Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Fitness: Weights Are For Girls

Weights for girls

As a personal trainer with a large female client base, I’m forever fighting the battle to dispel the myths around female strength and weight training.

I’m often told by female gym-goers that they would like to lose weight and tone up, yet they seldom even consider using weight training as a tool to achieve these goals either because they don’t know enough about weight training or because they feel that weight training will make them look ‘big’. For me, this is real shame and a barrier that needs to be broken down FAST.

Let’s look at what this group of people mean by ‘weight loss’ and ‘toning up’.
Firstly, do we really care about what we weigh? If we do it’s only because we’re comparing ourselves to what other people might weigh or perhaps even what the scales have told us in years gone by or maybe this is the only way we think we can measure ourselves and track our progress. What we should be caring about is how much body fat we’re carrying. You see, in my opinion, monitoring your weight can be very misleading, especially if you’re following an exercise and nutritional programme that promotes muscle growth. In order to ‘tone up’ building some lean muscle is kind of essential, the last thing we want when dropping body fat is to reveal a frail and weak skeleton. The desirable slim, ‘toned’ and athletic figure that  most of my female clients are aiming for is actually a product of a simple drop in body fat and increase in muscle mass. For those who carry lots of additional fat to start with, a fairly big reduction in body weight is almost certainly going to happen. However, if you don’t have stacks of fat to shift but are still far from the fitness model look you’re going for, a more modest weight loss is still likely to let you see progress as long as muscle is built alongside that fat loss.

When I talk about building muscle to some of my female clients I instantly see a look of terror flash across their faces. That’s because we often associate female weight training with 6ft burly women with forearms like a blacksmith and shoulders like Arnie. I’m willing to categorically put that notion to bed right now. IF YOU LIFT WEIGHTS YOU WILL NOT TURN INTO A FEMALE BODYBUILDER OVERNIGHT!

To build the kind of muscle that’s unwelcome for the majority of the female population you need the following:

  •  Incredible genetics – was your mother a gold medallist at the 1972 Munich Olympics and father a competing bodybuilder? Probably not.
  •  A tonne of testosterone – men produce around 20 times more of this hormone that is vital in the development of muscle.
  •  A very specific, controlled diet – can you honestly say that your diet is geared towards muscle building?
  •  Lots of supplements – You’ll have heard all about the various pills, powders and potions that some guys take orally, intravenously and topically.
  • A very specific training programme – involving the exact intensity, correct numbers of sets and repetitions, perfect rest and recovery etc.
  • The dedication of an athlete – willing to put the hours in at the gym and at home, preparing perfectly balanced meals, getting 7.5-9 hrs sleep every night, putting their bodybuilding as their top priority.
If you have all of the above you’re destined to look like The Hulk. If not, I’m afraid the odds are stacked against you!

The Hulk body building fitness

That means that, as a woman, your ability to go from needing to lose fat and ‘tone up’ to Kelly Holmes is limited. However, with the right resistance exercises, your general health, body composition and fitness can sky rocket!

What else is standing in your way? Is it all those men hogging the weights and looking intimidating? Well, firstly, they’re often not even looking at you, and I would say that if they are they’re probably admiring your confidence in using equipment and training systems that have been mainly employed by men up till now. You know all those mirrors dotted around the gym that are there as a visual aid to help people master the technique of complex movements? Those blokes are using those to stare at their biceps! I have heard the free weights room at the gym referred to as ‘the men’s section’ many times. This is a real shame as everyone has the right to use the equipment in there without fear of feeling out of place. The more of you who venture into this section, the less other women like you will feel intimidated in joining you.

How to get started…

Start with the resistance machines before moving on to use the dumbbells, bars and kettlebells. This will serve to build your confidence and get you used to the sensation of engaging your muscles in a way that may not be familiar to you. You could also consider going to classes that incorporate weight training such as Body Pump or invest in a few personal training sessions so you can learn the basics.

Whatever you do, please don’t spend the rest of your life walking on the treadmill, occasionally jogging and feeling good about yourself when you dare to whack a bit of incline on there. You’ll get bored (body and mind), your progress will plateau and you’ll miss out on the fun that weight training can provide.

I’d love to hear from any ladies who have experience of weight training on what benefits they get from this form of exercise. How did you get started and what hints and tips would you give to other females starting out? It would be great to get your thoughts in the comments below.


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