Weightlifting won't get you bulky or turn you into a she-hulk. But you will gain confidence, self-esteem, and a bangin' body.
How do I know? Six years ago I was a pudgy stay-at-home mom. I'd always been active, but for me, that really meant running, yoga, and the occasional "play with light dumbbells" session at the gym. I could never understand why I didn't have the lean, athletic, feminine body I yearned for. I spent hours at the gym and I was always consistent.
The answer came to me in the form of iron, and since then, the iron and I have been the best of friends. I have a more desirable physique at 30 than I did at 20, and I feel better about myself in every conceivable way.
While I am blessed to coach and inspire many women around the world who appreciate and engage in regular strength training, I'm not ignorant to the fact there are still a lot myths and misunderstandings surrounding women and heavy weight training.
But before I talk about why those ideas are myths rather than truths, let's talk about the myriad benefits that lifting weights provides.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO BE STRONG?
Metabolism and muscles: First, and perhaps most cogent, is the effect that lifting weights has on fat loss. The more muscle a woman has, the more calories she will burn at rest. So, basically, muscles speed up your metabolism, resulting in more effective fat loss.
Bone health: Many studies have shown that lifting weights regularly can increase bone density. Those of us in our 20s and 30s don't think about this often, but someday you will. And won't you be so proud of yourself that you lifted weights and cared for your bone density before you even knew you needed to?
Independence: Being strong makes everything easier. You know that furniture you need moved? Well, now you can do it yourself. How about those 15 bags of groceries? One trip from car to home—all you, girl.
I remember the moment I realized how important my strength was to my independence. I had just bought a twin bed for my son when he grew out of his toddler bed, and I didn't have anyone to help me carry it into my apartment. I lugged it out of the back of my SUV and proceeded to carry it along the sidewalk, up the stairs, down the stairs and finally into his bedroom. It was exhausting, but I did it all by myself. To me, that kind of strength is priceless.
Confidence: Strong girls exude a confidence that is intoxicating. I happen to believe that this comes from the knowledge that you can accomplish pretty impressive feats at the gym. When you realize your outer strength, you can tap into your inner strength, and that begins to radiate. Confidence is a very attractive quality, and that gym confidence starts to leak into every other aspect of life.
I always say, if you can crush it in the gym, you can crush it at life.
GIRL, YOU WON'T GET BULKY. HERE'S WHY.
Hormones: Most women simply do not possess the level of testosterone necessary to support a bulky physique. Furthermore, any woman who does have a massively muscular physique is probably supplementing with hormones. While we all have different genetics, and some of us are prone to having more muscle density than others, as a general rule you have to train for bulk to get bulk.
Ask any bodybuilder and they will tell you that gaining muscle isn't easy. You won't turn into a she-hulk just because you perform squats with your body weight, but you will end up with a righteous backside.
Training model: Along those same lines as genetics, the way you train will play a significant role in determining how your body develops. Hypertrophy (increased bulk) is not as easy as you might think, and most bodybuilders work incredibly hard to make sure their training program supports maximum muscle growth in as short a time span as possible.
I train a lot of women, and not a single one has come to me with the complaint that they are too bulky. As a general rule, most women I train are put on 3-5 workouts per week consisting of full-body free-weight training (squats, lunges, deadlifts, pull-ups, push-ups, rows, presses), kettlebell training (swings, snatches), and interval training.
The key is to utilize as many compound, combination, and full-body movements as possible, so that we're increasing lean mass and decreasing fat simultaneously, rather than isolating muscle groups to increase their size.
Of course, much of this is dependent upon your diet, and a bulking diet looks far different than a solid nutritional protocol for a woman on a fat-loss program. The bottom line is that the way you eat and train will determine how your body develops. A full-body training program and a diet rich in protein, veggies, and healthy fats is an effective path toward fat loss and strength for most women.
SO NOW WHAT?
Maybe I've convinced you. Perhaps now, you're thinking you're going to toss your three-pound weights, hop off the elliptical, and give this whole strength thing a shot. Where should you begin?
The following three-workouts-per-week program is a great place for beginners to realize their strength potential and start their body transformation. I recommend beginning each training session with dynamic mobility, glute bridges, planks, and Turkish get-ups. Now get up and get after it!
This article originally appeared on Fitocracy and has been reposted here with permission. It was written by Neghar Fonooni, strength coach and fitness blogger.