When I was in my early 20s, my friend Jodi announced she was beginning a weight training program. At first I was skeptical. I’d never met any women who lifted weights and I assumed it would make you look bulgy and unfeminine, like the Incredible Hulk. But after a few months, rather than bulking out in all the wrong places, Jodi was looking strong, toned and still very feminine. Intrigued, I joined my first gym and learned how to use the machines, and I’ve been hooked on resistance training since.
Trust me, I’ve been lifting weights for 20 years, and I’ve never once been mistaken for a man.
The benefits of strength training go far beyond aesthetic appeal. The CDC recommends two to three sessions per week for men and women of all ages, to strengthen bones, prevent falls, maintain a healthy body weight, improve sleep, relieve arthritic pain and control diabetes.
So once you’ve made the choice to add resistance training to your workout, where should you begin? Heavy weights or light? The simple answer is, it depends. What are your fitness goals? Do you have experience with strength training? Are you working with any injuries?
If your goals are general fitness and improved health, if you’re relatively new to training, or if you’re concerned about strain on your joints, it might be best for you to lift lighter weights — at least to start. Take my client Sydney for example. She’s a marathon runner and does yoga and Pilates regularly, but she had never done any strength training. Sydney has some running injuries and knows she needs to develop a balanced strength to continue to run safely and for the long term. I developed a program for Sydney that has her lifting light weights, but doing a lot of repetitions. This will help build her endurance and strength safely.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re already doing strength training and have reached a plateau: you’re not seeing results anymore. Maybe you want to build strength to help you with a physically active job like construction work. Or you might even want to lift competitively, like my friend and Spartacus Gym co-worker Mike.
“Although I train for athletic performance, the real reason I lift heavy is because of the profound effects it has on both my mental and spiritual fortitude,” Mike told me. “However, this wouldn’t be possible without a solid foundation of technique and form. Learn and ingrain the essential movement patterns and then progress to becoming the strongest version of yourself.” This is good advice (thanks Mike!). If you want to start lifting heavy, consult a trainer that specializes in that area and have him/her show you how to do it properly.
Busting The Myth
The myth of female bodybuilding persists: if women lift heavy weights we’ll start looking like men, right? Luckily that’s just not true. Due to differences in our hormones and muscle fiber types, women don’t gain muscle as quickly or easily as men do — without help, that is, from compounds like steroids. Trust me, I’ve been lifting weights for 20 years, and I’ve never once been mistaken for a man.
If weights aren’t your thing, resistance training can be done with machines, cables, bands, kettlebells and weighted balls. Heavy, light or even just your own bodyweight, for the strongest version of you – just lift.