WOMEN AND WEIGHT LIFTING – 5 MYTHS

At Sport and Recreation, we feel very passionate about breaking down barriers and supporting each other. For several years now we have hosted ‘female weight workshops’ within St. Paul’s Gym to help women feel confident and show that weight training does not need to be scary. Although we aren’t able to deliver this face to face at the moment we still want to support and show how effective and fun weight training can be.

If you recently started weight training in lockdown it can be daunting when you return to the gym. It is often thought that lifting weights is for men but this is far from the truth. Females lifting weights has definitely become more popular over the years, but there still seems to be a stigma, with people still flocking to cardio machines to change their body shape.

Weight training can be intimidating, we understand, most of us instructors have been there before. It’s nerve-wracking when you walk into a gym which you think is very male-led and they are completing heavy weighted exercises. You feel like they are watching and judging, but I promise they are not! Most of the time people are too focused on their own workouts or their music than looking around at what others are doing. Don’t be afraid. Just remember staff members are always around to help answer questions or technique so you are never alone. 

Strength training has so many benefits, it can help increase bone density, increase flexibility, improve mobility and can also increase your lifespan. 

Like many things, fitness can get complicated and this is the same with women and lifting weights. In it’s simplest form, you walk in the gym, lift some weights and leave. It’s not always as easy as that though, there is so much noise around fitness, tonnes of information online, so many fitspo accounts on Instagram telling you to work out a certain way, which simply doesn’t work. Sometimes it can be hard to separate what is fact and what is fiction. To combat this we have come up with 5 of the most common myths with females lifting weights and how we have debunked this.

1. “LIFTING WEIGHTS WILL MAKE ME BULKY”

Myth number one is very common, we have heard many times from beginners who want to lift weights but not get bulky, or females who wish to avoid heavyweights as they want to tone up. Weightlifters who are ‘bulky’ are that way due to an intense training regime, specific diets that are eaten to help bulk up and taking supplements. Some may even be on performance-enhancing drugs. The truth is women do not produce enough testosterone (which is the main hormone for muscle growth) in order to build large muscles like males. This is often why men tend to be stronger and have less body fat. Lifting weights is going to help strengthen your muscles and help to make them look more defined. If you want to tone up, you need to lift weights. Toning is fitness industry spin for lifting weights, to really ‘Tone up’ you need to strengthen your muscles and reduce excess levels of fat. Remember stronger doesn’t always mean bigger.

2. “CARDIO WILL BURN MORE FAT AND CALORIES THAN WEIGHTS”

If you love cardio then that’s amazing, but weight training will actually burn more energy much longer after you’ve finished your workout compared to cardio! The afterburn effect of cardio exercise continues to burn energy for up to 10 hours post-workout, whereas strength training creates an afterburn effect that can last up to 38 hours post-workout. Although cardio can be effective in keeping you healthy, it is not mandatory to burn fat and calories. Your body burns calories all day. To burn fat you need to burn more calories than you consume, and the more muscle mass you have the more calories you will burn. If you think of cardio machines, like a stationary bike, you are only working limited muscles. Whereas if you do a full-body weights workout your whole body will be worked. It is during weight training when our muscles tear and then repair. It is this process that requires a lot of energy to complete and helps to make your muscles stronger.  

Performing cardio constantly can not only be boring and repetitive but could be moving you further away from your goals. 

3. “LIFTING WEIGHTS IS DANGEROUS FOR WOMEN”

Lifting heavy weights can be dangerous for anyone if done incorrectly. Anybody can injure themselves, not just women. As long as the person lifting the weights is using a challenging but suitable weight with good technique then it is safe, and if you’re going for a new PB or new lift, use a spotter or come and ask one of us for some help. You want to make sure that you are controlling the weight at all times. By completing regular strength training your muscles will become stronger which can help with everyday life. Aim for around 2-3 reps with the chosen weight, how do you feel? You should be able to complete this move with correct technique but it should still feel challenging. If that’s the case, try and complete your full reps/sets with this weight. 

4. “TO TONE UP I NEED TO USE LIGHTWEIGHTS AND MORE REPS”

Starting light is important with weight exercises as it can help you understand the technique. Lighter weights are also great for muscular endurance. However, it won’t build muscle (remember it is hard to look bulky) or help to develop muscle definition, which is what we’re aiming for. Using weights that are challenging are going to really help with muscle strength and define the muscles. You should aim for a maximum of 12-15 repetitions in a set as a general rule unless you have very specific training aims. This should still be challenging and the weight should still increase over time as your body gets used to a certain weight. You may be using lighter weights due to not being confident or worrying that you won’t be able to complete the movement if you go heavier. As long as you are careful and only try a little more weight, what is the worst thing that can happen? If you have a friend or family member that you can train with help and assist each other if you are going heavier. Failure in exercises is not a bad thing if it’s within your rep range (12-15 reps), it’s going to help you to develop your strength. 

5. “WOMEN WHO ARE OLDER SHOULDN’T STRENGTH TRAIN”

This couldn’t be further from the truth. As mentioned earlier one of the strength training benefits is that it increases bone density. In older adults, a decrease in bone density and bone mass is very common, especially for women after menopause. Strength training has so many positive health benefits and can be completed at any age. Although we should listen to our body’s and see how we feel, we can still push ourselves. Work to a weight that is challenging to yourself, a heavy weight is different for everyone so decide an appropriate weight for you. However, make sure that you always prioritise correct technique over how heavy the weight is. 

Although weight training in the gym allows us to utilise a wide range of dumbbells, bars and machines we can start right now. You can use a number of household items to workout with, you can change the tempo of exercises to increase the intensity or even start building your own home workout area to start weight training straight away. Until we are allowed back in the gym we have some great Facebook live classes using a combination of weights and your body weight to get you weight training. So why not join in, or catch up on one of our previous classes. Build up your confidence from the comfort of your home, so when the gym is back open we can smash the weights and your goals!

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