“I just want to tone and tighten.”
“Not looking to get muscly or bulky, I just want to lean out a little bit.”
“I want to get those shoulder and arm lines. Not really muscly, I just want to be able to see my muscles.”
“Bigger butt. Not too jiggly though.”
“I want to get rid of these arm flaps. I don’t want to be able to take flight if I wave my arms fast enough.”
That last one sounds slightly embellished, but those were my client’s exact words; I thought it was so great that I wrote it down in my assessment notes.
In my time as a personal trainer, every single woman, almost without fail, has said one of these sentences in one way or another. Regardless of their current fitness status or their specific personal goals, they all shared a common desire: a tight and leaner physique. However, this desire is always coupled with fear and aversion to becoming too muscly or manly in appearance; unfortunately yet understandably, many women mistake strength training to be the culprit. So, they turn to all types and flavors of cardio to reach their goals. It’s a sad truth and a misconception, but one that can be understood. The ironic truth of the matter is that incorporating strength training into a fitness routine is actually the answer to creating a well-rounded, truly strong, and lean figure.
“Alright, Brian. You’re telling me strength training is the answer and solution for me to be getting that lean beach-ready physique I’ve always wanted? Let’s say I believe you. Why isn’t every woman out there doing strength training then? Why are kickboxing, barre, and cycling classes full of women trying to get the same results as me, but are instead not taking the route you’re advising?”
First and foremost, I’m not hating on any of the above fitness trends. I’m all for getting the body moving. In fact, that’s the first and most important step, and if that’s what it takes to finally get you to care about your health and activity level, I fully support it. However, if your goal is to refine your physique in any way, then you need to do more than move.
You need to start lifting weights.
Where Did The Industry Go Wrong?
Women have been told for decades that the route to better fitness is through uber-restrictive diets combined with endless bouts of cardio. For one, this is unsustainable, and two, it makes for a very miserable existence, as I’m sure you’ve encountered in your own journey.
For as long as I can remember, women’s fitness has been almost entirely focused on becoming skinny; this is and should no longer be the case.
Strong is the new skinny.
Being strong is the key to looking and feeling lean, and to look strong, you’ve gotta get strong.
It’s time we rectify the misinformation surrounding strength training, so let’s get to it.
MYTH #1: Strength training is only for powerlifters or people who want to squat 300lbs.
FACT: Everyone, young and old, male and female, budding fitness enthusiast or an experienced athlete, can and will benefit from some form of strength training. The term strength is commonly to describe one’s ability to overcome resistance. Some might take this to mean that being strong is equivalent to picking up super-heavy weights, however, that is not always the case.
Strength training, at its core, is all about imposing demands on your body that force it to adapt in ways that are favorable to your physique (e.g., building muscle.)
The key here is that you’re not bound to doing only max-effort 250-pound deadlifts to make your glutes more shapely, nor do you need to do 500 reps of glute kickbacks for 45 minutes.
The goal is to meet somewhere in the middle by using a variety of weights, reps, sets, and tempos (i.e., how fast you perform an exercise.) For instance, some phases of your exercise program should include higher-weight, lower rep work, while other parts should have lower-weight, higher-rep work.
Editor’s Note: We decided to not to make this a 10,000-word article on the intricacies of exercise programming. If any of this is confusing or you want help customizing your exercise program, drop a comment below or contact us directly. That’s what we’re here for.
MYTH #2: Strength training will make me too masculine, muscular, stocky, grow a mustache, etc.
FACT: It won’t. Female genetics ensure that none of these awful nightmares come true.
I wish it were easy to pack on pounds of muscle, and so does every other man reading this. The average gym bro struggles to gain even one pound of muscle, even after doing chest and arms for the 5th time this week.
The reality is you will never ever get bulky or masculine from strength training because you were built, biologically, to not appear that way. Simply put, you won’t outgrow your genetic potential as a female.
One reason is that bone structure and total body mass impact your maximum muscle potential (3). If you’re smaller, structurally speaking, you’re less likely to put on a boatload of muscle mass. Men put on more muscle, or appear to, due to their considerably larger bone structures and higher bone densities. Conversely, you are less likely to be overly muscular due to your female structure. The only way you’re going to pack on insane amounts of muscle is by introducing exogenous testosterone into the body (e.g., performance-enhancing drugs.)
The cool thing is, you can build as much relative muscle as a man can; it’s just that your base level of muscle is lower than a man’s. If you had the same base level of muscle…you would be a man, and you’re not a man…so, ipso facto, you won’t get masculine.
So, lift all you want, and don’t worry that you’ll end up looking like Schwarzenegger.
Beyond Building Muscle
Being strong and lean is clearly beneficial, but there are some more subtle advantages to lifting weights that we need to address.
Benefit #1 – You will build confidence in and outside of the gym.
Ask any of my clients, male and female alike; they’ve all expressed joy when finally feeling comfortable in the gym. Being able to load up a barbell and pick it up off the floor like a boss is one of the best feelings in the world.
Furthermore, having a developed base of strength helps outside of the gym. Not only will you feel more confident because you’re stronger, but the feeling of being strong in and of itself is also certainly a mood booster.
A recent study examined the emotional, physical, and psychological effects of strength training on women 40 and up (4). “The Strong Woman Program” focused on this demographic with the primary intent of “maintaining strength, function, and independence.” This strength program was shown to greatly increase body image, quality of life, and ability to participate in physical activity, while simultaneously decreasing anxiety and depression symptoms as a result of improved body image.
Learning to lift weights and be confident in the gym will leak into more aspects of your life than you thought possible.
Benefit #2 – You will improve your mental and emotional well-being.
Your confidence is tied to your mood and vice versa, so it should come as no surprise that strength training improves your mental and emotional state. A review done at Ohio State (yeah, I know, don’t hate me you Michiganders), examined 16 studies done on resistance training and the effects it had on the participants (5). Anxiety symptoms were shown to be drastically reduced post-training. Frequency, duration, and intensity didn’t seem to cause many variations either. In other words, the simple act of resistance training was enough to elicit desirable effects on mood.
Another study performed over 11 years on 33,000 people showed that resistance training a couple of times a week could help prevent depression (6).
I’ve struggled with depression and mood swings just like you, but I find solace in lifting weights, as it helps me curtail extreme changes in mood—you know, like the kind of mood you get in after it snows for the 10th time in February.
Benefit #3 – You will thank yourself for years to come.
Getting old might seem daunting, but getting older and weaker is legitimately frightening.
Sarcopenia is the term used for age-related muscle loss, and it has been linked to more falls, incurring trauma, declining function (i.e., not able to perform activities of daily living), struggling with disabilities, having a poor quality of life, nursing home placement, and mortality (7). In other words, getting old and frail is truly scary.
Strength training now is crucial to help fight muscle loss associated with aging. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone over 60 and they will tell you the same thing: they either lift weights or wish they did. Don’t be the latter.
Sometimes, The Truth Hurts.
It’s time to face the facts. 99% of the time, working out, even when lifting heavy weights, is not making you bulky.
It’s the excess calories you’re eating.
At the end of the day, what you’re putting into your mouth is a much greater influence on your bulkiness than any amount of weight you lift in the gym.
Don’t blame the weight, blame your plate.
Editor’s Note: Need nutrition help? Motive Training has customized nutrition programs to get you started. Contact us ASAP.
Hit The Ground Running
You may still be apprehensive about strength training, which is totally normal. I was there not too long ago. When I started, I floundered around in the gym for longer than I should have. I did a lot of my own research and then asked some local coaches and friends for help. It eventually worked, but it took much longer than it would’ve if I had sought professional help from a qualified coach.
Ultimately, hiring a coach, right from the start, is your best bet toward success. We can help you refine your exercise technique when you’re trying to squat or deadlift for the first time, teach you how to make YOUR body move the right way, work around injuries and pain points, and keep you accountable to your goals and training. You show up, and we do the rest. 🙂
If you don’t have access to a qualified coach, then reach out and we’ll put you in touch with other reputable sources on the subject.
In the end, you’ll never regret learning to push your body to new places through strength training, so make it happen.
Owner at Motive Training