By Ben Singh |
UK Personal Trainer
Getting yourself to the gym is one thing, but once you’ve overcome that, exactly what you need to do when you’re there is a entirely different ball game! It’s one of the things I’m asked about most when it comes to training.
When it comes to weight training, you’ve probably been told what seems like a million different things, what you should or shouldn’t be doing; most of which actually contradict each other.
That’s the main reason you avoid it – it’s too complicated, and I don’t blame you! In this article we’ll go through how much weight you should be lifting, depending on what your goals are.
Women and Weights | Breaking The Stereotype
If I got £1 for every time I heard, “women shouldn’t lift heavy weights,” I’d have a lot more money than I’d care to count. And if I didn’t need my eyeballs so much I would’ve scratched them out a long time ago! The thing is, it all depends.
It depends on the situation, it depends on your goals.
Let’s take a step back, and ask why, why shouldn’t women lift heavy weights? For a start, ‘heavy’ is relative; what’s heavy for me might be light to someone else.
How Weight Training Helps To Tighten & Tone
The most common goal I hear from my female clients is to ‘lose weight and tone up’, so that’s what we’ll focus on.
In terms of working out, to change your body you need to give it a reason to change. That’s lifting a heavier weight, or lifting the same weight more times than you have before.
✓ You’ll get stronger not just in the gym, but in your day to day life.
I know how hard getting to the gym can be, especially at the start or end of a long day, but think of working out as a challenge to better yourself – and what you did last time – instead of a chore. If you can adjust your mindset by focussing on your performance in the gym, and how much you’re lifting, you’ll get the results you deserve, rather than just ‘spinning your wheels!’
TIP: Note down the sets, reps and weights used for each exercise in a training diary, and aim to better it next time.
Won’t Heavy Weights Make Me “Bulky?”
You’ve probably heard that lifting heavy weights will make you pack on a ton of bulked-up muscle like some of the models you see pictures on social media…which just isn’t true.
The truth is that these ladies are dedicated to bodybuilding, and they sacrifice a LOT to look that way; weight training almost every day, sometimes twice a day, eating a very strict diet, and sometimes even resorting to drugs (steroids) to enhance their muscle-building capabilities.
Think about the guys you know who regularly go to the gym and mostly train with weights – do they get really muscly? For the majority of them, unfortunately, the answer will be no. That’s because there’s a lot more to it, like how often they can train, if they’re doing the right sort of exercises, how much and what they eat, just to name a few!
Women are from Venus and Men…
It’d be obvious to point out that you and I, women and men, are different.
We have different levels of hormones, which are very important when it comes to how much muscle we can build – the main hormone in question being testosterone.
Men naturally have a lot more testosterone than women, and despite that, it isn’t enough for most guys – it takes a lot more than higher levels of that to build serious amounts of muscle.
BUT, in order to drop some fat and tone up, your aim is actually to build some muscle – which we now know is pretty difficult.
Think of your muscles like a car engine – the bigger it is, the more fuel it’ll burn. In your case, your fuel is calories (from food and drink), and your muscle is the engine. A bigger engine will burn more fuel, and more muscle will burn more calories (leading to fat loss).
The logistics are pretty simple: to lose weight you have to burn more calories than you eat and drink, and to gain weight you have to eat and drink more calories than you burn.
If you’re trying to maintain your current weight, or lose, it’s even harder to build muscle.
Whatever your goal, simply make some sort of protein the main part of every meal; that could be :
✓ Lean meat and fish.
✓ Eggs/egg whites and dairy products.
✓ Grains and soy.
✓ Leafy green vegetables.
How much SHOULD I lift then?
We’ve already mentioned that ‘heavy’ is relative, but you’re going to want to know exactly what that means. How much weight should you be aiming to lift?
Technically anything could be heavy, depending on how many times you’re aiming to lift it (reps/repetitions).
✓ In general, aim to lift for 8-12 reps. If you can easily do 12 and could do more with good technique, you need to add extra weight.
✓ If you can’t reach 8 reps with good technique you need to make it lighter: it’s crucial to perfect your form before lifting heavier weights.
But women SHOULDN’T lift heavy if…
That said, there is a time and place for ‘lighter’ weights!
If you’re first learning how to do an exercise, it would make sense to start light, with either your bodyweight or just the bar without any extra weight on it, depending on the exercise.
✓ To warm-up for a workout or specific exercise.
✓ If you were doing 20 repetitions of an exercise instead of 10.
✓ To improve your technique for a certain exercise.
✓ If you’ve got an injury, you can use lighter weights to rehabilitate the particular muscle(s) or joint(s). Personally, I’m much more likely to recommend doing something (however ‘light’ or low-intensity), than nothing at all where possible.
✓ If you’re pregnant: in which case I’d highly recommend seeking out a pre- and post-natal specialist who can advise you on exercise throughout your pregnancy. It is possible to exercise effectively for the majority of it.
Guess what though? The same applies to men. Exactly the same*.
* Except guys can’t get pregnant, unless they’re a sea horse…
Take Home Message
There’s a time and a place for everything, but in general women should lift heavy weights, with the exception of the points above. Lifting heavy can benefit health, muscles, bones, joints, hormones and better yet, your confidence.
Of course it’s hard work, but it’s rewarding. Stick with it and you’ll love the benefits that you see and feel!