Fitness is overrun with myths.
A few of the most notable ones over the years include:
While we could enumerate for days on why each of these myths are horrendously incorrect, there’s one myth that seems to trump the all to permeate in the cultural subconscious more than any other - the belief that lifting weights makes women “bulky.”
Many women avoid lifting weights, preferring to cling to their chronic cardio ways for fear that even looking at a barbell for too long will turn them into a crazed She-Hulk.
But, is this really true?
The Truth About Women Lifting Weights
We’ll quash this myth right from the get-go -- weight lifting does NOT make women bulky, thick, or manly.
The reason for this is that lifting progressively heavier weights builds strength, but doesn’t necessarily make your muscles bigger.
You see, in order for a muscle to grow, a few things need to be in place:
- You need a sufficiently challenging weight for the given muscle group (>30% of 1RM)
- You must perform enough total training volume (sets X reps) each week
- You need to be in an energy surplus (calories in > calories out)
Without these three things in place, your muscles will not grow.
Furthermore, even if you were to consume a small calorie surplus, lift heavy enough weights with enough total weekly volume to drive muscle growth, you will not transform into a drug-fueled female bodybuilder overnight.
Women have roughly 20% less testosterone and growth hormone production than men, which limits how much and how fast they can gain size.
What we’re driving at here, is that you would have to make bulking up a serious endeavor and passion in order for it to occur. You won’t build slabs of lean muscle simply from lifting heavy weights 3-4x per week.
To get big, you have to chase it with purpose, determination and focus.
And to be quite honest, if you were to lift weights while in the midst of a calorie deficit, you would actually lose weight, while simultaneously making your muscles stronger and more “toned”.
But, the benefits of weight lifting for women extend beyond simply looking great...
Benefits of Weight Lifting for Women
Lifting weights helps increase your metabolic rate.
When you perform resistance-training, your body consumes extra oxygen following your workout to help restore its normal homeostatic function. As this is happening, your metabolism goes into overdrive, churning through more calories than it would in the hours following a steady-state cardio workout.
Remember that lifting weights also helps build muscle and strength. The more muscle you have, the higher your BMR (basal metabolic rate) is, which is the largest contributor to your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
The greater your BMR is, the more calories you body burns even when you’re just lying on the sofa watching Netflix all day long!
Weight lifting and other forms of exercise (like HIIT) stimulate the release of stress-reducing, mood-boosting chemicals in the brain, including endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin.
These feel-good neurotransmitters improve sense of well-being, spark motivation and creativity, and also help reduce the perception of pain. They even help boost mental and physical energy to help you be more productive the rest of the day!
Women run a greater risk for developing osteoporosis than men, there’s no two ways about it.
Fortunately, lifting heavy weights is one of the best things a female can do to build stronger bones as resistance-training increases your bone density, thereby reducing your risk of broken bones.
Moreover, stronger muscles and bones also pay dividends in regards to better balance, flexibility, and coordination, which becomes more important as we age.
Not only does lifting weights improve the strength, size, and density of your muscles and skeleton, it also helps make you joints, ligaments, and connective tissue stronger.
Fortifying these unsung heroes of the body make you more resilient and less prone to injury during training as well as during your everyday life.
Help Prevent Illness & Disease
Finally, lifting weights has been shown in countless studies to improve insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and several other markers of health and wellness. Improvements in these markers helps reduce your risk for developing chronic disease and illness, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.
Hopefully this puts to rest the myth that lifting weights makes women bulky or manly. There are simply too many benefits (beyond building muscle and strength) to not make weight lifting a cornerstone of your weekly training regimen!
- Layne, J. E., & Nelson, M. E. (1999). The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 31(1), 25–30.