Every time I hear women talk about resistance training, they talk about using light weights with a lot of repetitions. I think this huge misconception should be blamed on the millions of enormous bodybuilders and men who lift to be half man half monster. I can see a girl going to the gym for the first time and seeing a bunch of meathead men completing heavy exercises. She thinks to herself, “I do not want to look like them.” So she does the opposite—lifts light weights.
Now that seems like it would make sense, right? Except it makes zero sense. You see, there is a common misconception that women will “bulk up” if they lift heavy weights. I’ll say this only once—building muscle is an extremely difficult thing to do. If your body had to choose between breaking down muscle and building it, you’d look like a bag of bones. Genetically, you won’t and can’t bulk up unless you want to compete in competition and take some illegal injections if ya know what I mean.
Females want to get “toned,” right? I hate to burst your bubble but there isn’t any such thing as toning or shaping a muscle. Muscles can only get bigger (hypertrophy) or smaller (atrophy). Now to make those muscles look better, you need to shed the fat around the muscle and make the muscle bigger. This can all be done by taking a leap of faith with me and changing what you have always done. Stay with me. You may think I’m crazy, but the research is out there and I have been in the trenches seeing women transform their bodies by simply…lifting heavy weights!
Lifting heavy weights is a beautiful thing and it does so many wonderful things to your body. First, let’s talk muscle. I bet most of your training career, you’ve done mostly endurance exercise (running, biking, swimming, high repetition weight training). What if I told you by doing only endurance activity, you’re only tapping into a portion of your muscle potential?
Your body is made up of both type I (aerobic/endurance) muscle fibers and type II (anaerobic) muscle fibers. Type I fibers are used for endurance activities and don’t have great potential for growth. Type II fibers are those used during sprint and heavy resistance training activities. (In my opinion, those activities are harder and better.) Type II fibers have a much better potential for growth and strength improvements when trained. That means train intensely and with heavy weights and watch strength and muscle size shoot through the roof. (See ya later flabby arms!) In addition, research shows that strength is related to life expectancy. Increase strength and live a longer life!
Metabolism, metabolism, metabolism. As we all know, losing weight is about calories in and calories out. What if I told you that the leaner you are, the more calories you burn doing nothing? That’s correct. You can sit on the couch and watch Dancing with the Stars and blast calories. In fact, every pound of muscle you pack on takes 50 calories a day to maintain. So long story short, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day.
It doesn’t end there. We can all agree that high intensity exercise such as heavy resistance training or sprinting is harder than steady state cardio or high repetition resistance training. (Everybody nod yes.) This means we are surely burning more calories during the exercise, which is all good, but what about when the training is complete? With aerobic training or light weight, high repetition lifting, our metabolism doesn’t stay elevated for very long after our training.
There is something called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which is a process your body uses to repay metabolic debt after anaerobic training. This includes repaying oxygen debt, repairing cells, refilling energy stores. This is a great thing because this elevates our metabolism for 12–24 hours and beyond. So when you’ve finished your heavy training, you continue to burn calories for hours on end.
Which leads us to progressive overload…simply put, we need to constantly increase the weight and intensity of our training. Our body does an unbelievable job at adapting. So if we continue to lift those five-pound dumbbells, we will only be as strong as those five-pound dumbbells. You lift children over your shoulder and pick up fifty-pound suitcases, so why lift tiny weights and get tiny results? To get stronger, look and feel better, add muscle, and burn fat, we need to continuously increase our training. Without the increase, we are all just five-pound pink dumbbells. Now throw some weight on the bar!
So what should you be doing at the gym? I’m not talking about going to the gym and spending an hour doing fifteen chest or bicep exercises. I’m talking two to three days a week of total body, multijoint, compound movements. (Those bang for your buck exercises!) Check back for some sample exercises and training sessions that will surely kick your butt!
Published: January 26, 2011