I don't know about you, but I'm getting rather tired of all the stereotypical nonsense surrounding women and weight training.

"Deadlifts? No, no. That's a man's exercise; we don't want to hurt ourselves now do we? You better stick to this here butt blaster instead. Don't go too heavy now; that'll just make you big and bulky like those female bodybuilders. If you want to 'tone up,' you need to go for the 'burn' with high reps and just a little bit of weight. Okay, now over to the hip adductor machine. This one is great for targeting and toning up those inner thighs."

And as if the abundance of misinformation spouted out by the average lay person regarding women and weight training isn't enough, these words actually came from the mouth of a "certified" personal trainer. A man's exercise? What the heck is that? Are women so incompetent and weak that they can't manage to conduct exercises with barbells and dumbbells or something? Higher reps to tone up? Big and bulky?

Man, I wanted to clock this guy; however, instead of "laying the smack down" on his misinformed butt, I decided to write this article instead. Let's take a look at how a woman should train and at the same time dispel some of the common misconceptions regarding female trainees:

How Women Should Train

1. You Should Train With Weights

A desirable female physique is one that can only be achieved by moving some serious iron in the weight room! But what about all the talk about weight training making women big and bulky? First, it is physiologically impossible for you as a woman to put on large amounts of muscle mass; you're body's hormonal makeup is not one that will allow you to do so.

God never intended for women to look like men (go figure), so he made the chemistry of each gender's respective bodies different. Regardless of how you train, how often you train, how much protein you eat, etc, you're not going to even come close to the big, bulky physique of a female bodybuilder.

Lean, Sexy, & Hard: Weight Training For Women - Part 1!

"A desirable female physique is one that can only be achieved by moving some serious iron in the weight room!"

It will not happen. That look is only obtainable by one means: steroids. Because their natural hormonal profiles would never allow them to get that "big," they resort to changing their body's chemistry through the use of illegal drugs. Secondly, if the right training method is chosen, the hypertrophic (growth) response to resistance training can be even further reduced. This brings us to our next point.

2. You Should Train Heavy

Yeah, I know what they told you, lighten the load and go for the burn...hogwash. To comprehend why this is indeed nonsense, we have to understand a few things about muscle tone in general. There are two types of muscle tone; myogenic and neurogenic. Don't get thrown off by the sciency words; the first simply refers to your muscle tone at rest. It is affected by the density of your muscles; the greater the density of your muscles, the harder and firmer you will appear. Heavy training increases your myogenic tone through the hypertrophy (growth) of the contractile proteins myosin and actin (myosin and actin are by far the most dense components of skeletal muscle).

Training in higher rep ranges promotes more sarcoplasmic (fluid) hypertrophy, which in turn yields a "softer" pumped look. If you want to be hard, firm, tight, etc, the latter is certainly not the way to go. The second aspect of a muscles' tone is neurogenic tone, or the tone that is expressed when movements or contractions occur. Again, lower rep training comes out on top as training with heavy loads will increase the sensitivity of alpha and gamma motor neurons, thus increasing neurogenic tone when conducting even the simplest of movements (i.e. walking, extending your arm to point, etc).

Finally, as alluded to in point number one, training with heavy loads and low volume (sets x reps) is the best way to get hard and strong, but not big. Muscular hypertrophy is generally a response to a high volume work output; therefore, by keeping the sets and reps low with heavy training, you won't have to fear getting overly big (this really isn't even an issue due to the physiological reasons mentioned earlier).

Why then is it commonly recommended that women train with lighter loads? Well, there are a couple reasons. First, there is the typical stereotype that women are weak, fragile creatures who can't handle anything more than pushups on their knees and bicep curls with pink dumbbells. Try telling that to 123 lb Mary Jeffrey who bench presses a world record 275 lbs and you'll likely get smacked upside the head with a 45 lb plate. Give me a break. Secondly, the belief that high-rep training increases muscle tone is 100% myth.

Strength training guru and Muscle Media contributor Pavel Tsatsouline explains this quite nicely, "Your muscle fibers are like mouse traps... they go off by themselves, but need energy to be reset to contract again. A dead body is out of ATP, the energy compound that relaxes the muscles... A high rep workout exhausts ATP in your muscle and leads to temporary hardness... The only way to make such 'tone' last is by killing yourself." Hmmm, sounds like fun to me. Pavel goes on to note, "You better get on a first name basis with heavy deadlifts if you are after a hard butt!" This brings us to our third and final point.

Lean, Sexy, & Hard: Weight Training For Women - Part 1!

"A high rep workout exhausts ATP in your muscle and leads to temporary hardness"

Forget the butt blaster, forget leg extensions and leg curls, and forget "muscle sculpting" with Susie the hyperactive personal trainer. As stated in point number two, if you want to sport a hard body, you better start training heavy. Big, compound movements such as the deadlift and the squat are superior to machine, isolation-type movements for hardening up your thighs and butt as they allow you to use maximal weight while training a number of muscle groups simultaneously.

Another benefit obtained by performing multi-joint compound movements is increased confidence. With strength comes confidence. Also, there is nothing like claiming your ground in the gym by loading up the squat bar and proceeding to execute a few heavy, crisp repetitions. After all, 90% percent of the guys in your gym probably don't squat, and those of them that do most likely resort to using the smith machine and/or doing partial repetitions.

Know why? Because free squatting with a full range of motion is hard. It takes will power to get under that bar week after week and squat all the way down. Simply put, most people fear the squat and the deadlift (along with anything else challenging in life). So, after that macho guy gets done barbell curling in the squat rack, throw the bar up on the J-hooks where it belongs and show 'em what kind of woman you are!

"So, Ya Want Me To Lift How Much?"

Don't get the impression that I'm telling you that you need to be able to lift "x" number of lbs to obtain a hard physique. Heavy is a relative term; 600 lbs is considered "light" to some of the guys on the Westside Barbell powerlifting team; however, the average gym goer would deem that same load monsterously heavy. In fact, if I loaded 600 lbs on the squat bar and proceeded to attempt a repetition, I would be rewarded with a few broken legs, but I digress.

It's not important that you move big weights; what is important is that you are selecting and lifting loads that are heavy for you. Over time, you will get stronger and the poundage you can handle will increase. So, for you as a female trainee, a "heavy" load can be defined as a weight that you can lift in good form for 3-6 repetitions. This is in agreement with the recommendations of Canadian strength coach Christian Thibaudeau as he notes, "Women do not have the capacity to recruit as many motor units as men do.

As such, they'll need 1-2 more reps to fully stimulate their muscles. So when training for strength, a man should use between 1 and 5 reps while a woman will benefit more from doing 3-6 reps. Also, most women will need to perform 1-2 more sets of an exercise to achieve the same degree of stimulation as a man, once again because of their lower motor unit activation." The weight training routine that we will outline next month is modeled around these recommendations.


"I'll be back."

All the preliminaries are out of the way. You know that if you want to obtain a lean, sexy, and hard physique you have to train heavy and train with multi-joint, compound movements like the squat and deadlift. Next month, we'll outline a complete weight training routine dedicated specifically to getting you the hard body you desire. We'll also be taking a detailed look at the big, compound movements to ensure that you are performing them properly and with impeccable form. You don't want to miss the next month's update!

Part 1 | Part 2

About the Author

John Berardi

John Berardi

John Berardi is president and founder of Science Link Inc and johnberardi.com. John specializes in human performance and nutrition consulting.

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