs, stomach? I have so many questions about weights, but I guess that is a good start.

I credit my current body to beginning weight training (and yoga) at an early point in the game. I’m not competition-ready yet, but happy to say that I’m getting there.

When you lose weight, there’s all these strange physical changes that we may not be prepared for – we may not even be thinking about them because we’re just so overjoyed to finally be losing. One of those changes is the “deflation effect.”

I spoke about this briefly last week, but I dealt with some serious skin issues when I first started losing without weight training. When you burn fat as quickly as I was (due to the major changes in my diet), you start to, essentially, deflate. Have you ever watched a balloon with a tiny helium leak deflate? When it’s done deflating, it’s misshapen… no longer taut like it was with all the air inside, no longer curved. Just kinda sloppy and… there.

It’s the same with weight loss…. only, a balloon has a finite point where it has to stop deflating. Your body may not. When you begin burning fat, your skin conforms to… more fat. Fat that has had holes burned in it because it’s melting away doesn’t have shape. And, I’m sorry to say, neither will you. The skin will just hang there. Chillin’. There used to be stuff there, but there isn’t anymore. And while the skin can and does rebound, it takes a while and requires lots of patience. Building muscle gives you something for the skin to conform to during that rebounding process.

Like I’ve said before… I can remember a particular day when I was doing that downward-facing dog position in yoga, opened my eyes to find that the skin from my thighs was literally hanging forward, and came down because I was mortified! I had never noticed that before, and needed to learn – quickly – how to deal with it. If I had to give a piece of advice to anyone, it’d be to start lifting early.

Lifting gives your skin something to conform to. It’s no longer simply a round shape, there will be muscular definition. There will be bends and curves. New possibilities, new opportunities. I had “thick thighs” and a “big booty,” but I resented the gut that came with both. My arms… I don’t even remember my arms. That should tell you something. With muscle definition, when the fat faded from my body I could make sure that there were big ginormous thigh muscles, properly defined muscles in my lower back and upper thigh for my booty as well as working my obliques so that I had a shapely waist.

Just in case you were wondering what your obliques are... develop them properly and you'll have great curves!

I was a cardio freak at first, but I learned about the gym equipment from my gym’s trainer (who also happened to be the owner.) He offered me two free hours so that he could show me how to work all of the equipment and help me develop my own plan for rebuilding. I’d eventually leave that gym and focus on calisthenics, only to return again and go heavier on the lifting (for competition purposes)… and leave again after collecting the gym equipment I needed to work out at home.

I have to tell you, that if you’re in a gym environment, there should be someone there willing to walk you through the equipment, and I mean employees. Not some person who thinks they’re SuperLifter who wants to lord over you. Besides, not everyone who uses the machines uses them properly. I can’t give you a rundown of every piece of equipment because every gym contains different stuff (I could easily run down every piece of equipment in MY old gym and still not explain anything in yours), but I can give you tips as a newbie for getting acquainted with your environment and feeling more at home in your gym.

1) Pay close attention to your surroundings – each time you visit the gym, watch how people use the equipment. Don’t watch one person use the shoulder press. Watch several different people use it. Some people will grab it differently from others. Watch several people use the decline machine. It’s versatile – you can do a bajillion (!) different core exercises there, and always can learn something new.

2) Try what you see, keep what you like, discard what you don’t – when you see people trying moves that are new to you, if you like them, keep ’em! If they give you that nice burn, then go with ’em. If they cause sharp pain or you can’t get the form right (a good way you’ll know you’re doing it wrong because it won’t feel like a natural bodily motion, and execution will actually cause pain), then set them aside as something you might want to observe a little more.

3) Write down the names of the pieces of equipment you’re interested in (they’re usually on the equipment themselves) and search for the equipment names on youtube – There are tons of videos on youtube about gym equipment and how to get great use of different pieces in the gym. Take advantage – they’ve already done most of the leg work for you!

4) Be annoying and ask questions – I know I’m opening myself up for jokes here, but I believe in annoying the hell out of people ans asking questions if it betters my understanding and my well-being in the end. I’m not saying interrupt someone in the middle of their workout (there is nothing more rude than that) but bug the gym personnel! That’s what they’re there for! Surely, they’re not there to just stand around and look good.

5) Lastly, if you are still hitting brick walls, do what I did (even though you may have to pitch in a few dollars for it) and get a training session to educate yourself on how to best use the equipment. Find out which pieces will help you achieve what you want with your body, which pieces will inflame previous injuries and which pieces will build muscles for you in places where you may not want it. The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself, or choose a machine that won’t further you in your goals.

A Q&A Wednesday from a few weeks ago might also be useful, here – Creating A Weight Training Routine – and there’s also the exercises section of the site to give you moves you can use in your workout routine, so be sure to check those out.

Anyone else have tips they’d like to share? Let’s hear it!

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Lynn Franklin November 10, 2010 - 1:48 PM

I would like to ask a question. I am a cardio queen but I lift at least 2 days a week or more. I also have some lifting for toning in some of my cardio routines. I want to know why it seems that NONE of my skin is bouncing back? I mean I know it may be my age 45 and I have never been tight even young I was jiggly. I am 5’2″ and did weigh 320lbs you see my problem, but I am now down to 235lbs but flabby everywhere I am. I was working out 3 days a week but 9 months ago started working out 5 days a week and incorporated more weights. Nothing is helping so far, and I am still a flabby mess and it is getting worse breasts sag, thighs sag, arms are awful. I would never wear a tank top NO WAY! I drink plenty of water, veggies, fruits, salads, nuts and so forth but still nothing. People have told me that it might be my age and sometimes all the skin just doesn’t go back. Please say it ain’t so. I still have plenty of weight to lose, I wanna be under 200 somewhere one day LOL. After being on this journey for years and still flabby should I just accept my fate and think about plastics or maybe pray that the Lord will give a sister a little raise, lift, boost, or whatever? Thanks for any help you can offer me.

Erika November 10, 2010 - 3:10 PM

It’s hard to say without seeing your body specifically, so the most generic of answers that I can give is below:

The reality is, if we’re hard on our bodies, it makes it take longer for them to recuperate. That’s just a fact. If we’ve endured a lot of hard living, it makes it difficult on the body to recover from all that. I’ll be honest – my tummy is almost completely recovered, but it’s taken me almost a year to get there.

If you’re still experiencing the improvement in your quality of life – improved abilities, tasks becoming easier, etc – then keep shooting for that sub-200!

I’m also curious about your workout regimen – push-ups for the boobs, chest and back; leg lifts for the thighs and calves; squats and good mornings for the booty – are you targeting the right body parts? If you DO consider skin removal procedures, you want to make sure you have the body you want underneath that skin, otherwise you might wind up having to go back for more.

Go for it! Don’t stop! Consult someone who can help you build a routine that can target your “build spots,” and then consult someone who may help you rid yourself of the skin. Keep me posted!

Tiffani November 10, 2010 - 6:11 PM

Hello! Just came across your site…judging by the cover it seems great….can’t wait to dig in! Congrats on your weight loss, you look wonderful!

Jasmine November 10, 2010 - 11:49 PM

Once again, your advice is on point, Ericka. I also suggest weight training as soon as you can. I started right at the beginning and wasn’t subjected to loose skin, though not exempt from sagging boobs for a couple of months. I use free weights and kettlebells and there are tons of youtube tutorials on proper technique and execution. Also, crossfit circuits are great for building strengh (I don’t go to a crossfit gym, but their circuits are a weekly part of my strength training,google crossfit.com and you’ll find tons of strength building workouts and lots of inspiration). While learning how to use gym equipment or free weights, don’t abandon body weight strength exercises like push ups,squats, sit ups, pull ups, etc. There’s lots of modified versions of every excercise so don’t be intimidated if you can’t perform a pushup or pull up, there are tools and techniques to get you there. Most importantly, your diet dictates your success, so eat for the body that you want to create. Building a stronger better you takes time and research and I refer this site to friends and co workers whenever they need online direction to proper healthy weightloss.

Athena November 11, 2010 - 2:27 AM

I started a program that incorporated lifting weights and cardio! My very first workout was with weights its working well and I’m losing inches! Besides I prefer lifting to cardio anyday!

MANDA November 16, 2010 - 4:49 PM

Thank you!! That helps a great deal.

NELL December 29, 2010 - 9:53 PM

My question Erika is how to I tone my arms and back without incresing my bust? Reason: I had a breast reduction almost two years ago and I was told that mine were mostly muscle mass and not fatty tissue. I don’t want to increase their size but I really need to tone up my arms after a dramatic weight loss. Help!! Also I love your blog; it has been so inspiring and helpful to me.

Erika December 30, 2010 - 11:56 AM

There’s a section of exercises on the site that shows videos of exercises that you can do – specifically tricep kickbacks and bicep curls – that you can do to tone your arms. Yoga would also help, with a few of those positions. My bustline hasn’t increased, and hell, I wish it would. I’ve got NO boobs. LOLOL!

Thank you for the kind words, Nell! I appreciate that! 🙂

NELL December 31, 2010 - 6:46 PM

Thank you I am going to look that up. LOL about the Boobs, I am trying to keep it that way for mine; I don’t want to put back my insurance company so graciously paid to get rid of for me. I have lost about 60 pounds and my arms look like deflated ballons.Thank you for the help and for this blog. Oh and you are welcome!!!

milaxx March 16, 2011 - 8:17 PM

When I joined the gym my sole intention was to use take advantage if the water aerobics classes. I have bad knees so zumba or regular aerobics. However I realized that I should also take advantage of the rest of the gym. Most gyms’s try to sell you a trainer package when you join anyway. Some will have trial 30 day or 60 day packages. Take those. As mentioned ask questions, and take notes, especially about the correct way to use equipment what machines to use for what particular areas on your body. You quickly figure out what works for you.

milaxx March 16, 2011 - 8:21 PM

Oops, meant to say NO zumba or regular aerobics for me.

likeramona March 16, 2011 - 8:44 PM

I’ve known for a long time that I should incorporate weight lifting into my workouts but it wasn’t until BGG2WL that I started doing it consistently. You’re a true inspiration. Keep up the great work!!!
*leaving a lil something in the tip jar ;)*

Tracey Bates June 1, 2011 - 10:12 PM

Found your site abut a month ago~LOVE IT! At 230lbs. I lost 30lbs. in 9 months and I find swimming @ 42 is about the only thing that doesn’t make my joints hurt to where I have to stop exercising for a week to recuperate. My question: in order for the skin to rebound (flabby stomach) should I incorporate weights or is lap swimming enough to tone my body. Thanks Sista!

Tracey Bates June 1, 2011 - 10:17 PM

Found your website about a month ago~INSPIRING! At 42 I lost 30lbs in 9 months. I enjoy swimming as it doesn’t hurt my joints & I don’t have to stop exercising for a week due to in injury. My question is: Will swimming be enough to tighten my flabby stomach or should I incorporate weights? Stay encouraged Sista!

Tremilla October 18, 2011 - 3:59 PM

Lifting works! I started a athletic training class twice a week. It included cardio, step, and weights. I haven’t gotten to the flabby skin phase but my body did change shape. I lost inches in my waist, my thighs and butt look much better. I love my cardio because it’s simple but one day I have to get out my comfort zone and tackle those weight machines. For now I’ll stick to my classes.

Aleisha December 6, 2011 - 1:30 AM

Hey, I just wanted to say, on top of doing cardio and weights training, try using dove firming cream, its definately helped tighten up the saggy skin on my stomach! it helps to replace the collagen and elastine in your skin 🙂

Lex February 27, 2012 - 10:44 PM

Weight training is definitely necessary. I’ve lost over 50 pounds twice and my body is definitely different from when I did it lifting regularly than now where I did mostly cardio. I have more flab and I regret not doing more strength/weight training sooner. Im now back under 200 pounds and Im working on this with the last 30-50 pounds I plan on losing but I would start early…sooner rather than later.

Michelle April 18, 2012 - 9:25 PM

I use to compete and can testify of the wonders of how weight training can redefine your physique. Don’t worry lifting will not make you look like a man, women don’t have enough testosterone for that. Very good and useful information.

Angie August 18, 2012 - 4:27 PM

I have actually started incorporating strength training, but I’m a little unsure on how to maximize it? I can’t afford a gym membership right now. Are there any fitness dvds you would recommend for someone who can’t do the gym?

Erika Nicole Kendall August 21, 2012 - 2:05 PM

The only DVD I’ve ever done is the one for my yoga practice. I can always do a call out post, though.

Jackie September 4, 2012 - 5:32 PM

Great information Erika. Congrats on your success!! Trying to get weight training into my routine. I am down 12.8lbs only 66 lbs. to go. I have finally started to own the numbers. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Angelique January 6, 2013 - 7:05 PM

I found this site from another weight-loss weight site I was on and decided to check it out. Your posts are very informative, witty and real. I am just starting my weight-loss journey although I’ve played sports my entire life overweight, I’m finally committed to putting in the effort to lose the weight. I’m 5’8 and my goal is to lose 130, so as you can see I have a long way to go. I was always concerned with the excess skin issue or “deflation” as you put it. Now after reading your article I will definitely make sure to incorporate weight training because I really don’t want to have that problem if I can help it. I already have arm flab that I hope will take shape at some point during my journey. Thanks for this detailed post. It was more helpful than any other info I’ve read on this topic.

Shanae July 3, 2013 - 7:26 PM

Hey Erika I will like to start exercising and changing my eating habits to lose weight and also to change my lifestyle but I can’t afford a gym at this time what can I do to avoid sagging skin your referring too?

Erika Nicole Kendall July 6, 2013 - 11:57 PM
Joy Williams July 24, 2013 - 11:11 AM

I am a big proponent of weightlifting. I am getting back into the gym after a bit of a hiatus but I love what lifting does not just for the way my body looks but for the way it works. I would also suggest getting a trainer at the beginning preferably someone with knowledge of biomechanics. I have learned that I may have to do somethings differently because of the length of my legs, etc. Also working with a trainer means you can get feedback on your form and proper form is critical to make sure you don’t get injured. Eventually you may build enough knowledge so that you feel comfortable without trainer but I think that professional training is key at the beginning.

O.C March 13, 2014 - 4:30 PM

Hi Erika,
My question is: what is the difference between toning and strengthening classes with weights, bands, and the like, and the machines that are at the gym? I do not typically use the weight machines but I do go to weight training classes. Any advice?

Erika Nicole Kendall March 16, 2014 - 8:39 PM

I think it depends on your goals. If you’re talking fitness? Free movement over machines, ALWAYS. If you’re talking exclusive strength training? You should STILL go free weights first, because machines only make sense when you’re above a certain relative weight, IMO.

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