Ladies, Don’t Fear the Weights

Many women are afraid of lifting weights in fear of getting big, or bulking up.  After reading this post you will have a better understanding of how difficult it is for women to put on muscle. Perhaps some of you don’t fear the weights, rather they just don’t appeal to you. For this crowd, I will be touching on the benefits of weight training and in particular, strength training.





Women lack the testosterone to put on significant muscle mass – the really bulky females you see out there have a genetic predisposition to building muscle.  99% of the female population couldn’t look like them if they tried. On top of that, the female weightlifters you see on magazines are probably lifting weights for a couple hours 5-6 times per week. Testosterone is the muscle building hormone and with women having substantially less of it in their bodies, it becomes much more difficult to gain muscle mass.

You need to REALLY try to get big. It is not easy by any means.

This means following a strict training routine revolving around the ultimate goal of muscle gain, while following a strict diet. Think about it like any other hobby – if you want to be an exceptionally good cyclist, you’re going to have to train hard, eat well, and generally alter your lifestyle to achieve what you want.

A general guideline for bulking up is to increase your caloric intake by 20%. This may not seem very significant, but to maintain this increase in calories (of the right foods), definitely takes some awareness and effort. I can assure you that most women who are afraid of putting on too much muscle are not in a caloric surplus every day, thus bulking up becomes impossible.

Ladies will tend to ‘tone up when they lift weights. You cannot choose to simply tone up by completing a certain number of repetitions. Toning is simply a result of less fat on the surface, revealing well defined muscles underneath, that everyone has. When women lift weights, they don’t experience the same muscular gains men do – they benefit more from the fat loss, which in turn, reveals toned muscles. Men have the genetic make up to really put on muscle and can therefore pack on a lot of size.


–Don’t be afraid to increase the weight–

When the weight is increased to a point where you can only complete 6 or 7 repetitions (or even as few as 2 or 3), this is considered STRENGTH training. Strength training is concerned with the maximal amount of force you can exert and is therefore focusing on the maximal amount of weight to be displaced.  One would think, hey now, I’m lifting more weight, so I’m bound to get bigger. It seems counterintuitive, but this is NOT how it works.

Strength training is extremely taxing on the nervous system, and results in more efficient ‘firing rates’ of motor units. A motor unit is simply a nerve from the spinal cord and its connection to specific muscle fibers. So basically, you can get ‘stronger’ by not necessarily getting bigger – the primary change is related to the neuromuscular system.

Now this isn’t to say that strength training won’t result in an increase in the size of muscle. A male carrying out this type of training four times per week will most definitely see some gains in muscle mass.

If you are looking to solely increase your muscle size (hypertrophy), you will want to work with slightly higher rep ranges, typically within 8-12 repetitions. This is not set in stone however. It’s not like as soon as you hit 13 reps, you won’t be training in the ‘muscular hypertrophy zone’.

Here’s a breakdown in terms of training objectives and repetitions:

POWER 1-3                                (moving weight with speed – many Olympic lifts)

STRENGTH 1-6                         (focus is on heavy loads.  >85% of one rep max aka 1RM)

HYPERTROPHY 8-12              (muscle growth)

ENDURANCE 15-25                  (muscular endurance – can be included with strength

training and used in ‘de-load’ weeks)

Why you should strength train

  • more efficient nervous system making you stronger, without necessarily getting bigger.
  • beneficial for bones, ligaments/tendons, and connective tissue – this will in turn improve your posture.  This is particularly important for an aging population.
  • forces the body to carry out activity it isn’t habitually accustomed to. This leads to your body being in a state of heightened metabolism. Some studies have shown an increased metabolism for up to 48 hours post workout. So you reap the rewards of training for many hours even after you have left the gym!
  • good source of fat burning which will ‘tone you up’.
  • strength training is a form of exercise that will provide you with a multitude of health benefits that are tied to general physical activity. You will be at a lower risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis/osteoarthritis, numerous forms of cancer, and many other benefits that would create a list far too exhaustive for this post.
My Suggestion: Females should focus on bigger, compound movements. The fastest way to bulk city is to put the emphasis of your workout on isolated movements, such as bicep curls. These are single joint exercises where you’re absolutely hammering only a few muscles. Fill your workouts with full body movements, as opposed to developing a specific part of your body and you will experience positive changes in your physique. 

See you in the weight room, ladies!

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4 Comments on “Ladies, Don’t Fear the Weights”

  1. emilysteezy May 21, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    It took me SOOO long to mentally come around to serious strength training with heavy weights, but it’s been the best thing to ever happen to my fitness. It’s incredibly counterintuitive, but since I’ve started focusing on increasing my lean mass, I’ve only lost weight, not gained it. Thank god I figured this out because spending hours on the treadmill is boring and NOT FUN. Excellent post!

  2. jeremysmith89 May 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Thanks Emily. That’s great you’re seeing the results! And yes, I hope to see less people (especially females) spending hours on the treadmill. It really is torture!

  3. justlift May 31, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    Totally agree with your post! I’ve been lifting for almost 6 years and I don’t see an end in sight. 🙂 I like pushing myself!

    • jeremysmith89 May 31, 2012 at 11:30 am #

      I can’t picture myself stopping either. Think I’ll still be hitting the weights at age 65..showing all these ‘young guns’ how its done in the gym 😉

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