Women and Weights: From Myth to Reality.


“I want to start lifting weights but I don’t want to get big and bulky.”

For those of us with experience training female clients, this is a familiar statement. It’s also an all too common misconception among women who are beginning a strength training program.

Strength training can transform your body in ways that cardio never will. Beyond the physical changes, a new level of confidence emerges as women start to feel more confident in their strong bodies. And as soon as that happens, the women are thrilled. These results easily replace any fears of big muscles with a huge amount confidence.

The truth is ladies: if you want to get fit, you need to lift weights. And there’s no better place to start than by dispelling a few of the common misconceptions surrounding women and weight training.

Lifting weights will make you look masculine; Women should avoid free weights and stick to machines; Weight training turns fat into muscle; Squatting will make your butt bigger; Women should only lift light weights; Women don’t know how to lift. When it comes to women and weight training, it’s a safe bet that you’ve probably heard or read at least one of these myths.

We can thank women’s fitness magazines for these persistent misconceptions, along with the natural tendency of all human beings to find reasons to avoid hard physical exertion. The different results men and women see in training are not the ones that the fitness industry, media, and popular culture have presented as fact. This unfortunately has had a detrimental effect on women’s training.

Mark Rippetoe (Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training 3rd ed.; Practical Programming for Strength Training 2nd ed.) points out that women do respond to weight training differently than men. However, women get the best results when they train for performance, because even though there are differences between a man’s and woman’s response to training, there is no difference in the quality of the exercise needed to produce the stress that causes our bodies to change.

Women will not get big, bulky muscles because they simply are not genetically wired to build them. It’s the difference in the hormonal profile between men and women that causes their performances to be different as well. Women may lack higher levels of testosterone, but when you look at body structure, we are all built the same. In short, the needs of a female athlete and a male athlete differ by degree not kind.

Women need to be doing exercises that demand strength, balance, power, speed, coordination, and mental focus to produce a stimulus that is superior to either low-intensity floor exercise or isolation type machine exercises. And for women who incorporate proper nutrition into their diet, the results are faster in coming and more reliable.

Don’t let bad information scare you away from training the way you want. Weightlifting won’t get you bulky or make you look like a man. But you will gain confidence, self-esteem, and a rockin’ body, and in the process have a lot of fun, make some great friends, and challenge yourself like never before.