Weight Lifting for Women: Getting Rid of the Myths

Most females who come to me are interested in learning about weight training. For women, the stigma against lifting weights has long since died out. But despite the ever-increasing popularity of dumbbell-oriented programs geared towards weight training for women specifically, I still hear concerns and objections from female clientele that are fueled by misconceptions. I wanted to dispel a few of them:

1. “Lifting weights will make me look bulky.”

First, women produce very small amounts of testosterone as compared to men. Testosterone is the primary anabolic hormone responsible for muscle growth, and the relatively small amounts produced by women makes it much more difficult to build substantial amounts of lean muscle. The well-muscled females you see at the gym have spent considerable amounts of time training to achieve that look. The casual trainee will not end up looking like that.

Second, standards of feminine beauty are evolving. “STRONG IS THE NEW SKINNY” is the catchphrase now plastered on posters and T-shirts—and that’s good thing. Fit, lean, moderately muscled physiques are now preferable, not to mention healthy.

2. “Shouldn’t I be focusing on cardio if I want to lose weight?”

Women with lean, toned physiques will more likely be encountered in the weight room than on a treadmill. While moderate intensity cardio burns calories and improves fitness levels, it does little to change your body composition, and can slow down your metabolism if overdone. Also, prolonged bouts of moderate intensity cardio cause muscle tissue breakdown, which further slows down your metabolism. Conversely, high-intensity strength training ramps up your metabolic rate for up to 36 hours after the workout, causing you to continue burning calories after leaving the gym. Plus, the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active you are. Adding muscle increases the amount of calories your body uses up throughout the day, even at rest.

3. “But isn’t lifting weights bad for your joints?”

Quite the opposite. Strengthening the muscles supporting your joints is one of the best things you can do to promote joint stability and prevent injury. When properly done, many joint problems can actually be ameliorated with targeted weight training under the guidance of a professional such as a personal trainer or physical therapist.

4. “I’m afraid I might break something.”

When done properly, weight training actually makes you less susceptible to broken bones due to its ability to encourage new bone development in those under 30 and preserve existing bone density in those over 30. Weight training is especially important in small-framed individuals and those with osteopenia or osteoporosis, who are also at increased risk for fractures. Also, many women are deficient in Vitamin D, which is essential for good bone health. However, Vitamin D alone without the inclusion of weight-bearing exercises is of little benefit. Weight training is essential to create the stimulus for bone preservation.

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