Everyone's heard the myths and misconceptions about girls and lifting heavy weights. This article sets the record straight.
When coaches call and ask how I design programs for our men’s and women’s programs they are sometimes surprised by my answer (and really shouldn’t be). The basic concept of both programs is exactly the same! Both focus on strength and power development through the use of multi-joint exercises (like the Olympic lifts and squatting), bodyweight exercises (push ups and pull-ups) and exercises that focus the hamstring, glutes and the lower back. The bottom line is that female athletes aren’t vastly different from male athletes.
It drives me nuts when female athletes believe that heavy resistance training won’t improve their performance. Now, I understand the long standing myths and misconceptions associated with weight training. I know that all girls are afraid of a rapid increase in size, an increase in weight, becoming masculine, and not being able to fit in their favorite pair of jeans/pants. So what do they do…. they look up programs in magazines or talk with personal trainers that tell them they should do high volume sets and reps with low rest periods at light weight to achieve their goal. They’re told that doing sets of 10 with a weight that they could do 20-30 times will help tone their muscles. This is a programming method that will actually promote muscle growth, waste your time, and make no contribution to your fitness level or muscle development.
Ladies, you are your own worst critics and are constantly evaluating changes in your body which creates a psychological block to your training. So let’s put some of these common misconceptions to rest right now.
1.”If I lift weights I’ll look like a man.”
Ok, time to get the record straight once and for all. The muscle magazine models that you see are actually pumped full of steroids. That’s why they look like dudes, not because they lift heavy weights. Biologically, most females never acquire the same degree of muscle mass as their male counterparts, due to the lack of testosterone in their bodies. Additionally females only have about 60% of the number of muscle fibers that men have, which reduces their capacity to build muscle. Understand that not all women are genetically designed the same and you will have a few that grow faster than others simply because of bio-chemistry (they have a greater testosterone to estrogen ratio). On average men produce 10 times more testosterone then females and unless you are taking anabolic steroids or other male hormones, lifting heavy weight will not make you look like a man.
2. Heavy weights will promote size.
Wrong, it is actually the opposite and goes back to what I mentioned at the beginning of this article. When lifting heavy weights over 85% of your one rep maximum, the stress is primarily on your nervous system not your muscles. Strength will improve by your neurological control and this is best achieved when doing low reps of heavy weight (so think 5 sets of 3-5 reps with as much weight as you can handle) in order to increase force production and limit the amount of muscle mass you gain.
3. If I eat less and workout more I won’t gain weight.
UGH!!! This makes me want to punch myself in the face! Please understand that most weight gain or loss will happen at different rates for each athlete and it’s directly correlated to the athlete’s nutritional habits. If you don’t eat enough you actually gain weight quicker because your body is holding on to all the calories it can to function, and those calories are being stored as fat. You also start to lose lean muscle mass because your body needs carbohydrates to function and it will get those carbohydrates by breaking down muscle. You should never carry less than 100 lbs of lean muscle mass… ever.
Additionally, the “Freshman 15” is physiologically impossible to gain in only a few weeks of training. Most of the weight gained when females enter college is from changes in diet (i.e. eating only 2 times per day and adding 6-8 beers every night 2-4 days per week.). Of course it’s easy to blame the strength program for your increase in weight and decrease in speed, but we both know that’s not the case. The fact is that 2 meals per day and all of the alcohol are actually the ones responsible for slowing your metabolism down, not your training program.
Ladies, understand that even though the weight on the scale may increase if you’re training hard, the end result is typically a leaner more fit body that can handle greater workloads, at higher intensities, with a greater performance output. The toned look you want comes from removing the fat that is covering well-developed muscles. Achieving well-developed muscles come from lifting heavy weights and managing your diet. So let’s try lifting some heavy weights and controlling our diets with this logical, well-studied and documented solution and you’ll assuredly become leaner, fitter, and more-toned.