I recently posted this picture of myself from when I was 21 and had been weight training for a little over a year. Next to it I showed my current shape after 8 years of training and shared I’ve put on 15 pounds of healthy weight, building feminine curves, strength and confidence.
One of the things I hear the most from women is they know they should be doing weighted exercises, but they don’t want to get bulky. Training with weights to improve health and elicit a body transformation has become more popularized by the media, but the fear of getting “big” from lifting heavier weights still exists. I hear this so often that I feel obligated to address whether or not there is any truth to getting “bulky” from lifting.
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Resistance training is the ultimate solution to a dramatic and sustainable body transformation, where you can achieve both fat loss and an increase in muscle definition or “tone”. What most people miss is enough emphasis of weight training over traditional cardio. Popular programs have women doing high repetitions with light weights or bands and lots of cardio with the promise of losing weight and toning muscle. After a few weeks of this, we feel better and our clothes fit better, but we quickly plateau and are frustrated we can’t get the body we want without a strict diet or adding even more cardio.
But we know it doesn’t work that way. Doing lots of cardio can be incredibly boring and does little to improve muscle tone and definition. Our daily lives require us to lift heavy things. Even if we set out to build strength in a functional way, we should be lifting weights in the realm of 20+ pounds. A toddler is 20-30 lbs, a case of water is 30lbs, and the multiple purses and bags we carry for long periods of time are often 10-15lbs.
You Can Get Bigger from Lifting Weights
It is possible for a woman to put on muscle size, but in almost all cases she will have to work incredibly hard for it. Female bodybuilders and dedicated CrossFitters spend years of intense training and implement complex nutritional strategies to intentionally put on additional muscle mass. For a woman to put on substantial muscle she is either genetically gifted with a predisposition to putting on muscle, a high-performing athlete, or an experienced and frequent lifter (trains 5+ times per week) eating in a caloric surplus.
The average woman doesn't get bigger by picking up heavier weights, but instead by eating too much of the wrong foods. If processed foods start slipping into our diet, we will gain body fat on top of lean muscle giving a more “bulky” appearance.
If we train hard for several years and reach a point where we're at a relatively low body fat and are happy with the level of muscle we have, there are ways to switch up the workout program so we maintain our muscle and strength. For example we might train less frequently (3-4 times per week) and favor compound movements over isolation exercises, but weight training would still make up the core of our workouts.
How to Get a Toned and Shapely Physique
Muscle takes up much less space than fat, it’s denser, so you can weigh more but look smaller or have a tighter appearance. Being “toned” simply means building muscle in the absence of body fat. When we strengthen and shape the muscle, eat a healthy diet based around real foods and have a healthy hormonal profile, our sexy sculpted curves are revealed.
Lifting weights is the only way to change the shape of our body. Targeting specific "trouble" areas is probably one of the most common struggles for women. We all have a genetic predisposition to storing more fat in one place over another. For some it's their thighs and hips, for others it's their arms or stomach. Instead of obsessing over these areas where we lose fat last, we can accept and love our body types and be grateful for how strong and capable our bodies are. We know we can't spot reduce, but we can train for our body type by focusing on building muscle in specific areas. Strengthening and tightening muscles on the backside of the body like the rear delts, back, butt and hamstrings helps us stand taller for improved posture and confidence. Building lean muscle in these areas and the shoulders also creates feminine curves and gives the appearance of a smaller waist. Lifting heavier weights provides the stimulus our muscles need to develop more tone. The stronger a muscle, the tighter and firmer it becomes.
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Hormonal Balance for Fat Loss
Building muscle fires up our metabolism to help with fat loss and weight maintenance. While cardio heavy programs heighten cortisol, strength training helps to balance cortisol and elevate beneficial fat burning hormones. Total body movements like chin-ups, squats and deadlifts done with 50% or more of our bodyweight should be staples in a regular workout routine. It’s incredibly hard for women to put on and keep on muscle. When we weight train with the intention of building muscle, we increase our resting metabolism and the calorie after burn effect post workout.
Added Benefits of Strength Training
Weight-bearing exercises keep our muscles, joints and bones strong to fight against conditions like sarcopenia and osteoporosis. At age 30, we begin to experience bone loss and lifting heavy weights is one of the only things we can do to prevent this. Cellulite can be improved through weight training as the development of lean muscle helps reduce body fat and firm the muscle beneath the skin. The sense of accomplishment and achievement from getting stronger in the gym positively influences all aspects of our life.
Stay toned this December with with 10 days of 20 minute workouts. A consistent routine to feel fit, healthy and energized this holiday season. All the details here! We start December 13th.