Times are changing in the world of fitness. Especially when it comes to women and lifting.
Gone are the days of spending hours doing cardio only to get into shape.
For a long time, women feared they would get “bulky” from resistance training, so they pretty much avoided it altogether.
Now, many women have traded in the ellipticals and stairmasters for a steady diet of cold hard iron.
I’m pumped to see more women getting involved in resistance training. It’s a very refreshing thing to see.
Thanks to the rise of Crossfit, and fitness pioneers like Girls Gone Strong, women are starting to understand the immense benefits that come from lifting weights.
In this article, I’d like to shed light on the evolution of the female fitness enthusiast. I’ll talk about where the myths originated, what sparked the change, and why women can and should train many of the same exercises as men.
Where Did it All Start?
You see, back in the late 80s and into the 90s, the picture above was a fairly common occurrence when talking about women and exercise. In bright and tight neoprene outfits, women all across America sought out group aerobics classes to help them achieve the body they desired. They would sweat and dance, step and shout. This was the way for women to get into shape.
Or so they thought.
If you can, try to think back to this time period for a second (If you’re old enough 🙂 ). Do you recall women lifting weights or performing any resistance training?
I don’t know that I can.
You know why?
Because weight training for women was pretty much taboo and definitely not something that was popular in mainstream culture. People feared the femininity of women would be lost by building any muscle caused by weight training. The main reason for this was the fear of women becoming too “bulky” from lifting weights.
And the ones who were into lifting weights? They were viewed as outsiders because the majority of the population lacked general knowledge when it came to strength training.
With marketing and propaganda, the female fitness icon could aerobic step her way to an amazing body, without lifting a single weight. (Go away 3lb pink dumbbells!)
Even a quick google search on women’s fitness in the 90s brings up many of the same images of neoprene outfits, step boxes, and sweatbands.
The fact is, strength training for women prior to the 2000s was pretty much nonexistent.
It certainly was not in mainstream culture the way it is today.
So What Changed?
Eventually, the alure of brightly colored outfits and dance music wore off. Women wanted more from their fitness routines.
The Olympics helped shed light on what women could achieve by weight training. Many female Olympians in the late 90s were breaking world records and lifting crazy amounts of weights. And many of them were still feminine. And in great shape. And didn’t look bulky, but rather strong and confident in their bodies.
The rise of Crossfit helped to promote weightlifting in mainstream media. Now, the Crossfit games are broadcast on national television, with millions of Americans watching the games every year.
Slowly but surely, more women began strength training. With the help of Girls Gone Strong, many women gained a better understanding of what lifting weights could do for them.
While the myths are still there when it comes to females and weights, mainstream culture slowly began to recognize the benefits of lifting weights, not only physically but mentally as well.
Common Myths Associated with Women and Weights
The number one fear women have when it comes to lifting weights is becoming too bulky.
How do I know this?
Well, I train many female clients, and I’ve asked them how they viewed weight training prior to training with me.
Many of them were afraid to lift weights because it has been demonized as something that will turn you into the incredible Hulk overnight.
This is by far the most universal fear shared by women all over the world.
I’m here to put this myth to rest once and for all.
You see, the “bulkiness” as many women call it, is actually an increase in muscle tissue with little to no decrease in fat mass. There really isn’t any such thing as becoming bulky. A lot of women complain that when they lift weights their clothes fit tighter or their bodies appear larger. To prevent this feeling, you must change your diet. If you are lifting weights AND consuming excess calories, you may appear bulkier due to increases in muscle and fat.
If you’re lifting weights and watching your calorie intake, you will not get bulky. Rather, you will be able to reveal the muscle that you have, thus creating a lean contoured shape.
Another point on the bulky myth that I’d like to squash is the fact that women do not have near the same levels of testosterone as men. If you’re a woman, can you recall discussing with a male about his workout routine? Oftentimes the guy will say that he’s been lifting weights for x amount of time and that he’s building muscle very slowly.
So, if a male, who has way more testosterone than a female, struggles to build muscle, then females have nothing to worry about. If building muscle and “bulking up” were so easy, anyone that ever went to the gym and lifted weights would be jacked in a week.
Final verdict on becoming bulky: it’s not that easy to do, nor something any female should worry about especially in her first few years of lifting.
Another common myth is that women are afraid of getting hurt by lifting weights. While lifting weights can be dangerous if performed incorrectly, proper technique will allow you to build muscle, lose body fat, and improve your health.
Sometimes, women are taught to lift by some gym bro or even a boyfriend or spouse. While it’s great to get women involved at the gym, they are often given poor advice on what to do and how to do it. Following a safe and goal oriented plan like many of my online coaching clients, lifting weights will no longer be viewed as being dangerous.
It’s important to learn proper technique to minimize injury risk. But also realize that being a female does not mean your body is going to crumble if you pick up a weight. Women are strong willed and should be lifting weights. Whether its for strength, fat loss, or getting into better shape post-pregnancy, lifting weights is vital to a woman’s overall health.
How Should Women Train?
Women should lift pretty much the same as men.
Of course there are exceptions due to anatomical differences, however, women can benefit greatly from performing many of the exact same exercises as men.
Women don’t need to avoid barbells and dumbbells. Women don’t need to only do cardio machines or aerobics classes to get into better shape.
Women need to be lifting weights in some way shape or form.
The structure of your training will be heavily dependent on your goals.
Here is one of my clients, who has benefitted greatly from lifting weights. Not only has she increased her strength through weight training, but her body composition has noticeably improved. She has utilized hypertrophy phases and strength phases, with maintenance phases interspersed throughout.
Training is Goal Dependent
Women looking to build more muscle (gaspppp) will benefit greatly from hypertrophy training lasting anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months.
Women that want to build strength will want to dedicate their time to a strength phase lasting anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months.
Many factors have to be considered when designing your routine. Are you a strength athlete such as a powerlifter, olympic lifter, or strongman(woman)?
If so, you may utilize a hypertrophy phase, strength phase, and peaking phase in that order. There are weight classes in these sports, so you want to consider if you’re moving up or down a weight class and how training in one phase longer than others may be beneficial. If you need to put on muscle, a dedicated hypertrophy phase plus a calorie surplus will help you achieve this for example.
For women that just want to lose body fat, get stronger, and feel better day to day, higher volume resistance training may be best. Check out this fat loss article I recently wrote. I discuss some great tips for fat loss in simple and easy to implement methods for beginners to advanced lifters.
Main Training Considerations for Women
Women, more so than men, are able to handle more volume, or total work.
They respond better to performing more reps and sets, which adds up to more total volume over time.
Because the weights are relatively lighter compared to their counterparts, women can benefit from doing MORE work in the gym. Provided you are able to recover between training sessions, more can be added to reap the most benefit
You generally see men doing too much (dang egos), and women not doing enough to produce the results they desire.
While volume should be higher than males, exercise selection can be very similar.
There’s no reason that women can’t perform the compound basic barbell lifts.
Now, individual differences may have a female performing a different variation due to anatomical differences or mobility restraints.
But the principles are the same in terms of picking out barbell and dumbbell movements for the majority of a woman’s program.
There’s absolutely no reason that women should think they are confined to aerobics classes and 2 pound dumbbells.
I want to give mad props to my client Laura, who is pictured below. She’s an absolute beast in the gym. Under my training and diet coaching, she has worked her tail off and has actually gained weight but lost body fat! She competes in powerlifting, and loves training hard. Her hard work definitely shows!
Want Me to Create Your Fat Loss Program?
Head on over to my online coaching page to apply for a spot in my 1-on-1 online coaching program. Whether you have aspirations of competing in powerlifting, or simply want to drop body fat and gain strength, my coaching program delivers results.