As women, we must train like men to see results. That is, if you are intent on burning fat OR getting toned. If you are a woman who is interested in running or a woman who has no interest in building muscle gains, then you’ve probably stopped reading this by now. I encourage you to read on because you are either a woman trying to lose fat, a woman trying to gain muscle and lose fat or a woman trying to simply tone up. This article applies to all!
So many times I go to the gym I see the same girls, and guys, on the cardio machines. For the most part, the ones I have seen the past year just running, running, running are fairly skinny and don’t carry a lot of shape in their bodies. What baffles me most is that they look like they are just plain bored with their routine and just trying to move their legs and arms to get to the final result, the end of the workout. While doing cardio, there are some women who are reading a People magazine, looking up at the television screen (even though they probably are not at all interested in the latest football game) and ones on cell phones? I’ve been there before, minus the cell phone, and this is before I took the step to get off the cardio machines and lift a weight. Doing this gave me new motivation, which later carried over into cardio.
I ask myself why these women believe just doing cardio exercise will give them the results they want. Now, some may not want tone and just may want to follow suit with what the girls in magazines look like, and think all they have to do is tons of cardio and hardly eat. For the most part, that is just a shape that has been photographed and is insanely distorted to look even more skinny and beautiful. The women in magazines are genetically made that way and that is why they are models. I’m not here to bash anyone’s goals, but I’m here to stress the importance of building muscle for a lean body and to lose weight. So if all you’re doing is staying in your little cardio comfort zone, it’s time to bust out of that bubble and take a major step forward!
My friend and personal trainer Travis comments on this, “From a Certified fitness trainers perspective it is a treat to see women hitting the iron. Most women have the same goal and I hear it time and time again. They mostly want to lose weight (fat) and tone up. It is a scientifically proven fact that anyone looking to lose fat and tone up will see more benefits when they incorporate a resistance training program along with a good aerobic routine. Basically what this means to women is that they will see a greater increase in body fat reduction by adding weight lifting to their cardio routines. Adding muscle mass to their bodies will increase metabolism and burn more calories, which, in turn, will make not only the cardio but also calorie restricted diets more effective."
"One thing I hear from women on a regular basis is that they don’t want to lift weights because they are afraid of becoming "bulky" or gaining too much muscle mass. It is true that resistance training will increase lean muscle mass but we can control the size of this mass by using appropriate set and rep ranges. Just because you lift weight does not mean that we will look like bodybuilders. Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, will be optimized between 10-12 reps at failure. Anything above this rep range without using heavier weights will be a more aerobic workout in nature and will also help to build lean mass at the same time without getting that bulky look that women are so afraid of."
"So any woman looking to get that perfect body they desire must incorporate a solid resistance training program into their training regimen to achieve optimal results. Most woman seem a little intimidated by the free weights and don’t know exactly where to start or what to do once they've decided to add weights to their routine. One of the biggest mistakes I see with woman is not doing enough. There should be a good balance of weights and cardio machines. If anyone needs help with a good routine, man or woman, I would suggest turning to a certified trainer from your local gym, they are there to help and most are willing to share their knowledge.”
For me, I think it is sexy to be a woman and to be vascular and tough. You’re working on a whole different plane if these are your goals. The only difference between you and the cardio peeps is your greater intake of protein needs and that you pick weights up and use them! Cardio is so important, and if you have that down, you are one foot in the door! All you need to do is take the next step to walk through the door to where a whole new world awaits.
There are about 3 other women I have noticed working out at my gym who do cardio, mostly intervals when I have noticed, and hit the floor where the weights/weight machines are located, as well as where most of the men are located! These women are vascular and have lean muscle, and it shows! I’ve become pretty good at being able to tell from muscular definition, or a lack of, what women lift weights and what women just do cardio.
Travis goes on to say about women lifting, “From a personal standpoint I have the same perspective, I love to see the women hitting the iron. This tells me that they are serious about their bodies and that they want to be the best that they can be, and they understand that it is necessary to lift to become and change into what they want to be."
"I do, however, sometimes feel that they are not taken seriously by some of the guys in the gym and this bothers me. There are three kinds of men at the gym; the gawkers, the talkers and the helpers. The gawkers are exactly what the definition of gawking is. They "stare stupidly" at the women that are training. These guys are not serious lifters, they are not there to train, they stare and make women feel uncomfortable in the gym. The talkers want to strike up a conversation with you and are more interested in getting a date with you than they are in your training. Then there are the helpers. Try to make friends with these guys. These are the guys that are at the gym to train themselves and understand that the women in the gym are there for the same reason."
"We go to the gym to work and become better and reach goals that we set for ourselves. My biggest advice to a woman in the gym lifting is do not get intimidated by the weights or the guys in the gym! You have every right to be busting out dumbbell curls right next to the guys.”
Being a woman, those three types of guys, we all know too well! No offense guys, but it’s just part of being a woman to understand the signs of the opposite sex. It’s not just outside the gym, but is definitely located in the gym too. As Travis said though, there are great guys there that can help you. Sometimes I will approach a man on the floor to ask them about a certain move or what would better emphasize a certain muscle more. They tend to know their stuff very well. I also use the guys in the gym as a means of ego motivation. If you’ve ever noticed, they will look at themselves in the mirror a lot. I mean, what else really can you do in between sets and reps! They really have figured it out. The more you watch your muscles and appreciate them in the mirror while you are working them, the more your ego will swell. This is a good thing if you allow it to be! It will make you believe you are stronger and you will get motivation from that to push past that physical fatigue that you need to push past in order to see results. Let your ego swell in the gym!
I think it’s important to have another woman’s perspective on this, because I have talked to so many that enjoy lifting weights that say the same thing about starting out. We all feel it’s totally normal to feel nervous or apprehensive when starting off, but pushing past that and just doing it is what needs to be done to get tight and toned!
My friend and avid lifter Mandy says, “I began lifting weights in high school. I was a Freshman on the Women's Varsity basketball team, and I was small, so weight lifting was a requirement to get me stronger in order to compete at that level. I went every morning with my team to the high school weight room. Almost every day, there were football, baseball and basketball boys in there and we were the only girls. There were even times when I was the only girl, when I went on my own. It was intimidating and I didn't feel confident or secure in my lifting abilities. Sometimes I would rush through my routine just to get out of there because I felt like I was being stared at. However, over the next few years of high school and my four years of college basketball, I began to love weight lifting and what it did to my body.”
When I started lifting on the floor, got over the awkwardness of doing something new and decided to dive in head first, I felt like I had become a part of something I never knew existed. It sounds storybook but I’m telling you, it’s a world we don’t explore or even think of exploring as a woman going to the gym just to shape up or maintain a great body. In weight lifting, there is so much to learn and the possibilities are almost endless! I’m here to tell you how to work it when you step foot on that floor, so you can get the most results out of your hard work. That’s what it’s all about, working as hard as you can, physically and mentally, when you step foot in the gym and incorporate weights into your routine.
Mandy says, “These days, I go straight for the weights in the gym, regardless of if there are men around. I am no longer intimidated, but rather empowered that I am the only woman who is lifting. Where I used to feel like I was being stared at because it was odd that a woman is lifting, now I know I am being admired or checked out instead!
I have gone through phases where I only did cardio, and I didn't see the results that I see when I have lifting in my weekly routine. Lifting makes me feel strong inside and out and more confident. It has changed my life in ways I never thought possible!”
A few things to note when training like you mean it!
First of all, you have to have an image of what you want to look like in your mind. As you progress forward with weight lifting, you will learn what parts of your body you like and other people’s bodies you like. I have found that one of my favorite muscles right now is my delts. I love way Jessica Biel’s delts look and there are very few women, unless they are competing, who have built delts. You can tell she works for them!
When I first started out, my goal was to lose fat to show the muscles I had hidden beneath. I thought losing body fat would give me those toned arms. What I didn’t know is that lifting is an integral, if not one of the most important parts, of losing fat and toning up. It’s like a two for one, it gives you that and builds leanness on your body that nothing else will give you.
I’ve heard this comparison before many times and I think of it often. Think about the training a long distance runner goes through. I’m talking about Marathon runners we’ve all seen in pictures. Well, they just run, run, run long distances. Now think of what their body looks like. Usually the muscles are very small and skinny; they have very little body fat on them. Now think about what a sprinter athlete has to do to train for the Olympics. They have to do tons and tons of sprints in order to get good at sprinting. They also have to build their muscles so they are able to run the shorter distances at higher speeds. Their physicality is that of a much leaner and muscular build. The two bodies compared to side by side with their training side by side yield very different results.
These are both extremes, and can both be reached of course, but think of what your goals are compared to these two images.
Think of what your body will look like. If you can, imagine that it is already your body.
2. Music as Motivation
Create a hard-core, speaks to you, amazing workout play list. When I get new music, it brightens my week and helps me look forward to going to the gym and working it to the new music I have even more! It really does wonders. My favorite is upbeat pop remixes, but whatever floats your boat is what counts!
3. Understanding Reality
Get the idea out of your head that if you lift too heavy you will bulk up. There is so much information out there on this and probably thousands of articles written about it, but seriously, that’s all that needs to be said, because being a girl, it won’t happen unless you’re under the influence of other substances. Plain and simple, it will be hard for you to bulk up. It will also be hard for you to tone up because the art of weight lifting is tough, but you fight through that. In my experience, anything that’s really challenging, mentally or physically, is going to give massive rewards.
Okay, the really good stuff.
When you get out on that floor, you have to switch your way of thinking. Create an alter-ego. Beyonce calls her alter-ego Sasha Fierce. She said, “It’s a personality I created while I’m onstage. It’s not who I really am, but it’s who I am sometimes. When I’m onstage I’m aggressive and strong and not afraid of my sexuality. The tone of my voice gets different, and I’m fearless. I’m just a different person.” You have to believe you are already as strong as you want to be and that through each set and rep, you don’t turn that switch off. Let that ego swell!
5. Pushing Hard
“The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone who is not the champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.” - Arnold Schwarzenegger
This is one of my favorite quotes. It is so true. In order to build muscle you have to push it to where it actually tears. If you’ve ever experienced the feeling of lactic acid build-up after pushing yourself hard in the weight room, you will know that this is a short, but teeth clenching feeling. To get this feeling, you have to exhaust your muscles. You can achieve that feeling with high reps or heavy weight; anything where you are pushing your muscles to the max.
As far as I’m concerned, you should be feeling this feeling quite a bit when you’re lifting; you should be pushing yourself. If you’re not pushing yourself, your muscles most likely aren’t being pushed either.
6. Pride & Your Ego
“What we face may look insurmountable. But I learned something from all those years of training and competing. I learned something from all those sets and reps when I didn’t think I could lift another ounce of weight. What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know.” - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Can you tell I like Arnold?
If you haven’t seen the movie, “Pumping Iron” with Arnold and Lou Ferrigno go rent it now! It is from 1977 and is an oldie, but it speaks volumes. It really gives a razor-sharp glimpse of what Arnold went through in his mind to achieve his body. He is humble and funny, yet tough and serious when it comes to the sport of bodybuilding. It is an amazing video.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the King of Bodybuilding, began lifting weights at age 15. He once said, “I wanted more, I demanded more of myself.” Demand more of yourself for the short time you spend on yourself in the gym.
Watch the guys lift; the guys who are really lifting hard. You will be able to tell the difference between someone who is at the gym just to be there and be able to say to themselves they went, the people that come to the gym for social hour, the people that like to slowly walk around and watch everyone in their tight clothes (the “gawkers” as Travis puts it), the people that are there working hard but not knowing how to effectively work and the people who are tearing it up with masses of effort and determination.
I asked my boyfriend once about why all the guys look at themselves and their muscles in the mirror between sets. I’m not just talking about once or twice; it seems to be a common and ongoing theme amongst all of them, even him. He told me that it’s all about pride and ego in the gym for most guys. They are there to work and the results that have come from it, they are just soaking all that up when they are looking in the mirror. He went on to say that when their muscles get pumped, it’s a good feeling and it shows, so why not look at it. It definitely made me think about the differences. Here I was, scared and trying to avoid thinking about everyone else that might look at me as the only girl on the floor, while they’re just thinking about how good they look. Most times anyway, people really don’t care as much about us as we might think they do!
From there I really began thinking more and more about it and have a different take on it now. I believe women should try to adapt to this way of thinking about ourselves and our bodies too. Why shouldn’t we love what we look like and soak that up!
7. Know your Weaknesses and be Willing to Accept Them
“I was always honest about my weak points, this helped me grow. I think it’s the key to success in everything: be honest; know where you are weak: admit it.” - Arnold Schwarzenegger
You will have weak spots that you will find as you begin lifting for the first time. For me, it was my shoulder. Barbell pressing hurt my shoulder because my chest muscles were weak and my shoulder was compensating for them. I was aware of this and started with weights equaling less than the weight of a barbell, then worked my way there.
Don’t push yourself too hard; the last thing you want to do is hurt yourself. You have to listen to your body and you will know when it’s had too much. Most of the knowing comes from practice and seeing how your body responds to certain amounts of weight and repetition.
8. And finally, Discipline and Patience
“Discipline is remembering what you want.” - David Campbell
Remember what you are in the gym for. Remember when you are lifting, the lactic acid is building and it’s really starting to hurt, that that pain is what is going to give you what you want. Push past that pain and find an appreciation for it.
Patience is a tough characteristic to possess and a tough characteristic to learn. However, in the world of building muscle and losing fat, it is the characteristic to own that will keep your mind strong.
“Patience can’t be acquired overnight. It is just like building a muscle. Every day you need to work on it.” - Eknath Easwaran
So get out there and train like you mean it, girl!
I love this article! I'm skinny and have been trying to put on muscle, weights are the way to go! I've started to enjoy checking myself out in the mirror too :) Great advice, great article!!
I agree. I am a thicker girl. Always been since I was Young. But, it's not all flab. I also know what you mean about the gawkers and weirdos and helpers at the gym lol they can push people away. I invested in home workout. But yes I am on my way to my dream body, and I like your article. It's very motivating. And good to see that there are other women who want to not only get skinny but tone up or even bulk up, like me!! I've came a long ways.. Train like you mean it girl!
wow you did a great job writing this and motivating people I read the whole thing. My story? I'm 52, 6 kids, all mine lol and, always loved physical exercise and not to be skinny, but fit and healthy. I go to the gym 3-3-4 times a week and squeeze right in there with the guys-who cares what they think! I'm in process for a Police Officer and just passed another physical requirement last week. Staying fit and strong should be forefront in everybody's priority list as it lays the foundation for the rest of your perspective. Thanks!
I have not always been Skinny. About 2or3 mo.s ago( because of stress) i went from 115lb.'s to 94 lb.'s!..lost this in a month! Been trying to gain weight but can't because my job has me running all day! Don't need cardio! Don't have boobs,butt,etc. Hate the way i look & feel! Happy i found your article
YEARS ago i had a personal trainer & younger. Looked GOOD & felt GOOD. Joined a gym and have a appt.w /a trainer to "personalize" my work out(w/weight's & machines)..& hopefully a outline of things to eat to make things BETTER! Older but know i can still look & feel good. T REX. Is NOT good. LOL!
Great article and extremely inspiring. Excellent work!
Hello, i love your page, it is so helpfull! I am a 34 year old mother of three teenage boys and i have always been very active but never exercised until this las year. I have now bee running for a a year. I have done several 5ks and just completed my first tough mudder! I just do not under stand how i can go from not exercising at all to to running 4-5days a week and do some weight machines for my arms and eating pretty darn healthy and still cant loose weight. I am 5'1 125lbs. if i work out and starve i can get down to 120 but it never lasts long. Im very discoraged that i work so hard and look the same. I just want to get lean and toned. My son said i have teacher arms!!! I dont know what else to do. cant afford a trainer :(. any suggestions would be appriciated.
Great Article! Very insightful and helfpul. As someone who runs on the treadmill a few times a week but also does weights, I don't feel like I'm doing enough. I'm so confused on when and how often to work certain muscle groups, how many reps. Can you give me a bit of an idea on a schedule of what muscles to work, etc??? I'm so confused.
One of the best articles I've read! Thank you
Great article !! and Yes I love Arnold and have watched that movie, it seems like a zillion times...I learned alot from him and the movie...
This is a great article with alot of good information. I'm 19 and have been working out in a gym for about 5 years now. I'm definitely comfortable in a gym, but I want to switch up my workout. Like most other women, I want to continue to tone and lose fat. Do you have any advice on what kind of workout schedule to follow. Right now I lift 6 times a week. I split it up into 3 different days. Day one is biceps, triceps, and shoulders. Day 2 is legs and day 3 in chest and back. Then I take a day off and then start that over again. I run everyday as well. Do you have any views on whether working opposing muscles groups on the same day is beneficial? Do you have any advice on what type of schedule I should follow and how many reps and sets of each lift or machine should I do? Thanks!!
really good article. covers all the basics. inspiring.
Great article Ash! I am so glad to have met you!
Camy, yes, every person's body is different. It sounds like you are ready to make some changes and that your goal is to put on some muscle to give you shape. I think this is the solution to what you're desiring to attain! You already have something going for you...a fast metabolism to keep stubborn body fat off that most of the population has to work super hard at getting off and even, maintaining, like me! Assuming you're eating clean and not eating too little (never dip below 1200 cals per day as a woman, I dont care how short/tall you are-your body will think you are starving it and you most likely will put weight back on later, even more so, and it's just not healthy)....I would recommend going to the gym and mainly, beginning a weight training program (you can find them anywhere on this site!) start small and see how you feel with curling 5- lb. dumbbells, usually in about 2 weeks, you will start feeling a gain in muscle strength and always check again what weight you are able to lift. Always work at going up with weights. I have been doing this a year and a half or so and for a dumbbell press, I can get 35 lbs. in each hand unassisted, but when I started, it was about 10-15. and gradually, gradually increased. one day I picked up the 40 and had my boyfriend assist me after the 4th rep and pushed through.
Lift heavy...eat more protein. Some women put muscle on easier than others, some have a harder time getting fat off, some have a hard time putting muscle or fat on, you just have to adjust to what your body needs to attain its goals. look at the woman's transformation that came after mine, I can't think of her name right now, she was very thin and then put on muscle and got super ripped, yet remained thin, but looked like she was working for something..and working hard. see what she did to get that body, because my guess is you probably have a similar body type from the sounds of it. You really have to experiment and learn your body.
I hope this helps. Just get out there and work and learn your body and I'm positive you'll see results.
i read your article cause it got my attention.i tottally agree with you i used to go to the gym and use weights and aerobics i honestly haven`t been for a while and i hate it but soon i`ll get back to it.i know a few things of my sister she`s been into this for years..anyway,she looks great , everybody...don`t worry about looking to manly, you won`t if you know what you`re doing.that`s the great thing about weights and the gym you can work out the parts of the body you think u need to.
my problem is that i`m too thin .not very thin ..and i hate it i cant seem to be able to put weight back on my appetite is gone and feel too weak to do anything.i love curves and i always had them except the last couple of years.looks so much better than a skinny shapelles girl.i am telling u i dont feel that good about myself like this,no bum,no cleavage,and believe me girls men like it better too.i noticed!
so my question is ,if i start goin to the gym is there anything u can reccomend to help build muscle and help me tone up some supplement..oh,and i tottally agree with bex as well.thank you
Bex, thanks for the great comments. Yah, I will have to say I totally agree with you. I look to celebs like Jessica Biel and, well, can't really think of anyone else as fit and who works as hard as she does. In a strong type of way. Kelly Ripa looks like she works on strength, but needs to eat for a while. I am plagued by models with beautiful faces and a thin, thin body that barely holds up their pants, but then that became a style. I mean, it's really a shame what it all represents: not working hard for anything, but rather, sitting back and not eating or just basquing in your genetics (which I seriously think about 10%, if that) of people truly have in regards to a super fast metabolism.
I've learned to do the best I can at loving and appreciating what I was given and to make the best of it. I have a naturally muscular frame and will never be stick skinny unless my muscles emaciated; it's just not me. I'm ok with that now, but it is a hard thing to get over when even though you work SO hard at getting fit, another woman will comment on how great the thinnest woman in the bar looks. Our way of thinking has completely become focused on this obsession of beauty.
The great thing about lifting is you're sculpting your body, almost as David was sculpted. I mean, really, you can really create your own body to a certain extent. Eating is soo important in all this, and healthy eating. I think it's great your parents taught you well, because it's getting worse and worse out there. I think women and muscles are beginning to catch on and like wildfire it's going to spread one day. It's beautiful to have tone, maintain some curves and fat, because women are SUPPOSED TO have fat for reproductive purposes/biologically intended to. Keep working hard and maintain that point of view, because it's priceless in this world. Your comment that you made, about promoting women as being fragile and weak, rather than strong and independent really stands out to me. I dont think people associate thin women with weakness or fragility anymore, it's almost associated with just beauty, fame, untouchability and having money. The Upper class they would say back in the day. But, you saying that, that is exactly what the truth is...for anyone skinny out there that can't help it, this doesn't pertain to you, but I really believe people who are super thin, usually have to work at it in the opposite way, by means of deprivation. Which is equally as hard . And actually, on the other end, there is a major part of being fit that is depriving yourself of the things we are or WERE so used to. So maybe it is equally as tough to maintain. So anyways...hopefully people's perceptions of beauty change to what's real. Because I believe a big part of gaining weight, putting on fat, is due to confidence issues (a lack of). And those usually start when we're kids, due to images of perfection we're supposed to be. It's all so indepth and I could talk about this for a while, but I really enjoyed reading what you had to say and stay you!
Thanks for the words Bex....stay strong!
Ashley - I just finished reading this article (and your article on motivation and your transformation!). I'm the same age as you and I wanted to say I think you're a real inspiration. I've always been quite slim and gone to the gym regularly, which I think is mostly down to being lucky enough to be raised by parents who taught me to embrace a healthy diet and active lifestyle (for which I'll always be endlessly grateful!). What I struggle with most when it comes to motivation is not the testosterone that's flying around the weights area in my gym (although it is sooooo annoying, not to mention the constant staring!), but a lack of positive female role models to inspire me to focus on being fit and strong rather than just to be as thin as possible.
I love fashion and reading magazines but I feel like I'm surrounded by images of really thin models and celebrities who are either naturally much thinner than I was ever supposed to be or they're unhealthy. It's like we're promoting women as being fragile and weak when really we should be promoting them as strong and independent. Also, it really bugs me how when some celebrities, who clearly work hard to maintain their physique, are asked in interviews how they stay so fit, they say they don't really do anything and eat junk food all the time! Maybe that's true for some of them and they're just blessed with amazing genes, but it's so not true for the majority because the next day they're photographed coming out of a gym with their personal trainer! We need more fit and healthy women with good muscle definition like you pictured in magazines who will freely admit that they don't live on junk food and have to hit the gym hard to stay that way.
Keep up the good work! I'll be looking out for more articles by/about you on Muscle and Strength in the future.
Great content! Great article!
Good job with this. I enjoyed this article. I have been training for about five years now. Fortunately, my gym has a women's only room. I have recently become more serious about adding some mass and I have "outgrown" the dumbbells in there so the gym has agreed to purchase heavier ones for the women's room. I can't wait for them to come in!
Rock on! That's awesome-good for you to speak up and get what you want! :)