Why Women Should Train With Weights

Women With Weights - 1By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, NASM, PES, FMS)

From years of working out and working in various gyms I can’t tell you how many times I see the same scenario – the poor uninformed female flailing away with the pink 3 lb. dumbbells in hopes that her body is mysteriously going to turn into Giselle’s.

Over the years, I have trained a vast array of clients, from Division I athletes to overweight clients, with about 70% of the adults being women.  The one thing I’ve learned is that strength training with 70-85% of your one rep maximum is not only beneficial but necessary for the female species. Most females have a lower strength to body weight ratio than males. Females also put on more lower body fat as they mature than males, not to mention their high-risk of osteoporosis as they get older.

So why don’t more women strength train with weights?

The answer lies in numerous “myths” created by society over the years. Here are a few:

Myth: Women should lift light weights for high reps in order to slim down and not get bulky.

Fact: Muscle bulk comes from a high volume of work. High-volume results in muscle damage, which in turn results in hypertrophy. More weight/ less reps contrary to popular belief is better for losing body fat and increasing bone density.

Myth: Women who lift heavier weights will get bulky.

Fact: Women do not have nearly as much testosterone, the muscle building hormone produced in the body, as men. As a matter of fact, women have 15 to 20 times lower testosterone levels than men. Unfortunately, this myth is built upon the “chemically” altered women that we see on the front of bodybuilding magazines.

Myth: Doing steady-state cardio will make you skinny.

Fact: Doing lots of steady-state cardio work might make some people skinny, but it will also make you flabby and eventually injured. Steady-state cardio eats away at muscle mass eventually slowing down your metabolism, resulting in fewer calories burned per activity. None of my clients have ever come up to me with a picture of a marathon runner and said “I want my body to look like this”… however look at the body on a sprinter- low body fat and extreme muscle tone.

But I don’t want to turn this into a “why you shouldn’t do steady-state cardio” article.  So here are my top reasons why women should strength train with weights:

1. Reduce your risk of injury:Weight training strengthens not only muscles but connective tissues and promotes joint stability. If your tensile strength is increased, daily tasks and routines will be far less likely to cause injury.

2. Lower percentage of body fat:Increasing muscle mass turns the body into a fat burning machine. Each pound of muscle you gain burns up to 50 to 75 extra calories per day.  This adds up over time.

3. Shape the body proportionately:Full body weight training also trains muscles in proportion to the demands of functional movement. A body in appropriate proportion is always more attractive. Physical appearance is determined more by overall shape, not by the size of individual muscles.

Women With Weights - 24. Helps improve posture:Strengthening muscles, connective tissues and promoting joint stability (point #1) helps improve postural distortions, thus improving posture.  This will in turn help give the appearance of long lean muscles. For example, by adding pulling movements such as pull-ups and rows to a program, you can help rounding shoulders (anteriorly tilted) by strengthening the mid and lower traps and relaxing the cervical extensors revealing the neck.  This creates a slimmer, more confident appearance without having to do more cardio.

So there is my take on it. Take from it what you can, and hopefully you’ll be reaping the benefits this spring that my clients do.  Don’t run your body into the ground with pointless steady-state cardio. A good starting point is to strength train with weights 2-3 times a week ,working within a cardio zone for fat loss (130-150 bpm is generally a good benchmark for most adults) utilizing full-body, multi-joint exercises and no more than 8-10 reps per set. Finish your workout off with 5 to 10 minutes of high intensity metabolic work such as sprints, bike sprints, or stair mill and you’ll love the way you look and feel come the spring.

(RPP Client – Vera Wang Model doing split squats with a 14 kg (30.8 lbs.) Kettlebell in each hand)