So I am going to revisit a topic in the fitness industry that will never die, and that is the always hot debate on whether women should lift heavy or not. How many times have we women been fed the message that we need to keep it light (in terms of weight training) to achieve that “long, lean look”? This type of misinformation can be tough to shed, and quite frankly, it drives me absolutely bonkers!!!
Us ladies are constantly bombarded with images in the media conveying the message that the only way to look feminine is to be rail thin with no muscle definition and a huge thigh gap. I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly think that when a woman’s joints are wider than her limbs it’s exactly an attractive or healthy thing!
I think a little part of my heart breaks every time I hear a woman say that she doesn’t lift heavy because it makes her shoulders look too broad, it makes her thighs look too big, or it makes her look too manly. If she could only stop and think about that premise a bit differently. I wish more women would look at it as a sense of empowerment and accomplishment, as well as simply bringing to light their femininely muscular physique that is waiting to be showcased.
Now, do I realize that being muscular can actually swing all the other way on the pendulum and some women can take it to the extreme? Yes, I get it! But that doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen to you should you dare to venture beyond the 10lb dumbbells or the 15lb barbell at the gym. It is extremely difficult to become muscle-bound as a female. And besides…have a little pride in yourself!! You shouldn’t have to water down your fitness training simply because the fashion and beauty world says so. I say screw ’em and go on with your bad self.
Luckily, thanks to research over the past few decades, these unrealistic messages of how a woman should look and how she should exercise are slowly being corrected. Lifting heavier weights is excellent for improving a woman’s bone density, joint mobility and body composition, as well as relieving anxiety and depression. There is also solid data now showing that being strong and having adequate muscle mass and strong bones are key health traits to help women live longer. Let’s not also forget that if you have children, what a great message you are sending to your little ones about molding strong and confident women through weight training.
So with all that being said, how do you know if you are lifting heavy enough or if it’s time to up the ante? Below are a few clues to help you decide:
- You’re not being challenged: You’re supposed to breathe heavily during a set of an exercise and the last few reps should be challenging. If you find yourself reaching the end of your workout and it wasn’t challenging or you haven’t broken a sweat, that’s a huge sign it’s time to go heavier!
- Your reps go on forever: Ladies, if you find yourself being able to hold a lengthy conversation with your friend while you lift weights then it’s time to shorten the reps and increase the load. Seriously!! This is another one of my big pet peeves in the gym. Women are notorious for hanging out in the 15+ repetition range because the weight is easier and this is the infamous range for developing those “long and lean” muscles. For crying out loud, enough of this nonsense!! It’s time to start dabbling in rep ranges of single digits. Doing endless amounts of donkey kicks isn’t going to lift that butt any higher, but a squat, deadlift, or barbell hip thrust (to name a few) with good form and enough weight to really challenge you to get through 6-8 reps will.
- You’ve never increased your weight: Ladies, I know that many of you are guilty of this! You have been going to the gym for months now and you still pick up the same old 8lb pair of dumbbells that you started with for your first few workouts. If you’ve been weight training with the same amount of weight for an exceptionally long time, then you simply aren’t getting as much out of your workouts as you could be. Try bumping up the weights you use and see what happens.
- Your progress has plateaued: If you were motoring along for awhile and seeing great changes, and then all of a sudden it seems like you have hit a wall, chances are you have hit a plateau. Your continuing progress relies on a progressive overload of the muscles. If you present your muscles with the same workload, they will continue to work at the same level and your progress will come to a grinding halt. The body is very good at adapting quickly to external stimulus, so if you hang out at the same weight for too long your body will find a way to work with that weight with very little effort. Experiment with safe, incremental weight increases to get out of the rut.