If you’re reading this article, then we’re going to assume that you already know you need anaerobic exercise (resistance training) to be truly fit for life. You’re not the average woman. You’re concerned about fitness and you’re probably a member of a health club. More than likely, you hit the gym pretty hard at least three times each week, using all of the fitness equipment and working on your curves.
But are you achieving your weight loss goals? Are you the sexy woman you want to be? You know that maintaining your health and fitness is the surest path to being a beautiful woman, but are you happy with the progress you’ve made so far?
Maybe the problem is that you’ve been doing the wrong exercises the wrong way. As they say, knowledge is power, and if you’re going to achieve true lifetime fitness it’s important to understand exactly what type of resistance (weight) training is best for a woman, how many repetitions (reps) you should do, how many sets you should complete and how often you should exercise.
The purpose of this article is to help you understand that HOW you exercise is critical to your overall physical fitness. In other words, just being on a fitness program will not turn you into Wonder Woman. But being on the RIGHT fitness program will.
Some Women’s Fitness Definitions:
Resistance (weight) training is extremely important for women. Without it, you’ll never be the fitness girl you want to be. Before we continue with this discussion, it’s important for us to pause and define some resistance exercise terms:
1. Resistance Training: Exercise that utilizes progressive resistance movements to build strength.
2. Repetition: An individually completed exercise movement. Repetitions are usually done in multiples. Commonly referred to as a rep.
3. Set: A group of repetitions of an exercise movement done consecutively, without rest, until a given number (or momentary exhaustion) is reached.
4. 1RM: One Repetition Maximum. The maximum resistance with which a person can execute one repetition of an exercise movement.
Example: If you are doing dumbbell arm curls to work your biceps, you start with the dumbbells in each hand and your arms fully extended downward. Keeping your elbows locked at your side, you lift each dumbbell upward by contracting your biceps. When your biceps have lifted the dumbbells as high as they can, your hands will be up close to your chin. This is called the ‘top’ of the movement. To complete the repetition, lower the dumbbells slowly to the starting position. That’s one repetition of dumbbell curls. Resistance training is commonly done in sets of repetitions. In this example, perhaps you’d do three sets of ten repetitions so you would fully complete thirty dumbbell arm curls.
We know that women need to resistance train, and we also have some working knowledge of exactly what resistance training means. With that information fresh in our minds, let’s take a look at the reason why most women don’t train this way.
I Don’t Want To Look Like Arnold!
Many women fear that resistance training (or weight lifting) will make them ‘get big’ or appear bulky. Well, fear not! Engaging in resistance exercise will not make you big or bulky, ladies. Let’s take a look at why.
First and foremost, most women do not have enough testosterone in their system to get huge muscles. That’s the bottom line, and that’s the top reason why you will not ever get huge muscles no matter how much you resistance train. Just about the only way for a woman to get large muscles like a man is to alter her hormonal balance through the use of anabolic steroids that mimic the action of testosterone. If you’re not doing anabolic steroids, you have nothing to worry about.
Secondly, even if you wanted to get huge Arnold-like muscles it would be next to impossible. Right now, this very moment, I can guarantee you that there are millions of men trying to get huge muscles. Very few of them are successful, and men have all the testosterone.
The third reason why resistance training (weight lifting) will not give women big, huge muscles is that women rarely perform lifts that will give them large muscles. There are several different ways to weight train, and most people have no idea how to train to achieve their goals.
If your goal is to have lean, toned muscle without a lot of size, then you should be doing high repetitions with a relatively low amount of weight (resistance). You can lift this way all day long and you will not develop huge muscles. This approach to resistance training will accomplish two things: burn fat and tone muscle. That’s it.
If your goal is to increase muscle size, then you should be lifting relatively heavy weights (resistance) about 6-8 times per set. The weight selected should be about 80% of your 1RM. For example, if the most you could ever bench press once is 100 lbs. (your 1RM), then to gain size you would want to be bench pressing about 80 lbs. 6-8 times per set. Compare this to the training of someone who wants to burn fat and tone muscle. The person who wants to gain muscle size keeps the weight much higher and does fewer repetitions.
Finally, perhaps your goal is to gain extreme strength. An example of this would be a powerlifter. Resistance training to gain strength would require you to lift as much weight as possible, but only one time (one repetition). Obviously, this method will not burn as much fat. It will also not create HUGE muscles, but it will result in some muscle growth above and beyond what most women find appealing.
To summarize, there are three different ways to resistance train and the vast majority of women do not train in such a way that they will end up building huge Arnold-like muscles. Even if you wanted to build large muscles, it is extremely unlikely that you would be able to do so (unless you’re taking anabolic steroids!) because women simply don’t have the same body chemistry as men.
Okay, so let’s summarize the reasons why resistance training will not make women big or bulky:
1. Most women do not have enough testosterone in their system to get huge muscles.
2. Even if you wanted to get huge Arnold-like muscles it would be next to impossible because building huge muscles is not easy.
3. Women rarely perform lifts that will give them large muscles.
The bottom line is that for women to get big and bulky, they would need to very consciously TRY to get big and bulky. It would require a certain type of lifting, a tremendous amount of effort, a certain type of equipment and probably regular doses of steroids. So you see, there really is no danger that any of us will turn into Arnold or Rocky Balboa.
A Positive And Negative Fitness Workout:
There are two movements in any resistance training (weight lifting) exercise. These are called the concentric and the eccentric parts of the exercise, also commonly referred to as the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’.
The concentric (positive) part of the resistance training movement is defined as “Muscle action in which the muscle is shortening under its own power” (Source: Fitness, The Complete Guide; ISSA 2001). Examples would be pushing the bar away from you on a bench press, or lifting the bar towards your chin on a biceps curl.
The eccentric (negative) part of the resistance training movement is defined as “Muscle action in which the muscle resists while it is forced to lengthen” (Source: Fitness, The Complete Guide; ISSA 2001). Examples would be lowering the bar on a bench press, or lowering the bar away from your chin on a biceps curl.
The point to be made here is that the eccentric part of the resistance training movement is the component that will lead to extensive muscle growth. The eccentric (negative) is what actually causes the vast majority of the muscle growth in resistance training. The concentric (positive) tones the muscle.
Female Fitness Tips:
Armed with that background knowledge on the three different ways to resistance train and the two different movements in any resistance training activity, we’re ready to examine how a woman should approach her gym workout. You deserve the best weight loss program possible, and the goal is to help you get the most out of your gym membership.
For women to experience fast weight loss, they must engage in resistance training designed to accomplish that goal. You should be lifting relatively light weight and doing high repetitions. By high, we don’t mean 10-12 either. We’re talking about 60-75 repetitions total, completed in three sets of 20-25 reps per set. Higher repetitions with lower resistance will burn fat and tone muscle, but will not lead to extreme muscle growth.
Women should train often enough to achieve their weight loss goals, which generally means at least three times per week. However, many women want to get into the health club more often than that in order to accelerate their results. The only reason to resistance train less often than every day is concern about muscle damage that can occur with use of free weights or weight stacks. As we already discovered in our discussion of eccentric (negative) and concentric (positive) resistance training movements, it is possible to damage muscle tissue when using free weights or weight stacks.
So when it comes to training frequency, women who are using free weights or weight stacks should keep their resistance training to every other day at most. This will allow the muscle time to recover between workouts and minimize the risk of injury.
To summarize, women on a fitness quest should remember these health club tips:
1. Use relatively low weight, maybe 50% of your 1RM.
2. Do high repetitions. 20-25 reps per set should be about right.
3. Perform at least three sets of each resistance training exercise.
4. If you’re using free weights or weight stacks, train every other day at the most.
Following these suggestions will help you lose weight and tone up without any risk of turning into a muscle woman so huge your kids won’t recognize you.