Women and Weights: The Ultimate Beginner Guide
Weights are scary, right?
That’s not meant to sound patronising at all, but it’s true.
Actually, cancel that, the weights themselves aren’t scary, but the caveman-esque guys who roam the weights area, conversing in grunts, and trying to out-alpha each other are scary.
The weight room is generally thought of as the guy’s domain, while you ladies are scorned for going in there, and told to get back to “your area” – i.e. the rows and rows of treadmills and bikes.
But you know, what. Screw it.
You have every right to go into the weights area. And in fact, you SHOULD go in there.
Weight Training: It Makes You Sexy
Forgot about “losing weight” for a minute – do you actually want to lose weight, or do you want to look better.
Just think about that.
If I said you could drop 10 pounds, but you’d still look exactly the same, would you be happy?
How about if you looked exactly like a model or celebrity that you admire from a magazine, but you weighed the same as you do now, or perhaps even heavier?
I’m guessing you’d probably be pretty pleased, despite what the scale says.
Personal trainers hate using the words “tone” and “shape” and at the risk of being shunned by the rest of the industry, I’ll say it – weight training will tone and shape your muscles.
Cardio Is Lying To You
The first port of call for most who step into the gym, looking to lose weight is the cardio area.
This is understandable. We’ve gone through life being told that cardio burns calories (which it does) and that if we want to lose fat, we must do lots of it (which we don’t).
Cardio absolutely does burn calories, which will help increase your caloric deficit, thus helping you lose weight and shed pounds. What it doesn’t do however, is stimulate your muscle fibers.
Okay, your calves might get a little bit of action from running, and your glutes can hurt after a cycle ride, but aside from that – you get no high-intensity muscular stimulation from cardio.
“Why would I want muscle stimulation?” you may ask – well, here’s the thing.
If you want a butt like Jessica Biel, arms like Megan Fox, or a washboard stomach a la Cameron Diaz, you have to hit your muscles hard.
Not only that, but you do actually burn calories from weightlifting.
Yep, all that stuff you heard about cardio being the ONLY way to burn calories – it’s not true. 30-40 minutes of hard weight training rivals the calorie burn of the same amount of time spent on a steady jog.
Plus, you get what’s known as an EPOC effect from lifting weights.
EPOC stands for “Excessive Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption” and is a highly fancy way of describing the afterburn effect.
When you finish a cardio workout, your calorie burn returns back to normal almost immediately. With weights, however, it’s a different story.
Due to the damage (good damage, by the way) done to the muscle tissue, along with the increased demands weight training places on your body, your metabolic rate and calorie burn go through the roof. This increased burn rate stays up for as long as 48 hours post-workout. This can make a HUGE difference to your results.
Affraid of Getting Big and Bulky?
It’s a common concern many women have, so it’s perfectly justified to worry that as soon as you pick up a weight, you’ll turn into the Incredible She-Hulk, but lay your fears aside.
There are several issues to address here.
Firstly, one of the main hormones involved in building muscle is testosterone. Women do produce testosterone, but at much, much lower levels than men. Those freakily huge, shredded women you see on the bodybuilding stage – they’re all on special supplements, that, among other things, increase their testosterone levels, so unless you’re on the same stuff, there is no need to worry.
Secondly, it takes years of specifically trying to build muscle to get anywhere near what would be considered “big.” Half the blokes in the weights area have been striving for bigger muscles most of their adult lives, yet most still look weak and weedy, so a few weights sessions per week, aimed at improving body composition has no danger of making you “too big.”
One final point, and possibly the most important, is that building muscle comes down to diet.
To bulk up, you must eat more calories than you burn.
As you’re dieting, however, you’re eating fewer calories than you burn, meaning you simply won’t build muscle to any noticeable degree. Therefore, weight training will accelerate the fat burning process, and make you look a hell of a lot better than plodding away on a recumbent bike for 4 hours per week.
I'm Convinced. How Do I Start?
Awesome, once you’ve got past the first mental barrier of realising that weight training can only ever benefit your physique, it’s time to face another potential roadblock – how to begin.
A few key pointers to start with:
There is no right or wrong program, but some programs and protocols are better than others.
If you’ve never trained with weights before (or even if you have, but haven’t done it in a while, or are a little unsure of yourself) hire a coach or trainer for a few sessions. It will be well worth the investment.
Form comes before everything else. If you’re not lifting properly, you won’t get results, and could injure yourself in the process. Which again, is why hiring a decent trainer can be a lifesaver.
Don’t be afraid of lifting heavy. To get results, you need to challenge yourself – so no pink dumbbells or pencil weights please.
You don’t need to spend hour upon hour in the weight room. Three 45-minute sessions per week will do you the world of good.
Here’s your “Woman’s handbook for starting weight training”:
Free weights trump machines 99% of the time.
To lift for strength, work with heavy weights (heavy is relative to you) in the 6 to 8 rep range.
To lift for endurance, go slightly lighter (but still challenging) and shoot for sets of 12 to 15.
Sets of 8 to 12 are typically referred to as the hypertrophy (muscle-building) range. While it seems sensible to avoid these, remember – you won’t be getting too big and bulky, so some training in this range is fine.
Look to constantly progress. That could mean using slightly heavier weights, adding sets or reps, reducing rest times, and so on. Remember, if you train the same, you stay the same.
Got all that? Great.
Hopefully you’ve come out the other side with a great idea of not just what weight training involves, but why it’s beneficial.
Before I leave you though, it’d be remiss not to leave you with a sample workout.
This routine is fantastic.
It hits every major muscle group, including those pesky areas so many women wish to target, like the glutes, shoulders and arms. It uses exercises that are challenging, but easy to pick up (with the help of a trainer,) and it will get you strong and lean quicker than any boring old cardio plan.
Oh, and it’s fun too.
For your foray into the wonderful world of weight training, try this workout for the next four to six weeks.
Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Back Squat 5 6
Barbell Deadlift 4 8
Bench Press 3 12
Dumbbell Row 5 6
Shoulder Press 4 8
Lat Pulldowns 3 12
Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Lunges 4 8
Glute Bridge Raises 3 12
Incline Press 4 8
Assisted Chin-Ups 5 6
Clean and Press 3 12
Band Rows 5 6
Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Back Squat 4 8
Barbell Deadlift 5 6
Bench Press 5 6