Weight Lifting for Women
Weight lifting has long been the preferred method amongst men to build lean muscle mass, help burn additional calories and change their bodies from flabby and smooth, to chiseled and toned, but for whatever reason, women have often avoided the weights and stuck primarily to cardiovascular exercise. Well, weight lifting for women is FINALLY coming around, and it’s here to stay.
While cardio is effective for burning calories and reducing body fat (which is very important for developing muscle definition), it doesn’t help with building lean muscle mass. In fact, most of the steady state cardio performed is actually very catabolic. In other words, it promotes muscle degradation. This is why many people who perform a lot of steady state cardio find it very difficult to get the muscle definition they want. People often think of this as looking “skinny” but not “fit.”
So, how do you get toned, defined and looking fit? You add resistance training to your exercise regimen! There are a lot of myths out there regarding lifting weights, especially related to women, so the rest of this article is going to talk about some of these misconceptions and what you need to do to change your body.
Misconception #1 – Women Will Get Big and Bulky from Lifting Weights
When it comes to lifting weights, the goal is to build lean-muscle mass to increase muscle definition. While resistance training does burn calories, especially if you utilize supersets, compound sets, and Tri-Sets (more on that later), its primary function is to challenge the muscles in your body enough to make them grow.
The process of muscle growth (aka hypertrophy) is a complicated one, but one of the primary hormonal factors is testosterone. Testosterone is much of the reason why weight lifting affects men so much more than women. Normal testosterone levels in men are 200-1200 ng/dl while 15-70 ng/dl are normal in women. This difference is the reason women simply cannot bulk the same way that men do, no matter how they train. Even in men with the highest levels of testosterone, it still takes years of intense, strict training and precise dieting to achieve the muscle mass you see in many male bodybuilders. Considering that, when it comes to women with average levels of testosterone, there is literally no chance of them ever getting close to that size.
You may have seen female bodybuilders on tv or in magazines with large, bulky muscles. These women are likely taking some form of testosterone or anabolic steroid. Side effects of these drugs can be seen relatively easily and include deepening of the voice, redistribution of fat storage to a male pattern, hair of the face and chest, among others.
Truth #1 – Women Will See Improved Muscle Definition from Lifting Weights
Women won’t see the same bulking effects men do from weight lifting, however, that doesn’t mean they won’t see increases in strength and muscle definition. In fact, the BEST way to get that fit, toned look is to lift weights, more specifically, HEAVY weights.
There are numerous research studies that show women who lift heavy weight during compound, multi-joint exercises show impressive improvements in muscle definition and strength, in addition to numerous other health benefits such as improved bone density, and lowers risks for metabolic syndrome. In other words, if you want more curves, put down the 5lb dumbbell, stop working with 20+ reps and start lifting heavy. Here are few excerpts that talk about this:
“A June 2013 study published in the journal Diabetes, both men and women became more insulin sensitive after 12 weeks of strength training, decreasing their risk of getting type 2 diabetes.”
“In one study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, women who lifted more weight for fewer reps burned nearly twice as many calories during the two hours after their workout than when they did more reps with a lighter weight.”
“The University of Alabama study found that the women who lifted weights lost more intra-abdominal fat (deep belly fat) than those who just did cardio. This not only helps you lose your belly pooch and look better in a bikini, but it also lessens your risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and some cancers.”
What qualifies as “heavy” weight? Generally, any exercise you can’t perform more than 12 repetitions of is a good place to start. As you build muscle and get more comfortable with the weight, you can start to mix in heavier weight with 4-8 reps as well.
What Are The Best Exercises for Developing Those Curves?
Developing a fit-looking physique takes a combination of resistance training, calorie burning, and nutrition. When it comes to changing from flabby and smooth to lean and defined, male or female doesn’t make a difference. You should be doing a lot of compound, multi-joint exercises with heavy weight. As always, form is priority number one, especially as you lift heavier and heavier. The sloppier your form gets, the less effective any exercise will be, and the higher your risk for injury will be.
Resistance training takes many forms including machines, dumbbells, barbells and many others. To stimulate change as quickly as possible, you want stimulate as many muscle fibers as possible. This is done by incorporating those multi-joint exercises we talked about earlier. Here a few of some must-do compound exercises that will help develop that lean muscle mass:
The deadlift is a full body exercise that hits a ton of muscles including lats, traps, quads, glutes, hamstrings, abs and more. You can safely lift a lot of weight when performing a deadlift, so it’s a great exercise to recruit muscle fibers and build fat-free muscle mass. Deadlifts are a must for a well-developed body.
Do you want nice, toned legs and tight glutes? Then you need to be doing squats. Squats, more specifically barbell squats, are probably the best exercise for overall leg development. They target the entire upper leg including quads, glutes, and hamstrings. They also effectively strengthen the lower back. If you’re skipping squats then you’re missing out on some serious muscle definition.
The chest press is another great compound exercise that works a lot of the upper body muscles including chest, triceps and deltoids. It also works the core. The chest press is a key exercise for developing good upper body strength.
Pull Ups are one of the most important exercises for developing strength. They also hit the lats, rear delts and biceps to give your upper back and arms some serious definition. If bodyweight pull-ups aren’t possible yet, try an assisted pull-up machine, or use bands under your feet for help.
Like the squat, lunges are another quality compound exercise that will turn your legs and butt from smooth to toned and tight. Lunges can be done with body weight to start and heavier weight as you progress.
Supplementation for Women
Supplements for women shouldn’t be a crutch, but rather an accelerator to a good weight lifting program. Protein powder is a must for any weight lifter, so if you haven’t purchase a good whey protein powder yet, start looking! In addition to that, Branched Chain Amino Acids can be a great addition to your supplement stack. BCAAs aid in recovery and help to prevent muscle breakdown during and after exercise. Protein powder does contain amino acids, however, our bodies can digest them much more efficiently in pure powder form. If you really want to take your muscle definition to the next level, consider adding BCAAs during and after your workout. Here is a good BCAA from Optimum Nutrition that I’ve tried and experienced good results with, Optimum Nutrition Instantized BCAA 5000mg Powder, Unflavored, 345g.
Women NEED to lift HEAVY weights, in addition to lower weight, higher rep exercise. Heavy weights kickstart the muscle building process and put your body into fat burning mode. In order to get solid, lean muscle, you need to hit the weights, not just the treadmill.