Last week, after I posted the article ‘Cut out the Bullshit – How to Get Bigger’, I received a few requests from female readers to write an article about strength training for women. This question didn’t come as a surprise for me. There is a common misconception that women should not lift heavy weights.
For some reason most people still think that women should train differently than men do; thinking that women should go to aerobics classes, spend hours on boring cardio machines, use 2kg dumbbells, ankle weights and so on. They are certainly not supposed to lift heavy weights…
‘I don’t want to get bulky’
This is by far the most commonly used excuse I get from girls who don’t want to lift weights. They have seen a few pictures of female bodybuilders and think using heavier weights in their workouts will give them a bigger, manly looking physique. This is a complete fallacy.
The main reason why this won’t happen is because women don’t possess enough testosterone to bulk up like men. The average woman has only 6% of the testosterone in comparison with what the average man has; and testosterone is the hormone responsible for the increase of muscle mass when men lift weights.
So how do female bodybuilders become so big and muscular? This is simply because these women WANT to look this way. They follow extreme workout routines and nutrition plans to get that big AND most likely they are on anabolic steroids and/or synthetic testosterone injections. Along with the extreme definition and size of the muscles they build, you might also notice signs of facial or chest hair as well as other manly features. Have a look at the differences in physique between a unnatural female bodybuilder, endurance athlete and a female CrossFit athlete. Choose for yourself.
Generally, men do produce enough testosterone to get bigger naturally, and yet many still have trouble building a significant amount of muscle. Just imagine how difficult it is to bulk up for a woman in the same way a man does. If you think you’re already bulky then you most likely have a high body fat percentage.
‘Lifting heavy weights is dangerous’
Weightlifting exercises like Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, Rows, Dips etc. are total body, functional and most importantly, natural movements. Our bodies are designed to do these movements! Next time you see a baby or toddler picking something up from the floor (deadlift) or squat down, stop to notice their form and you will see that the baby’s movement reflects the weightlifting exercises. When we get older our bodies get lazy and weak from all the sitting down we do (mostly at work) and therefore we tend to ‘lose’ these natural movements.
Have you ever hurt your back while lifting a fairly light box from the floor? Big chance you lifted with bad form. In order to prepare ourselves for such everyday situations we need to train and re-learn how to perform these natural movements; and that doesn’t mean you’ll start with a 100kg of weight on the bar. First learn how to properly execute the lift in a safe way and then slowly progress onto heavier weights as time goes by and strength increases.
‘I just want to ‘tone up’ a bit’
Tone up? What people really want is to have bigger muscles and lose the excess fat so that their muscle definition will show. Without muscle there is no definition and when you have too much body fat muscle shape won’t show either. There is never a quick fix for this; nor is there a magic formula. Building muscle and losing fat takes time and a lot of hard work. In part-2 of this article I will explain more about what you should do to achieve that ‘toned’ look.
‘The free-weight area is for guys only’
Absolutely not! – the free-weight area is not solely for guys. Girls often say: ‘but they will look funny at me’. No they won’t and if they do, so what? You are there to train. You should be in what I like to call ‘Beast mode’; and you shouldn’t even notice them anyway.
If there’s an atmosphere like that I’d say it’s time to look for another gym where you feel comfortable and at ease. At our gym people help, support and motivate each other and there is a substantial amount of healthy competition to bring out the best in oneself and each other.
Another option to consider is to invest in some equipment so that you can train in the comfort of your own home. A barbell, bumper plates, a squat stand, gymnastic rings and a kettlebell would be a good start.
This concludes the first part of Women and Weightlifting; stay tuned for part 2 where we will be looking into what to eat and how to train to get strong and lean.