Resistance Training for Females

Overview

The popularity of resistance training for females has dramatically increased over the past few years, as the benefits become better understood and numerous myths are debunked. Yet many women are still avoiding the weight room and sticking to the treadmill, despite having desired outcomes that better-suited to resistance training.

Many of those who are currently lifting are making mistakes such as self-taught technique, over-emphasis on certain areas and a lack of training intensity. However, none of these are gender-specific and men are worse - particular with creating their own techniques ("... but this Russian guy did it on YouTube, and he was strong...").

Resistance training can improve body composition via increased muscle mass, decreased body fat mass and increased bone mineral density. The increase bone strength is particularly relevant to females who are prone to osteoporosis. By maximising bone mineral density in their late-30's, women have a higher starting point for bone mineral density to inevitably decrease from.

For the guys reading this trying to convince their girlfriend to lift more than you can, you have a similar benefit with regards to sarcopenia, which is the age related loss of muscle tissue. This begins around the same age, and decrease by 5% every decade. Of course you can still build muscle, but you maximal potential is somewhat diminished. Sorry to break that to you. 

Beyond making you look great on the beach, lifting weights also has health benefits, which you can tell people are the reason you lift, even if you just want to look good. If you serious about body recomposition goals, I strongly recommend incorporating resistance training into your regime. 


Optimisation

Intensity + Progression

Anyone who doesn't want to sweat or make a face needs to alter that mindset or weights will become useless. You need to hit the right intensity of load (weight) and volume (sets/reps). The higher the load, the less sets, and vice-versa, the less reps = more sets.

For example, a moderate weight might be lifted 3 sets of 10 reps (3x10), where a heavier weight might be lifted for 10 sets of 3 (10x3).

Continual progression is also required. Avoid getting stuck at the same weights, sets or reps for too long. Every two weeks, aim to progress one of these variables. Time between sets is another variable you can manipulate later on, but start out with keeping this steady while you are developing your base strength and technique. 

Beginners are well-suited with the 3x8-12 or 2x12-15 rep ranges. This allows a great enough load to challenge the muscles, while also providing more reps to ingrain technique and get used to lifting under some muscular fatigue.

A full body routine twice per week is an excellent place to get started. You don't need to crush yourself in your first workout (read on).

There's a group training gym across from the private training facility I work out of. A few weeks ago, there was a group of young ladies who had finished their training session and were near my gym. I saw them taking selfies - I assumed they were trying to paparazzi me in the background, but no -  and it turned out their friend was vomiting, a result going too hard in her first training session.

Don't do that - take it easy and focus on improving technique early on, before you reduce yourself to lactate-induced vomit in the CBD. 

Shout out to them if they are reading. 

 

Full body, not just legs

Yes, you can train legs three times per week if you want to target the area. However, don't comprise the strength of the upper body, because this can actually enhance you leg development!

Let's say you want to work the glutes with a squat. If you increase your upper back strength, it becomes easier to hold the weight in place and remain technically strong during the set, allowing you to use more weight and increase loading on the target muscle.

Emphasise full body strength development early in the program to ensure all round gains.

 

Learn the Lifts

Fortunately, women are a lot better than men at this, but it can be an issue with everyone. If you are unsure about technique or want to be assess before increase your weights, consider hiring a personal trainer or have your technique assessed by someone proficient and experienced. 

If you are lifting with poor technique you are not only more susceptible to injury, but you can flat out be wasting your time. If you are squatting to quarter-depth, you are leaving out potential muscle development that is stimulated in the deeper phase of the squat.

Remember: half reps = half gains.


Myths

Weights Make you Look Masculine

This myth has been comprehensively dispelled, but we'll discuss it once more for good luck.

You have probably seen the jack-up female with huge shoulders and bulging biceps, complete with vascular. While these individuals have no doubt lifted weights, it's the additional step (read: drugs) they take that have developed this masculine appearance. Unless you replaced vitamins with hormones in your supplement pack, you won't look masculine nor develop male secondary sex characteristics. 

Females also have lower testosterone, lower starting strength and typically eat less food, which make it harder to build large levels of muscle mass. Give the weights a try, I'm sure you will be happy with the progress you make in your physique!

 

Resistance Training Builds Muscle - I Want to Burn Fat...

Resistance training will burn fat for days, literally. Well-planned resistance training sessions provide comparable, if not greater, total energy expenditure compared to a cardio training session. The body is continually challenged to respond to loading and recovery quickly to repeat effort. HIIT is similar, but comes without the stimulus for muscle development. 

The high intensity training also initiates excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC - the fitness buzzword at the moment) which helps burn more energy of 24-48 hours after exercise. I recommend reading more about the Three Stages of Fat Burning to allow you to optimise fat burning during resistance training and understand why it is so beneficial.

 

High Reps to Tone, Low reps to Build Muscle

'Muscular tone' - the definition applicable here - is the result of muscle size and local fat tissue. We can increase muscle tone via three outcomes:

  • increase muscle size, maintain current body fat
  • maintain muscle size, decrease body fat
  • increase muscle size, decrease body fat (optimal).

You can both high reps/moderate weights and/or low reps/high weights to build muscle mass, particularly in the early stages of training (where you can do about anything and make gains). It doesn't really matter which option you pick - you can even do both - as they will lead to similar outcomes.

The main takeaways here are that 'tone' is the product of muscle size and local body fat. Neither high nor low reps are superior for developing tone, but they can both increase muscle size.

Note: it's not common for someone to look at their arms and say the want to 'tone' them. So they embark on a weight loss regime, which if successful, will reduce the local fat tissue and therefore tone (if muscle stays the same) of the arms. However, due to the loss of fat from the area, the arms can be smaller (skinnier) than previously, which isn't always the desired look. Resistance training to build arm muscles would have been a better option!


 

Summary

Anyone who is serious about improving body composition, strength and health needs to include resistance training as part of their training program. The myths have been disproved (not just here, but many before me) and many smart people are catching on. Add some resistance training into your regime and see how your physique responds. 

If you have read the article and still aren't convinced, get yourself onto Google Images and start researching female resistance training and their associated physiques. 

 


Q+A

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