The evolution of women’s fitness

Fitness fads have come and gone over the decades.  In the 80’s it was all about spandex and step aerobics.  In the 90’s we had Billy Blanks and the Taebo crew.  Fast forward to today and there’s everything from Zumba to CrossFit.  Women’s fitness has also evolved with the times.  It wasn’t that long ago that it was taboo for a woman to load up a barbell and lift weights as part of her regular fitness routine.  Many women feared heavy weights would make them “bulky” or “too masculine” so they remained confined to the treadmill and elliptical areas or only used light weight for high repetitions.  Speaking from experience, I’ve also believed some of those fallacies in the past but I’ve discovered that’s simply not the case!  I’d like to address a few of the most common misconceptions about women and weights and demonstrate why heavy lifting isn’t just for the boys anymore.

“I only want to tone-up”

Ah…the toning defense.  Probably something we have all said at one time or another.  Most women would say their ideal physique is toned and fit; however, in order to have muscle tone, we have to build muscle!  That’s not to say other forms of exercise won’t help us appear to be more toned, it’s just that lifting heavy gives us the most bang for our buck.  When I reference “heavy lifting” I mean lifting at 75 – 85% of your one repetition max in the 6 – 12 repetition range.  Basically, by the time you reach your twelfth rep, you shouldn’t be able to lift that dumbbell again.  While cardiovascular training may burn the fat, lifting a heavier load will shape the underlying muscle giving us that “tight and toned” appearance.  Think about female athletes.  The reason they have those enviable physiques is because they don’t shy away from weight training and they usually have an athletic body fat percentage.

“But won’t I get bulky?”

Quick answer:  for the average woman, no.  We lack the higher amount of testosterone needed to develop muscle mass like our male counterparts.  Even for professional female bodybuilders, gaining muscle is no easy feat.  It takes years of specific training protocols coupled with a calculated diet approach to look the way they do.  For the everyday, female weight-lifter this will not be an issue.  You will however increase bone density to help prevent osteoporosis, have more mental clarity and empowerment, look better in a swimsuit, be able to carry multiple grocery bags into your house in one trip, and scale tall buildings in a single bound….ok so that was a slight exaggeration but you get the picture!

“I want to lose weight and lifting heavy will make me weigh more”

In order to answer this question, we need to ask ourselves what our ultimate goals are.  Do we want to look, feel, and perform better or simply weigh less?  What if I told you weight isn’t the only indicator of overall health?  Body composition (your body fat versus muscle mass ratio) is usually a better benchmark than scale weight alone.  Muscle mass is denser than fat mass which may cause you to weigh more on the scale; however, muscle takes up less space than fat so your clothes will probably fit better and you’ll probably look better as a result.  Also the more muscle mass you have, the more efficient your body is at burning calories while at rest.  That means you can binge watch your favorite Netflix show with a little less guilt (in moderation of course).

Embrace your strength!

To all my fellow females out there, please know that being strong is something to be proud of and not something to be intimidated by.  The weight room provides endless possibilities for you to accomplish your physique goals and it is the perfect outlet for stress relief and so much more.  So next time you’re at the gym, give the treadmill a break and lift some weights!

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