Female athletes lift weights almost everyday.
Weight lifting is commonly misunderstood. People have a lot of preconceived notions on how it works and with the results it is going to give. Without fail during their consultation, new clients, especially women, will say “I don’t want to get big”. This is probably the most common concern when somebody is starting a new weight training program. Other concerns include wanting to get big, wanting to get ripped in certain areas of the body, and wanting to lift heavy.
Male athletes lift weights almost everyday.
The first and most important thing to address is "getting big". First of all, you are likely not going to get big. It takes a lot of time and muscle focus to get the body builder bulk that people think they are going to magically put on. It takes many hours of heavy lifting per week to gain large amounts of muscle mass especially for women. Most women simply do not have the body type to get “bulky” unless they spend countless hours on muscle isolation exercises and increase their dietary consumption dramatically. There are some crazy trainers out there (some are quite popular) that will tell you that girls should not lift heavy because they will bulk up. That is a ridiculous statement that is not grounded in reality. Healthy athletic bodies are the most attractive kind and they are built by weights, cardio, and diet.
When it comes to women, it is very important to understand that your muscle growth will not be continuous unless that is your training goal. You will likely see some muscle changes in the initial 3 months of training and then you will probably have very little change in muscle size after that so don’t worry and lift heavy!
When it comes to getting a change in muscle, there is a general guideline to follow:
6-8 Reps = Strength gain
8-10 Reps = Hypertrophy (Increase in muscle size)
12-15 Reps = Best for either adaptation to lifting (if you are lifting beneath your RM – more on this shortly) or for building a base for endurance lifting (if you are lifting to a 15 repetition maximum).
15+ Reps = Endurance training that is best for people training for longer duration events.
This guideline works with repetition maximum which means that the last rep you can physically do is your last rep. For example, if you are capable of lifting the weight 15+ times but are only lifting it 10 times, you are not going to get muscle hypertrophy.
Getting ripped in certain areas of the body is also a commonly misunderstood concept. Doing sit-ups will not get you a six-pack. Weight/resistance training will not make you leaner or more ripped on its own (except for its overall effect on your caloric burn). Weight lifting develops muscles; it can make them bigger and stronger, but will not magically burn all the fat that is covering them. You burn fat globally. This means that you don’t get a six-pack unless you are lean enough to expose those muscles. Getting lean comes from calorie deficit (calories in are less than calories out) and not from weight lifting itself. This leaning process happens all over the body at once and, unfortunately, is not guided by where you feel the burn or where you want it to happen. Fat loss will happen in the body where it wants and you have very little control over that. If you want a six-pack or cut shoulders then work harder and eat healthier and eventually the body fat covering the area that you want to lean up will burn off.
This is not what happens with a normal weight training program.
When it comes to lifting heavy, it is important that you have proper form and adaptation to resistance training before going in the gym and lifting all the weight you possibly can. Muscles are very vascular (lots of blood flow) and therefore adapt to demands quite quickly. Tendons, bones, and ligaments are not very vascular and take time to adapt to demands. It is very important that you take your time when starting a resistance-training program so that you don’t injure yourself.
Also of importance is to remember the goal of each lift. The objective of a bicep curl is to get bicep contraction with the maximum amount of resistance on that muscle. The goal is NOT to simply move the weight from point A to point B. What this means is that while it may look cool to curl a 40lb dumbbell, it is not cool if you are swinging your hips, bobbing your head, and generally trying to move the weight from point A to B instead of remembering the true goal; the contraction of the muscle. Focus on your lift and keep your form in check!
Weight lifting is a very important part of any training program. If done properly, it can have profound affects on your body. There is a lot of misinformation out there and hopefully this post can dispel some of that for you. If you have specific questions, feel free to comment and I will do my best to answer them.
Next week I am going to post on kids and weight training. This is a large topic on its own and deserves a separate post!