In the time that I have spent as a personal trainer, over half of my clients have been women. Of those half, I have had to overcome apprehension about lifting weights with pretty much every single one of them.
For some reason, people think that if women lift weights over 5lbs, they'll look like men. Let me put a stop to that thinking right now.
It is physiologically impossible for a woman to put on so much muscle that she stops looking like a woman and begins looking like a man. A woman’s hormonal make up will simply not allow it. Testosterone, the chief hormone responsible for signaling muscle gain, is up to eight times greater in men than in women. Women who are not obtaining testosterone by external means have to fight tooth and nail to put on muscle mass!
Ladies it’s time to put this myth to death. So hop off the treadmill, cut back on the spin classes, and move some weights! Here are the top five reasons why women should train with weights.
1. Obtain Your Ideal Shape
Weight training can help you reach your aesthetic goals, whether that's looking great in an evening dress and high heels, rocking a bathing suit on summer vacation, or having shapely arms in a tank top. There is no better way to achieve these goals than to train with weights, especially progressively heavier weights. I have had female clients come to me with all of these goals and have addressed concerns about weight training with all of them.
Let me ask you a question, say we focus on fat loss and bring your body fat percentage down into the teens (which is very lean for a woman), what would be left over? If there is very little muscle to work with under the body fat, when you start to get lean your shape will look less like you desire and more like a lightning rod - straight with no curves to be seen. This is why it is so important for women who want to be lean and shapely to lift weights at least three times a week. Your muscles give you that desired shape!
2. Spice Up Your Workout
Lifting weights can be fun. More fun than sitting on an exercise bike or running on a treadmill or track. It is important to add variety into your training to keep progressing towards your goals, otherwise your training can get stale and your progress can stall. If for no other reason, changing your training on occasion will prevent boredom.
If you find traditional weight training uninteresting or boring, try kettlebell training or other unconventional types of training such as sandbag, clubbell, rope, or suspension training. You might also consider finding a qualified coach to teach you the Olympic lifts or the Power lifts or even strongman type training. Your training should involve both cardiovascular and resistance type training to get the most out of it.
3. Build Strength and Confidence
The strength that comes with consistent weight training is one of the biggest benefits of getting into the weight room. There are unexpected, practical benefits from weight training: the ability to lift objects that once seemed immovable, bringing the groceries from your car up the stairs of your apartment in one trip when it previously took two or three, or being able to pick a child up over your head and spin them around. Women with physique goals often don’t anticipate these benefits and experience them for the first time with weight training.
This newfound strength brings about confidence to perform other activities of daily living independently and is one of the most rewarding results of consistent weight training. You will also find that when you start looking better and have improved posture from undoing all the hours of sitting and staring at a computer, you start feeling better and carry yourself differently than before you started lifting weights.
4. Stress Relief
Lifting weights is a great stress reliever. It forces you to be present in the moment and to forget about other events of the day that have happened or have yet to happen. You don’t necessarily get this with walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike in the gym. There is something about actively focusing on the different movements in your workout and struggling to accomplish a goal number of reps in a set that brings about a unique stress relief response different from any other mode of exercise.
Self-awareness is also a big factor in stress relief. When you train with weights on a regular basis and push yourself in your training, it starts to bring to light what you are truly capable of physically and that has carry-over into other aspects of your life as well. You will start to test what you are capable of mentally and emotionally too. You will begin to develop strategies on how to deal with the stressors of everyday life based off of lessons you’ve learned from weight training like realistic goal setting, commitment to a goal, and discipline to see it through.
Lastly there is the physiological component of stress relief due to exercise which releases endorphins in your brain that can lift your mood and leave you feeling euphoric after a tough workout. Either way you look at it, lifting weights is a great way to blow off some steam.
5. Improved Health and Longevity
Women, perhaps more than men, can benefit from weight training in the long run. Women are more susceptible to osteoporosis than men are. You can offset the risk of osteoporosis earlier in life by ensuring that you train with weights at least two times a week. This will increase bone density which will keep your bones stronger and healthier once aging starts to take its toll.
In addition to increasing bone density, lifting weights increases your insulin sensitivity and your body’s overall ability to manage your blood sugar levels, decreasing your risk for type II diabetes. Weight training also leads to increased strength and muscle mass which as we age tends to diminish. If you spent time in the gym in your younger years, you will be able to have a more independent life later and look younger too.
Increased muscle mass does two things other than helping you age more gracefully. First it increases your resting metabolic rate which means you burn more calories just sitting there existing. Second, muscles act as storage containers for carbohydrates in the form of glycogen which is the stored form of glucose in the body. This is the blessing of increased muscle mass!
When you have more muscle on your frame it allows a lot more wiggle room in your diet assuming that you are performing enough volume in your workout. If you are lifting weights on a regular basis, you are depleting the amount of carbs, in the form of glycogen, in your muscles. This allows you to eat more carbs without putting on fat because you muscles soak up the carbs when they are low on glycogen.
So not only does lifting weights fight against osteoporosis and insulin resistance, which could eventually lead to type II diabetes, but it also allows for you to enjoy some ice cream or a candy bar without the saying, “a moment on the lips equals a decade on the hips” running through your mind. You've increased the ability to store the carbs you just consumed in your new muscles instead of your love handles!