In my experience as a coach and trainer the number one set back women face in the gym is lack of strength training. Rarely do women train with weighted resistance often or heavy enough. This is to be expected when the majority of your training advice comes from infomercials, fashion magazines, and daytime television. The facts are, that women who exercise, need to lift heavy objects in an appropriately planned program and they need to train their minds to ignore decades of bad advice.
Why women don’t lift heavy weights
Females often choose not to exercise with weights because they simply lack experience. It isn’t difficult to understand why women shy away from the weight room, after all, weights will make you ‘bigger’, ‘muscle bound’ and traumatically ‘masculine’. This attack on femininity perpetuated by uniformed fitness ‘experts’ and product pushers can be credited for a giant stall in the advancement of women’s fitness. Bound to cardio equipment, distance running, yoga, aerobic and circuit classes, a large percentage of women quit training every day, of every week, of each year, because they never achieve their goals. Replacing superfluous steady state cardiovascular exercises with weight training is the best decision a women can make for her personal health. Absolute strength is the base for improving all other aspects of training including speed/power, recovery, flexibility, and body composition. Women who lift weights and engage in high intensity movements are able to train less and achieve greater results.
The more you accept stereotypes the more you suffer
Weight lifting (especially heavy weights) makes you manly, less feminine, bulky, less attractive, and too muscular. If you agree with this last statement please call my business number, I have some fools gold, fat burners, and a miracle mop to sell you. Perpetuated from non documented, non science based evidence, and largely growing out of a very limited linear way of thinking from gym culture in the 1980’s, the world warned women that exercising like men would make you look like men. From a narrow point of view, this thinking might make sense: ‘if men lift heavy weights and and the result is a robust muscle bound physique, the same must be true for women?’ What woman would want that?
We made conclusions based mostly on antidotal evidence and lack of physiological knowledge. Let us forgive those panderers of false evidence and move on. Most women I train and coach do not aim to look more masculine, instead they are searching for an improvement in body composition, movement, and sometimes sports specific targets. One of the greatest achievements a trainer and coach can have is helping their client or athlete develop a healthy relationship with their own body. Hands down, bar none, a person who respects and loves their body is much easier to help than a person wrapped up by the negative dogma we all face every day.
Lifting heavy objects (weights, bars, kettlebells, medicine balls, tires, etc) will make you look and feel better in every way. Like men who lift seemingly develop and enhance their masculine physique, women who train this way will be pleasantly surprised with their curves, angles, skin tone, energy levels and overall image. Arguably, a gym membership will do more for your self esteem than any designer piece of clothing or accessory might. The cost of haut- couture might be one you are willing to defend and justify, until the moment you realize that looking in the mirror and accepting what you see in a positive loving manner is priceless. Checkmate Hermes.
What your training should look like
A well rounded exercise program will be a goal oriented one that prioritizes injury prevention and recovery. Always, no matter what path you choose, quality should trump quantity. Respecting the nervous system and the time it requires to recover from intense training, will get you to your goal efficiently and safely. Plan your training on a 7 -10 day block. Allow for days off and active recovery days. The next day after intense exercise you can improve your recovery time by either taking the day off completely, or actively recovering with light exercise such as dynamic stretches and walking or gentle/yin style yoga.
Training repetitions should not exceed 10 and generally the more effective way to increase strength will be to keep reps under 6. There are exceptions to this rule for advanced lifters, and programs written by a professional may prescribe higher reps with a direct training goal in mind. For the most part, keeping your reps between 3-6 and lifting between 88-100% of your one repetition max (the maximum amount of weight you are able to safely and effectively perform the specific exercise with) will deliver superb results and increase muscle. Remember that muscle growth will be determined by the biological environment you provide. Your caloric intake, flexibility, recovery efforts, and hormonal balance all play pivotal roles in the appearance of muscle. No matter how heavy, how often, how intensely you lift you will never turn into a man. You are a woman, and short of the use of anabolic steroids, surgery, and hormone manipulation you will remain a woman. Seriously.
Start slow, research a reputable local gym, sporting club, trainer or coach. You should choose the person or people that guide your fitness with ultimate scrutiny and accountability. Your body is your canvass and your vehicle for your life travels and experiences. Work with someone who respects your health and is willing to listen to your needs by putting your safety first. If you have not started already, picking up a weight will be one of the smartest decisions you will ever make, the heavier the weight you are able to pick up, the better.
Some tips and guidelines
• Compound movements like squats, lunges, pull ups, presses and **dead lifts should be the core exercises in your program
• Training protocols should be complementary to your goals (runners, rowers, weigh loss clients, yoga instructors, will all need slightly different sets/reps/exercise planning)
• Rest and recovery should be planned, not last minute decisions
• Example reps and sets schemes: 5×5/ 6×3 /4×4 /5-8 x 1 /3 x 10
• Rest appropriately. The heavier you lift, the heavier your demand on the nervous system, the more rest you will need between reps. 3-6 minutes depending on what protocol you chose. Do not rush, this will be self defeating.
• Use weights when you train your core
• Learn to combine activities for better results: running stairs then leg training on the same day is a good example
• Always eat enough. Training on a caloric deficit is a slippery slope that often results in hormonal chaos
• Less is more. Effective programs gradually increase in difficulty
• Accept change. When training for strength aim to increase the weight on your compound exercises by 3-5% each week. Similarly, aim to change your program every 4-6 weeks depending on your training experience. *less experienced may benefit from staying on a program longer than 4 weeks whereas very experienced trainees may need to change every 3 weeks
• Manage your time by ensuring you monitor your rest intervals.
• Have fun, work with a partner, teammate, or coach, and try and incorporate activities that you enjoy and challenge you.
‘Live to Train…Train to Live better’
**deadlifts are a difficult exercise that generally require more coaching and learning
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