Myths Debunked: Women Lifting Weights

Strong is the new sexy!

One of the biggest myths that still tends to circulate is about women lifting weights. We’ve continually hear the question: is heavyweight going to make me bulky? In the fitness industry, there are all kinds of fitness myths that are still being spread to this day despite no scientific evidence such as, too much protein makes you fat, or l-carnitine is good for fat loss.

There’s a section designed specifically for women in some gyms. They have the little pink dumbbells that go no heavier than ten pounds and other specialized equipment, such as the cable kickback machine. It’s time to tear these walls down because women should be doing all the same exercises as men. There are no special activities for women, contrary to the fitness industry’s belief. So what seems to be wrong with women lifting weights? This myth was started in the early 90s when women bodybuilding hit the scene. These women were using a massive amount of steroids, which just so happened to contain the male hormone known as testosterone.

Women lifting weights regularly do not have enough testosterone to look anything like the women that abuse anabolic steroids. Women are not going to develop large increases in muscle mass just by lifting heavyweight, so it’s time to stop believing that getting under a squat bar is going to cause your legs to look manly. In fact, if you look at any competitive bikini workout for women, they include copious amounts weight lifting. So let’s look at the newest research to better understand the optimal repetition range for increasing lean muscle mass for women.

Most women will use lightweight because it’s commonly thought that lightweight causes the muscle to be toned, whereas using heavy weights causes muscles to increase in muscle size. In the latest study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers examined the impact of two different rep ranges for women on body composition. All subjects trained three times per week (one upper body workout and two lower body workouts) for nine weeks. Each workout involved 6-7 exercises, with each set performed to muscular failure.

– The heavy-load group performed all exercises for four sets of 5-7 reps.
– The moderate-load group performed all exercises for two sets of 10-14 reps.

At the end of 9 weeks, the researchers found that both the heavy and moderate weight group increased lean muscle mass similarly.  Squat strength increased in both the heavy (by 43 percent) and moderate (by 31 percent) groups. Overhead press 1RM increased in both the heavy (by 10 percent) and moderate (by 12 percent) groups. Vertical jump height increased in both the heavy (by 5 percent) and moderate (by 9 percent) groups. Chest pass velocity increased in both the heavy (by 5 percent) and moderate (by 2 percent) groups.

Some important findings of the study are that there is no such thing as lightweight toning the muscle while heavyweight causes big, bulky muscles. As you can see from the nine-week study, both the heavy (four sets of 5-7 reps) and moderate weight (two sets of 10-14 reps) groups increased lean muscle mass to the same extent. What that being said, increases in lean muscle mass are going to burn more fat and improve bone density.

Cholewa JM, Rossi FE, MacDonald C, Hewins A, Gallo S, Micenski A, Norton L, Campbell BI. The effects of moderate- versus high-load resistance training on muscle growth, body composition, and performance in collegiate women. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Jun 2. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002048.

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