Why Women Should Lift Weights (Part 1 of 2)

Woman Doing Barbell Front Squat by Completeeveryday

<sarcasm>Ohh, look a her! Her muscles are soo huuuge... </sarcasm>

The topic of women strength training or working out with any weight that isn’t light as a feather and coated with bright colored plastic is one that ignites a great debate. Real science and good advice get lost between the broscience and magazines that spread myths, unfounded “advice” and fear.

An unfortunate amount of people, particularly women, get the short stick when it comes to exercise – especially strength training. Like I said myths, fears and ridiculous, unfounded advice often keep women away from working out with weights when in my opinion, we should be running toward them (but not into them.)

I’m tired of it. All of it. I’m here to tell you that you should be working out with weights – and not the little pink ones. I’m talking barbells. Giant, heavy barbells.

I didn’t think like this when I was younger. Like lots of women, I was guided by magazine wisdom, fear and a lack of knowledge. I wanted to be fit and look great (who doesn’t?) but feared getting too bulky. When I started I was skinny fat – at 169.5 cm (5’6.75″) tall I only weighed roughly 49.9 kg (110 lbs). I had literally no muscle – I couldn’t even lift a gallon jug of water – and, despite being skinny, still managed to have a flabby belly. After a scary visit to the doctor I woke up and began my own health journey. I had no idea what I was doing so I started out with conventional wisdom – eat ‘healthy’ and do cardio. Lots and lots of cardio. That’s the only way to stay fit and not become a she-hulk.

Right?

Wrong.

My belly went nowhere and still couldn’t lift that darn water jug. I decided to turn to science and learned I was doing everything wrong and needed to lift weights. I weigh more now than I did back then, but my waist is smaller, I’m stronger and I can do a heck of a lot more.

So, here I am now, telling you to lift weights and do strength training. Though I’m sure you’ve got some objections I’ll have to deal with first.

You bet I do! Lifting weights will make you into a bodybuilder! Duh! Everybody knows that!

Does everyone really know that?

This is one of the most ridiculous myths in fitness. People look at bodybuilders and think “Ohmaigawd, they’re huge and are lifting huge weights so if I lift weights I’ll look like that too!” This is not only unfounded, but to think that you could just so simply become a bodybuilder is, quite frankly, an insult to bodybuilders and a gross lack of understanding/knowledge as to how they got where they are. You don’t just accidently become a bodybuilder, and it sure doesn’t happen overnight.

A lot of factors go into becoming a bodybuilder. It requires years and incredible amounts of dedication to a specific diet and a specific workout routine, plus a good bit of genetics and supplementation (legal or otherwise.) All of which are not things I’m going to suggest in this article, nor are things we suggest on this site (since, you know, we aren’t into bodybuilding.)

Like I said above, it doesn’t happen by accident and it doesn’t happen quickly. Additionally, don’t do isolation exercises, and as long as you can tell the difference between your mouth and a vacuum cleaner (No excessive calories – like over 3000 per day, no GOMAD, etc.) you won’t get bulky. It also requires lots of testosterone which women don’t generally make much of naturally anyway, and even men have a hard time making enough of it naturally to become a bodybuilder. Some testosterone is good for a variety of reasons, but healthy women also create a fair bit of estrogen which fights the muscle-building process (also why men are naturally more stronger – less estrogen!) so you’ve really got nothing to fear.

In short, the closest you could get to a bodybuilder is by going nuts with a can of spray-tan and a can of PAM.

Okay, maybe it wont make me bodybuilder-big, but I don’t want to get bigger at all!

Not lifting weights because you’re afraid they will make you look big is like saying you’re afraid of reading a book for fear of looking like a nerd. It really boils down to what you do, and how you do it. What I’m going to show you in the next post is how to lift weights to build functional, lean, strong muscle. Or, strength training. Keyword here is functional – if it got really big then it would just get in your way and slow you down.

Now, I’ll concede, if you’ve never worked out a day and have very little muscle you’ll see some gains, but it wont continue forever. You’re just making what is already there better, not adding anything to it.

I don’t really care about getting strong, I just want to do some toning/scuplting/firming.

First off, erase those three words from your vocabulary. Particularly “toned” – they’re all made up, meaningless words crafted by marketers and magazines to sell you more junk. And, quite frankly, lifting a tiny 1/2 lb dumbbell for a hundred reps is an incredible waste of time, money and energy.

If anything, weight lifting will give you a much more curvier shape – tucking in around your waist, a rounder butt and nicer thighs and arms. Plus, you get the perk of being stronger which comes in handy all of the time – and will be helpful as you get age – especially you’re of retirement age.

Okay, fine, but I just want to lose the fat on my belly and see a bit of abs. Can I just do the workouts targeting that?

I once heard someone say that “abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym” and it’s completely true. Roughly 80% of body composition is a result of diet, and only 20% is fitness.

If you think you can “target” certain areas of loss, well, that also is a ridiculously widespread myth that originated from someone who doesn’t know and obviously didn’t bother to look into how the human body loses weight. Sorry, it just doesn’t work like that. You can build muscles in targeted areas by working them, yes, but fat burning is all dependent upon your genetics. The only possible way to spot-reduce fat is plastic surgery.

But guys lift weights! I’m not a guy!

Yes, yes they lift weights too. Unfortunately broscience and magazines have conspired to instill in society this idea that men and women are two completely different species. While we have our obvious differences that make us male or female, our basic muscular-skeletal makeup is the same. Therefore, men and women get stronger doing the same movements.

So you’re telling me to lift heavy weights – and you are sure this won’t make me big and bulky…

Like I said before, you won’t become a body builder by accident. It takes time and incredible dedication to a very specific routine and diet. The movements/workouts we at Road To Epic advocate, which I will cover in the next post, won’t make you big because they promote strength and myrofibrillar hypertrophy, instead of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

What’s the diff, you may ask? Because you’re apparently in some kind of hurry. In a nutshell, myrofibrillar hypertrophy produces hard, dense muscle fibers which make you stronger without a lot of bulk and is produced by lifting heavy for few repititions (2-6). Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, by contrast, is the result of increased sarcoplasm (a fluid-like substance) creating a puffy look and is attained via lifting somewhat-heavy-but-not-maximal for several repititions. Not to mention, the workout movements themselves are different.

So, in other words, different diet & workout routines for different goals.

But I’ve never done it before and don’t want to look stupid!

Really? You’re more concerned about not looking stupid than your health?

Okay, fine, then why SHOULD I lift weights?

Progress! Excellent! I’ve been eager to talk about that…

Why You Should Lift Weights

There are so many reasons why you should do strength training. But, here’s just a few:

  • You’ll Get Stronger “Well, duh” you say, but I’m being serious, it needs to be repeated. Lots of people underestimate how great being stronger really is. Getting stronger is a GREAT thing! Not only will you be able to carry more weight (furniture, suitcases, books, groceries, kids, pets, etc.) but you will also see benefits when doing other physical activities. You won’t get tired as fast, you’ll have greater mobility, better posture, less likely to sustain an injury, and if you keep it up when you hit your senior years, you wont need a cane or scooter and will be able to move around better than most other elderly folk. Speaking of elderly…
  • Greater Bone Density Yes! Lifting weights/strength training increases bone density! Screw you, osteoporosis! (One of several studies here.)
  • Live Longer Aside from it helping our joints, bones and mobility, it also helps us live longer! It helps in a number of ways, but most importantly, the more lean muscle we have the more organ reserve we have – or our organs have greater functional capacity to support life and fight illness and toxins. As we age, it naturally goes down, as does our lean muscle. However, muscle mass and organ reserve tend to be correlated, so if we increase one we increase the other. This is aided by the fact that when we have more lean muscle mass, the muscle helps our bodies deal with stressors and aids your organs, so they have to work even less.
  • Improved insulin sensitivity Why is this important? Essentially, greater insulin sensitivity means you handle glucose well, which means less dietary glucose becomes body fat and less insulin is required for normal functions (Study here.)
  • Lifting Weights Accelerates Fat Loss It’s true! Alwyn Cosgrove, a fitness expert, wrote an in-depth and well-cited article about the Hierarchy of Weight Loss taking a careful look at cardio vs weight lifting. One study he looked at highlights it best:

    “Overweight subjects were assigned to three groups: diet-only, diet plus aerobics, diet plus aerobics plus weights. The diet group lost 14.6 pounds of fat in 12 weeks. The aerobic group lost only one more pound (15.6 pounds) than the diet group (training was three times a week starting at 30 minutes and progressing to 50 minutes over the 12 weeks). The weight training group lost 21.1 pounds of fat (44% and 35% more than diet and aerobic only groups respectively). Basically, the addition of aerobic training didn’t result in any real world significant fat loss over dieting alone.”

  • Look Better Naked I know I said it above but it needs to be repeated, strength training will make you have lean muscles with will give you a curvy look. Squats and deadlifts in particular will give you a tight, rounded butt too – who wouldn’t want that?

Okay, so, you’ll live longer, have stronger, more dense bones, feel better, perform stronger and faster, fight illness more effectively, have better recovery from disease, lose weight, and also improve your insulin sensitivity. Do I need to say more?

And yes, I could easily go on with even more reasons why you should strength train, but I think I’ve made my point with these – the main important ones. Is strength training starting to look appealing now? Wouldn’t you want to lose weight with less time working out than by doing hours on a treadmill? Wouldn’t you want to have nice curves and a lean, strong and efficient body that lasts into the golden years? It’s never too late to start.

“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” cannot ring any more true in the realm of fitness. If you don’t work your muscles, they’ll disappear and you’ll be left a skeleton, barely able to move around (if at all.)

We’ve blasted broscience and magazine wisdom, and shown you just some of the awesome benefits of strength training. You’re ready to give it a shot, but where do you start? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that in Part 2.

Photo Credit: Completeeveryday

  • Tanya

    Hi Caroline,
    Great article. I used to be one of those women who believed lifting bulks you up, but thanks to the New Rules of Lifting for Women programme, I’ve been re-educated. I consider myself extremelly lucky!
    🙂

    • Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ve heard of that book and lots of good things about it, but haven’t had the chance yet to pick up a copy.