Today I am going to talk about the one mistake many women (and sometimes men) do in a gym, and it’s not going to be the talk about the cardio-only workouts that so many people tend to do when trying to lose weight.

While girls walking into the free weights section are quite a rare sight you’ll see them a bit more often hovering around the machines, doing crunches on an abs-machine, leg extensions and the like. Those machines are a good thing when you need to target a specific muscle (when it doesn’t respond well to your regular routine and you want to give it extra work), but when it comes to toning your body machines are not such a good idea. I’ll tell you why.

Most women who decide to do a little bit more than plain cardio usually want to tone their bodies. If you’re a skinny girl with zero fat (not a real zero of course), toning your muscles with the help of machines might do the job alright, but let’s say you have some extra fat you need to lose, what happens then? You run on a treadmill or do elliptical for an hour (it is a long-long way to shed fat), then you go to the machines and do butterflies, leg extensions, abs crunches and other isolation exercises. Your muscles get some tone, but you’re still unable to see it because of the layer of fat.

You think: “But I’ll get there, right? I’ll keep on running to burn fat and will be getting stronger using the machines, and one day I will see my abs and biceps (glutes and hamstrings) shining through!” And I think, maybe you will. But it’s a very indefinite maybe. For one thing, machines are not the best way to gain strength, you’ll get there much faster by doing some old-school exercises like squats, lunges, press ups, bench presses. The reason they are so much better is because they are compound exercises, they use more than one muscle to perform one move, they tone your body ultimately, and with the addition of heavy (yes, HEAVY) weights they will speed up your metabolism to make your fat melt even faster.

Those people who have exercised using only machines and then tried to do the old school compound moves will know what I am talking about. If you can leg press 60 kg on a machine it doesn’t mean that you can do even 50 kg squat. Some (or many) won’t probably go over 30 kg. Why? Because in the machine there is only one trajectory the weights can move in, and you are using an isolated muscle or two to move it. When you do a barbell squat you have to balance the weight. Naturally, you will do it with a lower weight first to learn a proper form. Some people will probably be exhausted even after bodyweight squats. This is ok. We all have to start somewhere. When I used to do only leg presses, I pressed 30 kg and never tried weighted squats. Heck, I didn’t even do bodyweight squats! After doing barbell squats of only 20 kg, I was able to leg press 60. See the difference?

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‘Pumping’ your bicep with these dumbbells won’t get you anywhere near your goals. Tried by many and by me too, only heavy weights will make your muscles toned.

Another problem that I have heard from many women is that they are intimidated to use free weights. They are afraid to be stuck alone among men; they are afraid of being watched and laughed at because they can’t use heavier weights and are much weaker. To those of you who think the same – don’t be afraid! It is natural too that we are weaker than men; no one expects us to come in and bench press 50 kg (But if you can, you’ll look impressive!). Even guys come to gym at do bicep curls using 10 kg dumbbells, while the ones next to them curl 24. Of course, it might feel awkward at first, but after a few sessions you’ll be fine. And you won’t be laughed at as long as you don’t do 20 reps with pink dumbbells. Anything in the range of pink won’t bring you even close to the body you dream of. Challenge your body – pick a heavy weight that you can lift no more than 5-6 times. It won’t make you bulky as it doesn’t exhaust muscles like high reps do. Hypertrophy (high reps) and heavy weight vs. low reps use different muscle fibers. First will make your muscles grow, the latter will make them denser, i.e. toned. By doing heavy weights you will:

  • speed up your metabolism and burn extra fat,
  • tone your muscles,
  • gain incredible strength.

There’s nothing better than being strong and healthy. Just make sure that whatever you do, you do it with a proper form and incorporate appropriate warm up and stretching routines to avoid injuries.

P.s. I am not saying that you should never ever use the machines. By all means, do if you like them! But by doing basic exercises withbarbells and dumbbells you’ll do your body a favour. Machines are good in addition to those old school moves, which must be a priority in any weight training session. And I promise you won’t look like the girl in the featured photo, unless you really want to.

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