Dispelling the Myths of Women and Weights
“If I lift weights, I’ll get real bulky” is a statement we hear from women who enter Beachfit CrossFit all the time.
This statement is made daily in gyms across the country. So often that it’s surprising, since heavy weightlifting is not done by a large percentage of the female population. The other thing that’s surprising about it is that it is physically challenging for women to get bulky muscles, in fact it’s almost impossible for a woman with an average exercise regimen, which would include weight training several days a week. Weightlifting is an important strength training component many women are completely missing when they exercise.
The components of muscle building require some type of strength or resistance training. It also requires a macronutrient intake sufficient to support muscle growth and it requires a testosterone level high enough to promote bulky muscle growth. This is where women fall short. They do not have the hormonal makeup to build big, bulky muscles.
Without a doubt, women will build muscle mass over time. This takes a lot of time and an incredible amount of effort. Impressive physiques can be seen on high-level female athletes in every sport; however the amount of work these women put in over several years that builds the types of physiques they have is hard for the average athlete to replicate. What most women will see in their own bodies as a result of weight training is denser, more “toned” muscles, even with great strength gains.
So what are women seeing if it is not bulkier muscles? Usually what they are talking about can be attributed to nutrition. Diet is actually 80% responsible for body composition. Most women are not changing their diets with their exercise programs. Sometimes they are adopting ineffective diet practices they have been taught. Sometimes they assume that because they are exercising they can eat more because exercise “burns so many calories”. It can be pretty simple to consume more calories than one is burning, especially if you’re not paying close attention. To be more succinct, the “bulkiness” women refer to is often excess body fat.
A more important question may be what motivates women to work out and what is important to them? Working out with 5 lb weights will only help a woman so much in life. A gallon of milk weighs 8 lbs and a bag of groceries can weigh 20lbs. Even heavier are toddlers, furniture, and cases of anything from Costco. Just bringing groceries in from the car can be a bigger workout than some people are doing when they exercise.
Lifting weights, and I’m talking about significant weight now, has so many benefits. People realize incredible health benefits from regular weight training, but beyond that, women benefit their personal lives and emotional health. Strength gives a woman options. She can carry and do her own things. She is able to go out and enjoy activities she otherwise might not be able to do. The biggest strength gain I see in women who start to lift weights is real confidence in their own abilities. Most women are capable of lifting much more than they think is possible. They are blown away by what they are able to do when they really try with the proper coaching. This confidence and knowledge is a tremendous asset in life. Quite often one of our newer female athletes will admit that they were uncertain about and intimidated by the weightlifting component of our training but that it turned out to be the part they most love.
I have been lifting weights for years. I would love to be able to gain muscle more quickly. I have bench pressed and cleaned my body weight, and squatted and deadlifted much more. I have done 25 consecutive pull ups and 45 consecutive push ups. These aren’t award-winning numbers but they are bigger strength posts than the average woman who tells me she doesn’t want to get bulky. I have never had a woman tell me I look bulky. In contrast, I have often had women ask me what I do, because they would love to have a toned physique. I am including a picture at my strongest. You can see all my muscles, but that is because I am at my leanest and the definition therefore shows. I am a size 4 in the picture.
However, if someone told me I looked bulky, I would no longer care. Lifting weights is empowering. I love how I feel and I love my capability. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I want my daughters to learn that strength is beautiful. I want them to be empowered, not intimidated, and confident in their bodies. Now, I just need a little more muscle!