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The TRUTH About Female Weight Training

So if you are reading this, I am sure that at one point or another someone told you that lifting heavy weights will make you bulky and or mannish.  I have been told thousands of times over the coarse of my career by almost every woman I’ve trained that, “I don’t want to get all bulky” or “Don’t make me look like a man”, or my favorite “I build muscle really fast so I can’t lift heavy weights.”  All of these are NONSENSE! I did some research, and came up with a list of 9 reasons why lifting weights will NOT make women bulky, mannish, masculine, or any other derogatory word they want to attach to lifting weights.  Here they are in no particular order.

1.  Women DO NOT have enough testosterone to bulk up.  In real terms, women have about 20 times less testosterone than men do.  This is the hormone that basically separates men from women.  It is also the reason that men are inherently stronger than women.  We gain muscle faster, and accumulate much more of it than women.

2.  Your perception of big bulky women come from chemically altered women on a bodybuilding stage. It never fails that I will see a picture of some giant man-looking woman, and have someone say “that’s why women shouldn’t lift weights.”  REALLY?  Do you really think that woman did that naturally?  NO, they added TESTOSTERONE into the mix, the very thing that separates men from women.  So lets think about this.  If you were to take estrogen and give it to a man, he would begin to develop breast tissue, and essentially become a woman (minus the hardware of coarse).  So if you add testosterone to a woman, her voice will deepen, she will build more muscle mass, and essentially become a man.  Weights had nothing to do with it.

3.  Muscle development is what causes your muscles to look “TONED”.  Since there is not enough testosterone to “bulk”, lifting weights will cause a change in muscle development, but not a huge change in size.  The toned look that most women are always talking about comes from removing body fat from well developed muscles.

4.  Muscle hypertrophy or “BULKING” is caused by a specific rep range or volume of work. So instead of lifting heavy, most women will opt for a workout with lower weight and higher reps, thinking that this is the way to “tone up.”  Actually this is more of a recipe for bulking.  Now coming from someone that actually used to body build competitively (we all make mistakes in our youth) I can tell you that in order to build size, my workouts would consist of 3-4 exercises per body part, (3-4 for chest, 3-4 for back, and so on) 3-4 sets, at a rep range of about 8-12 depending on the weight.  At the end of these workouts, I would have done between 108 and 190 reps per body part.  When comparing this to a workout with heaier weights, where you would do only 1 exercise per body part with 5 sets of 5 (25 reps) you can see the difference.  The higher volume (reps) will result in more hypertrophy (gain in muscle size).  So in reality your “toning workout” will cause more bulking than heavy weight training.

5.  Heavy weight training increases strength not size. It has been proven that lifting with weights that are 85% or greater of your max, strength not size is the primary effect.  In fact studies have shown that women will benefit not only in strength gain, but in bone density as well.

6.  You don’t bulk up over night. I have heard from many women that they can’t do certain lifts because that body part gets to big too fast.  Well let me put it to you this way.  I am 28 years old, and I have been lifting weights CONSISTENTLY since I was 14.  There has NEVER been a point during all 14 years that I had to stop training something because it grew too fast.  If you are gaining that much size that quickly PLEASE PLEASE teach me how you do it, cause I want that problem.

7.  Your old trainer lied to you. Many times women will come in with an explanation of what their old trainer used to do that worked SO WELL.  Typically these workouts consist of very light weights, body weight exercises, and tons of cardio.  Well I got news for you, if those things worked so well, WHY AREN’T YOU IN SHAPE?  Most of the time trainers at big gyms will make workouts that are for lack of a better word EASY, so that they can hang on to clients.  I should know, I used to be one.  At a large gym trainers want to keep their clients.  Harder workouts will produce discomfort, discomfort leads to complaining, and complaining leads to quitting.  So, they are not motivated by what gets best results, rather by what makes people keep resigning at the end of each month.  Doesn’t it make sense that to get the body you have always wanted it will take more than some bodyweight squats and a treadmill?

8.  Gaining weight of any kind be it muscle or fat depends on the availability of excess caloiries. No matter what the stimulus is, it all comes back to the law of thermodynamics.  this basically says that it is calories in vs. calories out.  If you eat an excess of calories, you will gain weight.  Now if you are lifting heavy weights there is a good chance that a large part of that weight will be in muscle, but if not will be fat.  If you eat less than you burn, you will lose weight, and if you eat the same you will stay the same.  SO, this means that YOU are completely in control of how much weight and therefore muscle that you gain.  Also, don’t take for granted that you are gaining muscle just because you are training.  Girls often assume that the increase in weight is muscle gain, when they could just be getting fatter.  People that want to act like weight training bulks them up in a hurry, can only blame that on their own food intake.  Lift all the weights you want to, if you don’t give your body enough protein to build muscle, it will never happen.

9.  How many people do you know that are in GREAT shape (not just skinny)? My guess is that most people don’t know ANYONE (personally) that is in great shape.  Now when I say great shape, I mean the real definition, not your friend Sally that is really skinny blah blah blah.  I am talking about the kind of great shape you see on the cover of Oxygen magazine.  If you don’t know anyone that looks like that, it probably means the advice you have been taking is from people that not only don’t look like that, but probably have NO CLUE how to get there.  Do you think you would get better directions from a person that has been to the place you are trying to get, or someone that has never been there, but has read a lot about it?  It makes sense right?

Ref: Tim Kontos

  1. Lena
    February 27, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Great article, thanks for sharing. I need to share this with Jill.

  2. Jacqueline
    March 25, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Great post. I’m a female powerlifter and I have to tell people these things all the time. They always tell me they think I’m crazy for lifting hevay like I do, and I’ve always got to educate folks on these exact points.

  3. March 29, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    @Jacqueline, coming from a female power lifter that means something. Keep doing what you are doing, educating people on this subject will always be an uphill battle.

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