"Don't be afraid to pick up a heavier weights." You've heard that a lot over the last few weeks as we progress into our Strength Cycle.
"Wait, doesn't lifting heavy weights make you bulky?"
The short answer is that unless you are taking anabolic steroids, lifting heavy weights with correct form will not make you bulky. The women you see clad in teeny bikinis, flexing their bronzed biceps did not get there by accident. It took commitment, sacrifice, restrictive diets, supplements and yes, weight training.
While it's true that your body will build muscle quicker than it burns fat at the beginning of a weight loss journey, eventually your metabolism will catch up. If your scale isn't moving, or if it moves up, not down, don't get discouraged. It's also worth noting that this is when most women will ditch the weights and resort back to intense cardio workouts.
Stay the course!
"Isn't cardio better for burning calories?"
A cardio workout will give you a great calorie burn depending on your intensity level, but weight training will give you an increased calorie burn both during and after the workout. This is because the body has to repair the micro tears in the muscle caused by the stress of your workout.
Not sore afterwards? That's a tell-tale sign you need to pick up heavier weights. On the other hand, never sacrifice form for function. Start with 5-10% of your body weight for smaller muscle groups (triceps, biceps) and 10-15% of your body weight for larger muscle groups (chest, back, legs). Once form is mastered and soreness is no longer felt, grab the next higher weight. #progress
Aesthetics aside, lifting weights has also been proven to help build bone density. This is important, especially to women, because bone density peaks at the age of 25 and decreases from then on. Building up bone density will help prevent osteoporosis, which plagues 1 in 2 women, age 50 or older.
"I just want to tone, I don't want to gain muscles."
When asked about their fitness goals, most women will say they want to tone a specific muscle. In reality, there is no way to change the shape of your muscles, that's decided by genetics. However, what most women mean is that they want to lose fat and make an area of their body tighter and firmer. In order to do that you have to gain muscle.
"I heard it's better to use lighter weights and do more reps."
The truth is that you should incorporate both heavier weights with low reps and lighter weights with higher reps into your workout. Training with low weights and high reps builds up slow-twitch muscle fibers which help with endurance, while training with heavy weights for low reps builds fast-twitch muscle fibers that help with strength and power. This is why we incorporate both functional and resistance-based exercises into every workout.
"But if I pick up the same weight as the guy next to me won't my arms start to look similar to his? I don't want to look masculine."
The reason why men build muscle mass easier than women is because of the testosterone they produce. Although it's true that women produce a low level of testosterone, it is nowhere near the level that men produce. Even if you pick up the same weight as the guy standing next to you, there's no way your muscles will look the same as his because of the estrogen and progesterone that women naturally produce...but imagine how bad-ass you'd feel if you could lift more than the guy next to you!
We joke a lot about the differences between men and women, but there are a lot of important biological differences that affect how we look and operate (just look at all the pregnant men out there). For that same reason, heavier weights affect men and women differently.
There are a lot of fitness myths out there. Don't let them keep you from your goals.