Sometimes working out what you need to be doing in the gym can be a muddle. Subsequently your fitness plan can become monotonous and inefficient. Often it solely revolves around straight forward equipment like the treadmill or stairmaster and then the gym can become a very boring place.
The muddle and rigmarole of weight lifting advice is often a reason why women avoid lifting weights. It can often seem too complicated, and I don’t blame you! But trust me, lifting is so beneficial for numerous reasons and in this article we’ll go through how much weight you should be lifting in a straight forward way.
Women and Weights | Breaking The Stereotype
‘’Women shouldn’t lift weights, and they definitely shouldn’t lift heavy” is a very common adage. The thing is, it all depends on the situation and your goals. BUT, there are very few goals that don’t require work with weights. Furthermore there are few goals that aren’t better reached by lifting weights of some description.
So as an example let’s have a look at the most common goal I hear and examine how lifting weights can help achieve that particular goal. I will also myth bust a few of those stereotypes that may be deterring you from dipping your toe in to that free weights section.
How Weight Training Helps To Tighten & Tone
The most common goal heard from female clients is to ‘lose weight and tone up’.
In terms of working out, to change your body you need to give it a reason to change and this is well achieved with weights. Particularly through lifting a heavier weight, or lifting the same weight more times than you have before.
Because of this you’ll get stronger not just in the gym, but in your day to day life.
Getting to the gym can be hard, especially at the start or end of a long day, but think of working out as a challenge to better yourself – and what you did last time – instead of a chore. If you can adjust your mindset by focussing on your performance in the gym, and how much you’re lifting, you’ll get the results you deserve, rather than just ‘spinning your wheels!’
TIP: Note down the sets, reps and weights used for each exercise in a training diary, and aim to better it next time.
Won’t Weights Make Me “Bulky?”
You’ve probably heard that lifting weights will make you pack on a ton of bulk and heavy muscle like some of the body building models you see pictures of on social media…
There is no truth to this at all!
Those ladies are dedicated to bodybuilding, and they sacrifice a LOT to look that way; weight training almost every day, sometimes twice a day, eating a very strict diet, and sometimes even resorting to steroids to enhance their muscle-building capabilities.
Unless you’re planning on adopting the same routine we promise you won’t end up looking like them if you choose to do a kettlebell workout. Think about the guys you know who regularly go to the gym and mostly train with weights – do they get really muscly? For the majority of them, unfortunately, the answer will be no. That’s because there’s a lot more to it, like how often they can train, if they’re doing the right sort of exercises, how much and what they eat, just to name a few!
Plus Women are from Venus and Men from Mars…
It’d be obvious to point out that you and I, women and men, are different.
We have different levels of hormones and this influences how much muscle we can build – the main hormone in question being testosterone. Men naturally have a lot more testosterone than women, and despite that, it isn’t enough for most guys – it takes a lot more than higher levels of that to build serious amounts of muscle. So naturally women don’t build muscle like some of the men you may see in your gym, often seeing ripped men lifting weights and building muscle can be a visual deterrent and reason why women avoid the weights section.
BUT, in order to drop some fat and tone up, your aim is actually to build some muscle – which we now know is pretty difficult.
Think of your muscles like a car engine – the bigger it is, the more fuel it’ll burn. In your case, your fuel is calories (from food and drink), and your muscle is the engine. A bigger engine will burn more fuel, and more muscle will burn more calories (leading to fat loss).
The logistics are pretty simple: to lose weight you have to burn more calories than you eat and drink, and to gain weight you have to eat and drink more calories than you burn.
If you’re trying to maintain your current weight, or lose, it’s even harder to build muscle.
Whatever your goal, simply make some sort of protein the main part of every meal
How much SHOULD I lift then?
So lifting ‘heavy’ is actually relative, what might be heavy for one individual could be light for another. Technically anything could be heavy, depending on how many times you’re aiming to lift it (reps/repetitions). In general, aim to lift for 8-12 reps. If you can easily do 12 and could do more with good technique, you need to add extra weight. If you can’t reach 8 reps with good technique you need to make it lighter: it’s crucial to perfect your form before lifting heavier weights. That last part is very important, good form substantially decreases any chance of injury, good form is also key to correct and efficient muscle growth. It’s like anything, doing the job incorrectly often ends in the product not being quite right!
But women SHOULDN’T lift heavy if…
That said, there is a time and place for ‘lighter’ weights! I.e the weight that you can lift for 12 reps easily.
Most importantly this is the case if you are first learning how to do an exercise. In this scenario its best to start light, with either your bodyweight or just the bar without any extra weight on it, depending on the exercise.
Further reasons include:
- To warm-up for a workout or specific exercise.
- If you were doing 20 repetitions of an exercise instead of 10.
- To improve your technique for a certain exercise.
- If you’ve got an injury, you can use lighter weights to rehabilitate the particular muscle(s) or joint(s). Personally, I’m much more likely to recommend doing something (however ‘light’ or low-intensity), than nothing at all where possible.
- If you’re pregnant: in which case I’d highly recommend seeking out a pre- and post-natal specialist who can advise you on exercise throughout your pregnancy. It is possible and often very beneficial to lift and exercise during pregnancy.
Guess what though? The same applies to men. Exactly the same*.
* Except guys can’t get pregnant, unless they’re a sea horse…
There’s a time and a place for everything, but in general women should lift weights, even heavy ones, with only a few exceptions like the points above. Lifting can benefit health, muscles, bones, joints, hormones and better yet, your confidence.
Of course it’s hard work, but it’s rewarding. Stick with it and you’ll love the benefits that you see and feel!