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Strength training is a critical component of fitness for both men and women.  But many women are hesitant to do so while men seem to naturally waltz around the weight room like they own the place.

I’ve heard tons of different excuses over the years from female friends and strangers on why they hesitate to participate in strength training:

  • I don’t want to get bulky
  • Big muscles on women are unattractive
  • It’s too challenging
  • I don’t know how to use a barbell
  • I’m intimidated by the weight area at the gym

Mostly, these excuses stem from fear of the unknown, limiting beliefs, or misconceptions about how muscles change.  Each of which can be turned around with a few cold, hard facts.

Lifting weights is not going to make you bulky

Hormones are a significant factor when it comes to how much you’re able to lift, but also a key component in how big your muscles will grow.  Testosterone (which both sexes have, but men have more of it than women) is a key player in muscle growth. Due to the lower levels of testosterone in women, we can lift and not risk looking like this guy.

Why women need to strength train

The overarching message here is that you can lift weights, light or heavy, and not risk getting too bulky with muscles and veins popping out of your favorite tank top. Now that we’ve put that major misconception to bed, let’s move on to the myriad of fabulous reasons why strength training is an excellent idea for women.

It helps you burn more calories

An increase in muscular strength correlates with an increase in resting metabolic rate.  That means after a bout of strength training, you’re burning more calories for the next 48-72 hours than if you had not worked out.  To make the most of this, you’ll want to incorporate regular strength training 2-3 days per week.

It makes activities of daily living easier

Ever bought a big case of water at the grocery store and struggled to lift it in the trunk of your car or carry it up the steps?  By increasing your overall muscle strength, these daily activities progressively become easier.  After just a few weeks of training, you’ll be lugging around the big bag of dog food like it’s a paper towel.

It decreases the risk of injury

By increasing the amount of muscle in your body, you’re adding more cushion to absorb the shock of activities like walking or running. Muscular training will also correct any muscle imbalances, thus creating greater stability and ultimately decreasing the likelihood of falls as you age.

It makes you feel empowered

I rarely feel stronger than when I finish a great strength workout and lift a new personal best.  There is something extremely empowering about feeling confident when it comes to weight lifting. While we don’t all start as professional bodybuilders, it’s easier than you think to incorporate resistance and strength training into your regularly scheduled programming.

Getting started with weight training

Here are a few great ways to create a less intimidating environment to get started with strength training.

Start slow and at home

The first step in any strength training program is to build up your muscular endurance by doing more reps at a lighter weight (or no weight at all, aka bodyweight exercises!). I love resistance band* training for muscular endurance for both men and women.  But especially for women because it feels much more approachable than grabbing a set of dumbbells* or a barbell.

I also recommend starting at home until you build up your confidence enough to get out to a gym. The beauty of strength training is that you may never feel the need to go to a gym! With all of the available options for strength training at home (most of the resources available for free), you can build muscle and increase your strength without ever leaving your house.

There are many circuit workouts online where you can use a little bit of weight and get a killer workout.  Below are a few YouTube videos I like that give you an all-over workout no matter how much time you have.

Consider taking a class or hiring a trainer

Once you feel comfortable with a base level of muscle strength, it could be a good opportunity to look at classes to increase your intensity and expand your knowledge. Sometimes classes and small groups or 1-1 coaching are great options to get you started.

I was intimidated by lifting for many years until I signed up for a CrossFit gym.  After coaches helped me master the movements, and I felt comfortable, I was more confident to go into a gym by myself and lift. 

You don’t need to use a barbell

Powerlifting and strength training are not synonymous.  You don’t need to be repping out a hundred pounds on the bench press to be building strength. Strength can be built using light dumbbells, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises. Until you feel informed and prepared enough to use the barbell with proper form, it should stay in the rack.

Modify as needed

Most online videos offer modifications for strength moves. For example, while standard push-ups are done with weight distributed between arms and feet, a modified push-up will have knees lowered to the ground to decrease the intensity. When you’re starting, don’t be afraid to modify or take additional rest as needed.

One of the best quotes I’ve heard recently is, “I’d rather be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”  This has come to be symbolic of the way I think about strength training.  I’d rather be strong and powerful and not need to use it than to be weak and struggling in a time where my strength is tested. There’s no time like the present to get out there and be a warrior girlfriend!

Do you have a strength training routine you swear by? Did strength training change your life for the better? Tell me about it in the comments!

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