In this session of The Fit Desk Jockey Podcast I have the pleasure of talking with Suzanne from Workoutnirvana.com, a fitness writer, blogger, AND NASM certified personal trainer who loves lifting big heavy weights.
[h5]Suzanne and I chat about:[/h5]
- Suzanne’s first steps from injury back into the world of fitness
- How strength training helped her build far more than just muscle
- How the real power of fitness can be found while doing day-to-day tasks
- A few of the maddening myths of weightlifting
- Girls shouldn’t lift weights
- Girls should lifts light weights to tone
- Weightlifting will make woman gain manlike muscles
- How to choose a gym
- When to time your gym visit if you’re self-conscious or intimidated
- And MUCH more!
Get the transcript here: show
I’ve actually happened upon a post called Motion.
Suzanne: Oh, that was my first one. Oh my gosh.
Matt: Yes, way back in May 20th of 2010.
Suzanne: Wow. Yep.
Matt: In this post, you actually said something that I really liked and I think it’s something that you’ve kind of accentuated as your blog has grown. You said,
“For me, weightlifting and working out have become essential to living. And so begins my blog about workoutnirvana, beautiful motions for a beautiful body and mind.”
I think that’s something that you really stress, that when you make these changes, they ultimately have to become a lifestyle change in order to be longstanding changes.
Also in a post that’s pretty similar, it was called “Climbing to Nirvana”, you said that you impressed your daughter by climbing up a ladder to find a sticky ice cream mess. Could you share that story briefly with us?
Suzanne: Oh yeah, I remember that. Gosh, that was a long time ago. Yes, she wants to be strong like me and I like that.
Matt: That’s part of the reason why I think a lot of people do choose to ultimately get in shape – either to be there for their children older in life or to be at a higher level of living for their children as they can do those things like climbing up playground equipment and things like that.
Suzanne: And just having the confidence that you can do this, you’re not going to pull a muscle, you’ve got balance, you feel like there’s some neuromuscular control going on there so you trust your body. That’s priceless.
Matt: Exactly. And to kind of build on that, you were talking about, I think it was in that same post, you were talking about how you, I think it was probably your first weight class or were in your first weight classes where you went to it and actually brought your own weights because they were lighter than what they were using there.
Suzanne: Right. Yeah, I had a neck injury that I was very, very afraid of re-injuring and I was just re-entering the whole weightlifting world. I did, I brought a pair of two-pound weights to my first few weeks and I was a little self-conscious about it because everyone else was using obviously more than that. But I was determined to do this and I knew that I had to do it my way.
Matt: Sure. And then you also said after the group was dispersing and people started going their own separate ways, it was something that you still want to do even though you were kind of losing the motivating factor of that whole group. You had to go on your own route now. Was there ever a point in that transition period where you thought, “I don’t know if I want to do this on my own?” Or was it always “I know I’m going to keep on doing this.”
Suzanne: Yeah, there was a point when I didn’t know if I wanted to do it on my own. I had done it on my own before but it had activated my neck injury so I was worried about doing it on my own. I didn’t know if I could lift heavy again.
One day I realized that the repetitiveness of this class was actually not doing me any good. It was a lot of endurance work, and many group classes are like that. There were very high repetitions in those classes which are great to a point. But it was actually starting to injure my joints a little bit. I realized, “You know what, it is just time to get back in there.”
Matt: Awesome, and kind of chart your own course and be in control.
Suzanne: Yeah, have control.
Matt: That’s great. So, what would you say to someone, it can be women, that would say, “Only guys should life weights, I’m more comfortable just doing cardio.”
Suzanne: Yeah, that very, very common. You do see a lot of women on the cardio machines and I did that myself for a long time. I guess it’s just not well-known, the benefits of weightlifting and why women should weight lift.
Weightlifting can be a real benefit to weight loss. It activates growth hormone which burns fat in the body. Growth hormone actually helps you build muscle but one of the things that muscle does is it just burns more calories than fat does. One of the benefits definitely is in the weight loss process.
Matt: So, it actually helps them to lose more weight.
Suzanne: Oh yeah, definitely.
Matt: Along those lines, some people would say, “I don’t want to be big and bulky like Jay Cutler or one of those bodybuilders.” What do you say to that type of response?
Suzanne: Well, that’s another really common misconception about weightlifting. The thing to remember is that women don’t have the same levels of testosterone as men. Women have about 15 to 20 times less testosterone. There have been no studies to show that their testosterone increases when they’re training.
On the other hand, men, when they train, their testosterone does get boosted.
If you see women with very big muscles, bodybuilder-type women, they’ve probably been taking steroids. Women just aren’t capable of building that kind of muscle.
Matt: Sure. If it was that easy I think there would be a lot of big bulky guys walking around, too.
Suzanne: Exactly. It’s not that easy to build muscle. I’m a small person and I have to really work hard and I lift heavy and I’m not bulky. I’m extremely lean and just basically defined and I have to work very hard at it. It doesn’t just turn into big bulky muscles on me.
Matt: Right. And I think, probably, at least for me, some of my biggest ‘aha’ moments with weightlifting have come from outside of the gym. For instance we went to the pet store and we bought a big 40-pound bag of cat litter and a 40-pound bag of dog food. And my wife said, “I cannot lift that.” So I grab both of them and she kind of looked to me and said, “Wow.” And I’m thinking to myself, “Can I even lift this?” I want to just tip over in front of her.
But it was no problem. I could actually look back and say two years ago when I first started lifting, there’s no way I’d be able to even lift that much and walk with it all the way across the parking lot. So, it’s things like that I think that really make people think, “Wow, I am changing my body. I am getting healthier.”
Suzanne: Right, and it’s that daily life experience where you realize, “I’m stronger and not only am I stronger just for lifting my kids or groceries but being stronger is going to help me be injury-proof.” Stepping off a curb the wrong way, a lot of people might sprain their ankle. But you have the core stability to catch yourself and all your stabilizer muscles are strong, the ones that are supporting your big muscles, and they kick in and they prevent you from falling.
I see this all the time. I never feel like I’m close to injury. I’m not afraid. That’s one of the great benefits.
Matt: That’s awesome. That actually kind of echoes the quote that I saw from you over at Fitzone.com. It was in a post called Ten Lady Fitness Bloggers on Facebook that You Have to Check Out.
Suzanne: Oh yeah.
Matt: And the quote was:
“Weighlifting makes me feel powerful and beautiful. I love being a woman in the weight room and not being the least bit intimidated by it.”
Matt: Were you ever in that situation thinking, “What am I doing here? There’s a bunch of guys…”
Suzanne: Oh yeah, definitely. That was early on and then when I came back after my injury into the weight room by myself. I did feel awkward and I did feel a little self-conscious. What I did was I went to the gym at the absolute quietest times I could find. Sunday afternoon is a great time.
Matt: I love it then. Shh, don’t tell anybody.
Suzanne: I know. Well, you know, it’s pretty quiet and the bodybuilder types aren’t there. They are usually going to be there after work. But if you really want to learn, another way to do it too is to get yourself a how-to book and do it in the privacy of your own home which is another thing I did.
When I was first learning to weight train many years ago, I got a Weightlifting For Dummies book and I literally taught myself how to do it in my own living room. By the time I went to the gym with those skills I didn’t feel self-conscious.
Matt: And even along those lines that you talked about before, doing it not only [?] prevent things like injuries from everyday occurrences, there’s also a certain amount of loss that occur as you age when it comes to muscle and things like that.
Matt: I think in one of your posts, it was called Give Weightlifting a Chance to Change Your Life, you talked about that we all lose muscle as we age. Is there a way to actually prevent muscle loss?
Suzanne: Yes, there is. The really important thing to remember is that it is normal and natural to lose a certain amount of muscle every year after a certain age. And so, we need to counteract that. If we do nothing to at least try to maintain the muscle we have, then you’re going to end up with atrophy and that’s when you have the posture becoming very slumped.
I wrote not article on Older Women and Strength Training, it really applies to anyone. You don’t want your muscle to atrophy. You want to at least maintain what you’re losing every year.
Matt: I can also echo some of your fears. When I first started lifting, I actually started lifting, and I’ve never actually really talked about it all that much. I actually got jumped by five different people at the same time. It sounds like some kind of movie. But I was really lazy and just, you know, I was like playing the guitar and stuff like that and just hanging out and playing video games and whatever. I wasn’t really doing anything active
It was at that point that I realized, “You got really out of shape,” like it was kind of a wake up call.
Suzanne: Wow. I would say that were you injured?
Matt: Well, no. Apparently the brainscan came back okay. So yeah, I went it for a catscan and everything was fine.
Looking back now, it was a great thing because I wanted at that point so bad to be stronger not to go back and beat the guys or whatever but just that I knew that I didn’t think that it should’ve made me so wiped out like it did. I think it was just me being out of shape and everything and just kind of letting things gradually slide.
I remember my first day in the gym and it was a bunch of meathead guys. I was at the bench press area because that’s where all the guys go. And so, I was over there with a 10-pound weight on the barbell on each side and just felt humiliated like, “I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this. They are all looking at me. They think I’m stupid and weak.”
I just said, “You know, I got to make this about me and just push through that. They’re not saying anything to me. It’s just my own perception that’s telling me that.
I kept on telling myself that and slowly but surely the weight started going up and up.
Suzanne: Wow. That’s a good point you make. It’s easy to think people are actually watching you in there. But I guarantee that everyone is watching themselves in the mirror.
Matt: They’re like the most vain people, eh?
Suzanne: And they are very busy texting or whatever and they are not paying attention to you. I know that’s one of the common fears.
Matt: They got mirrors so you can look at everybody if you wanted to but like you said, most people are watching themselves.
Suzanne: Yeah, it is kind of handy to have those mirrors there. I enjoy it myself. Just focus on yourself and I think that’s great advice.
Matt: Awesome. You’ve talked about training. Some people think that training is just a waste of money and that they can do it on their own. I have to kind of jump in and say I did training for two years and part of that was my initial fear when I was lifting that 65-pound bench press that maybe I wasn’t doing things the right way. And if I did them the right way, I probably would get more bang for my buck.
I started training and trained with two different trainers over the course of about two years, I have to say that I gained more knowledge and more strength in that period than I ever did before. Prior to that, I had lifted on my own for probably four years and it was those two years that everything just exploded for me.
Suzanne: Wow. And you probably learned a lot so you are able to do it on your own now.
Suzanne: What trainers do is they periodize your training, meaning that they give you a structured plan over a period of time and that progresses you. One of the key concepts of weight training is progression, progressive overload. You have to continuously increase the load in a rather systematic way. You can be random about it but your results will be random. So, that’s what they’re doing there.
Matt: And that kind of speaks to some people, some of the people that just [?] which kind of makes me cringe. They go in and lift the same 10-pound dumbbells every single day and they’re not going to see the type of muscle growth that one would expect either.
Suzanne: It’s another big misconception that in order to ‘tone’ you need to do higher repetitions of a low weight, 10 pounds, 5 pounds, but the problem with that is you’re not going to build muscle.
You have to have a progressive load. You have to have like between 60 and 80 percent load in order to see any kind of–, and that’s moderate to heavy. That’s a very common misconception.
Matt: One of the posts that you wrote was all about finding the gym that’s right for you. You mentioned earlier the meatheads don’t hang out on the weekends and things like that. I think that was something I never actually thought about but it’s a great point. Could you just kind of talk about that a little bit?
Suzanne: Yeah. There’s a culture to every gym you go and you really need to pay attention to that. If you walk into a weight room at the time that you need to work out and you don’t feel comfortable there because you feel like it is a bunch of bodybuilder types who are giving you glance that you don’t like or whatever, you need to consider the fact that you might need a different gym.
Every gym is different. Some of them are really more tailored toward families. The one I go to is in the suburbs and it’s very mellow. But then if I go twenty minutes the other direction, the same chain, it’s a totally different environment. It really kind of depends on my mood which one I go to.
Matt: Yeah, that’s the other thing. Sometimes I can–, like when I was checking out different gyms, someone would say, actually, the gym that I go to now, they were like, “Oh, never go there, it’s like a big musclefest and whatever,” and I went there and I loved it. It was kind of like, “[?] when it comes to gym selection.”
Suzanne: I personally like a gym that has more serious people in there, not just a bunch of talking. I like it when people are on task and paying attention to what they’re doing and they’re serious about results and there you have it, I’m in a suburban gym where there’s a lot of families and couples going in there and such. But they’re all very focused and I like that.
Matt: Yep, I couldn’t agree more. You talked about three little truths that make or break your training. One of them is ‘no effin’ excuses’. How do you work that into your whole training program in terms of not making excuses to not go or…?
Suzanne: Yeah, well, I think there’s every excuse you can possibly imagine. And if you listen to those excuses and you give in to them, you’re not going to get the results you want.
You have to make a decision and a commitment to the fact that this is going to take time and it’s going to take effort and you’re committed, you’re going to do it and you’re not going to let snow get in your way or you’ve got a cold, obviously you shouldn’t be training when you’ve got a fever or your coughing really bad.
I go to the gym really pretty much no matter what. Obviously I don’t go when I’m sick. If there is something going on at home that I can’t get out of then I’ll skip, I’ll be very upset but I’ll skip. Everybody knows my priorities and they know that I’m very serious about this and they accommodate me. I really appreciate that. If you make that known too, then that’s the standard you set.
Matt: I think it really does kind of–, it’s almost like an addiction in some ways, a healthy addiction because I’ve had more than one person close to me say, “Have you gone to the gym that you are so crabby?” And I’m like, “No.”
Suzanne: That is so true. I’ve had someone say that to me before, too.
Matt: Maybe you should go work out.
Suzanne: Exactly. And I know that it helps because if I’m in a bad place at all, I walk out of the gym feeling better every time.
Matt: Sure. Going back to one of the core fears that people have is looking silly not knowing where to start, are there free exercises or maybe like a handful that you would recommend that somebody who’s first getting into lifting could start with?
Suzanne: Oh yeah. Well, just to back up a tiny bit when you say “I’m not sure about what I should be doing, et cetera,” one thing that people should know is that weightlifting improves your confidence. If you don’t feel confident in the weight room, just stick with it because your confidence will increase.
Three exercises that I would include in any workout would be squats and you can do those with dumbbells or a barbell. It’s always good to start light but just knowing that you are going to increase the weight once your form is down.
Another one would be a chest press. You can do those again with a dumbbells or barbell. And then, I don’t know, I guess you want to push, you want to pull, deadlifts are another great one. There’s all kinds of full body exercises that are really great for beginners. But those are just three really sort of basics that everybody should be able to build on.
Matt: If you focus on compound movements, lifts that are activating more than one muscle group, how long would a person expect to spend for an average gym session?
Suzanne: I think that beginners should spend no more than an hour maybe three times a week, maybe twice a week even, depending on their level.
You’re going to see really quick increases at first and you’re going to need to keep upping your game to keep up with your body’s adaptations because your body is just going to continuously say, “Oh, okay, I’m used to that,” and it’s going to be easy. You need to go ahead and push a little harder so that it’s harder for your body and that’s the way your body grows and changes.
Start off with an hour, two to three times a week. That would be a beginner’s workout. Myself, I’ve been lifting for years, at one point I was spending 90 minutes four times a week, like six hours. Part of it is because I enjoy it, but also depends on your time. Right now, I’m spending probably closer to four hours a week. That’s a different split than a full body.
Matt: Sure. But then one of the caveats of that is if you’re going to be there for an hour, you got to be focused on what you’re doing and not like you said looking at the phone or watching the TV.
Suzanne: Right. Go in with a plan. I always recommend having a workout journal and go in there with that. Have it all written out. Know what you’re going to do. Do a little research beforehand and then just really–, if you get in there and do it really hard, you spend your time wisely, you’re going to burn quite a few calories.
Matt: I remember my last trainer, he was a really big guy, which should have cued me in to what he was going to do to me, he had me do a leg day, actually over a lunch hour, that was a half hour leg day. It was so intense that I couldn’t walk for a whole week after that. This was my first leg day. This was after I had worked my upper body for probably many years more than I should have without focusing at all on legs. I kind of got what I asked for there.
Suzanne: That’s funny.
Matt: But yeah, it’s amazing going back to the whole trainer thing. I think one of the things that really helped me as far as trainers go is that I kind of had a skewed vision of what my limits were. I kind of limited myself more than my body actually would so I would tend to sell myself short and they kind of helped to really define where the line was that I could push myself to that limit and then continually raise that limit as I progress.
Suzanne: Wow. That is a really good point. Yeah, you’ve got to know that you’re able to push yourself farther than you think, safely, of course. You want to be always using proper form and there never should be any pain whatsoever. But you would be surprised at how hard you can push yourself.
Matt: And if you’re never been to a spin class, that’s a good example of the situation.
Suzanne: Do you do spin as well?
Matt: I did it. I haven’t done it for about three months now. But the first time I did it, I just laid down the floor and there was a big sweat spot. I never sweat so much in my life, and I actually left twenty minutes earlier too.
Suzanne: Oh my gosh.
Matt: If we’re going to be honest; full disclosure.
Suzanne: That’s hilarious. Well, I was in the gym today doing legs and I did abs at the end, core training, so I was really breathing heavy and really getting a cardio workout with this training. You can do that with weight training.
Matt: Definitely. And kind of a long those lines, I talking about your own workout. What are your favorite, maybe two favorite exercises that you do?
Suzanne: Well, I would have to say chin ups is my all time favorite and the reason being not that I’m so great at them. I’m talking chin ups where your palms are facing in and you’re hanging from a bar and then you raise your body so that your chin comes over the bar.
I worked my way up on those and I just love the feeling of lifting my body through space. It’s an amazing exhilarating feeling. I feel really proud of myself when I do it. That’s one.
And then another one I really love is barbell squats.
Matt: Nice. I love them and I kind of hate them sometimes.
Matt: I had a guy come in there one time and had been progressing greatly, I was going from the 135’s and I was going up until the 250’s or 260’s. I had this arbitrary goal of doing 300 pounds. I haven’t reached it yet but all of a sudden this guy came in that just got back from a squatting competition. He’s a big powerlifter guy and he says, “Do you realize you’re not doing the full range of motion?” And I said, “No.” He said, “Well, here, put this box behind you and make sure that you just touch that box every time you go down.”
Well, needless to say, I went all the way back to the beginning weight because the full range of motion I was incredibly weak at the bottom.
Suzanne: Wow. Well, that was really good advice he gave you. And there are so many good variations of the squat. There’s the box squat, there’s the front squat, there’s the back squat, there’s the split squat, Bulgarian squats. So, yeah, that was good advice.
Matt: Yeah, I kind of seek him out now, like, “Hey, is he here?” [?]
Matt: I think that’s one of the best things you can do in terms of fitness, realize that everybody is always learning, even people that are doing it for decades. They are always learning something new and that’s smart because that’s the only way to push the envelope and continually challenging your body to make those gains.
Suzanne: Yeah, we’re all still learning. I’m a trainer and I’m still learning. It takes years.
Matt: I totally agree. One thing I did like that you said, it was your article called Leaping Over Mental Barriers to Fitness. You talked about getting “tude”. Could you talk about what it means to get “tude”?
Suzanne: Here’s an example. Today I was in the gym and I was doing the mobility drill before I started doing some stiff legged dead lifts. I learned this mobility drill business pretty recently. It’s a way of warming up. It’s like a dynamic workout. You’re using the muscles in the way you will be working them out as oppose to getting on a treadmill or something and just pumping your arms.
So I was doing this in front of the squat rack and this trainer walked up to me and he said, “Are you using that?” And I just looked to him and said, “Yes,” even though there was no weight on it yet. He looked at me and he goes, “You are?” And I said, “Yes, I am.”
I didn’t offer excuses, I didn’t tell him when I was going to be done because I felt there was some sort of little vibe there of him maybe thinking that because I was a female I was just kind of wasting time in front of this rack.
I have adopted this attitude where nobody’s going to mess with me in the weight room. And that really does translate outside the weight room, too.
It kind of goes back to what I was saying in terms of building confidence. It’s the inner strength that you get from weightlifting in addition to an outer strength. That sort of what I was talking about there.
Matt: You have the license to be bold if you strength train.
Suzanne: Oh yeah, that’s one of the greatest things about it. Oh my gosh.
Matt: I think you kind of talked about it in that post. You said, oftentimes after doing the scary thing, you develop an attitude that wants to make you do more scary things.
Suzanne: Oh yeah, very good point.
Matt: And it wouldn’t even have to be something like bungee jumping. It can just be more than what you are used to.
Suzanne: Right, exactly. Just stretching yourself a little bit knowing that you are capable.
Matt: Awesome. All right, if you like to hear more about Suzanne, check out her website WorkoutNirvana.com. You can also find her on Facebook or Twitter and I will have those links in the notes for this episode.
Also, just before we go, I actually want to give you an opportunity to talk a little bit about some new developments that are going on at Workout Nirvana.
Suzanne: Yeah, I just launched a virtual training business two days ago. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a really long time. I see this need for professional, trustworthy advice on the internet, got a big community there that I wanted to reach out to and help and so this will allow me to do that, so I’m excited.
Matt: That’s awesome. And I will vouch for her. Go check her stuff out. She’s great.
Suzanne: Thank you.
Matt: We’ve been online buddies for two years now.
Suzanne: Yep, and I really appreciate having me on.
Matt: You bet.
[h4]Other Places Suzanne Hangs Out:[/h4]
[notify_box font_size=”13px” style=”blue”]So what do you think about women and weightlifting? Feel free to leave morsels of wisdom in the comments section below.[/notify_box]
Thank you for taking a moment out of your day to stop by and visit.
Until next time I wish you fitness, health, nutrition, and wealth,