Weight lifting for women: You won’t look like a dude

weight lifting for women

Today’s guest post is brought to you by the Squat Queen herself, Chelsea Whitten. She’s a Guild Wars 2-playing, science fiction-loving crossfitter who can squat more than I weigh. If that’s reason enough to listen to what she has to say about weight lifting for women, then I’m not sure what is. Here’s Chelsea!

“I want to get toned, not bulky.”

Ladies, I hear you. I don’t want to look like a dude, either! But the idea of toning is a myth, and so is the presumption that a woman lifting heavy will make her bulky.

Weight Lifting for Women: The Toning Myth

The idea of ‘toning’ certain areas (like your butt, your arms, your thighs, or even your abs) just doesn’t work. When you add or lose weight (fat or muscle) your body removes fat from everywhere.

So if you lose 5% of your body fat, it’s not all going to come from your stomach no matter how many crunches you do.

It’s going to come maybe 1% from your belly (depending on where you’re genetically predisposed to store it), 1% from your butt, a half percent from your thighs, a quarter percent from your arms, etc. etc. The body is a beautiful system, and it’s not ever going to selectively remove fat from one portion of your body over another.

It wouldn’t make sense for keeping the whole thing warm in the winter, would it?

The Bulking Myth

This one is purely a misunderstanding. In order to look like this…

weight lifting for women

…you’re going to require some (probably illegal) drugs, steroids, a host of protein powders and supplements, a ridiculous diet regimen of almost exclusively protein, and a workout regimen that requires 3-6 hours a day in the gym.

And let’s face it, if you’re not even ready to give up your pasta or spend a whole hour on an elliptical, you are not at risk of looking like this.

Even ‘natural’ body builders have a very intense diet and workout regimen (minus the ‘roids). If you aren’t doing what they’re doing, you aren’t even at risk of looking like this…

weight lifting for women

However, you are at risk of looking like some of these women:

weight lifting for women

weight lifting for women

weight lifting for women

Want to look like them? Then learn how to squat, strict press, deadlift, do pull-ups, push-ups, and dips…all with weight.

Every one of the women in the pictures above can squat more than their bodyweight for reps (that means doing it multiple times without stopping) and can do push-ups, pull-ups, and a host of other movements that not only make them stronger, but are functional in everyday life.

And best of all, none of these women need help carrying their grocery bags to their cars, and they look damn good on the beach.

So toss aside your tiny dumbbells and take up a barbell and a weight belt, ladies. Real weight lifting for women requires real weight lifting.

Science. It Works, Bitches.

Using light weights—or even just your bodyweight—is great for training proper form, and you never want to start adding weight until you can do a movement correctly (in fact, I highly recommend that if you don’t know how to do these exercises, you start with a trainer or recruit a friend to show you how it’s done).

However, if you never progress beyond the 10lb dumbbells, you may be limiting yourself and your potential. When you stop improving form—or stop adding weight—your body is no longer seeing an increase in stress and therefore stops creating muscle and strength because it is no longer being stimulated.

The idea of continuing to add weight (for a new lifter, this may even be on a weekly basis) is called progressive overload, and has been used in the world of weight lifting to build strength for decades. Creating strength (and muscle) increases the amount of fat you burn, which helps you get lean faster than cardio alone.

There’s nothing wrong with doing higher repetitions in a set (8-12 reps), but if you’re not using weights that begin to push you to failure at the end of a set, then you aren’t using enough weight.

When you reach the point with a weight where doing the entire set is no longer a problem, you know it’s time to move up.

This point will be different for each person, so I never recommend specific weights or dumbbell sizes. My mother, for instance, would need to start her progressive overloading by slowly increasing the depth of her squat before she started to add weight. However, my little sister already has a beautiful air squat and could likely start squatting with 45-65lbs on a barbell.

So do some research on those around you who can show you how to move, get in the weight room, and start testing yourself to see where your starting point will be! Start with a program like Stronglifts 5×5 if you don’t know where to begin, and then continue to increase those weights until you are a lean, mean, weightlifting machine! Just remember that weight lifting for women is no different than weight lifting for dudes–you will get fit if you pick up heavy things.

B.J. Keeton

B.J. Keeton

B.J. is a geek, gamer, podcaster, and livestreamer. He has been the co-host of the Geek to Geek podcast since 2016, and he helped start the Geek to Geek Media Network. His biggest pet peeve is when someone spells Wookiee with only one E. One time, he told his friends he liked vegetables maybe more than he did Star Wars, and they made him put a dollar in the jar. That should tell you everything you need to know about him. Find him on Twitter as @professorbeej or on Discord as @professorbeej#1337.

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16 Comments

  1. Scarybooster

    Very awesome article! I downloaded the Strong lifts 5×5 and I’m reading through it right now. The only problem I have with it is the squats and dead lifts. I do both in the gym but they are at lighter weight. I have a pinched sciatica nerve in my back and it hurts a lot to do those 2 exercises. I try to push through it, but I really don’t want to blow a disk. Yes I’m doing proper form and I wear a weight belt to keep my spine compressed, but it still hurts. The pain is mainly in my left butt cheek.

    I’ve spent years in pain and even physical therapy hasn’t taken the pain away. I’ve gotten X-rays and it just shows my disk a little inflamed, nothing severe enough to need surgery.

    If anybody has any miracle relief, I would love to hear it.

    Reply
    • Chelsea W.

      Have you ever tried rear foot elevated split squats? Like this: http://www.exercise.com/exercise/rear-leg-elevated-split-squat That’s my best idea for somehow taking the pressure off your sciatica. Beyond that, I think you could take some measures to reduce your body’s inflammation, but that gets into cutting out pancakes and bread and taking more fish oil…

      Reply
      • Scarybooster

        I’m not much of a carb eater. I’m 6’1″ with 34″ waist, 14% body fat and I weight train 4-5 days a week. I eat 6 times a day mainly protein for a total of about 2500-2800 calories.

        For some reason my lower back has pained me for about 5 years now. I do admit, I shy away from traditional squats and dead lifts because I start to feel a pinch in my back. Today I did squats but only 135lbs. My leg press is about 300lbs tho.

        A fewonths ago I started doing dead lifts that consisted of me just bringing my hands to the floor. Now I’m up to 135lbs, but I still have back pain and every time I do squats or dead lifts my lower back kills me for about 3 days.

        I read the success stories about lower back pain in the 5X5 program. I think I’ll give it a try and check in again in 12 weeks 🙂

        Reply
        • Chelsea W.

          Hands on the floor deadlifts? Are you doing romanian style? Stiff legged? If so I’d move to powerlifting style.

          Also, you could still be getting a lot of inflammation if you’re eating a ton of protein from meat that’s industrially raised. It’s basically like eating grains/carbs through a meat filter.

          In any case, good luck with the 5×5 and let me know if you try the split squats!

          Reply
      • rowan

        Not pancakes!! (Actually I prefer french toast) ><

        Reply
        • Chelsea W.

          I reject your pancakes and substitute the incredible, edible egg! 😛

          Reply
          • rowan

            YES!! I love eggs.

            Reply
  2. Frank

    Sarybooster, I had the same problem you are experiencing, sciatica. I went to physical therapy and I experienced 0 relief. A friend told me to try accupuncture which I was pretty skeptical of. But I was pretty desperate. I went to a session on a Monday and then a second on a Wed and by Friday I was 100%.

    Reply
  3. Hayley Fitness Fan Gym Blog

    Strong is the new skinny.

    I love weights and kettle bells. Currently weight training for Mudd Runner UK

    Reply
    • Chelsea W.

      That’s awesome Hayley! Kettlebells are a great tool for strength training. Especially if you learn my most dreaded kb movement…the turkish getup! :O

      Reply
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