Once upon a time, in a galaxy not so far away, women believed that weight rooms and strength training facilities were places where big, burly and mostly smelly men ruled.
Then a few brave women decided to challenge that belief and go to a gym.
They found some women on cardio equipment, but they didn’t look like they were having fun.
They saw some women dressed ridiculously, stuffed into little rooms with mirrors doing something called “aerobics.” But they looked silly, so these brave women moved on.
They noticed that the only people in the gym who had muscle and looked really healthy, happy and, well, sexy were the people in the strength training areas.
And just like that, a stereotype was broken and an angel got his wings.
Okay, that’s a really terrible story, but there was a time when it was thought that weight training “wasn’t for women.” Silly rabbits…
Thankfully, we know better now. We know that strength training is a great way for women to work out, feel stronger and look great!
But even in this advanced time, when so much information is available for us regarding this subject, there are still questions asked by women about strength training, many of which have pretty much been answered with authority. Yet, some women are still unsure.
So I’ve compiled 7 questions women ask about strength training, along with some answers. So let’s dive in.
1. Why should women strength train?
There is ample scientific evidence that weight training helps women become metabolic furnaces. That means they can eat like real people, not little bunnies. Having more lean mass (muscle) means you burn more calories during activity, including weight training.
What may be even better is the significant increase in Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. Why should you care about that? Because EPOC, also known as the “after-burn,” can increase your metabolic rate considerably. That means your body keeps working to burn energy (in this case, largely fat – yay!) for a period of anywhere from 15 minutes to 48 hours after a good weight training session. (1)
According to researchers, the intensity of the weight training session has significant impact on the length of time that EPOC lasts. However, consistency of weight training over time also improves that outlook. So get started, already!
With no intervention, you’re likely to lose 3 to 8 percent of your lean muscle mass per year as you age. That means that if you’re inactive, you get weaker, softer and eventually die as a scrawny corpse. Ok, that was harsh. But it might be true, so…
The increase in your lean muscle mass from weight training will make it easier to manage your weight without resorting to the “fat rabbit diet.” You know, the one where you never get to eat anything delicious and every meal has to be 12 leaves of lettuce and lemon juice?
Yep, if you’ll just do some resistance training, you can look good and have burgers and even dessert now and again. You’re welcome!
Resistance training will also help you avoid osteoporosis. This isn’t even a “might help,” we know it will! Even women who start weight training in their 60’s and 70’s see improvement in bone health. Imagine if you start in your 20’s or 30’s!
It works like this: the leverage stress on the bones during lifting, as well as the strengthening of muscle and connective tissue (tendons, ligaments) stimulates the body to direct more nutrients to the bones to strengthen them for more leverage. Pretty cool, huh?
Resistance training will also help you maintain good balance, stay coordinated and avoid injury. So many of the older women I’ve worked with improve their balance as they gain strength. That means fewer falls and less damage from falls that may occur.
2. Won’t I bulk up?
Ugh…this question again?
This is the subject of some very funny social media memes. They usually feature a sarcastic figure from a TV show (like Dwight from “The Office.”) They go something like this: “Weight training makes women huge. Wrong. Cupcakes and junk food make women huge.” Etc., etc. It’s rare that a meme gets it right, but this one kind of does.
Since women have high levels of estrogen, the impact of weight training we see in men is mitigated. Both women and men have both estrogen and testosterone, but for women, estrogen rules the roost. As a result, the anabolic effects of strength training are altered.
The good news? Because of this balance, women generally become sleeker and don’t get the bulky look men get. Some of that will depend on diet and nutrition, but women don’t bulk up from lifting weights. Lifting brownies and ice cream, sure, but not from weights.
3. How often should I work out for weight loss?
Excellent question! (Way better than the last one. Good job!) First, let’s discuss some parameters.
When you begin a training program, you really should “begin with the end in mind.” Or at least with the next step after reaching your goal. Let’s say your goal is to lose 20 pounds. What will your fitness habits look like after that?
All too often, women reach or get near their goals and have no plan for the “after.” Sustainability is an important consideration.
If you begin with nothing but the weight loss goal in mind, you may go far too intensely in the beginning, causing excess fatigue, anxiety or even injury. And you can’t make progress if you can’t be active.
So, with that being said, here’s my recommendation. In the beginning, try to do resistance training 2-4 days a week for 30 minutes. I prefer integrated functional workouts that incorporate multi-joint movements like lunges and squats. For me, the big 5 movements are squat, lunge, push, pull and hinge.
But more on the “what to do” shortly. 2-4 days a week, 30 minutes for about the first 2-4 weeks. I also ask my clients to begin a “cardio” program. My initial recommendation is 20-30 minutes of brisk walking, moderate bike riding or lower-intensity aerobic activity like elliptical training.
Walking is my absolute favorite. I even recorded a podcast episode about how great walking is for you. (Check it out here: “Do You Even Walk, Bro?”) While I believe that if you have to choose, choose weight training, cardiovascular exercise has benefits beyond just heart health and calorie burning. Of course, you can always get your cardio exercise by lifting weights faster. Just cut down your rest periods and bang! Cardio!
You can work up to longer sessions over time. I advise my clients that you really should be able to get your weight training for weight loss done in an hour or less, including warm-up. That really depends on the individual, of course.
4. How often should I work out to gain muscle or get that “muscle chick” look?
While not all women want to look like a bikini competitor or have more muscle than the average chick, some do. For them, this process needs to be a little different – and very personalized!
If muscle gain is the primary goal, I’d suggest a split training routine, with 2 upper body-dominant training sessions and 2 lower body-dominant training sessions. Cardio exercise will be kept somewhat more low intensity, but you should still do 2-3 sessions a week.
Your weight training will involve heavier lifts, lower reps per set and more “isolated” exercises like calf raises, hamstring curls, bicep curls and tricep extensions. If this is a goal of yours, I strongly suggest enlisting the help of a professional coach or personal trainer who has coached others in this pursuit.
5. Can I lift weights while I have my period?
This is actually a good question. The simple answer is yes. However, if your symptoms are severe, they may limit what you can do. There are times when a walk is about as intense as it might get for you.
Your period is a complex hormonal time. According to Dr. Christopher Hollingsworth of NYC Surgical Associates, “Both progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest during the entire length of the period phase of the menstrual cycle, which can make people feel tired and less energetic.”
He went on to say that since you’re not going to save energy or feel any better if you don’t work out, so you might as well.
There are, however, benefits to exercising while you have your period. They include:
- Decreased PMS symptoms, including mood swings and fatigue.
- Reduced likelihood of dysmenorrhea, or painful period. Exercise can help reduce the severity of the condition.
- A boost to your mood. Exercise during your period can elevate mood and even reduce back pain.
- Get those endorphins! Enjoy the post-workout “high.” Endorphins are also natural pain-killers, so they can ease the pain symptoms of your period.
- Get stronger! Because your female hormones are at lower levels, you gain muscle and strength a little more easily.
6. What should I do?
That depends. It depends on your goals. Weight loss? Physique enhancement? Just feeling better?
Here’s what I’d suggest to start:
5-6 days a week: Walk 20-30 minutes at a moderately brisk pace.
2 days a week, warm up with some skipping, jogging and light stretching, then try a 30 minute workout that looks like this:
AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible) for 30 minutes
Floor Bridge – 10 reps
Side Plank Raise – 5 reps/side
Walking Lunge (DB’s optional) – 10 reps
Push-Up (use a variation like knees down or hands on a bench, if needed) – 10 reps
2 Arm DB Row – 10 reps
DB Curl & Press – 10 reps
2A DB Kickback – 10 reps
Rest as little as possible between rounds.
On 2 other days of the week, warm up as above, then try this:
6-8 rounds AFAP (As Fast As Possible)
Jump Rope – 30 reps
DB Farmer Carry – 20-40 yards (carry 2 heavy DB’s with shoulders back and head up)
DB Thruster – 10 reps (Hold DB’s at shoulder height. Squat, then press them overhead as you come up)
DB Squat – 10 reps (Squat to parallel while holding 2 DB’s at your sides)
Bear Crawl – 10-20 yards
As always, my advice here is to get some professional help. If you’re working with a trainer or coach already, you should probably follow his/her advice. Feel free to reach out to me with any other questions.
7. Why didn’t I start doing this sooner?
I don’t know. Maybe because nobody answered your other questions?
So ladies, it’s time to pick things up and put them down! There is virtually zero downside to weight training for women. You’ll be stronger, leaner, healthier and sexier before you know it!
Keep the faith and keep after it!