When Group Exercise Coordinator Jenny Gray talks about strength training and what it can do for your body, she gets really excited. “It even helps with—for women especially—bone loss. We actually know that as you’re lifting weights, you’re growing new, stronger bones.”
Jenny teaches and works out of the Margaret Maddox Family YMCA in East Nashville and specializes in strength training classes. She loves seeing the practicality of the movements that instructors teach.
“Strength training is so functional,” she says. “You might squat down to pick up your kids or you might need to put something in an overhead bin on an airplane. These are the types of movements that we do in class so that you get stronger.”
While the effects of strength training can be immediate, this practice is incredibly beneficial as you age, Jenny says. “As you get older, you’ll need less assistance or you’ll have more stamina to do things in your daily life.”
In a strength training class, you’ll be moving heavy objects, or your body, in a way that creates resistance. “We use resistance to build strength, tone muscle, shed fat, burn calories—all packed into one workout,” Jenny says.
In classes like Sculpt, Total Strength, CXWORX, BODYPUMP, Just Weights—you’ll likely use dumbbells and weighted medicine balls. You may also use strength bands, which create resistance as you pull and come in varying levels of difficulty.
Movements can be done in a standing position, laying on a bench or on a mat on the floor. “You may even do squats with a weighted bar,” Jenny says. “It’s a pretty wide range of equipment. We use lots of different, fun things.”
Finding common ground
Everyone is welcome to try strength training, and you don’t have to be a weightlifter. “One of my favorite things about strength training classes is that anyone can be in the same class, from a beginner who’s never lifted weights to a bodybuilder toning up for a show,” Jenny says.
The weight amounts may vary, but the technique stays the same. “Some people in the class may use 3-pound weights. Some people might be doing the same bicep curl with 20- or 25-pound weights. But, everyone’s doing the same movements because they’re beneficial to your body.”
Instructors are also prepared to offer modifications based on pregnancy, medical conditions and age. “If you come up and tell the instructor that you want to be in the class but you have a knee injury, they will give you the tools you need to be able to participate,” she says.
Achieving the afterburn
In an hour-long strength training class, you can burn an average of 300 calories, depending on how much weight you’re using and how fast you’re going.
“When you’re lifting weights, your heart rate is accelerated,” Jenny explains. “A lot of our movements are really dynamic, so you might be doing a lunge and then you’re adding a kick. You are going to sweat.”
After you’ve finished your workout, you’ll keep burning calories in your resting state. It’s a great metabolism boost. “Your body is still in that fat-burning mode,” she says.
Part of the family
If it’s your first time in a strength training class, the instructor may set you up next to a participant that’s familiar with the routine. You’ll see just how motivating the environment can be. “When you feel strong, it’s empowering to make other people feel strong,” Jenny says. “We get really excited when someone’s able to do an exercise with 15-pound weights and they’ve only ever done it with 10-pound weights.”
Jenny was once new to strength training, and seeing familiar faces in class each week kept her accountable. “I remember the day I did my first push-up not on my knees, and there were like, seven people around me cheering me on. That became a community for me that knew my journey and my goals. And when I had a victory in class, even if it was a small one, people knew it was a victory. It’s just part of what the Y does to create that family. And, to create it around health, wellness and exercise is just the icing on the cake.”
It can feel intimidating to see people on the wellness floor doing complicated movements with weights, but she encourages participants to step outside of their comfort zone. “Once you see what strength training can do for you, you can go on the wellness floor and feel more comfortable because you know how to do a bicep curl or a squat.”
Members that come to classes are normal people that care about their fitness journey and their community. Once you start coming, you’ll want to keep up your progress.
“You might expect to be a little sore or to feel your muscles the next day, but that’s a good thing,” Jenny says. “It starts to build those endorphins where you feel really good and you want to come back for more. Don’t be afraid to come in and try out a strength training class.”