why it’s okay to lift heavy ladies - squats and deadlifts for women

Category: Fitness    

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One year ago this month I began my weight training journey. I decided to give up the endless amounts of cardio and light weights/high reps that I believed for so long would change the shape of my body – boy was I wrong. After working in the fitness industry for two years I learned so much not only about the products that are sold in the health and wellness space, but about how to train your body for the results you want. I bought a book that changed my view on female fitness and it was called “The New Rules of Lifting for Women.” I recommend this book to all females to debunk all the myths around weight lifting and women. This post is more of a current review of what I do on my heavy leg days and it is a big reminder to me that every week, every month you put in work you are getting toward a goal. If you would have told me one year ago I would be able to squat with 45lb plates I would have laughed. If you told me I would be dead lifting more than my body weight, I might have thought you were crazy. It did not happen over night and it wasn’t easy – but I am getting there! I am so proud of what I have gotten my body to do by giving it time, patience, encouragement, the proper foods and supplements and above all else, pushing myself to new limits. Every week or two I have added weight to my squats and I started out with just the bar in the beginning, so trust me we all start somewhere and you can do it! I don’t know what my next goal is but I always come up with one.

Let me tell you quickly about my journey.

I started off last January 2013 at 105lb probably soaking wet. I have always been into fitness, but I didn’t lift heavy – I was afraid to get “bulky” or look big. I killed myself doing 30-45 minutes on cardio machines when I didn’t even need to lose weight. What I wanted was to grow the curves I never had in my lower body (white girls, we just don’t have the junk in the trunk like we want, haha) and I wanted to feel more lean and chiseled. Even though I was “thin” I was not healthy and I surely wasn’t respecting my body by eating like a rabbit and skipping meals and slaving over an eliptical machine. I wish I would have known more back then, but I followed the “female fitness” magazines which are no more than beauty magazines masked by body image messages. (junk) So I got in my gym and I started to lift and I mean LIFT! I went home almost every day sore, I felt like my body would break after many work outs, but over time I didn’t feel that anymore. Now when I feel sore it’s a nice reminder that “yes, I targeted exactly what I was hoping I would target.” That to me is an amazing feeling! I focused mostly on compound movements and did 5 reps for 5 sets (strongman 5×5 training is what they call it.) Over time I got more strength and power. Each week I pushed myself a bit more and in my leg days I went heavier and heavier. I never thought I’d be doing what I do now or growing the lower body I always wanted to grow.

My biggest focus was form. Having proper form especially as you lift heavier is so important. The heavier you go the more important because you can hurt yourself so badly and put yourself out of training for weeks if you lift wrong. You might want to ask a friend or a trainer to help you nail the form for squats and deadlifts. (trust me though, if you do them wrong you will feel it the next day in your back).

SQUATS – now up to 135lbs (I am currently 107lbs)

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I always do back squats. I have tried front squats but I don’t feel as comfortable and I also can’t go as heavy with them. For back squats I always use the regular squat rack, not a Smith Machine. I use an olympic bar which is 45lbs and then start with 35lb plates on each side. I will do 2 sets of 5 reps to warm up, then I swap them out and put on the 45lb plates. I then do those for 3 sets of 5 reps and by the fifth one I am pushing so hard so that is how I know that is my perfect weight for now. In a few weeks I will likely add 5 to each side and so on every few weeks.

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Right before I am about to descend on the first rep I make sure the bar is sturdy, even and then I take in a deep breath. Hold the breath on the way down then exhale as you push through your heels back to standing position. The goal here is to have the bar lower and rise in a straight line. Never allow your knees to pass over your toes and keep a neutral spine. The best way to learn to do this form is to do wall squats (great video here). This teaches you to push your butt back, push through the heels and not lean forward. It feels awkward, but it works!

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I always make sure to go at LEAST parallel when I squat. This takes stability, flexibility and core strength but I always make sure to hit this line , if not lower. If I squat lighter weight I can go “ass to grass” but this heavy I go to parallel or just slightly below (for now.) As you push up explode and breath out and feel and concentrate on squeezing your glute muscles. Squats, for me, have the been the best thing to begin growing my glutes and my quads. I also really like doing them so it’s not something I don’t want to do every time I go into the gym

DEADLIFTS – HEX BAR DEADLINTS – 35lb-45lb plates each side

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Deadlifts are the second favorite of mine to build that butt! I prefer using the hex bar to do my dead lifts because it keeps me in a good position with my back and in my gym we don’t have the rubber, large plates so it is a bit harder for me to reach the ground when I put the bar down to pull back up. For my hex bar dead lifts right now I do 35lb plates and 45lb plates. I grip the handles on either side and then lower into a neutral spine position. The first rep is always the hardest so I take a deep breath and push through my heels and come up to a standing position. Then lower slowly in a straight line up and down for five reps. (here is an amazing video of this simply done by the lovely Erin Stern).

She is so fierce and I love her workouts so I figure I would share since I don’t have great videos just yet. As you can see she keeps the bar in a straight line up and down with controlled movements.

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At the top I lock but I don’t bend backwards which some people do. That’s when you wind up hurting your lower back, and I will pass on doing that. Did it one time while doing dead lifts and I learned my lesson!

What other leg exercises do I do on heavy leg day?

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Glute slide back machine. Not every gym has this but mine does and it’s great. I do this on 90-100lbs and alternate between legs. You push your chest against the pad, put one foot on the pedal behind you and push back and contract the glutes. This motion is great to work on lifting and shaping the butt.

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Lay down hamstring curl machine is great too. I had a pretty chronic hamstring injury from my days as a cheerleader and that is likely why I am even more proud of my progress with my leg day routine. This machine I do with both legs at about 65lbs and then I also so isolation sets for each leg at about 20lbs. This helps me to focus a bit more on each leg and also helps me to keep the strength in my “bad” hamstring up so I don’t over compensate with the good one during other exercises.

Some quick Vine/Instagram Videos/iPhone videos I took doing these exercises

Some of my favorite leg day exercise items and accessories:

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