In the summer of 2017, I agreed to a six-week personal training session as an introduction to weightlifting for an article.
As a lifestyle journalist, I’ve always tried different things, but they were mostly about content.
But strength training was different. When I agreed to write that article, I had no idea it would ignite a passion that turned into a lifestyle.
I didn’t lift weights when I started and although I loved dancing and netball as a teenager, I didn’t consider myself a ‘fitness person’. Every now and then I would do a boring workout on the cardio machine.
But five years later, discovering strength training changed not only my body, but my entire life. Fitness is now my specialty as a journalist, I have a good relationship with food, and I am strong, fit and lean.
“Resistance training is key to any training goal,” personal trainer Luke Worthington previously told Insider.
I’ve been lifting weights consistently for five years now, it gives me strength and I’m more excited to go to the gym than see exercise as a punishment.
I learned valuable lessons along the way that would have helped me when I was starting out, including that exercise alone does not make you lose significant amounts of fat, and there is no such thing as “toning.”
1. Exercise is overrated for fat loss
Almost two years into my fitness journey, I haven’t lost any weight despite working out harder than ever before. I actually gained weight, some of it was muscle, but it was still fat. I was just eating (drinking) a lot.
I didn’t lose fat until I educated myself on calories and cut down on overeating. Strength training and a high-protein diet helped maintain muscle mass.
After losing 35 pounds of body fat, people thought I had just gotten into fitness. But I was already strong (I could deadlift 255 pounds), and I just didn’t fit the image people associated with a working man.
Formal exercise is only available for 5-10% of the calories the average person burns in a day, personal trainer Graeme Tomlinson previously told Insider. That’s why I exercise not to burn calories, but to get stronger, to tone up, and to make myself stronger—if I want to lose fat, I’m going to go into a calorie deficit with my diet.
2. Lifting weights won’t make you bulky
Contrary to common misconception, lifting weights does not automatically make women “bulky.” Building muscle is actually a very difficult, slow process, especially if you’re not eating too many calories.
“If you do it three times a week, the muscle gains are almost invisible for most people,” personal trainer Sarah Carr previously told Insider.
According to Carr, the physique of female weightlifters is a result of hard training and a healthy diet, and genetics also play a role.
Five years later, I love my muscles and I’m still not getting any bigger.
3. Toning is a myth
Lifting heavy weights can help create the body shape that many women desire. But it’s a myth that muscle tone is possible—they just grow or shrink.
Personal trainer Pete Gerasimo previously told Insider that a “frozen” look means less muscle mass and less body fat.
The way to achieve this is to build muscle through resistance and lose fat through a slight calorie deficit.
4. Consistency trumps perfection
Not every workout is great. Some days my workout feels harder than others. Sometimes I don’t want to go to the gym at all. But 90% of the time when I go, I show up and do something.
Knowing that I’m not always motivated to work out and that sometimes I have to push myself to go to the gym has been important to me in staying consistent and reaching my fitness goals. Sometimes I don’t beat myself up if I do a lighter workout.
Overtraining doesn’t help me reach my goals any faster, and sometimes I take an extra day off, but I’ve succeeded—and gotten fitness out of my lifestyle—by recognizing that consistency is more important than perfection.
5. It’s good to vary your workout, but the basics always work
As I changed my training style (for example, from a bodybuilding program to a CrossFit-style training plan), my body began to adapt.
This often leads to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is considered a sign of ineffective training. So I don’t change my training every month to look for DOMS.
My workouts always include fundamental movements such as squats, squats (deadlifts), push-ups (bench press), pull-ups (pull-ups), lunges and deadlifts.
The fundamentals need to be taught consistently, using progressive overload for fundamentals and progression for a reason, Worthington said.
6. Anyone can be a “fitness person”.
I thought “fitness people” were born that way, and if I wasn’t, there was no hope.
The last five years have shown me that this is not true.
Finding a way to move that I actively enjoyed changed everything for me. Not everyone likes lifting weights, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a form of exercise for you. You may not have found it yet.