The myths around women and weight training are absolutely preposterous. Up until recently, the biggest problem for women when trying to figure out the best way to train is that most of the studies and research have been done on men!
Thankfully scientists have recently been putting more time into researching the benefits of weight training for women and busting a lot of the myths that have been floating around for so long.
The number one myth around women and weight training is that unfortunately, many women think that if they lift heavy they’ll get bodybuilder bulky and the majority of women don’t want that. A common goal for most women in the gym is to be toned and lean, but not bulky, and they think doing “big, manly” lifts will make them big and manly. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Lifting heavy will not inherently make a woman bulky. Women have a quarter of the testosterone that men have, so in order to build muscle mass to a man’s standards, women would have to take supplements along with an intensive eating and training plan.
Getting bulky does not happen by accident. Most women with this misconception are imagining bodybuilders, which is not the average day-to-day life of a woman in the gym. The bodybuilding, fitness competition women you see in magazines and on Instagram work extremely hard, eat very specific diets and supplement heavily to look like that. You do not have to worry about getting bulky unless that is what you want. The bias that women shouldn’t lift heavy is total bullshit.
Now that monster of a myth is out of the way… let’s talk pros. The benefits of lifting heavy are numerous. Another big deterrent for women in the gym is that they simply don’t know how to do the big lifts like squats and deadlifts, and it looks intimidating so they just stick to what they know – tiny dumbbells and the cross-trainer. The best thing to do is to get a qualified and good reputable personal trainer, or even just sign up for a taster session with one to get the basics down.
Once you know you’re doing it right, you’ll feel more confident and you’ll be surprised how quickly consistent lifting increases your strength. Heavy lifting movements like squats and deadlifts have massive benefits: they’re much more effective for body composition changes and lead to a much more productive gym session. You can accomplish a lot more in way less time when you’re pushing yourself close to your limit.
The best way to determine how much to lift is by first determining your 1 rep max. This is the maximum amount that you can lift, for 1 rep only. If you can do 10 reps of a certain weight but absolutely no more, that is roughy 75% of your 1 rep max. The ability to do 12 reps sits around 70%. If a woman is training for fat loss, it’s advised by many fitness experts that they should lift within the 8 to 12 rep range, for 4 to 8 sets. It all sounds a bit confusing, but with proper training and experimentation, you’ll understand soon how much is the perfect weight for you to lift. Your body will tell you. It should be challenging, but not impossible.
Another common myth is that women should focus on cardio to lose weight. This is another total lie. While doing any form of exercise is better than nothing at all, if your goal is losing fat, steady cardio is not going to be useful. In fact, it can even hinder the results long term and cause you to lose muscle. Steady cardio also doesn’t keep you burning calories after the fact like sprint intervals and weight training do.
Plus, spending 30+ minutes on the cross-trainer or treadmill is boring as hell! High intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are the golden ticket in cardio for fat loss. Mixing sprints and interval training with lifting heavy weights and periodising your program week to week is a foolproof way to get results.
However, nothing you do in the gym is going to get you results if you have a bad diet. This is sad but true. That whole mentality of “I worked out today, I can eat whatever I want” is trouble. Nothing is more discouraging that working your ass off for months on end and seeing no results. And the thing is, you simply won’t if you’re not eating right. We all know diet is extremely important for a healthy lifestyle, but it’s especially important for fat loss.
A healthy diet accounts for around 80-90% of fat loss, meaning even if you don’t work out at all, you’ll still lose weight with the right diet. Of course, training will speed up the process and contributes to an overall healthy lifestyle of feeling and looking good.
Another huge myth is that women have a harder time losing body fat than men. This is simply not true, and in fact is often the opposite. Actually, a fit woman is usually metabolically healthier than a man, as women generally have better insulin sensitivity, less of that visceral belly fat and a higher level of estrogen. A higher estrogen concentration can have a positive impact on fat loss by enhancing epinephrine (adrenaline) production for higher levels of fat burning.
Another tick in the pro column is that women tend to recover faster than men, so they have the ability to get back into the gym faster without as many risks of fatigue or injuries from overtraining.
People also seem to think that no matter what; women and men should train differently. This is laughable! There is no reason at all that this should be the case. Sure, loads may vary, but a highly trained strong woman could easily lift higher weights than a stick-skinny guy just starting out. It is NOT a rule of thumb that men should lift heavier than women; it all just depends on the individual’s progress.
The last myth we’re going to dissect here is that older women shouldn’t strength train.
Again, there is absolutely no reason why an older woman shouldn’t lift weights. Some things like arthritis might inhibit them, but overall, strength training increases bone density and can ward off things like osteoporosis. Like anyone else, older women should know their limits and make sure to be doing things properly, but there’s certainly no reason a 70-year old shouldn’t be lifting waits. All the power to you, grandma!
Really, what reasons are there to train other than to lose fat, to feel better, to be healthy and to get stronger and leaner? All of these goals can be met by strength training if done correctly. So ladies, don’t listen to anyone who tells you squatting your bodyweight is going to turn you into the Hulk. You’ll just be toned as hell and stronger than most, and isn’t that a win?