Another myth, regarding women and exercise, is that women will get “too big” if they lift heavy weights. The truth is that women need to lift an appreciable amount of weight to change their body.
Women don’t have the hormones to bulk up. Men produce 10 times more testosterone (the hormone responsible for increases in muscle mass) than women and women produce 10 times more estrogen than men. So it’s just not possible for most women to get big muscles, except for a very small percentage of women who have a higher level of testosterone.
If you want a lean, toned physique (like most of my female clients), then lift heavy weights. Get yourself on a well-designed weight training program which includes exercises with free weights and exercises that use your body weight for resistance. Both men and women should include these in their training, and women should train at the same intensities (rep ranges) as men.
Your training program should emphasize foot-based lower body exercises such as the lunge, step-up and squat. Women should also include upper body exercises that employ multiple muscle groups such as the push-up, pull-up, and overhead press.
A well-rounded training program would also include exercises that work your muscles in all three planes of motion, (front-to-back, side-to-side and rotational) and exercises that develop proprioception and balance.
Some of the well-know benefits of weight training for women include:
1. A boost in metabolism. As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, your basal metabolic rate refers to the number of calories you use at rest, and makes up about 60-75 percent of your body’s total energy expenditure. So the more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you burn, all day long.
2. Improved body composition (the ratio of fat to lean body mass). Because muscle is denser than body fat, a woman who is weight training will show slower changes on the scale but faster changes in body composition. This is because she is increasing her lean body mass but decreasing her body fat.
3. Increased bone density. Weight training will increase your bone density and reduce your risk of osteoporosis, a particular issue for women. And if you already have osteoporosis, weight training can lessen its impact.
4. Improvement in athletic performance. Whatever sport you enjoy, strength training will improve your performance. Athletes who play foot-based sports such as basketball, for example, will benefit from performing exercises such as the squat, as well as doing upper body work.
5. Increased confidence. Walking around and feeling the strength in your muscles can be very empowering. Researchers report that the psychological benefits arise as a result of the weight training and from the process of mastering physical challenges. So both the process and the outcome benefit women.