Women don’t usually lift weights. Or won’t. Go to any gym. Most of the time it’s the men hogging all the barbells and doing bench presses while the ladies are relegated to the ellipticals and treadmills.
While there are women who’ve made their name in the weightlifting world, many still avoid resistance training because they believe one (and even all) the following weightlifting myths.
Weightlifting Myths that Women Should Stop Believing
Myth #1: Lifting Weights = Bulking Up
Women see weights and automatically think bulk. Not that you can blame them. Watch a man do deadlifts and you’ll be hard-pressed not to notice the straining muscles.
And it’s true. Lifting weights will result in increased muscle strength and size. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if you lift heavy or light weights. The result will still be the same so long as total muscle fatigue is achieved.
So, should the ladies worry about looking like the She-Hulk?
The short answer is no. Men can attribute muscle gains to the hormone testosterone. Men and women do not have the same testosterone levels. This is not to say women won’t gain muscle weight. They still will. But not as much or as fast as their male counterparts. It’s not easy to “accidentally” become bulky. Female bodybuilders typically spend years undergoing specific training and diet to look that way.
Myth #2: Cardio burns more calories vs strength training.
Women love cardio.
On average, the Mayo Clinic estimates a person weighing 73kg (160lbs) can burn 365 calories in one hour doing low-impact aerobics. It’s the same with moderate effort on an elliptical trainer. Running at 5mph for the same duration will burn 606 calories.
Aha! So, the ladies are right?
Not exactly. If the main goal of working out is to lose body fat, just doing cardio may not be enough. Cardio is great for getting the heart pumping. One thing it doesn’t do as efficiently is build muscles.
Why is that important? Because muscles burn more calories at rest than fat. That means you continue shedding the pounds even after the workout session. You know what builds muscles? Yep, weightlifting.
On top of that, weightlifting is a higher-intensity workout. Because it demands more energy, the body needs more oxygen to recover. The extra oxygen in turn, burns calories in an effect that can last 24 hours or more.
Simply put, cardio burns calories while you’re doing it. Weightlifting burns calories while you’re doing it and after. Together with a healthy diet, weightlifting can provide the metabolic boost to get leaner and stay that way.
Myth #3: It’s a Man’s Sport.
This is not an unfair assumption. Case in point: men’s weightlifting has been part of the Olympics since 1896. Women’s weightlifting didn’t make its debut until the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. So yes, the men did get over a hundred-year head start.
But times are a-changing. Jenny Arthur broke the American weightlifting record for the 75kg weight class with a 107kg snatch. Mattie Rogers is lifting 127kg+ (280lbs+) seemingly without breaking a sweat. Not to mention “Epic Erin”. Barely out of her teens, Erin Amos is already a 5-time National Champion in weightlifting. These ladies, and more, are slaying the sport and looking good doing it, too.
So, is weightlifting just a man’s sport? Not anymore.
Myth #4: Weightlifting leads to weight gain.
This one may actually be true. But maybe not for the reason you think.
Women who lift may weigh more. This is because weightlifting and strength training build muscle mass. Muscles are more dense than fat. To illustrate:
Two kilograms of fat appears to be “more” than the same weight of muscles. How does that look in an actual human body?
The “After” picture was taken after one year of resistance training. As you can see, she gained weight but looks leaner and fitter.
In simple terms, a 70kg woman with more fat will look bigger than a 70-kg woman with more muscles.
Once you start weightlifting and gain more muscles, it’s entirely possible to pack on the poundage because of the muscle gain. But that does not automatically translate into looking bigger and bulkier.
Therefore, how much you tip the scales should be a non-issue. What is important is the improvement in stamina and flexibility.
The Benefits of Weightlifting
Weightlifting has many benefits. Skipping the heavy weights means women miss out on these.
1) Increased Muscle Mass = Higher Fat Burn
Again, this is not a bad thing! On the contrary, higher muscle mass enhances the metabolic rate (read: how fast you burn stored body fat).
The benefits do not stop there. Increasing the metabolic rate also makes for a healthier cardiovascular system. Muscle tone and definition becomes better. And you burn more calories even post-exercise.
2) Strengthen Connective Tissues = Lower Injury Risk
Strength training increases the cohesion of ligaments and tendons. This translates to lower musculoskeletal injury risk. It may also lower the risk for degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis.
3) Increased Bone Density = Lower Osteoporosis Risk
Osteoporosis literally means “porous bone.” It’s a disease where bone density and quality are reduced. When bones become fragile, the fracture risk increases. Around 80% of osteoporosis cases in the US alone occur in women.
Strength training helps increase calcium deposits in the bones thereby increasing density and lowering osteoporosis risk.
4) Reduced Age-Related Atrophy = More Active Lifestyle
Muscles atrophy as we age. Starting from the age of 30, muscle fibers start decreasing in size. Reduced muscle size directly corresponds to the decline in muscular strength.
Regular strength training and weightlifting helps reduce the aging process. This means ladies, you can carry on with doing physically demanding tasks for longer.
Now that you know how much strength training can benefit you, let’s look at some exercises to start your lifting journey.
Best Strength Training Exercises for Women
In strength training, the general rule applies:
Heavier weights at fewer reps = Increased strength
Lighter weights at more reps = Increased endurance
So, where’s the best place to start? Here are some of the best strength training exercises for women.
1) For the lower body: squats
Squats work the legs, shoulders, and core. Try:
· Barbell squat
· Front squat
· Split Squat
2) For the upper body: bench press
Bench presses work the pectoral muscles, deltoids, and triceps. For horizontal presses:
· Dumbbell bench press
· Barbell bench press
· Incline bench press
· Dumbbell shoulder press
· Military press
3) For the core: planks
Planks work the muscles around your trunk and pelvis and help improve balance and stability. Alternatively, you can also do:
· Leg raises
Give it a Rest
Remember, if you’re just kicking off your weightlifting and strength training jaunt, it’s best to start with lower weights. You also do not want to over-extend yourself. Make sure you also include rest days in your training regimen.
Rest is an often overlooked, but very vital, part of any exercise plan. It allows your body to recover from all the strain you’ve put it through on the daily.
Here are some ways to maximize your rest days between workouts:
Keep active by doing mobility warm ups. Doing warmups wakes up your body and muscles. Some simple exercises you can do are jumping jacks, marching or jogging in place, swinging your arms and lateral steps.
Do a fun activity. Go biking or swimming. Play outdoor sports. Run around the neighborhood. The options are endless.
Get a massage. Massages have been scientifically proven to alleviate muscle soreness. The best part is you don’t even need to go out to do this. You can simply get a massage gun and give yourself a deep tissue massage in the comfort of your own home.
The Final Word on Women Lifting Weights
Female fitness should not be limited to the category of “Weight Loss.” Pumping iron isn’t just for men. Weightlifting will not give women unsightly bulk, but rather make you leaner and stronger. Ditch your fears, grab some iron, and start your transformation today.