What You Need to Know About Weightlifting

This article appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Equal Time Magazine

By: Delaney Wehn –

Cardio seems to be many women’s automatic go-to when it comes to working out. But you may be missing out on the fat-burning, strength-building benefits of regularly lifting weights. Cardio burns fat and muscle, while weightlifting just burns fat. Even though weightlifting has heart and muscle health benefits, it is a far less common part of most women’s workout routines.

Unfortunately, very few women feel comfortable weightlifting because society has labeled it a “manly” workout. Women often fear lifting weights will make them bulky and overly muscular, and that exercising past the point of being “toned” will make them look too masculine. The weightlifting world has long been male-dominated, so walking into a gym and picking up weights for the first time can feel incredibly intimidating. This is especially true when the male gaze seems to follow you around the gym, judging you like a foreigner entering a secret, male world.

Mia Knavish, a member of the University of Pittsburgh Powerlifting Club, is an avid weightlifter and works actively to break the stigma against female powerlifting. Like most women, she used to stick to leg day and cardio, avoiding workouts that beefed up her arms. But she gradually started incorporating lifting into her routine, and says that beginning college ignited her passion because it opened her eyes to a diverse range of people and body types. This gave her the freedom and confidence to pursue powerlifting.

What’s more, Knavish says that a lot of the benefits of powerlifting go beyond physical health.“Lifting, even light weights, won’t make you look bulky, it just tones you up. It burns more calories throughout the day than cardio does. But I have also found that lifting is a great stress reliever,” she says. Knavish also notes that lifting does wonders for her mood, and gives her a great deal of self-confidence. The feeling of watching yourself get stronger is empowering, and setting and achieving higher, harder goals is beneficial for personal growth.

So why not weightlift? The sooner you begin adding new elements to your workout routine, the sooner you will reap the benefits of becoming stronger—physically and mentally.

Some Dos and Don’ts to Keep in Mind:


  • Focus on slow, controlled movements.
  • Check out the instructional diagrams on the backs of weight machines.
  • Ask questions—even to strangers. And if you need help lifting a heavier weight, don’t be afraid to ask someone to spot you.


  • Try to use machines in a way they aren’t intended.
  • Be afraid to ask people for advice—it’s flattering.
  • Feel judged. Nine times out of ten, people are so involved in their own workouts that they aren’t paying any attention to you at all.


Now it’s your turn. Pick up some dumbbells today and try out the following circuit. Don’t feel pressured to begin with these specific weights—our recommendations are a great starting point, but start off with whatever feels most comfortable for you.

  1. Bench press: Do four sets of eight reps with 10-15-pound dumbbells. If you are feeling more advanced, try pressing with a barbell.
  2. Seated shoulder press: Do three sets of 10 reps with a 10-15-pound dumbbell.
  3. Skull crushers: Using a 20-pound weight, kettlebell or dumbbell, do three sets of 10 reps.
  4. Bicep curls: Try three sets of 10 reps using 10-pound dumbbells.
  5. Lat pulldown: Do four sets of eight reps. Try starting off with 10 pounds, and build up to what feels comfortable.
  6. Dumbbell rows: 10 reps on each side, and repeat for a total of three cycles. Use 10-15-pound dumbbells.