Why Women Should Lift
Published on July 29th, 2013
I’m a trainer and I have a live-in girlfriend, so I’ve heard it all before.
“I can’t lift weights, they’re too heavy!” “I don’t want to look manly!” “Aren’t squats are going to make my thighs huge?” “What’s a kettlebell?”
My girlfriend has spent most of her adult life as a cardio bunny. UrbanDictionary.com defines cardio bunnies as “fine female specimens found near the elliptical, treadmill, stair-stepper, or other calorie burning equipment. Usually finely attired in roll-up shorts, sorostitute mixer shirts, and Nike shox.” Sounds about right. Before she met me, her workouts consisted of putting around on the treadmill and calling it a day.
Although my girlfriend had success two years ago with a custom meal plan I designed, she tried to shed this year’s 15 pound winter weight gain on her own and had hit a plateau. When I informed her that she needed to start incorporating weight training into her life, my advice was met with a look of disdain. “Why do I have to lift?” she asked.
I’ll give you the same reasons I gave her.
But first, let’s dispel that dirty little myth: Heavy lifting will not cause a woman’s body to bulk up – unless bulking is your goal. What causes bulk are a person’s diet, workout type/frequency, and body type. There are numerous bodybuilding programs available online designed for men to quickly become bigger and stronger, often involving multiple heavy lifts at certain periods throughout the week in addition to consuming vast amounts of calories a day. We’re talking about lifting extremely heavy weights to failure and waking up in the middle of the night to force down calories in order to sustain muscle growth. Most people have no idea how difficult it is to put on a significant amount of muscle. If you want to look like Mr. Olympia, you’d have to eat, sleep and train like Mr. Olympia.
Women who follow a solid routine of weight lifting 3-5 times per week, 15-20 minutes of cardio per day and a regimented diet will not become bulky. Period. It’s important not to skip daily cardio – even the most elite of bodybuilders will finish their workouts with cardio, because you need to burn off fat in order to see muscle definition.
The picture on the left is our client, Judy, follows a bodybuilding bikini competitor’s program and strength trains 5 times a week in addition to a strict meal plan. Bodybuilding and lifting weights does not mean bulk, unless that’s your goal!
Before I started my own fitness company, I was an avid CrossFitter. I’ve seen many athletes come and go at the gyms I attended. Sure, there are female athletes out there who are getting stronger, but not necessarily skinnier. You know, the certified badasses who lift heavy and eat solely to fuel athletic performance and strength gains. These women know that by chasing performance, their bodies will take care of themselves, and they love their figures as much as they love racking up PR’s. Athletes care more about who can squat the most, not squeezing into the smallest dress size possible. In other words, if a woman is becoming bigger, it’s not due to her workout – it’s because her eating habits aren’t customized for fat loss. Fat loss, just like bulking, takes considerate and deliberate effort.
So why exactly should women lift weights? A program that includes heavy lifting and light cardio will facilitate rapid fat loss. If you’re new to weight training, the simplest way we can define “heavy lifting” means regardless of the chosen equipment or movement (whether it’s dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells or a machine), choose a weight that is so heavy that you cannot lift it beyond 8-10 reps.
“Everybody wants a bikini body, but nobody wants to lift no heavy ass weight. If you want to look average, train average. I’ll wave to you on the stepper. Want to look above-average? I’ll see you at the squat rack,” says United Kingdom-based personal trainer Callan Headrick.
As far as cardio is concerned, steady-state cardio such as walking, jogging, the Stairmaster, etc. burns calories only during the time you are doing the physical activity. You stop burning calories when the jog is over*. It’s for this reason that cardio bunnies could lose pounds on the scale, but at a slower rate – and they almost never have any muscle definition. You also cannot sculpt your body through cardio alone.
*High Intensity Interval Training cardio is a different story. HIIT is an effective way to burn fat by keeping your heart rate guessing.
Strength training with heavier weights builds dense, tight muscle. And lean muscle mass is what is needed for women to achieve that taut and toned look. Lifting small candy colored weights and doing numerous reps isn’t doing jack diddly for your body. When you build muscle, your resting metabolic rate increases. Muscle tissue burns calories. After an intense lifting session, you will continue to burn calories long after you leave the gym.
But it’s not all about looks. A committed routine of weightlifting and cardio often inspires cleaner eating habits, which by itself can prevent a plethora of ailments. Weight training can lower blood pressure: Resistance exercise also led to a longer-lasting drop in blood pressure after exercise, compared to aerobic exercise. Those who lift weights are less likely to develop metabolic syndrome – a condition that includes several risk factors associated with heart disease and diabetes. Osteoporosis is also a common concern for women. Strength training over a period of time can help prevent bone loss, and may even help build new bone. Everyday activities become easier when you grow stronger.
Lastly, we find that lifting weights has helped our clients feel stronger, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. Setting and accomplishing goals week after week bolsters confidence, so people feel that they are capable of handling any of life’s curve balls.
When doubt creeps up during your fitness journey, take progress photos to remind yourself of your accomplishments. Make yourself your own inspiration! Avoid the scale for minute comparisons. Progress is better measured with measuring tape than in pounds. Also, pay attention to how much better you are functioning and resting once you’ve got a regiment going. At Go Time Fitness, we design our programs for strength, fitness and improving the quality of life – and offer aesthetic customization by request only.
So what happened with my girlfriend? She began incorporating high intensity strength and conditioning into her routine and now weight trains 3-4x a week in addition to daily cardio. She’s lost the extra weight, kept the curves and is lifting heavier than I ever would have imagined. In my opinion, putting on muscle has made her look as feminine as ever – because she looks healthy and can wear any outfit without self-doubt. Interestingly enough, my girlfriend’s superpowers disappear once she leaves the gym. I still somehow get stuck carrying the groceries… We’re working on it.
Written by: Doug P & Audrey H of Go Time Fitness San Diego