Today’s guest post is brought to you by the Squat Queen herself, Chelsea Whitten. She’s a Guild Wars 2-playing, science fiction-loving crossfitter who can squat more than I weigh. If that’s reason enough to listen to what she has to say about weight lifting for women, then I’m not sure what is. Here’s Chelsea!
“I want to get toned, not bulky.”
Ladies, I hear you. I don’t want to look like a dude, either! But the idea of toning is a myth, and so is the presumption that a woman lifting heavy will make her bulky.
Weight Lifting for Women: The Toning Myth
The idea of ‘toning’ certain areas (like your butt, your arms, your thighs, or even your abs) just doesn’t work. When you add or lose weight (fat or muscle) your body removes fat from everywhere.
So if you lose 5% of your body fat, it’s not all going to come from your stomach no matter how many crunches you do.
It’s going to come maybe 1% from your belly (depending on where you’re genetically predisposed to store it), 1% from your butt, a half percent from your thighs, a quarter percent from your arms, etc. etc. The body is a beautiful system, and it’s not ever going to selectively remove fat from one portion of your body over another.
It wouldn’t make sense for keeping the whole thing warm in the winter, would it?
The Bulking Myth
This one is purely a misunderstanding. In order to look like this…
…you’re going to require some (probably illegal) drugs, steroids, a host of protein powders and supplements, a ridiculous diet regimen of almost exclusively protein, and a workout regimen that requires 3-6 hours a day in the gym.
And let’s face it, if you’re not even ready to give up your pasta or spend a whole hour on an elliptical, you are not at risk of looking like this.
Even ‘natural’ body builders have a very intense diet and workout regimen (minus the ‘roids). If you aren’t doing what they’re doing, you aren’t even at risk of looking like this…
However, you are at risk of looking like some of these women:
Want to look like them? Then learn how to squat, strict press, deadlift, do pull-ups, push-ups, and dips…all with weight.
Every one of the women in the pictures above can squat more than their bodyweight for reps (that means doing it multiple times without stopping) and can do push-ups, pull-ups, and a host of other movements that not only make them stronger, but are functional in everyday life.
And best of all, none of these women need help carrying their grocery bags to their cars, and they look damn good on the beach.
So toss aside your tiny dumbbells and take up a barbell and a weight belt, ladies. Real weight lifting for women requires real weight lifting.
Science. It Works, Bitches.
Using light weights—or even just your bodyweight—is great for training proper form, and you never want to start adding weight until you can do a movement correctly (in fact, I highly recommend that if you don’t know how to do these exercises, you start with a trainer or recruit a friend to show you how it’s done).
However, if you never progress beyond the 10lb dumbbells, you may be limiting yourself and your potential. When you stop improving form—or stop adding weight—your body is no longer seeing an increase in stress and therefore stops creating muscle and strength because it is no longer being stimulated.
The idea of continuing to add weight (for a new lifter, this may even be on a weekly basis) is called progressive overload, and has been used in the world of weight lifting to build strength for decades. Creating strength (and muscle) increases the amount of fat you burn, which helps you get lean faster than cardio alone.
There’s nothing wrong with doing higher repetitions in a set (8-12 reps), but if you’re not using weights that begin to push you to failure at the end of a set, then you aren’t using enough weight.
When you reach the point with a weight where doing the entire set is no longer a problem, you know it’s time to move up.
This point will be different for each person, so I never recommend specific weights or dumbbell sizes. My mother, for instance, would need to start her progressive overloading by slowly increasing the depth of her squat before she started to add weight. However, my little sister already has a beautiful air squat and could likely start squatting with 45-65lbs on a barbell.
So do some research on those around you who can show you how to move, get in the weight room, and start testing yourself to see where your starting point will be! Start with a program like Stronglifts 5×5 if you don’t know where to begin, and then continue to increase those weights until you are a lean, mean, weightlifting machine! Just remember that weight lifting for women is no different than weight lifting for dudes–you will get fit if you pick up heavy things.