How many times have you seen or heard something like “women should not lift heavy or they will get bulky and look like a man!”
Since about the 70’s or 80’s we have been told that women will get big and bulky if they even look at a heavy weight and they should be focusing on having boring long bouts of being on the elliptical or doing 1000 body-weight squats to get “toned”.
Unfortunately, this is one of those fitness myths that will just NOT GO AWAY. For many years science has known that lifting weights is just as beneficial for women as it is for men when it comes to having a strong, healthy, and capable body. So I am here to tell you why you should get off that stair stepper and lift some weights instead!
First we are going to start with why “toning” is not an actual thing for anyone. When I hear that someone wants to “tone up”, what they actually are telling me is that they would like to lose body fat so their muscles look more defined. We are not “toning” anything but rather trying to take body fat off of certain areas to have a better aesthetic look.
The thing is, the human body prefers to do 1 of 2 things, either focus on building muscle while minimizing fat gain or lose body fat while trying to hold on to as much muscle as possible but there are a few exceptions to this rule. If you are brand new to resistance training or have not had a consistent program in over a year, your body is in a prime state for the first month or two to build muscle, lose fat, and exponentially increase in strength at the same time. Unless you are in this “beginner” state or taking performance enhancing supplements, the body really can’t do two things at one time.
So when thinking about what you want your goals to be, assess where your body is starting at. If you don’t have a lot of fat or muscle on your body, think about trying to build some muscle first so that you will be stronger and have more muscle when you decide to take some fat off. Or if there is a lot of fat to lose, spend some time on that and then build some muscle.
One of my biggest problems I have with the “big and bulky” myth is that it makes it sound that if women do anything under 12 reps they will immediately blow up and look manly. What that doesn’t take into consideration is actual science. For the most part men and women have the same bodily response to lifting weights. If the body is put under stress (by lifting weights) it will need to adapt and get stronger.
The one big difference is that women don’t have the hormones and anatomy to get big and bulky like men can. Both men and women have testosterone that their body produces but a healthy man has about 20 times the amount of testosterone a healthy woman does. This means that even if a woman wanted to get big and bulky like a man, their body would not have the capability to do so without drugs. So don’t worry about getting “to big” when it comes to building muscle because it’s near impossible!
Another thing this myth implies is that women have to lift super light weights and focus on “feeling the burn”. Feeling the burn usually means doing crazy amount of high reps which science has shown is one of the least effective ways to build muscle. Unless you are an endurance athlete, doing 20+ reps of every exercise can actually be detrimental to your goals. The body has little need to adapt and become better when the resistance is to light or there are too many reps. Whether you are looking to shed some body fat or build some muscle, it’s important to have a resistance training program that incorporates some days of moderate-heavy lifting which would be performing sets of less than 10 reps with challenging resistance.
Going with moderate to heavy resistance has numerous benefits when compared to light resistance such as:
- You will get stronger in a shorter period of time
- More strength means more gains in the amount of muscle you will have
- The body will hold on to more muscle if trying to lose fat
- Stronger bones and ligaments
- Less difficulty with daily activities that require more strength
So what should you be doing with your workouts in order to see the greatest benefits? Here are a few tips.
- At least 1-2 days a week of moderate to heavy resistance training
- 5-10 repetitions for 3-4 sets with challenging resistance will elicit better strength results
- Choose exercises that work more than one muscle group (squats, deadlifts, push up, rows etc.)
- Don’t sacrifice proper form to try to get a few more reps, this will increase the likelihood of injury
- Heavier resistance requires more recovery so spend 1-3 minutes recovering between sets.
So next time you’re thinking about hopping on the elliptical or Stairmaster for the fifth day in a row, try this full body strength workout that you will definitely feel afterwards!
Perform two exercises one right after the other, taking a break between sets. Finish the number of sets and move to the next 2 exercises
|Push Ups||8-10 reps||3-4 sets|
|Goblet Front Squat||8 reps||3-4 sets|
|DB Single Row||8-10 reps||3-4 sets|
|DB Deadlift||8 reps||3-4 sets|
|Standing Shoulder Press||8 reps||3-4 sets|
|Leg lift to toe reach||12 rep||3-4 sets|
Instead of jumping on a piece of cardio equipment to get “toned”, grab some weights and increase your lean muscle without fear of getting bulky.