Or, Why Women Should Be Strength Training
First up, even though, yes I am a female, and yes this article is titled “Resistance Training for Women”, please don’t think this is a man free zone. I guess I am writing this primarily to encourage other women to use strength training to get fit. However, I think it will be equally useful for guys who have not used weights for training before too.
Weight Training For Women
Here are a few of my favourite reasons why women should be weight training regularly…
- You’ll get more lean and look more toned even if you haven’t reduced your calorie intake. Muscle grows in response to weight training and fat gets eaten up to fuel the muscle growth. It isn’t magic though – if you eat more than before you’ll find looking leaner a lot tougher!
- Weight bearing exercise will strengthen your bones with minimal joint stress. Ensure your calcium intake is good too and you’re reducing your risk of osteoporosis.
- Whilst you can’t target weight-loss effectively to specific areas of the body (my tummy is proof of this), you can target muscle growth. Exercising with weights means you can improve very specific body parts. Dieting might not help you lose those annoying wobbly bits of upper arm, but strengthening your biceps and triceps certainly will.
- High intensity strength training means relatively quick work-outs that don’t need to be repeated so often. An hour or two a week is all you need to see significant results.
- Whilst your diet is the primary way to control weight, resistance training will go a long way to helping you lose fat. Improving your muscle to fat ratio means your resting metabolic rate increases (admittedly it’s not by much but every little helps). So your body burns more calories all day long than it does when you’re carrying less muscle. Along with fewer calories resistance training is the best way to go if you want to know how to get rid of jello arms.
- Feeling stronger means feeling more confident and powerful and that is good for any woman’s frame of mind! Read Dave’s article on how to get stronger for women for some great tips on making your body use heavier weights without ever hitting a plateau.
Weight training is a simple way for anyone to lose fat, get lean and look good naked. Why then is it that strength training is such an under-used tool for female fitness? After all, the “ladies” are pretty expert when it comes to creative diet plans and crazy cardio sessions. But show us a barbell and the majority of us run away in fear.
Why? Because for decades women have getting faster, not getting stronger. Plus, the world of heavy weights has been the preserve only of female bodybuilders. We grow up thinking…
But Weights Aren’t For Women.
It’s a lie. Using weight to strengthen muscle is for everyone.
Perhaps the lie is maintained to let the boys enjoy the free weights without any female distractions… Or it might simply be a hangover from the 70′s & 80′s and the rush to join an aerobics class and go jogging! Of course the increased focus on heart health and the benefits of cardiovascular training have had a big part to play too, even though resistance training is fantastic for the heart too.
But cardio is not the only way to get fit. And it is most definitely not the best way to get more leaned, toned and strong or lose weight. Diet and strength training are the real keys to losing the pounds, not pounding on a treadmill for hours.
Now it seems that women have claimed cardio as their way to “keep fit” whilst men get to use resistance training to get strong.
Lucky men I say! Cardio is cool, if you enjoy it. But for many of us (myself most definitely included) it is the easiest way to fall off the fitness wagon. Stressful to joints, hard work and oh so very boring! Yeah if you love your cardio regime, hats off to you. But you should still be doing some resistance training as well!
Frankly though, cardio isn’t for me. Sadly, not enjoying cardio has been (in the past) a great excuse for simply not really exercising at all. Pathetic I know, but it’s true and I doubt I am alone. As a woman surely the only kind of exercise I should be doing is running around getting sweaty? Since I don’t enjoy it, I simply thought exercise wasn’t for me. Oh I could pretend I exercise since I enjoy gardening, mix the odd batch of concrete and walk the dogs a lot, but true regular exercise was not my friend. But now I have finally realised that weights are the way to a fit woman I couldn’t be happier!
But weight training will make women big, bulky and unfeminine.
That is simply not true!
Check out the videos and images of me around the site. I’m way more toned and much stronger than I was prior to regular resistance training. But, I’m still pretty obviously curvy which is the way I like it.
I may only be a kilo lighter than a year ago when I tentatively began training this way, but I am much firmer as muscles have grown and fat has disappeared.
Remember the fabulous fact that muscle is heavier than fat. So don’t rely on the scales to gauge your progress, check out the mirror and the tape too.
Most women will not get overly bulky from weight training.
We simply don’t have the testosterone and human growth hormone levels needed to build huge muscles. Most men have to work really hard to increase their bulk since they’re hardgainers. For women the odds against massive muscles are stacked (thankfully) even more firmly against us!
If you fear becoming too bulky take it from me, you’ll get plenty of warning. After months of resistance training muscles will be somewhat larger, and your body will be far more toned as the muscles become more visible under less fat. You will look better, you won’t look big. Your muscles certainly won’t be huge and frankly if you are one of those rare women genetically geared to creating huge muscle mass easily you probably aren’t reading this.
In fact to end up looking like a female bodybuilder you will need to work like one. That means making strength training pretty much your full time job, whilst probably also partaking of a little medical assistance in the form of steroids or performance enhancing drugs such as Clenbuterol (no thanks).
Weight lifting for women as far as we are concerned, here at Lean Ape, is simply a way to get lean with minimal time spent exercising. It’s also really enjoyable, improves stamina and strength and makes you feel a whole lot more powerful. And the potential to get an arse to die for is a pretty good motivator too
But where do you start, if you’re a lady wishing to begin strength training?
Well if you have oodles of confidence roll up to the free weights section of your local gym (and if they haven’t got one you need to find another gym), grab a trap bar and get dead-lifting.
For a beginners guide to getting strong read on…
Weight Training for Women – Beginners Guide to Resistance Training
1. Use Free Weights
I know all the machines at the gym look pretty flash but honestly you really don’t need them. They’re designed to make you move in a very limited way, and to target very specific areas. They have their place but usually only for those recovering from injury. Most of us need to get all our muscles working, and the best way to do that is with free weights.
This means your body moves naturally utilising all the muscles it needs to complete an exercise. It also means you need to really think about your movements and control them to keep proper form and get the most out of each exercise. Not relying on a machine to keep you in an unnatural position means you benefit more from each exercise.
The ultimate free weight is you. If you want to get started on the road to a stronger you, start by using your own body weight. As a total beginner I found using body weight exercises the easiest introduction to strength training. They are still tough, but you don’t have to buy any equipment and you don’t need to worry so much about injury.
These types of exercises will build up your fitness, and strength quickly. Planks and push-ups are great for improving your core strength.
This is particularly useful if like me (and so many others) you have back issues. Lower back pain can be greatly alleviated by strengthening your back muscles. Start off slow with body weight exercises. As your lower back muscles become stronger you should notice less bouts of pain, and an ability to progress onto using weights far more safely.
2. You Only Need a Few Exercises that Use Compound Movements
You need to exercise your whole body and for the best results (and the quickest workouts) it is best to use exercises that target a wide range of muscle groups. So each exercise should be a compound movement using multiple muscle groups. The fewer exercises you carry out, the less time it takes and the less messing about changing the weights attached to each bar. Win-win for those, like me who want results without becoming full-time exercise freaks.
Pick something for your legs, another for your back and an exercise for your arms. Three or four exercises should be more than enough.
For example, I’m currently doing trap-bar dead-lifts (mainly legs but also back, arms and grip), one armed dumbell rows (mainly back, but also arms) and dips (mainly arms and shoulders). It means I get a full workout done in 35 minutes which there is no excuse to avoid. Each exercise requires core muscles to be engaged to ensure proper form.
Of course it’s good to vary things to keep yourself engaged. But make sure you always do one exercise for your legs, another for your back and one for your arms. Performing the same exercise for at least a month or two means you can monitor your progress accurately, so don’t chop and change too often.
3. Use Heavy Weights and Low Reps
I’m not suggesting you start out with 100lb dead-lifts on your first round. However, each exercise should be tough. By the last few reps of the final set you should be working really hard to maintain the correct form (and breathe!).
Don’t worry about what other people are lifting though. The exercises should be tough for you, not anyone else. Compete with yourself for safe workouts.
The idea of “weights for girls” tends to imply we all buy light-weight plastic dumbells and carry out high repetitions for each set. That will get your muscles very good at doing that, but nothing else. You’ll simply be giving your muscles stamina for doing something relatively easy for a reasonable amount of time (a bit like walking).
What we want is to make our muscles work so hard they have to grow and strengthen in preparation for us asking them to do even more next time.
4. Progression is Key
If you want to truly get lean using resistance training you need to make progress. Your muscles need more and more incentive to get stronger, so you’ll need to increase the weight or number of sets regularly. It will of course depend on the exercises, and weights you’re using.
For example initially I knew I could use heavier weights but wanted to ensure I had mastered the correct form and wasn’t going to injure myself. So I started off relatively light and simply upped the weight every time I exercised. Now the weights are starting to really make me work hard which is great since progress each week is the goal.
This means you need a note-book to record each exercise you perform. This ensures you keep progressing, and is a great motivator when you look back and see how much stronger you are in a few months time.
Don’t forget to time your rest period too, so you know that you are truly progressing and not simply taking longer to recover between sets.
5. And Finally
For a comprehensive guide to resistance training check out the Lean Ape Living Book (sorry shameless plug!).