One of the biggest misconceptions among women that I see in my gym surrounds strength training. The majority of female members are generally un- or mis-educated regarding the benefits, principles and use of effective strength training in a fitness regimen. Let's dispel some of these rumors and show why most women can and will benefit from adding strength training to their workout routines.
Fact or Fiction?
Of all the misconceptions regarding women and strength training, by far the biggest is that if a female client adds weight training to their fitness regimen, they will end up looking like some deep-bass voiced, no neck, meathead-lady hybrid. However, this just will not happen (unless you want it to). Since the majority of women who lift are lifting for lean muscle and tone, you have very little to worry about with regards to gaining huge amounts of muscle mass.
The female body doesn't produce testosterone in the amounts that the male body does so females are less likely to "bulk up" unless they really attempt to gain mass. There is, however, a word of caution. Extremely strenuous and continuous exercise has been shown to cause estrogen levels to decrease. So add weight training, just don't devote yourself to becoming a body builder.
Lost in the Weight Room
Now that you've decided that lifting weights won't turn you into some manly girl, the second biggest misconception about strength training is how to do it. The majority of my female clients are unsure about lifting principles for females. Too often they've heard or consulted with uneducated men in the gym about lifting. Most tell me they lift three sets of 10 reps. Then I want to cry.
Ideally, for the goals of most female gym clients, strength training goals are usually to add lean muscle and "tone" up. Three sets of 10 is not the ideal strategy to employ in this regards. I normally recommend a higher repetition, lower weight program. My general recommendation is to perform 12 to 15 repetitions per set, two to three sets, at a low to medium weight. Adding this regimen two to three times per week is a great way to get the benefits of weight lifting, including a higher metabolic rate as well as the maintenance of the necessary muscle mass the body needs to perform the daily tasks we all go through.
Another way that women can get benefit from strength training is lifting in a circuit-training format. This includes a low weight, high rep philosophy, moving on to the next exercise immediately after finishing the previous. This way the body is continually working and you can add an aspect of anaerobic conditioning to your strength training.
The two biggest health issues most women face from middle age onwards are due to menopause: loss of muscle mass and a lower, slower metabolism. As we've discussed, strength training can not only help to maintain and grow muscle mass--which makes everyday activities easier as you age--but it can also help to boost your metabolism more than just walking on the treadmill or riding the stationary bike. As you get older, you may want to think about adding strength training. If you aren't quite there yet in the age department, be proactive and add weight training to your routine and help eliminate the risk of these problems that can and do affect a majority of women.
Ryan Barnhart, MS, PES, is a certified Performance Enhancement
and Injury Prevention Specialist through the National Academy of Sports
Medicine (NASM). He also holds a master's degree in exercise science, as
well as a bachelor of sport management, both from California University
of Pennsylvania. Ryan has worked with numerous collegiate and amateur
athletes across many different fields. Ryan also has had the opportunity
to work with several professional athletes. Recently he has worked with
amateur and professional athletes within the emerging sport of Mixed
Ryan is currently the director of fitness at a 700+ member gym near Pittsburgh, PA. He enjoys working with weekend warriors, athletes, and everyone in between. You can contact Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.