The other day I politely scolded a young friend who is a regular in my classes. I often see her going from one cardio machine to another for at least an hour if not longer. She sometimes works out before she attends classes. I see her do box jumps faster than anyone I know. She can run fast (she placed first in her age group in the local 5K) and can crank out tuck jumps like there is no tomorrow. Why did I scold her? Because I never see her lift weights unless she is in class.

When I told her she needs to come off of the treadmill and pick up the weights, she told me she knows but is never sure what to do. That is when it hit me—many women are not sure what they are supposed to be doing when it comes to weightlifting. They usually know as much as what they do in a class which is usually a lot of light weights for toning and sculpting. But that is not true weight lifting. The other thought I got from my young friend’s response was that women, in general, prefer to do mostly cardio erroneously thinking that doing weights is not much of a work out—or not a very good one.

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Luckily, I had a solution for my friend. I had been doing a complete upper body program that used very heavy weights with three sets of six to ten reps. This routine hit the entire upper body. I explained that the key to success is to go as heavy with the weights—to the point of struggling on the last few reps. I told her that I usually burn up to 300 calories after doing this routine trying to plead my case that it was worth her time. I also told her that when she was done, and if she had the energy, she can do her cardio.

She politely took my routine to try. On her first day, I helped her with some of the exercises. She told me she could not do the assisted pull-ups and skipped them. I told her absolutely not! I set it up and helped her complete her three sets of eight. Her words to me were “I hate pull-ups.” I laughed. I told her that I do not like them either, but that is why I keep doing them and, as a result, they are getting easier. I explained to her that she should not avoid exercises she cannot do. She can already run fast and jump high—now the focus needs to be on getting stronger.

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What she did like was having a plan of attack when she enters the weight room. The program listed the exercises (with illustrations), the sets, the reps and even the amount of rest that should be taken. She did not have to worry about looking around and trying to figure out what to do. What ends up happening to most women who are not sure what to do is they spend too much time aimlessly going from one exercise to another that does not amount to much in the way of productivity and quality. You need a plan that organizes the exercises so that you are getting the maximum benefit from everything you do.

I think when she completes the program after four weeks, she will benefit from it a great deal even if she does not see it yet. Her muscles will be working harder than ever and she will be getting stronger. I know she keeps thinking to herself that she is not getting a good workout because she is not sweating enough. Most women are so used to doing cardiovascular exercise until they are drenched in their own sweat. In their minds, the sweatier they are, the harder they worked. But if you are always doing the same cardio, how hard are you really working at that point? It probably takes you a lot longer to get to that point where you are huffing and puffing. So then how much real work are you getting out of that 45 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical machine if it takes you fifteen minutes, or longer, to get to the point where you are actually starting to feel it? Unless you are changing your speed, adding intervals or increasing your incline, you are not getting as much out of it as you think.

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When you lift heavy weights, you are using completely different energy systems. Your heart is getting a workout, but it is secondary to the muscles that are doing a majority of the work. However, heavy lifting will yield a cardiovascular response—just not the one you are used to. And that is what women need to understand.

Exercising means more than creating a sea of sweat underneath your feet. It means challenging yourself on different levels and not sticking with the same old thing. Your exercise routine is what you make of it. The more challenging it is, the more results you will see. You can choose to be repetitive and never venture from your comfort zone or you can seek out new challenges and prove to yourself just how strong you are.

I hope my young friend will see the benefits of her new routine. I am positive that after the four weeks, she will not need me or anyone else to help her with those pull-ups!