Why Women Should Lift Heavy Weights


Gjenes Belamide

I walk into my local gym, and I see the same thing every time: women on the treadmill and men in the weight room.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Women who are afraid to step in the weight room and challenge their body.

Cardio just isn’t enough and lifting colorful three-pound dumbbells certainly isn’t either. Ladies, if you haven’t caught on yet, it’s time you lift, lift heavy.

When I first started lifting heavy weights over a year ago, I could barely control the 45-lb. bar and a 10-lb dumbbell. Now, I can now lift anywhere from half of my weight to one and a half times my weight, depending on the lift.

According to the American Heart Association, 30 minutes of your day should be spent on moderate to intense aerobic activity, such as running, walking, cycling or swimming. Although working your cardiovascular system is important and has its benefits, lifting heavy is the best way to burn fat and get in shape.

“Strength training is a critical component of any program that emphasizes long-term fat loss,” Alwyn Cosgrove, co-author of the book “The New Rules of Lifting,” said in an interview with Livestrong.com.

It’s important I clarify the term “lift heavy weights.” I like to lift weights that challenge my body to perform sets anywhere between 5 to 12 reps depending on the exercise.

Jennifer Sherwood, a lecturer in the kinesiology department at CSU East Bay, describes the different recommendations of weights and reps depending on the woman’s exercise goals. Sherwood explains lifting weight that requires 8 to 12 reps will help with muscle hypertrophy, or muscle growth. Lifting for strength requires weights to be lifted 6 to 12 reps and 3 to 6 reps for power.

Although heavier weight has more benefits, a lighter weight that requires 15 to 20 reps is still useful for endurance gains. But it will not increase strength, power or muscle definition as much compared to a heavy weight.

“Women should be encouraged to lift weights to increase and maintain their bone mass, to increase strength – especially upper body strength,” says Sherwood, who teaches courses on exercise physiology and nutrition at CSUEB.

Second, let me stress—you will NOT look like a man. Women often avoid lifting heavy because they think it’s manly and they’ll end up looking like our ex-governor from that one movie. This is a myth and I will explain why. Women have only about a one-tenth the testosterone of men, which is a key component in muscle building. It takes a lot of work for even some men to get that big.

Sherwood explains though lifting weights does stimulate muscles to adapt by hypertrophying, it is limited by testosterone and genetics.
“Women tend to have more subcutaneous fat, so even when comparing women and men of similar strengths, women do not appear to have the same degree of muscular hypertrophy as men,” she said.

But then what about those women who are bodybuilders?

Those women train to get that way, they devote months and even years to resistance training as well as follow a strict dietary regimen. And some may take supplements to make those gains. So, that won’t happen to you, unless you want it to.

Although I encourage lifting heavy weights, any intense exercise whether it is aerobic or resistance training, will stimulate lipolysis, which is the breakdown of fat. This is because your muscle mass will increase, and muscle mass burns calories—even at rest. Meaning, your muscles will be working 24 hours a day. Leaving you with less fat and more definition.
“Repeated exercise intervals above anaerobic threshold will likely be the most efficient way to stimulate calorie expenditure and lipolysis,” said Sherwood.

One of the long-term advantages of lifting heavy is to prevent bone mineral density loss. I know it’s difficult for most college students to even think about their body’s strength at 80-years-old but it’s important to start. Do you want to be active and with a healthy heart at 80 or worrying about your joints and bones?

Sherwood discusses the research on long-term benefits of strength training such as, increased muscle mass, increased strength and reduced anxiety.

Lifting heavy will also increase your self-confidence. You will not only be more toned and curvy, you will be stronger. I promise you, seeing what you’re physically capable of in the weight room is satisfying and addictive. You can still look sexy and be just as strong as or even stronger than some of the guys in your class.

By now, I hope most of you are encouraged to lift heavy and challenge yourself. If so, do some extended research beforehand and get help from a friend or trainer. It is important to be safe, have proper form and make sure to take days off, in order to prevent injuries and get the results you’re looking for.

I’m a 5 ft. 2 in. female, so it’s always fun to shock people in the gym because I know they’re looking at me like I can’t do it—but I can. So ladies, put down those pink three-pound dumbbells and challenge your muscles and body with heavier weight. You won’t regret your results.