The essential woman's workout

April 17, 2008 9:10:44 PM PDT
A lot of women spend hours each week sweating it out on cardio machines, but their bodies stay the same. To get results, experts say women need to face their fears.

"I just like to swim. Machines scare me," said Kathy Butz.

A lot of women are intimidated in the gym by machines and free weights, but they should be using them, especially the weights, according to Lou Schuler, a strength training expert and author of the book, "The New Rules of Lifting For Women."

First, Schuler wants to dispel the myth that strength training means building bulky muscles. He offers himself as living proof.

"I'm 51 years old. I started working out when I was 13, and I'm still waiting for the day when I look in the mirror and say, 'Gosh darn it, I'm so bulked up, I've got to stop lifting weights," said Schuler.

He says in general men and women should be doing the same exercises in the gym. Women should work toward pumping some serious iron, he adds, beyond what he calls the "Barbie weights."

"There's such an intimidation factor about going beyond the candy-colored weights, and over to heavy black stuff," he said.

He says women already do plenty of lifting every day. For example, our producer's handbag was the same as a seven-and-a-half pound weight.

Weightlifting can attack fat and re-shape the body, making clothes fit better, and improving your posture.

"Widen the shoulders a little bit, and add a little bit of definition to the arms and legs," he said.

"The minimum time anybody should weight lift, if they want to change their body, is two days a week," said Cassandra Forsythe, M.S. and co-author of the book.

She says women don't have to spend hours at the gym, but they do have to break a sweat to make a difference.

"This is a big bang exercise that's going to burn more calories, do more to boost your body's metabolism. It's going to build more total body muscle than almost anything you can do," said Schuler.

Almost anyone can do strength-training. In fact, a study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that weights can help breast cancer patients slow down a debilitating side effect called lymphedema. It's a buildup of fluid in the arms.

"Strength is really important and it saves lives. It's probably the most underrated physical quality that we pursue," Schuler said.

If you're starting a brand new workout program, you should talk to your doctor first. If you're going to lift heavy weights, it's best to enlist the help of a trainer or a friend at least for the first time.