7 lessons I learned in one year of weight training
One year ago I made the decision to get my health back on track. I moved to Australia from Canada in late 2016 and since then I’d spent about two years eating and drinking my way through Sydney. Going for drinks and eating out was an easy way to make friends, and while I wouldn’t change it for the world, those years certainly did a number on my body.
Before moving, I’d always been into fitness and I wanted to get back into that. However, I knew from experience that cardio and HIIT circuits weren’t going to cut it this time. I needed something that was going to really get me into shape and help me shed the extra kilos I’d put on. So I made the very scary decision to try something completely new - I enrolled in an online weight lifting program.
I knew from years of following personal trainers and fitness influencers that weight training is the most effective way to change your body, but like many women, I was totally intimidated by the weights room and had no idea where to even start.
Fast forward to today and I can confidently say that starting to lift weights was one of the best decisions of my life. The experience has already been so incredibly rewarding and I know I’m just getting started.
So if you’re thinking about taking the leap and picking up that barbell, here’s seven things I’ve learned in one year of lifting weights….
#1 Weights changed my body composition 10x faster than cardio ever did
For years I was a cardio-bunny, spending hours a week on the treadmill and doing HIIT circuits. From a young age it was drilled into me that cardio was the best way for women to get fit and that the weights room was for men. How wrong I was!
After three months of lifting weights consistently, my body composition had completely changed. I was finally toned in places I thought I could never change (like my stomach and under-butt) and I was leaner, stronger, and fitter than ever before. Best of all, I didn’t do a single cardio session that entire time! As the year went on, my progress only got better.
#2 I am so hungry...all the time!
Before lifting weights, I was in a classic cycle of obsessive cardio and under-eating, convinced this would give me the body of my dreams. But when I started lifting weights, I had no choice but to start eating more. I was starving all the time (and still am - this doesn’t go away!).
It takes a lot of energy to build muscle and push your body’s limits the way weight training does. I know it feels counterproductive, but you need to eat more when you lift weights often. I was so worried it would make me gain weight, but it’s the complete opposite. If you’re not eating enough, your workouts are basically moot. Now, I eat about six meals a day compared to my previous three. Plus, I worry a lot less about what I’m eating because I know my body will burn it off. Who doesn’t want that?!
Before and after one year of weight training
#3 You may think you’re lifting heavy, but you could be wrong
This was the hardest part to get my mind around. Lifting weights is such a different type of workout than cardio and the ‘effectiveness’ of a workout can’t be measured the same. About 6 months into my first year of lifting, I completely plateaued. I stopped seeing results, felt stagnant in my progress and was completely mentally and physically blocked.
After a bit of research, I realised I wasn’t lifting heavy enough - full stop. My body had adapted to my new form of exercise and I was severely underestimating just how heavy I could lift. Now I make sure to incrementally increase my weight every week or every second week and I follow the 8 to 12 rule: If I can’t do 8 reps, it’s too heavy, but if I can do more than 12 reps, it’s too light.
#4 Rest days are essential
While sticking to a consistent workout schedule is important, rest days are just as important. When I was obsessed with cardio, I could go to the gym everyday and never need a rest day. With weights, I found I needed to let my body recover.
At first I felt guilty for taking rest days, but the longer I lifted weights the more I understood the importance of giving your body a break and that recovery is just as important as working out. It’s different for everyone, but personally I find that two rest days a week is the perfect balance for me. And if I need an extra rest day or two, I don’t beat myself up over it. Some weeks you might just be a little more tired, stressed, or unmotivated to hit the gym, and that’s okay!
#5 Not everyday will be a good gym day
In the same vein, not all your workouts will be amazing workouts. At the beginning of the year, I would feel really disheartened if I couldn’t lift as heavy as the day or week before. I genuinely believed that if I could squat 50kg last week, I should be squatting more than 50kg each session from there on out.
But progress isn’t linear and there are so many factors that might affect your workout, like how much sleep you got, how many carbs you’ve had that day, and how stressed you are in general. You won’t be able to give 100 per cent every time and it’s nothing to beat yourself up over. It’s better to get a sub-par workout in than no workout at all.
Before and after one year of weight training
#6 Dedication is more important than motivation
Before lifting, I didn’t follow a program and would rely solely on my own motivation to get me to the gym. When I switched from cardio to weights, I found it difficult as I wasn’t yet comfortable with the weights room and so I began making up all sorts of excuses not to go.
But when I enrolled in a weights program, I no longer had the luxury of being unaccountable. I was paying for a program and it would be a huge waste of money if I didn’t follow it. So despite how unmotivated I felt, I would force myself to go. And over the course of a few months, not only did I become completely comfortable with the things that once felt intimidating, but I also started craving the gym and enjoying it so much more. Your motivation may never come, so it’s up to your dedication to get you there.
#7 My mindset about fitness has changed
Probably my biggest transformation of all is my mindset. I no longer think about fitness as a way to ‘get skinny’ or change the way I look. I now look at my workouts as a way to push myself, test my body’s limits, and build strength. I’m striving to do my personal best and focused on what my body can achieve rather than what it looks like.
This year has given me a sense of empowerment that I didn’t even know I needed and I know I will continue to lift weights for the rest of my life because of it.
Do you work out? How has it changed your life?