Fitness Articles

Why Women Don't Lift Weights--But Should

Strength Training is a Must for Both Sexes

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.

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople Fitness Expert Nicole Nichols, Certified Personal Trainer.

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Member Comments

  • I try to fit some in every day
  • Big fan of strength trsinibg.
  • Y'know, I read an interview once with Ronda Rousey where she said she used to be self-conscious about how big her arms are, even though you'd never mistake her body shape for a man's. I think this is just a cultural thing about what female body type you're seeking. Some of us do bulk up a bit - not like men do - but enough to make our sleeves and pants fit more tightly. Maybe it's 'cause I'm black and the images I've grown up seeing on Essence covers aren't the willowy bodies on Cosmo, but I'd much prefer an athlete's body to a model's, personally. There is osteoporosis in my family, so lifting heavy now is the thing that's going to keep me healthy and independent when I'm elderly - jeans size be damned, I'm strength training!
  • I am also tired of those who say they would look like a man by lifting weights. Unless you are working with a trainer about 8 hours a day, working individual muscles, not going to happen. Why to people even think that???? I have been lifting weights 3 times a week, an hour at a time for about 6 years now, and there is no way I have anywhere near the muscles of a muscle builder. Now I am stronger, feel better and don't have the "flab" look like I did 6 years ago.
  • I have to agree with ZIGWEEGWEE, my legs and arms get bigger and my clothes get tighter after doing strength workouts for several weeks. My daughter has my husband's stocky build and is big boned and has huge muscles. She outmuscles most of the guys her age.
    So I think these articles should be more sensitive to natural muscular bodies and suggest how we should best workout too.
  • Thank you - I do struggle with strength training and the more I read and learn the better I can apply the knowledge, not to mention the motivation. Give me aerobic exercise any day, but not the DVD kind! I love a great workout on my treadmil - that's my favourite!
  • I would much rather do strength training than cardio any day.I can easily spend 45min-1 hour and be perfectly happy but 20-30 minutes of cardio will drive me crazy.

    Plus I figure I walked around with big fat body parts for years, might as well walk around with big muscley ones instead ;-)
  • I hate to debunk your debunkage, but my muscles bulk up when I exercise. I like to walk and it noticeably bulks up my calves. If the weather's bad for an extended period and I stop walking, I get frequent comments on how much thinner my legs look. It's depressing. I also never show my somewhat toned upper arms because they embarrass me. They're not huge and lumpy like a man's. They're just big and I hate them. Just posting this to let other women who have this problem know that this article isn't entirely correct and they're not alone.
  • Good information. Thanks for sharing.
    Great I love working out using weights good article Coral
  • I love working with weights and the resulting toning but to say one does not bulk up is simply not true. in spite of weight loss I have had to increase my shirt size to allow movement of my arms as everything is now tight in th armhole. That is not the result I was aiming for.....
  • I personally really don't like weight/strength training- my exercise preferences definitely go toward agility and cardio, but it's a necessary evil I've known and incorporated all my life and especially now in rehab (which makes workouts twice as challenging- not much to look forward to PLUS definite result of necessary (and good!) pain).

    However, my main reason for why I initially absolutely hated (as opposed to disliked) weight training hasn't been mentioned: The "do you even lift?"-dudebros and their ogling eye. I know everyone has different experiences, but these people and their behavior scared little teenage me out of the gym faster than anything, and are the reason I still don't like gyms today. I'm into weight training at home (bought myself a nice free weights set) with my personal trainer as much as I can be into it, but I'm still not going to a gym.

    I think a lot of women are also scared away by "lifter culture" and its sometimes neanderthal followers.
  • Yes! Thank you so much for these recent articles about the benefits of strength training. It's so important to help us keep up our muscle mass and help ease the slowing of our metabolisms that comes along with aging, yet I still see so many people here who shy away from it. As someone who's lost and regained literally hundreds of pounds over the course of my life, it's definitely taken its toll on my body. I credit weight training with getting rid of my rather sizeable bat wings, a lot of my excess skin and most of the sagging that came along with rapid weight loss and regain. Not only that, but I also get to eat so much more and am a smaller size now at almost 150 pounds than I was at 135 pounds 20 years ago. Weight tranining really is a miracle cure!
  • One more thing: Many people don't have the money to hire a trainer. In that case, ask for help with a particular move from a person who looks like they know what they are doing. As long as you don't interrupt them in the middle of a set, they will probably be thrilled to help you. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone do something wrong and thought "I WISH they would ask me for help!".

    I've tried offering before, but people get insulted. Most weight lifters have had similar experiences. So we just cringe and try to close our eyes, and wish they'd ask for instruction.
  • Preach it! I'd like to add that women should also try to increase their weights as they gain strength. What you curl now should be more than what you curled a year ago.

About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.