As a fitness expert and as a woman I feel I need to set the record straight. When it comes to women and weight training, there seems to be a host of myths spreading confusion and trepidation amongst female gym-goers! I am constantly having clients say to me 'I don't want to lift too many weight because I don't want to bulk up'.
Here is the truth! Ladies, unless you are supplementing with additional testosterone please go about your workout safe in the knowledge that regardless of how much iron you pump, you will not turn into a body building she-man!
The Technical Stuff
A massive part of the issue must be put down to media. Words such a 'bulk' and 'tone' have been carefully marketed in order to target specific genders when in actual fact they are the same thing. 99% of the time when a woman says she doesn't want to 'bulk up', what she's actually referring to is increasing in size and 'filling out'. There are two major reasons that this needn't be a concern. 1) Testosterone. Although men average a total level of 270 - 1100 ng/dl of testosterone a woman has only 6-86. As testosterone is crucial to building muscle these equations show that men are simply made to build muscle at a much quicker and effective rate to women. Trust me, as a women who works out regularly, putting on too much muscle is the least of your worries! 2) Secondly, it's important to understand that muscle fibers are considerably more dense then body fat tissue. Meaning that when you weight train, although you will hopefully increase your muscle mass you will actually be shrinking in terms of dress size. Put simply, muscle fibers take up less space then fat tissue, so by loosing fat and increasing muscle you will reduce in inches!
Are gyms pigeon-holeing women into weakness?
I am regularly left irritated when seeing a gym induction and a woman being shown the class timetable, the yoga mats and a pilates ball but simply being shunted past the free-weights with a small comment of 'oh and that's the free weights area'. Statistics show that female members make up approximately two thirds of all gym memberships, so it comes as no surprise that there is an emphasis on targeting a female audience. However does this mean toning down the emphasis on free weights? Or, for establishments who offer a women's only section, limiting the area to dumbbells no heavier then 10kg?
I can understand the benefit of gender specific areas and have no real qualms with the notion of 'women only zones' however, I rarely use them myself. On the odd occasion that I do enter these designated area's, I'm amazed at how many Swiss Balls and Step Boxes I see when a leg machine or training bench is nowhere in sight! Are gyms promoting a sense of restriction for women and is the stigma of how much a woman is capable of subconsciously keeping clients from pushing their boundaries when it comes to their strength?
Weight Training & Fat Burning Benefits
There are numerous benefits to weight training for both men and women and as such resistance work should be an integral part of your workout. One major positive is the assistance weight training has on the fat burning process. Muscle fibers are much more efficient at burning fatty acids then body fat tissue, so it makes sense that the more muscle you build the quicker and more effectively you will be burning fat at any given time. For example, if a person with a high level of lean muscle does the same 15 minute workout as someone with high body fat levels, the aforementioned candidate will burn more fat throughout the session then their partner.
Mars vs Venus Workouts.
Put simply - There is nothing a man can do in the gym a woman shouldn't be doing! And vise-versa! Women are just as capable of squatting a barbell or pressing out a few chest reps on a bench. Yes the natural composition of the male body is built to use a higher resistance, so I am not suggesting you lift the same weight as your male workout buddies but please ladies don't be afraid to push your bondairies and pick up a few heavier weights! I promise you won't come out looking like a bodybuilder on steoirds... it's just not possible... well, unless you're a body builder on steroids!