Don’t Be Skurd: Progressive Strength Training

I see a lot of gender segregation in the gym. And one of the most marked separations involves the dumbbells.

On one small stand, there are several sets of dumbbells weighing 5 to 15 lbs. I feel like there’s some kind of invisible sign that says “Women Only” hanging above them. Along the rest of the wall is a much larger rack of dumbbells that range between 20 to 100 lbs. And yep, there must be some invisible “Men Only” sign hanging above those.

And to think I was once afraid of this little thing.

Well, slap a banana between my legs and call me a man ‘cause I sure as hell don’t pay any mind to these invisible signs. Today I did a one-arm bent-over row with a 50 lb dumbbell. It was cool.

It all started with the 25 lb dumbbells. When I had decided that I wanted to get seriously stronger, the first step was progressing from a shoulder press with 20 lb dumbbells to 25 lbs. And I think this is relevant to a lot of women, because they seem to stick with 20 pounders and below.

I was scared to do it. I thought I was going to look like a dumbass trying to lift these weights over my head and failing miserably. But I did it anyway, and I succeeded. I did 5 sets of 5 without too much difficulty. Now shoulder presses with 25 lb dumbbells are a breeze.

I don’t want to put down girls who lift light weights because I think it’s awesome that they’re even lifting at all. But lifting with the 12 lb dumbbells just wasn’t working for me. So let’s say you are a woman (I’d say men too but I think they are more eager to go heavy) who lifts weights, but sticks to the “women only” dumbbell section. Why not try going heavier? I’ve already discussed how women don’t get bulky from lifting. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Fear my huge, bulking muscles.

I mean, progress. That’s what life is all about, right? I think it’s important to want to move forward. Whether it’s with your education, career, romantic life, mental well-being, or (as it was in my case) strength.

If you’re still not convinced then how about this: lifting weights that are challenging to you increases your metabolism way more than doing cardio for up to 24 hours after training. Going heavier is a great way to break through plateaus as well. If there haven’t been any changes in your physique…well, first of all clean up your diet. Then try going heavier. It’ll make you look toned, not “bulky.” If you’re already lifting, just TRY going heavier. You will like it and you will feel like a badass.

So now, the how.

Start off small. This is going to be easier if you’re on a machine. Just move the weight pin down to the next heaviest plate. Don’t expect to be doing the same amount of reps you were doing at a lighter weight. If you can do the same amount of reps, consider going even heavier. Aim for 3 to 4 sets of 8 reps. And the end of those 8 reps should be HARD. Don’t feel cheated if you’re used to doing 12-15 reps. This is a situation where quality beats quantity.

If you’re feeling enthusiastic, you can try aiming for 5 sets of 5. If you’re not used to lifting heavy, this is going to shock your body, but in a good way. You are doing less reps, but at a heavier weight. This rep range is better for building strength than it is for muscle, although you will get some muscle gains from it. Just not as much as you would by going SLIGHTLY lighter (i.e. 4 sets of 8 reps). And like I said, by the time you get to that 5th rep you should feel almost (but not completely) maxed out.

One thing though: your form should always be your first priority. If your form is suffering because the weights are too heavy for you, then lighten it up. You never want to compromise your form. Keep those backs straight!

If you do any barbell work, increasing your weight is easy. Just start off by adding the 2.5 lb plates and work your way up as you get stronger. And as far as the dumbbells go…those 25 pounders are waiting for you 😉

This stuff is pretty much all common sense. The bottom line is that you should just DO IT! And remember, heavier weights with less reps is GOOD! Now go strap on your fake ding-a-ling and pick up heavy stuff.

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