Contrary to popular belief, lifting weights will NOT make woman bulk up. It is hard enough for men to put on significant muscle size and they have about 10 times more testosterone in their body than woman. Testosterone is the sex hormone commonly associated with muscle growth and masculinity. There will, of course always be exceptions to the rules, as every human being is absolutely unique in their make-up. It could be that the female has naturally higher levels of testosterone, it could be a goal or side-effect to having taken (often illegal) ‘supplements’. The first is very rare and the latter is a ridiculous and often unsafe option and there are usually sacrifices as a result.
The misconception that women will get a very masculine physique usually means that many think they should be sticking to cardiovascular machines, as these will not make their legs thick and muscular, and they believe it is the best way to burn calories and lose weight. Going into the myths of cardiovascular machines is for another article, but trust me on one thing – in order to reduce body fat, you need to consider adding resistance training (including lifting weights) to your schedule. When I say ‘lift’ I mean LIFT! We are not talking about the pink 2kg dumbells in the stretch area (if your gym has one). We’re talking about serious weights – having the confidence to grab weights heavy enough to get your heart pumping and the muscles contracting. After all, you will only improve when you challenge yourself.
Why should woman lift weights?
Put simply, in order for your body to reduce body fat it NEEDS to have a decent amount of muscle. Muscle increases your body’s metabolism. Muscle burns 70 times more calories compared to fat – so if you have more, you burn more. If you have a higher muscle mass your body will become a calorie burning machine! You will not increase muscle by playing it safe and lifting small weights. You need to challenge you muscles and you should aim to use compound lifts. Compound lifts are exercises that move more than 1 part of the body. A bicep curl moves just at the elbow (if you do it properly), so you isolate the biceps. If you do too much of the isolation work you could end up looking lop sides (think meat head weightlifting guy with rounded shoulders and stupid looking biceps and chest). Compare this to an assisted pull up machine, which causes the shoulders and elbows to move as a part of the whole move, and you’ll see you get more bang for your buck by using the arms, shoulders and back.
How many? And at what intensity?
The number of reps and sets you do will depend on your goals, but for most women, a rep range of anywhere between 10 and 12 is suitable. Complete 4 sets of these. When you are completing your first set of 12 repetitions the last 4 should be starting to challenge you and by the time you have finished the 12th rep, you should feel like you can’t do many more, if any.
As a female who really enjoys weight training, I still tend to work all muscle groups on each of my gym sessions. I do know females who will do split routines, where they train chest on one session, back on another and legs on another. It is entirely down to goals but I recommend you seek advice from a reputable local PT on this. There are benefits of each and the way you work out will depend upon your time, your goals and your preferences.
Here is an example of a circuit that you can try on your legs. This is known as giant set. You complete 4 exercises on the same muscle group/area of the body, back-to-back with no rest. When you have finished your 4th exercise you take a break.
12 repetitions on each exercises, completed 4 times, resting for 2 minutes after the 4th.
1) Dumbbell Squats
2) Dumbbell Lunges
3) Barbell Deadlifts
4) Seated Leg Extension
5) Rest (you deserve it) and then repeat (because you need to earn the rest!)
Muscle doesn’t weigh more than fat…
Because you are doing four back-to-back exercises, you will have your endurance challenged. Because it will be tiring and your heart will be working overtime, your body will burn calories at a high rate. It will ensure you don’t start to look big!
Instead of getting big, lifting weights helps with toning. Getting fitter isn’t just about losing weight – it’s about making your body more efficient and reducing body fat (for most). If you look at 5lbs of fat and 5lbs of muscle, you will see the muscle takes up a much smaller area – so whilst your body shape will change as you get fitter and stronger, you may not lose weight.
Trust me, I lift weights, I push my body physically and I’m no beefcake. I’m 5’6, weigh 8stone 12lbs, I’m toned and very happy with my feminine look.
Amy Betts is a personal trainer who has worked in the industry for over 11 years. She has a wealth of experience in working with clients to reach their goals and takes a particular interest in designing fitness programmes which are specific to clients’ goals and needs.
More recently Amy has moved into the world of lecturing and has tutored potential personal trainers from day one to graduating as a fully fledged PT. She is currently writing curriculum materials for a new qualification provider.