Many women avoid strength training. The idea of weightlifting for women just seems to scare them off. But, it shouldn’t. There are far too many benefits for it to be avoided.
If you walk into a gym, chances are strong that many of the men are lifting weights and avoiding the cardio machines at all costs while most women simply head straight to the cardio equipment and avoid resistance training altogether. It’s time to change that.
There are many common myths out there that turn women away from pumping iron. From the most common, I don’t want to get bulky, to cardio burns more calories too I’m looking to just tone up certain areas, all of these are so far from the truth. Despite that, many believe it and don’t participate in regular strength training.
Strength training is for everyone and has so many benefits. While women are at a physiological disadvantage compared to men when it comes to strength training that should not deter them from lifting weights. From developing lean muscle mass to getting stronger bones to fitting into that dress you’ve always wanted to, the benefits of strength training are limitless for women. Because of that, women should start participating in some sort of resistance training at least twice per week and develop a workout plan for women.
Weight Lifting For Women
Physiologically, males and females vary quite a bit. Women generally have smaller frames, more body fat and less muscle mass.
Men have at least 10 to 20 times more testosterone in their system than women at rest.
Testosterone is a key hormone that contributes to muscle growth and promotes fat loss. This is the main reason why you will not get bulky. With significantly less testosterone in their system, women lack the strength and power that men do. According to studies, the average maximal strength for women is just 60% compared to that of the average man, with upper body strength significantly lagging behind.
While the rate of muscle growth and maximal strength and power are on average quite a bit lower than their male counterparts, that does not mean women can’t put on any muscle at all. In fact, it makes it vital for women to lift weights regularly to stimulate muscle growth.
Why lift weights regularly?
Strength training helps create lean muscle, which makes your body more metabolically active. The leaner muscle, the more calories you burn each day and more importantly, shedding those layers of fat.
Despite men having advantages when it comes to gaining muscle, don’t shy away from the weights or training programs designed specifically for men. Compound exercises such as deadlifts, squats, press and rows should be a part of routines for women too.
There Are Some Trouble Spots
For most women, there are certain areas of the body where excess fat resides. From spots like the triceps to hips, inner thigh fat and glutes, these are areas women try to hit with certain exercises.
It’s a waste of time. There is no spot-reduction theory to fat loss. Doing more dips for your triceps will not help you get rid of the fat in that spot.
Will it make that area stronger?
Sure, but the flab will still be there.
Due to genetics, we can’t help where our body stores fat. We also don’t know where the fat will come off first when we lose weight. Stop trying to spot reduce fat and instead focus on full-body training.
Want to burn that fat for fuel and get leaner?
Strength training will do that for you.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends two or three days of full-body strength training per week. Strength training stimulates muscle growth and because muscle is denser than fat, you will become leaner.
Cardio Alone Won’t Achieve The Body You Want
Doing just cardio will not get you the body you want. Will cardio help?
Of course, it will. It helps your cardiovascular system become more efficient and effective and is a great calorie burner. Will it help pack some muscle on your frame? It likely won’t. Cardio is just one piece of the puzzle and for most women, strength training is the missing piece.
When you strength train, whether you’re doing some bodyweight squats, some weighted overhead presses or some kettlebell swings, you’re placing stress on your muscles. We break down our muscles when we strength train to build them back up bigger, stronger and leaner.
After your workout, your body goes into recovery mode, attempting to repair the damage you’ve done to your muscles. The damage is good though. It’s normal and part of the muscle-building process. To repair the muscles, your body is spending plenty of energy and burning calories. Your metabolism is cranked up and this is from strength training. You do not get this effect from just cardio.
Next time you’re in the gym, instead of heading straight to the elliptical and staying there your whole workout, pick up some weights and do a few sets of squats, lunges, presses, and rows. Your body will appreciate it.
Time To Forget These Myths
Unfortunately, those myths keep women from strength training even though the benefits are limitless. First, strength training is your avenue to lean muscle. A full-body strength program performed two or three days per week with adequate rest and proper nutrition will help women lose fat. Losing fat and gaining lean muscle without the bulk is what most women strive for.
This will not only keep you burning more calories at all hours of the day, make you stronger in the gym and in your everyday activities, but it also reduces the risk of lower back pain, joint pain, and other issues that arise as we age. By making your muscles stronger through strength training, the connective tissues become stronger, the joints become more stable and there is less stress placed on certain areas because the muscles are strong all over the body.
Want to be able to lift your child above your head, carry more groceries, do more projects around the house and prevent injuries?
Start strength training. This will help in all areas of your life.
What Else Can Strength Training Do For You?
Cardiovascular exercise is great for your heart and entire cardiovascular system.
Can strength training benefit your heart as well?
It sure can. Resistance training has shown to improve cholesterol levels in the blood, lowering the risk of heart disease and improving heart health.
Also, it not only helps combat the obesity epidemic but other diseases such as diabetes, cancer and more. Weight training improves the way the body uses glucose, decreasing the risk of diabetes. Cancer can hit some of the healthiest people on the planet, unfortunately, but someone who regularly lifts weights lessens the risk of cancer.
How about strength training if you’re a senior citizen?
Strength training is especially encouraged among seniors because stronger muscles, means stronger bones. Many women suffer from osteoporosis and it helps fight against it by improving bone health.
How about stability?
By activating your muscles regularly and making them stronger, you are less likely to fall. You’re never too old to strength train. Will you be lifting barbells over your head if you’re 75? Probably not, but a pair of small dumbbells and your own bodyweight can accomplish plenty.
You Can Improve Your Look
While a leaner, stronger body and decreased risk of diseases are all wonderful, how would improving your attitude and outlook feel?
Lifting weights is a great stress reliever. Whether it is a tough day at work, busy lifestyle at home, running the kids from place to place, stress can mount and affect your attitude.
Stress can also contribute to decreased sleep time and quality and this can all lead to weight gain. Less stress in your life equals a better mood. The risk of depression is lower. Strength training is very important and will make you a happier, more confident person.
Don’t Be Intimidated
One of the biggest problems with women and strength training is the intimidation factor in the gym. Many feel intimidated by the men in the room lifting heavy weights and grunting and sweating. Men will be men, but they are harmless.
Working out with a friend is very helpful and motivating. Hiring a personal trainer to show you the ropes around the gym or joining a women’s gym are all options.
The key is taking that first step.
Will it be uncomfortable?
Yes. The first day at a new job is always nerve-wracking and you don’t know what to expect, but eventually you get used to it and it becomes commonplace. Make the weight room your commonplace.
This Is Day One Of A Two-Day Strength Plan
If you follow this two-day strength training plan, you will feel stronger, leaner and more confident everywhere you go.
On day one, you should start off with a squat. Before you do weighted squats, you should master the form with just bodyweight. Start with your feet a little more than hip-width apart and toes pointed slightly out. The movement begins by pushing back your hips and bending your knees until the knees reach 90 degrees. When this happens, push back to the beginning. In this motion, the entire lower half is worked, as well as your core area.
Single-leg training is very important as well. It helps with stability and muscle imbalances. Lunges are one of the best lower-body exercises you can do. Like the squat, you should start by perfecting the form with just your bodyweight. Stand tall and take a big step forward with your right foot, lunging until both knees reach a 90-degree bend. Next, push off with your front leg until you reach the starting position and alternate between legs.
The next two exercises are a classic push/pull sequence, giving you a very important mix of different movements to even things out. Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand tall. Keeping your core area tight, press the dumbbells from the shoulders until your arms are fully extended before lowering them to the starting position. This affects more than just your shoulders. Your chest, core, and back are all fully engaged in this movement.
The bent over row is exercise four of five in day one. Grabbing a barbell or a pair of dumbbells, from a standing position hinge at your hips until your upper body is parallel with the floor. Keeping your back straight and core in a strong position, slide your elbows along your ribs from an extended position, squeezing your shoulder blades at the top. This is a classic muscle-building move for the back.
The base for any training program should be compound lifts, ones that work multiple muscle groups. They are more efficient and effective in building muscle. That doesn’t mean there isn’t time for some isolation moves such as biceps curls to work on the arms.
The last exercise of day one is the biceps curl that can be performed with either a barbell or pair of dumbbells. Starting with your arms fully extended, bend your elbows, curling the weight to the front of your shoulders.
This Is Day Two Of A Two-Day Strength Plan
After a 24 to 72-hour rest period, it’s time to hit day two. Deadlifts start off day two and are one of the best exercises ever invented. Want to carve your entire backside, both upper and lower halves? Deadlifts will help you do that. The deadlift is a classic hip-hinge exercise and it is something we do every day. The key is performing it correctly to avoid injury and receive its many benefits.
Starting from a standing position with a pair of dumbbells or a barbell, push your hips back and bend down. Keep a slight bend in the knee until your hamstrings feel fully stretched as you keep your back straight before pushing back up to the starting position.
Next are step-ups that can be done on a box, bench or set of stairs. Alternate steps up with just your bodyweight or add a weight to hold to make it more challenging. Not only does this smoke your lower half, but it also boosts your heart rate giving you a cardiovascular workout.
Follow that up with the push-up. Many women struggle with the push-up because they lack the upper body strength. That’s okay. You have to start somewhere. Start by performing a push-up in the squat rack using a bar. This incline push-up not only incorporates all the muscles used for a regular push-up, but it makes you maintain stability.
Start in a plank position with your spine in alignment and a nice straight line from head to toe. With your hands shoulder-width apart on the bar, lower yourself bending the elbows until they reach a 90-degree bend.
Avoid letting them flare out because that can cause elbow and shoulder problems, but instead, have them turn slightly in before pushing back to the top. To increase the challenge, move the bar lower in the squat rack until you reach a full parallel position and can do them on your toes on the floor.
Next is a forearm plank performed on the floor. Requiring full body stability and strength, this isometric exercise hits everywhere. Start by holding in position for 20 seconds. Once that starts to become easy, you can up the amount of time. With your elbows below your shoulders, lift your body off the floor so your body is in a rigid position from head to toe.
Lastly, time to work on those triceps with some bench dips. With your hands on a bench and your bottom half close to it, bend your elbows until they reach 90 degrees, lowering your body before pushing it back up. To make it more challenging, lengthen your legs fully. To make it easier, bend those knees so that your feet are closer to your body.
This two-day program is a great start to weight training for women. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps with about 60 seconds of rest in between each set.
Want to turn into a confident, lean, mean fighting machine? Ditch the excess cardio and lift some weights. Women shouldn’t be afraid to strength train. There are too many reasons in favor of strength training. If you aren’t already in the habit of strength training, be smart and start!
By Adam Clark, CPT