Women & Weightlifting

Posted 2 February 2018 by Hannah Cooper, ACSM EP-C

Summa Health Wellness Center, Hannah Cooper

There are many misconceptions when it comes to women strength training. Women either steer clear of the strength floor completely or believe that continuously using light weights with high repetitions will give them the “toned” look they strive for. I’m here to tell you that it’s ok to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself with heavier weights. 

The statement I hear most from women when referring to using weights is, “I don’t want to get bulky.” Fortunately for women everywhere, this is very difficult to do. Women do not produce the same amount of testosterone as men making it more difficult to build muscle mass. Because of the fear of gaining too much muscle, women tend to use light weights with high repetitions in order to burn fat and “tone” their muscles; the most common of these being the back of the arms and core. Increasing the number of repetitions does not tighten your arms or core but rather improves the muscular endurance of the muscles being contracted. At some point, the benefits of this method will be limited and increasing the weight will be necessary in order to continue making progress. Increasing the weight or using the overload principle is the simplest and most effective method in increasing intensity. Here are some recommendations:

  • Try increasing the weight for a limited number of repetitions (ex. 5) or increase the weight for 1 of the 3 sets performed versus all 3 sets.
  • Plan to increase the weight used for your compound lifts (squats, rows, presses) on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Weights should be increased by 1-5lbs.
  • Use an exercise program with built in progression. 

Women also believe doing excessive amounts of cardio is their only option to lose weight. However, cardio paired with diet and strength training all contributes to healthy weight loss. The more muscle mass you have, the more efficient your body becomes at burning calories. After a strength workout, your body continues to use calories in order to repair damaged muscle tissue and replace muscle glycogen. Another factor preventing women from strength training is intimidation. Walking on the strength floor and seeing mostly men makes it easier to walk upstairs and hop on a treadmill. If this is you, start by asking the fitness staff for assistance—it’s why we’re here. You can also schedule a fitness assessment and we will create a customized program teaching you how to use strength machines and free weights through a variety of exercises catered to your goals. If you’re looking for exclusive one-on-one help, personal training is another great option to increase confidence and knowledge on the strength floor. 

If these reasons have not persuaded you to pick up a dumbbell, perhaps these other benefits will. Bone health is extremely important for women, especially for those over 65 years of age. Strength training stresses the bones and allows them to recover and strengthen over time preventing the progression of osteoporosis. In addition, consistent strength training helps to improve your body’s insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar, which can significantly benefit your health. 

The benefits are endless when it comes to strength training. Give the strength floor a try and change your body for the better. If you have any questions, please stop by the fitness desk. We’d love to help you step out of your comfort zone and reach your goals!