By Kim Duke
NETA & AAFA Certified Trainer
When I write my articles, I attempt to address all fitness levels and both genders. However, I am going to be gender biased with this article, and write specifically about women and strength training.
Why, you may wonder—because many of my clients are women who grow frustrated when the results they desire from their workouts do not seem to come quick enough. To this group of women, I say let’s take a lesson from our male counterpart.
So, what in the world can women learn from the average muscle-head in the local gym? A lot. I won’t pretend that men do anything better than women in the weight room. But, I think they understand a few concepts that women tend to ignore. These concepts are actually very important rules for women who are serious about getting fit.
Rule No. 1: The purpose of lifting weights is to build muscle. What I always find interesting is that women say they want to tone, shape or sculpt their bodies. These words cater to women by telling them they can make their muscles look better without them getting bigger. This is not a realistic or healthy way to look at your muscles. If the weights are unchallenging, your muscles won’t grow. If your muscles don’t grow, they won’t look any better than they do now, even if someone could strip off whatever fat sits on top of them. With or without excess fat, your body simply will not look healthy and fit without well-trained muscle tissue.
Rule No. 2: Muscle is hard to build. Bulky…this is a word I hear from women too. “I don’t want to get too bulky.” Unless you are an extreme genetic freak, you can’t get too bulky. A women’s body will not allow it. We are not blessed with testosterone like a man. The most likely outcome, assuming you are willing to work hard, is that you’ll come away with a small net loss in body weight, but a dramatic difference in the way your body looks in the mirror and the way your clothes fit.
Rule No. 3: Results come from hard work and heavy weights. This rule seems obvious. However, after years of working in gyms, I will never understand the women who work like galley slaves in spinning class but will choose Barbie colored weights in the weight room. It’s not enough to progress from lifting the Barbie bells 15-20 times. It may tire you out, but it will not make your muscle bigger. Muscles grow for a variety of reasons, but the main one is strength. If you force them to get stronger, they will get bigger.
Rule No. 4: From time to time, you have to break some rules. From my experience working in big gyms, you tend to see men, more often than women, lifting too much weight and using less than perfect form. While this can lead to injury, it also shows that guys are willing to push themselves out to the edge of acceptable form to get that extra repetition in their final set of an exercise. You will rarely see women deviate from the textbook description of the exercise. While I’d never advocate lifting with bad form, there is more to strength training than coloring inside the lines.
I get that there is a certain amount of fear associated with going heavier and training harder. No one wants to risk an injury for the sake of one more repetition. However, your body is designed for natural movement patterns, which support a range of variations. If what you are doing feels unnatural, think twice before doing it. If it’s what your body was designed to do, it’s probably not bad form…and a little extra can go along way.
So, if you are a woman who truly aspires to get strong, build muscle and get lean, you need to have a firm grasp of the reality of this undertaking or it’s just not going to work. And remember— you only fail when you stop trying.