In the summer of 2017, I agreed to do six weeks of personal training as an introduction to lifting weights for an article.
I was always trying different things as a lifestyle journalist, but they were mostly fleeting interests for content.
Strength training, however, was different. When I agreed to write that article, I had no idea it would ignite a passion that would become a lifestyle.
I’d never picked up a barbell when I started, and despite having loved dancing and netball as a teen, I didn’t consider myself a “fitness person.” Occasionally I’d subject myself to a boring stint on a cardio machine.
But five years on, discovering strength training has changed not only my body but my whole life. Fitness is now my specialty as a journalist, I have a healthy relationship with food, and I’m also stronger, fitter, and leaner.
“Resistance training is the key to pretty much every training goal,” personal trainer Luke Worthington previously told Insider.
I’ve been lifting weights consistently for five years, it makes me feel empowered and, rather than seeing exercise as punishment, I’m excited to go to the gym.
I’ve learned valuable lessons along the way which would have helped me when I started, including that exercise alone won’t make you lose a significant amount of fat, and there’s no such thing as “toning.”
1. Exercise is overrated for fat loss
Despite working out more than I ever had done, I didn’t lose weight for nearly two years into my fitness journey. I actually gained weight, and while some was muscle, it was too fat. I was simply eating (and drinking) too much.
I didn’t lose fat until I educated myself about calories and minimized overeating. Strength training and eating a high protein diet helped me maintain muscle, too.
After losing body fat and dropping 35 pounds, people mistakenly assumed I’d just got into fitness. But I was already strong (I could deadlift 255 pounds), I just didn’t fit the image most people associated with someone who works out.
Formal exercise only constitutes 5-10% of the calories the average person burns in a day, personal trainer Graeme Tomlinson previously told Insider. This is why I workout to get stronger, fitter, and empower myself, not to burn calories — if I want to lose fat, I aim for a calorie deficit with my diet.
2. Lifting weights doesn’t make you bulky
Contrary to the common misconception, lifting weights does not automatically make women “bulky.” Building muscle is actually a really hard, slow process, especially if you’re not eating in a calorie surplus.
“If you’re doing it three times a week, the increase in muscle is not going to be noticeable for most people,” personal trainer Sarah Carr previously told Insider.
Female weight lifters’ physiques are a result of hard training and dedicated nutrition, Carr said, and genetics plays a role too.
Five years later, I love the muscle I do have and I’m yet to get bulky.
3. Toning is a myth
Lifting heavy weights can help create the “toned” physique many women covet. But it’s a myth that muscles can be toned — they just grow or shrink.
The “toned” look essentially means having some muscle mass, and low enough body fat to see it, personal trainer Pete Geracimo previously told Insider.
The way to achieve that is to build muscle by resistance training and losing fat through a slight calorie deficit.
4. Consistency trumps perfection
Not every workout is going to be great. Some days my training feels harder than others. Sometimes I don’t want to go to the gym at all. But 90% of the time I go, I show up, and I do something.
Knowing I won’t always feel motivated to train, and will sometimes have to push myself to go to the gym, has been key for me staying consistent and hitting my fitness goals. I don’t beat myself up if I have a lighter workout sometimes either.
Over-training doesn’t help me hit my goals faster and sometimes I take an extra rest day, but I’ve made progress — and made fitness a part of my lifestyle — by acknowledging that consistency is more important than perfection.
5. Changing your training is good, but the fundamentals always work
Every time I’ve changed my training style (such as from a bodybuilding program to a CrossFit-style workout plan), my body has adapted.
This often leads to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is wrongly thought of as a sign of an effective workout. So I don’t change my training every month in a quest for DOMS.
My workouts will always include fundamental movements like squats, hinges (deadlifts), pushing (bench press), pulling (pull-ups), lunges, and carries.
The basics are basics for a reason, and to progress you need to train them consistently, applying progressive overload, Worthington said.
6. Anyone can become a ‘fitness person’
I used to think “fitness people” were born that way, and if I wasn’t one, there was no hope.
The past five years have shown me that’s not true.
Finding a way of moving that I actively enjoy changed everything for me. Not everyone will love lifting weights, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an exercise type for you. You just might not have found it yet.