Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
- Common myths about weight for women are that it’s dangerous and will make them big and “bulky.”
- Lifting heavy weight is not only great for building strength, it can help you develop a lean, muscular body.
- Weight lifting can also boost your self confidence, help you cultivate a better relationship with your body, and even improve your health as you age.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Women sometimes avoid weight lifting because they think it can be dangerous or will make them bulky. But these stereotypes about women and lifting weights aren’t supported by facts.
Here are some of the most common myths about weight lifting for women, and why they aren’t true, according to a strength training coach.
Myth 1: Women shouldn’t lift heavy weights because it’s dangerous
Women can and do excel at weight lifting. While heavy weight lifting is sometimes stereotyped as a men’s sport, elite women athletes are, pound for pound, some of the strongest in the world.
Men may lift more weight, in total pounds, but when it comes to contests of strength relative to body weight, some women weight lifters can outlift the guys.
Moreover, weight lifting is not dangerous for women, even if you’re not an athlete, according to Sara Carr, personal trainer, competitive weightlifter, and assistant head coach at Black Box NYC.
“Anything is dangerous if you’re doing it incorrectly. With proper form, there’s nothing dangerous about lifting weights” Carr says.
What the research says: Studies have found that weight lifting sports like powerlifting and CrossFit have a relatively low risk of injury compared to other common sports like soccer, football, and running.
In fact, women of all ages and backgrounds can safely learn weight lifting with the help of a good coach. “That includes women who are pregnant,” Carr says, although some movements may be modified.
Research shows that women can safely lift weight while pregnant, and it even has benefits â€” however, it’s best to do so if you have prior experience, and not start a new, intense workout regimen during pregnancy. And it’s always a good idea to consult a doctor if you’re not sure a certain workout is right for you.
Myth 2: Women who lift weights will get bulky
Another common myth is that lifting weights will make women gain weight and muscle or give their body a “bulky” appearance.
It’s true, that if you lift enough weights over a long enough time, you will gain muscle mass. However, research shows that there aren’t significant differences between how quickly men and women build muscle on similar training plans.
“Can it make you bulky? Sure, but you have to put in a ton of time in the weight room,” Carr says. Even then, it won’t happen overnight. Building muscle takes significantly longer than burning fat, and years of hard work are required for the lean muscle mass you see on “bulky” athletes.
General advice: ‘Bulking’ or putting on lots of muscle mass takes hard work, including eating extra calories and spending many hours in the gym, so it’s not likely to happen by accident.
“It’s a really slow process. If you’re doing it three times a week, the increase in muscle is not going to be noticeable for most people,” Carr says. As a result, you don’t have to worry that casual lifting will accidentally turn you into a bodybuilder.
Myth 3: Women can’t lose weight through lifting
It’s a common misconception that cardio is the best way to burn fat or lose weight. Weight lifting is as good or better for burning calories, since research shows it can increase your basal metabolic rate, or the number of calories you burn at rest, for up to 48 hours after you finish your workout.
“As soon as you stop doing cardio, you stop burning calories,” Carr says. “When you lift weights, once you stop, your body starts to recover, and continues to burn calories for a long period of time.”
It has another benefit for a lean physique, too, particularly in the long-term. As you build muscle with weight lifting, your body will need to use more energy maintaining all that tissue, which can further increase the number of calories you burn during daily activities.
“The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is going to be,” Carr says.
Myth 4: You should use light weight and lots of reps to “tone” certain muscles
Workout routines designed for women often include light weight (or just body weight exercises) and lots of reps. The conventional wisdom is that these smaller weights will help “tone” your muscles without making them big.
However, the word “tone” here is misleading because it refers to the idea that you can achieve defined muscles by changing their shape but without bulking up. In reality, you can’t gain muscle definition without gaining some muscle mass (or losing body fat).
“Your muscles can get bigger or smaller, you can’t change the shape,” says Carr.
Moreover, toning is sometimes associated with spot reducing, which refers to when you target a specific area of your body â€” like your stomach or thighs â€” to make it leaner. However, spot reducing is not real: “You can’t just tell your body you want to lose weight in a certain area,” Carr says.
Myth 5: It’s scary or intimidating to learn weight lifting
As a fitness beginner, walking into a gym can be anxiety-provoking, since it’s easy to worry about being judged or fitting in. This can be particularly true for women in weight rooms full of men.
While it can feel overwhelming to know where to start, learning to lift weights doesn’t have to be scary, says Carr. Many gym communities are extremely welcoming to newcomers, and are happy to help a newbie learn the ropes (or barbells). And weightlifting increasingly includes women as much as men â€” today, 47% of USA Weightlifting members are women, compared to just 17% in 2007.
One key toward feeling comfortable in the gym is finding a good coach. Coaching is crucial for beginners, but it’s also valuable for even the most experienced athletes to improve their technique and make progress.
“Everybody needs a coach when they start weight lifting,” says Carr. “I compete in weight lifting and I have a coach.” Carr adds that when looking for a coach, “I never recommend people just walk into a gym and go with whoever is assigned them.”
Carr recommends some of the following when looking for a fitness coach:
- Do your research: Check their background and experience and make sure it aligns with your expectations.
- Check client reviews: If other clients have a positive experience, you’re more likely to have one as well. Ideally, talk to a friend or acquaintance who’s had success with a coach for a reference.
- Choose wisely: To avoid wasting time or money with a low-quality coach, steer clear of those that make too-good-to-be-true promises. Also be wary of trainers that use pseudoscience myths like toning or spot reducing to sell their programs, Carr says.
Benefits of weight lifting for women
Lifting weights has mental and physical health benefits for all genders. According to research, it can improve your bone health, preserve mobility in your tendons and joints, and may even help you live longer.
Studies show weight lifting can also improve your self confidence and self image. This can be especially beneficial for women who struggle with body image due to social pressures to be thin.
“It takes the focus off of training to look a certain way and puts the focus on training to perform a certain way,” Carr says.
Weight lifting isn’t just for men. It’s a myth that lifting weights will make women bulky or put them at risk of injury.
Women can excel at weight lifting and experience major physical and mental benefits from strength training, including a leaner, more muscular body as well as better self-esteem.
“My favourite thing is to put a barbell in a woman’s hands for the first time,” Carr says. “One of the biggest benefits is the confidence of realising you’re capable of that.”