Why Women Don't Lift Weights--But ShouldStrength Training is a Must for Both Sexes
-- By Leanne Beattie, Health and Fitness Writer
My friend Christine had been trying to lose those last 10 pounds for months, but to no avail. Despite my regular invitations for her to come to the gym with me, she always declined. One Saturday afternoon, she finally agreed to try it out, but on one condition: no weights.
''Why not?'' I asked, a bit confused. ''I love the way my arms look. Lifting weights is the best thing I’ve ever done for my body.''
It had initially taken me a while to get into lifting weights, but within a few weeks of regular strength training, I had watched my arms become more firm and toned than they had ever been. Thanks to strength training, I was so proud of my body, and I couldn't understand why someone wouldn't want to give it a shot.
Christine shook her head. ''I don’t want to use weights. My arms are big enough already, and I don’t want to look like a man.''
I was quick to tell Christine that her fear was unfounded. Weight training, even just twice a week for 20 minutes at a time, is an important part of a well-rounded fitness regime for both men and women. While some of the benefits of strength training are obvious (improved muscle tone and strength), working out with weights also helps in more subtle ways, such as fighting the aging process by maintaining lean muscle tissue. And women who regularly exercise with free weights and machines have higher self-esteem and an improved immune system, meaning they get sick less often. Weight training also reduces blood pressure, fights arthritis, strengthens bones, and helps the body process sugar more efficiently, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes.
Yet, despite all of these benefits, many women share Christine's misconception about lifting weights—and it's keeping them from getting the best results possible, both for their looks and overall health. Here are some of the common reasons women give for shying away from the weight room—along with some reasons why they should drop their excuses and pick up the dumbbells.
Excuse #1: ''I'll get bulky like a man. Lifting weights will make me gain weight."
In reality, it's nearly impossible for women to build the same kind of muscle mass as men because of hormonal differences. Men have much higher testosterone levels than women do, which is one major reason why men have so much more muscle mass. In fact, instead of adding bulk to your look, combining resistance training and cardio workouts will help women look longer and leaner as they get stronger.
Strength training is also a key part of weight loss and weight maintenance. Muscle mass will burn an extra 10 calories per pound per day, which is five times the amount of calories each pound of body fat uses. And a challenging strength training regime has been shown to boost your metabolism for several hours after a workout, meaning you’re burning more calories than ever—even when you’re not exercising.
Excuse #2: ''I don't know what I'm doing--I'm afraid of making a fool of myself."
Many women fear looking foolish in front of others because they don’t know how to lift weights properly. If you don’t know how to use the weight machines, or you don’t know how to do a certain exercise correctly, schedule a few sessions with a personal trainer. He or she can create a healthy strength-training plan that suits your goals. Your trainer will also demonstrate how to safely do each exercise so you don’t get injured along the way. If a trainer is not an option for you, you can also get started by checking out these basic strength training videos.
Hiring a trainer is also a great way to make you feel more comfortable in the weight room when you first start out. It's important to recognize that, though it might feel like all eyes are on you as a beginner in the weight room, nobody is paying attention to you--they're focused on their own workouts! Tune them out and do what you came to the gym to do. Soon, you'll feel so comfortable that you'll forget that other people are even around!
Excuse #3: ''I'm scared that I'll hurt myself."
Some women avoid strength training because they're afraid of getting injured. You can counter this fear by taking it slow and starting with a lighter weight. (Click here for how to choose an appropriate weight.) Note that when you challenge your muscles, it can "burn," a feeling that many people associate with pain or injury when they're not accustomed to it. Pushing yourself to the limit and feeling that kind of discomfort may feel scary initially--especially if you’re not used to sweating and really challenging yourself when you exercise. But in order to get results, you need to lift as much weight as possible (while still maintaining proper form) until you totally fatigue your muscles. Lifting light dumbbells a few times isn’t enough to see real results. When in doubt, work with a trainer who will ensure you are using good form at all times. To ease into weight training, check out these strength training moves for beginners.
Weight training doesn't have to be scary. When approached in a safe, sensible way, lifting weights can act as the boost you need to jump-start your weight loss and body composition goals—not to mention that it’s a practical way to help make day-to-day activities easier to accomplish. From carrying groceries to shoveling the driveway, every activity you do becomes much easier when you have more muscle to work with. This type of ''functional fitness'' is more than just trying to get a six pack; it’s about helping your body work more efficiently as a complete unit now and in the years to come. So, women, embrace the weights—and watch your body and life change before your eyes.
For more in-depth information about strength training, check out SparkPeople's Reference Guide to Strength Training.
Mayo Clinic. ''Strength Training: Getting Stronger, Leaner, Healthier,'' accessed August 2012. www.mayoclinic.com.
This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople Fitness Expert Nicole Nichols, Certified Personal Trainer.