Does this scenario sound familiar? You go to grab your usual 10lb weights and there are none available. What do you do? Do you use a set of 8lb dumbbells or move up to a set of 12lb? If you chose the 8lbs, you are doing yourself a major disservice.

The only way to get stronger is to keep challenging your body. Without a consistent cycle of challenges, your body adapts to your current routine and any gains you want to make will never come to be. This is especially true when it comes to strength training. Many women choose a weight that they can comfortably lift through their specified amount of reps and sets without ever attempting anything heavier.

As a fitness instructor, I see many women who have been using the same weights they began with when they first started joining me. I always encourage them (and everyone else) to lift heavier—even if they can only get four or five reps out of the heavier weights. It is still effective as they are improving their strength, increasing their muscle mass and burning some extra calories in the process.

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Some of the benefits of strength training, especially for women, include stronger bones, improved balance and coordination, as well as decreasing your risk of injuries if you should fall. But one of the greatest benefits of strength training actually occurs after you are done lifting your weights.

Much research has been done on what is called the “after burn effect” which happens after you strength train with heavy weights. While you are resting, sitting at your computer, driving in your car or preparing a meal, your body is still hard at work using energy to repair the muscles that you worked so hard earlier in the day. This effect results in more calories burned for twenty-four to forty-eight hours after your lifting time is completed.

A few months back, I encouraged a woman to increase her 10 lb weights to 12 lb weights when doing chest presses. She gave it a try and was amazed that she was able to do it. Later in the week, she told me that her muscles really felt it the next day and loved that feeling, because she realized how hard she worked them. I joked and told her she should try the 15 lb ones next time. Oh, and did I mention that this woman was well into her sixties? This is proof that it is never too late to increase your weights and still make gains!

However, in order to reap this magnificent benefit, you need to put in the work. That means grabbing those heavier weights and sticking with them. Do not expect that your first time lifting heavier is going to get you through your full amount of reps and sets. If it does, then you need to go even heavier. Aim for eight to 10 reps to start. If you have to stop before you reach eight, that is perfectly fine. It also means you chose a weight that is challenging and now you have a new goal—getting stronger to the point where you can take those weights to your regular amount of reps. And once you accomplish that, it’s time to go even heavier!

Strength training is probably the only time where having more weight is a good thing. It may sound a bit odd, but the heavier you lift, the lighter you will be. There is a much used fitness expression that says you need to “lift to lose.” That could not be more true. So next time your go-to weights are not there, take the next weight up and see just how strong you really are.

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