First, I have to dispel a common myth: consistently lifting moderately heavy weights does not make you look like she-man.
|I like her purse|
In fact, weightlifters typically have amazing bodies. Check out these shots from the 2008 Beijing Olympics:
Or check out Sibel Simsek at the 2008 European Weightlifting Championships:
Keep in mind these women are professional, Olympic level athletes who do not look anything like She-Man. Now, we can continue.
1. Learn how to use the equipment.
When I first started, I didn't know hardly anything about using bars or dumbbells or giant-scary-looking machines of death. I was afraid to ask the predominantly-male population of the gym. I didn't want to look like an idiot fumbling with a big machine, so I just didn't lift. One day, I noticed that the gym had trainers who would teach you the basics of lifting. So I hired one. For $80 I learned how to lift on all the major machines over the course of an hour. I also got a personalized workout plan for me with a weightlifting routine twice a week that I stuck to for four months. So find a friend who lifts, hire a trainer, review exercises on YouTube, take a strength training class at your gym, do whatever you have to do to begin being comfortable lifting.
2. You have to work to see results.
If you are doing bicep curls with 2.5 lb weights and it is super easy, don't expect to see results. When I talk to my friends about this, I get two responses. "I don't want to look too muscular, you know? It's just gross when you see body builder women." See above. You will not look like She-Man ever. No really. 10lb weights aren't going to put you over the edge. I promise. Or I get "But I can feel it in my biceps; isn't that enough?" There is a difference between feeling the weight you are lifting and struggling to lift said weight. Your muscles will respond better if you push them.
A typical routine for lifting is to do 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions of the same lift in a row. So you pick up 8lbs or maybe even 10lbs dumbbells, and start your bicep curls. Your goal is to get to 10. The first three curls are easy. You think, "Psh, nothing to this lifting thing". The next three curls are getting harder. 8lbs is feeling heavier than you thought. By the next three curls, you have a burn in your bicep. It takes a determination to lift your arms now. You've unconsciously clenched your teeth and your body may be trying to shift to take the weight off your biceps. Don't let it. You need to do the final rep. You take a deep breath and strain, lifting that 8lbs to your shoulder, barely able to make it. Your bicep is on fire. You set down the dumbbells and enjoy your recovery time.
This is what you should aim for: just being able to finish your set of 10-12 repetitions under control. But just barely. It might take some time to get used to working this hard during weightlifting, but it pays off.
Also, as a side note for cardio, your heart rate should be fairly high for the most benefit (60%-85% of your maximum heart-rate). If you aren't sweating after 15 minutes, you probably should push yourself a little harder. If you can comfortably read or chat with your friend, you might want to push yourself a little harder.
3. You cannot spot train.
I will say it again. You cannot spot train.
You cannot spot train in a gym,
you cannot spot train on a whim,
you cannot spot train on the floor,
you cannot spot train your core.
As much as I would love to do sit-ups and only sit-ups every day and get a six-pack, it just isn't going to happen. You have to get rid of all the fat to start to see things like your stomach or butt muscles. The only way to do this is eating right combined with full-body exercise.
4. Motivate yourself.
I get bored with exercise. I don't particularly like it (believe it or not), but I do it to stay healthy. I have to motivate myself using any means necessary.
One way to do this is to set goals. Run a half-marathon. Run a sprint-triathalon. Put a deadline on yourself and stick to it. Or, you can use a fitness magazine or website (Crossfit, CrossfitEndurance, or exercise directory) as motivation. Typically, they put new and exciting workouts up every week so you're never doing the same thing. You could find a friend who wants to exercise and is at your level. Banter with each other that you are going to do an inverted push-up today. Make a schedule for yourself. I keep track of all my exercise with an Excel spreadsheet so I can see improvement. Try something new. I just tried Yoga a few weeks ago for the first time. Try spinning, kickboxing, swimming, whatever. Try something outdoors. Go hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, ocean swimming. Find what you love to do and keep doing it!
5. You may not lose weight, and that's okay.
Remember, the ultimate goal of exercise is to look good on the inside. Cardio exercises will not help tone your body, but it doesn't mean cardio isn't essential. With heart disease claiming more lives than ever, a healthy heart is imperative.
Also, remember that muscle weighs more than fat. When I started weight lifting, I weighed 150 lbs and was a size 12. Now, I weigh 150 lbs and am a size 8. I still weigh the same, but my body looks radically different. Don't lose sight of being healthy in favor of making the scale go down.