I have always been what I would consider a fairly active person. From the ages of 3 to 18 I was always involved in some form of dancing (including competitively for a significant period of time) and/or sport. During high school I also played hockey for our top school team, did Pilates and gymmed/ran intermittently in the off season. When I finished school and moved to Dunedin for university, no longer having any structure to my exercise routine and being more interested in going out and partying than going for a run, my routine fell to pieces and I became rather unfit.
In my second year of uni I got back on the exercise wagon, making it a key part of my life and I have never looked back. I discovered the magical stress-relieving properties of exercise and began to (and still do) see it as my time out away from everyone and everything, like a form of mediation. I go into my zone and have fun setting myself challenges and completing them, always competing against myself.
What has changed in the last 10 years has been the types of exercise I do. I love trying new things and have done everything from zumba, to long distance running, to kick boxing and hip hop. I used to be very focused on cardio training and weights were an after-thought. However, just over two years ago, I decided to take more of an interest in health and exercise and encouraged by my SO (who is always super fit) and a friend who was very much into lifting, I began lifting weights as much as I did cardio. The changes in my body were noticeable within a short period of time. I was tighter, leaner and most important of all, stronger.
These days I continue to take an active interest in and educate myself on all things fitness, health and well-being related. I lift 4x a week now (with a 5-10min warm-up being the only cardio component) with the odd run thrown in every few weekends. During this time I have noticed that my cardio level of fitness hasn't actually decreased at all from the pre-lifting days in which I ran 5-15km 3-4x a week. I have dabbled in a variety of strength and hypertrophy training programs and have found that a 4 day upper/lower split, with each muscle group being worked out twice a week, works best for me (I'm currently running a modified version of a program called PHUL and really enjoying it, in case anyone's interested).
So how has lifting weights changed my fitness journey? It has boosted my self confidence and I love the feeling of lifting heavier or for more reps than I did in my last session - always challenging myself to beat myself. I can squat, bench and deadlift more than my own body weight in each lift (I'm aiming to hit a 2x body weight deadlift this year). I can do proper push ups and on a good day I can do 7 full unassisted pull ups. I wouldn't say I'm crazy strong and I'm certainly not crazily muscled, but I would like to think that I am "toned" and strong relative to my size. I have learnt the importance of proper nutrition and rest and that these things are an absolute must for both improvement and recovery. I'm no longer scared of the weights room at the gym and have actually found that most of the guys in there are very nice, considerate and decent to any women who do venture away from the cardio machines. The weights room at the gym used to be considered the realm of men only, but that is changing - there are some amazing women at my gym who lift heavy weights regularly and look fantastic. I have learnt that lifting weights won't make me bulky and that to be fit and toned I do not have to spend hours doing cardio (boring!) I have enjoyed researching and teaching myself new lifts and techniques. But most of all, I feel empowered. Women should be proud of the space they take up, instead of always striving to be smaller, and should love their body (easier said than done I know) no matter what size or shape for all of the amazing things it can do.
I would wholeheartedly encourage all women to lift weights - you don't have to give up cardio if you don't want to, you don't even have to lift a lot (beginning with some simple body weight exercises until you build up some strength and get your form right is a good start). I can tell you that the benefits are 100% worth it - you will look amazing and feel sassy, strong and powerful - and I promise you won't turn into the hulk as soon as you lift a barbell!
Love, health and happiness,