Setting the story straight about women and weight training…
I can’t tell you the countless times I have walked into a gym only to find I was the only female near the weight rack in a room of many sweaty, grunting men. It seems all the other women had found their way to the treadmills and elliptical machines. My question: If you are here to just do cardio, why not save some money and run outside? Why are you wasting dollars not using the awesome equipment on the other side of the gym? It seems that out of fears based on myths that simply aren’t true, so many women are missing out on the type of exercise that will not only get them the results they want, but also benefit their health long term.
As a personal trainer and professional athlete I can attest to the benefits of pumping iron. My mission: debunk the myths surrounding women and weight training and encourage as many females as I can to get off the cardio equipment and start a regular strength training program. Let’s start by clearing up some common misconceptions…
Women’s Weight Training Myth #1 -Weight training makes you bulky and masculine.
This is near impossible unless you have freaky genetics or are using steroids for an advantage in the gym. Fact-women do not, and cannot, naturally produce as much testosterone as males do, which is the hormone responsible for gaining muscle size. However, weight training can make you stronger, enhancing your athletic performance and daily activities by 30-50%. Natural female bodybuilding athletes spend a lot of time, safe supplementation, monitored nutrition, and consistent progress tracking to add size to their physiques. On average a woman can gain 4-8 pounds of muscle per year, distributed evenly over her body, but this is dependent on factors such as age, genetic potential, nutrition status, etc.
Women’s Weight Training Myth #2 – Women only need to do cardio and lift weights at high repetitions.
Yes, cardio exercise is good for the heart and should be included in a well-balanced exercise program. That being said, if you ONLY did cardio then muscle and fat would be burned for fuel and most likely one would have very hard time achieving the look they want. For a lean and toned physique, and prevention of muscle and strength loss, women must incorporate regular resistance training. As far as the lifting of very light weights, I’m sad to say, this is just more nonsense. Muscle responds to fatigue and failure at a maximum weight. To see changes in strength, size, and power it is necessary to hit that max during certain exercises or specified workouts. Higher reps and lighter weights help build muscle endurance which is also important. I recommend cycling between heavy, low rep weeks and higher rep/intensity, lower weight weeks for optimal recovery of muscle fibers and better results in making gains. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 2-3 weight-training workouts a week. More advanced gym-goers and athletes can benefit from 3-5 workouts per week.
Women’s Weight Training Myth #3 -Weight training makes you stiff and inflexible.
Again…false! I am a huge fan of yoga, as many women are, but just like cardio exercise, it should not be the sole exercise in trying to achieve that perfect physique out of fear of losing flexibility. If you perform resistance exercises through their full range of motion, flexibility will actually increase. Exercises like chest flyes, stiff-legged deadlifts, dumbbell presses, and chin-ups stretch the muscle in the bottom range of the movement. Therefore, by performing these correctly, you enhance your stretching abilities. Plus, a safe and effective weight training plan should include a proper warm up, stretching between sets and post workout, and stretching on off-days.
Now that the air is clear of misconceptions, I can give you another billion reasons why as a female you need to stop avoiding the weights! The few on this list should be enough to convince you though:
• Weight training turns your body into a fat-burning machine. As lean muscle increases so does your resting metabolic rate, meaning more calories burned in a day!
• Weight training increases bone density and enhances bone modeling. With adequate calcium and vitamin D intake, this can be a women’s best defense against osteoporosis.
• Building a strong core and back through resistance training improves your posture and drastically decreases you risk of back pain and injury.
• Weight training improves cardiovascular health. Thus, it can help keep both your cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels.
• Improve your attitude and fight depression. It has been clinically shown, that women who strength train on a regular basis have an increase in energy levels, improved sleep, and feel more confident and capable as a result, all important factors in fighting depression.
Alright gals, now that your eyes are open to the wonderful world of weight training, ask your fitness professional how to design a safe and effective program that fits your lifestyle and goals!
Glory Billman, RN, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, WNBF Figure Pro