Weightlifting for Women
Author: Nadine Sookhoo, BSc., MSED, RAQA
With many new year deals at gyms and fitness centers, you may find yourself trying out a gym for the first time. Or you may be a seasoned gym attendee and are looking to up your game. Whatever stage you are in your fitness regime, learning some of the fundamental differences between men and women in regards to weightlifting can go a long way. Much of the research, programs and advice out there on weightlifting have been conducted and are geared toward men. Take a look at your neighbourhood gym and you’ll see that 95% of the time, it is male dominated. While it is great to have male fitness mentors, women should be cognizant of the gender differences to reap optimal rewards, because what may work for a man, may not work well for a woman.
But first, let’s debunk this popular myth one more time: women who lift weights will NOT bulk up and turn into The Incredible Hulk! We simply don’t have the amount of testosterone for that to even happen. Many years ago, when I was a cardio only gal and contemplated starting a weight routine, I had the same fear because I’m short to begin with and on the stalky side. However, having been doing weights for years now, I can see much better definition in my legs, arms and abs than what I attained with just cardio alone. Plus, my muscle and definition has muscle memory staying power, if I miss a few workouts, they don’t simply disappear!
The number one rule for female weightlifting that I’ve always used and is still true today:
Stick to lower weights and do higher reps! I would suggest this to start. There are some female bodybuilders out there who swear by heavy weights, but I would leave that until you’re more experienced.
What’s a rep and a set?
A rep is one repetition of the exercise. A set is the number of reps you want to do at one time without resting.
How do we build muscle?
We essentially build muscle by lifting enough weights to create microtears in our muscles. When the muscle repairs itself, it grows and thus we build muscle. Therefore, I do recommend starting with lighter weights, but once those become too easy for you, you should increase them.
Weightlifting: Major Differences between Men and Women
|Tend to carry strength more in their upper body: shoulders and arms||Tend to carry strength in their lower body: hips and legs (evolutionary so we can carry babies)|
|Therefore, expect to lift heavier weights on your upper body||Therefore, expect to lift heavier weights on your lower body|
|Want to bulk up and have high definition in muscles||Tend to want to tone and elongate muscles|
|Will often do high weights and low reps||Will often do lower weights and higher reps|
|Can do more sets||Will have to do more sets to get the same muscle stimulation as a man|
|Require more rest between sets||Can require less rest between sets|
Weightlifting tips for Women:
- Start off with body weight exercises (ie. Using your own body weight as resistance) first then graduate to dumbbells then machines
- Start off building core strength first, that is your abs and your back because that supports the rest of your musculature
- Remember for fat loss, diet is 70-80% of the equation then comes fitness
- Eat enough protein, consult your local food guide
- Give yourself at least one rest day a week for your muscles to repair themselves
- Try taking some supplements like creatine or glutamine to help speed up results
- Get enough sleep
- Keep track of your progress in a fitness journal or apps such as MyFitnessBuddy or Nike’s fitness apps
- You can also take pictures of your progress and put the date and your stats on the mirror so you can see the progression
- The scale may initially increase because you are gaining muscle, but don’t be deceived, muscle weighs more than fat
- Use a scale that tells you your body fat percentage and keep track of that as well
- Muscle is what burns fat in your body’s metabolism
- After 30 years, women begin losing 5% of their muscle mass every 10 years, therefore building and maintaining lean muscle is very important for women
Some great female personal trainers and weightlifting gurus to follow online:
- Jillian Michaels
- Katie Corio
- Morghan King
- Hunter Chilton
- Heidi Somers
- Erin Kaser
Some beginner weight moves: Free weights 101 (tried and tested)
1) Bicep curl – 10-15 reps, 2 sets, 5-10lbs
- Extend your arms straight in front of you with your palms up
- Bring your forearm to a 90 degree angle to your upper arm
- Squeeze or contract your bicep muscles when you bring them up, release when you return to your starting position, repeat
- Also get into the habit of breathing in when your contracting your muscles and breathing out when you release them
2) Tricep extension – 5-10 reps, 2 sets, 5-10lbs
- Lean forward
- With one hand, extend your arm back 90 degrees so that your arm is fully extended and 180 degrees with your body
- Contract your tricep when you lift your arm back and release when you bring your arm down, repeat
3) Leg squat – 10-20 reps, 2 sets, 15-20lbs
- Keeping your back as straight as possible, lower your lower body back down as if you were sitting in a chair
- Go as far down as possible
- Squeeze your glutes and quad muscles when contracting down
- Release and stand up straight, repeat
4) Leg Lunge – 10-20 reps, 2 sets, 15-20lbs
- Stand with weights at your side and slide one leg forward, 90 degrees to the other
- Slide the back leg down but not touching the ground
- Raise and lower the front leg 10-20 times for your first set
- Switch legs and repeat
5) Abdominal sit-up:
- Can do inverted sit-ups
- Use the yoga ball to do crunches/sit ups and pikes on there
- Stretch before and after all workouts
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
- A good workout regimen encompasses all three areas of fitness: cardio, weightlifting/resistance and flexibility/stretching
- → You DO NOT need a personal trainer to start weightlifting. Get a family member or friend to show you how to use the common equipment and there’s tons of gym tutorials on Youtube, etc. You can essentially teach yourself, that’s what I did!
Thanks and happy weight training!