I’m going to get a little real with you today. There might be a little bit of tough love in this post, but know that it’s because I care about you and I want you to get the most out of all your fitness efforts! <3
As I’ve grown as both a fitness professional and an athlete, my views on training have changed quite a bit over the years. I used to scoff at 3lb dumbbells used for anything besides rehabilitative work, but I’ve now had my ass handed to me with them in a barre class.
I used to be allllll about the HIIT training, and now I’m learning to find solace in slowing down and really savouring each movement. Oh, and there’s the whole swimming thing. Somewhere along the way I sort of started to enjoy it.
But one thing has remained the same – I’m firm on my views about why women need to lift heavy weights.
I’m sick of training methodologies giving women the idea that lifting heavy weights and doing compound movements will make them “bulky” (I’m looking at you, Tracy Anderson).
I’m tired of reading articles about how to tone my inner thighs, and seeing workouts with weird names like “Sexy Springtime Sweetie” on Pinterest. “20 jumping jacks and 500 crunches – you’ll be fit in no time!”
And the whole “develop long, lean muscles” thing? It’s not anatomically possible. Muscles have fixed attachments in your body. You cannot make them longer.
What’s in your best interest?
But most of all, I want women to STOP wasting their time in the gym doing 20+ repetitions of an exercise so they can “tone” their arms, because all the magazines and fitness gurus tell them if they do anything different they’ll get big and bulky.
So many popular fitness programs these days advocate toning routines using baby dumbbells combined with daily 30 minute cardio sessions. One or two sets of dozens of different isolation exercises – sure, these things might be effective. But how long are you willing to put in an hour of exercise a day for minuscule results?
I know many women who struggle to fit in 20 minutes of exercise a few days a week, let alone 60 minutes 5 days a week. For the vast majority of us, whether our goals are fat loss, boosting our muscle definition, having more energy, or just feeling better overall, I think we can all agree that efficiency is key.
If you don’t LOVE these classes and workouts you’re doing and your main goal is to build a better body and feel like a badass, I’ve got good news for you – you can drop the 2lb weights 😉
Why women need to lift heavy weights
In order for our bodies to change, we need to challenge them. After doing 2lb bicep curls for weeks on end our arms are going to have no reason to change. They’ll have become perfectly comfortable with that particular movement at that particular weight. And we know that when things get comfortable, progress tends to stall.
The principle of “progressive overload” is what we trainers use to continually challenge our clients. Get a client to master a bodyweight squat, and then once she’s comfortable with that challenge her with a 20lb kettlebell. Once she can perform the desired number of repetitions comfortably, we give her a heavier kettlebell. Once she’s comfortable with that, we move her onto the barbell, and so on.
By constantly challenging the body, we give it a reason to constantly adapt. New muscle cells need to grow to provide the energy to lift these heavier weights. These new muscle cells need more energy just to survive, which means our metabolism rises. Which means we burn more calories, and thus more fat.
If you don’t continue to challenge your body once it’s gotten used to those 2lb dumbbells, it’s not going to have any reason to adapt. No new muscle growth. No new muscle cells needing more energy. No heightened metabolism. Just you, doing the same exercises with the same weights, over and over again.
Don’t get me wrong – doing some sort of physical activity, whether it’s with teeny tiny dumbbells or nothing at all, is better than nothing. And those teeny tiny dumbbells have their place. They can be great when you’re strengthening a muscle after an injury, or when you’re just beginning to work one of the smaller muscle groups, like the triceps.
But let’s be real here – your purse probably weighs more than those dumbbells. A baby weighs way more than those dumbbells! If we want to step away from the stereotype of women being the weaker sex, we need to stop feeding into the things that reinforce it.
Why else would you want to lift heavy weights?
- Increase your muscle mass, or “tone”, in a shorter period of time than lifting lighter weights. Better results in less time? Sign me up!
- Boost your metabolism so you can torch more calories while you’re relaxing on the couch or sipping a glass of wine with your friends.
- Stimulate hormonal responses that trigger the fat-burning mechanisms within the body. Combine that with your heightened metabolic rate and you can say hello to a hot new body!
- Improve your power and make you more efficient at other activities you enjoy doing, such as running or cycling.
- Learn a new skill. In a world where technology does pretty much everything for us, it’s incredibly empowering to learn how to move your body in new, complex ways.
- Boost your confidence levels by 110%. You don’t know how good it feels to hit a new squat PR, or to master the deadlift, or to press heavier dumbbells than the guy next to you until you’ve experienced it 😉
Are there any exceptions?
As with anything in fitness, there are of course a few exceptions to this.
Different sports may require an athlete to step away from the heavy weight training at various points throughout the year. When my triathlon training intensity picks up in the spring, I step away from the heavy barbells for a few months.
If you’re coming off an injury or are new to weight training, it’s important to make sure your lifting weights that are appropriate for the level you’re at. Enthusiasm is great, but if you’re not totally sure about how to do an exercise properly, you’re better off asking your friendly neighbourhood fit pro for some help 😉
And of course, if you legitimately enjoy these fitness routines that advocate using light weights so you don’t get bulky, then hey – all the power to you. Finding a form of exercise you enjoy is the key to staying active for the long-term.
But PLEASE don’t think that just because you’re a woman you HAVE to lift little dumbbells or stay out of the weight room. Know that you can get great results with just a handful of exercises and some short yet intense cardio sessions.
Keep your workouts focused, continue to challenge yourself, eat a balanced diet, and of course, love yourself. Those are the fours keys to developing and maintaining a healthy body composition.
So my ladies, I’d like to hear your thoughts on all this! Do you think I’m full of crap and prefer to lift lighter weights? Are you a fan of lifting heavy-ass barbells? Let’s open up the discussion! Don’t be afraid to tear me apart here 😉