While we prioritize health and fitness and strive for strong, fit bodies, the idea of heading into the weight room and pumping some iron is something many of us avoid. Sure, this is partly due to the intimidation factor; but, moreover, many women are plagued with the idea that lifting weights will build bulky, brawny, masculine muscles, Hulk Hogan style. Fret not, though, fearless femmes: women simply do not produce the amount of testosterone our male counterparts do and, assuming you’re not consuming anabolic steroids (please tell us you’re not!), you can wholeheartedly put to rest the idea that you will “bulk up” by strength training.
Rather, building lean muscle mass is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Not only will weight lifting increase strength, but also will help build bone density and increase your balance. Plus, it allows our bodies to metabolize and process energy at a quicker rate, even when we are not working out.
So, how should women go about strength training?
Get Acquainted. Familiarize yourself with your gym’s equipment. While stationary machines are the most foolproof way to get started and a great way to feel your targeted muscles working, free weights are best for a dynamic workout because they force you to use multiple muscle groups at once. If you feel up for it, try doing your free weight exercises while standing (on one foot, if you can!) or even while on a stability ball. The decreased stability will ensure that you not only strengthen the muscle group you’re targeting, but also engage and strengthen your core.
Thinking of hiring a personal trainer? Read this first!
Get Started. If you are new to the weight room, start with 2 days of strength training per week, avoiding consecutive days. Muscles are actually built during periods of rest, so alternating strength-training days to rest your muscles is essential to lean muscle building. Eventually, try to work your way up to 3 days a week.
Get Stronger. The key to building muscle is the intensity of your sets, not the repetitions. Many women get stuck in the “light weights, heavy repetitions” stage, fearful of dumbbells over 8 pounds. When we lift heavier weights, though, we increase the strength of our muscles (by up to 50% more), not their size. So, stick to shorter strength training routines (to keep from overtraining), and aim for 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 10 repetitions of each exercise. Larger, stronger muscle groups (such as the legs and chest) can handle a much larger load than, let’s say, the triceps. So, don’t be scared to pack that weight on! Step out of your comfort zone and feel the burn. Your last set of each exercise should always feel difficult.