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Why It’s Time to Throw Out Your Light Weights (Lift Heavy, Get Smaller)

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I am not a “rant” type blogger. In fact, I can’t stand a trainer or coach going off on people about things that “make them mad.” I don’t know…just doesn’t sit right with me and doesn’t seem helpful to be yelling about things that piss me off or spreading negativity that way. Only reveals insecurity, immaturity and lack of professionalism, IMHO.

Anywho, with that said, this is as close to a rant as I will ever get. And honestly, it is only for your own good :)

Ladies, ladies, ladies…

You know it. You have heard it. Many times. And yet, you don’t like it. Just like with weighing yourself, the thought of lifting heavy weights makes you cringe. You just KNOW you are going to bulk up. “My legs respond really quickly” or “I don’t want to look like a man” are a few of the usual tunes. In this post, I will do the following:
a) explain why you will not, in fact, ever look like a man
b) what “bulking up” really is and
c) explain why a woman will muscles and curves is not only stronger, but also leaner and sexier.

Ok, ready?

Lifting light weights in almost every case is a waste of time for women who are seeking body change. Exceptions to this rule may include pregnant women, those recovering from injury, in rehab, beginners (and even they should be adding weight quickly) or those who are giving their body a rest from the intense stuff. If you are a woman, who wants body change/to get leaner, you should be lifting heavy. “Heavy” is a relative term as it will be different for every woman, and that is fine. At the LIGHTEST, you should be using a 15 rep max on whatever exercise you are doing. In other words, you can complete 15 reps with clean, good form, but not 16. More advanced trainees will even use closer to a 10 rep max in their circuits and just take more rests.

Reasons Lifting Light Weights is a Waste of Time

  1. If you are lifting light weights, you are training for one thing: muscular endurance. You might be able to do 100 body weight lunges, but add a few dumbbells held in your hands and you can’t do any. What about strength? What about power? What about hypertrophy? Building muscular endurance is really only good for…building more muscular endurance.
  2. You are not applying enough stimulus to elicit a physique-changing response. The exception here is the beginner, with whom ANY consistent muscle contraction will elicit a response. But after time has gone by and you are no longer a beginner, you better start adding some plates if you want to keep seeing physique changes.
  3. The more weight you lift, the more your body will change, period. The amount your shape changes is directly proportional to how heavy the weights are. Light weight=very little change. Heavier weights, intense workouts and achieving failure in your workouts are all correlated with increased release of testosterone (don’t get scared) and growth hormone, muscle-building & fat-burning hormones. Yes, women need testosterone too. But don’t worry, natural levels of testosterone released as a result of weight training cannot make you look like a man (more below). And growth hormone is anti-aging.
  4. You will get more bang for your physique buck spending that time in the kitchen prepping clean eats. Dietary adjustments have way more of an impact on weight loss than exercise anyway, especially light weight training.

The Real Deal with Bulking Up

Ok, I am going to let you in on a little secret: bulking up does happen, BUT it’s not what you think it is. Essentially, when people bulk up, they are add lean muscle UNDERNEATH layers of fat and not solving the fat-burning part of the equation. Adding muscle itself is beneficial. In fact, muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so it is extremely advantageous to exchange fat for muscle. Building muscle + burning fat = smaller, leaner and more defined. So that is why the nutrition piece is so important, that is where most of your fat burning will happen. A clean nutrition plan made up primarily of lean protein, fibrous veggies, fruit and some select clean carbs will help shed inches. The way you train is important too–avoid taking super-long rests like a power lifter. Instead, go with circuit training, moving quickly from exercise to exercise, resting as needed.

Women who successfully build muscle and burn fat end up smaller overall, shed inches, and do not bulk up. Their body fat percentages go down and their amount of lean muscle mass increases.

However, regardless of bulking up, I guarantee you WILL NOT ever look like a man :) How could you, if you are not using anabolic steroids, sex hormone supplementation in the supra-physiological range or other performance-enhancing drugs? Practicing good, old-fashioned heavy weight training along with a clean diet will do nothing but enhance your feminine look. Muscles, curves, strength, oh my!

I will leave you with an excerpt from an OLD article I wrote right after my first figure competition :) (never published). I was all fired up because of the negative attention I was getting (as I perceived it) as a result of my recent muscle gain, from acquaintances, family members and even people on the street (though a) now I see that a lot of it was simply in my head, and b) who cares?), even though I was the smallest physically that I had ever been. People just didn’t get what I was doing. They didn’t get the new me. They didn’t get why I loved lifting heavy weights! Here is the excerpt from what I would call my one-and-only rant (from 2006)…hope you enjoy lol (thinking about posting the whole thing at some point? I mean, why not? I share every other thing on here lol):

What do people really think of  “us” muscular women?  

 There is a very small population of people who care enough about their physical appearance and personal health to focus their efforts on doing a fitness or figure show.  It is not common.  It is time-consuming.  It takes away from other priorities.  It requires preparation and dedication more than most can comprehend.  It is obsessive.  I have tried to pick the typical American’s brain about why it is considered weird to exercise with such consistency, eat with such awareness and be so focused on one’s physical health and appearance. 

One perception is that if an individual is so intent on developing bulging biceps, that they will be using illegal anabolic supplementation. Of course the stereotype of old is that if you are bodybuilding, you are taking steroids. In fact, this is precisely what my parents thought when I first told them I was competing in a figure contest; of course they didn’t know what they heck it was, they were apprehensive and scared I was going to turn into Lou Ferrigno (though Lou still looks pretty good!).  My mom showed her skeptical support by coming into town for my first figure show and I picked her up at the airport.  Not having seen me for months and knowing I was competing the next day, she expected that I would be a huge, muscle-bound hulk.  Needless to say she was shocked to see someone who was physically the smallest she had ever been, in terms of inches.  I was muscular, but regarding actual size, I was tiny.  I had lost 20 pounds of fat for the show and I was looking slim, trim and vivacious, baggy clothes and all.  For some reason, she thought I would not look like her daughter anymore…maybe I would look like a son?! lol But she was happy to find me just as feminine as ever and looking “beautiful.”  I went on to win the Tall Class in my show and I think she was actually proud of me!  This serves as just one example of someone whose stereotypical view of the sport of fitness had changed. 

However, there are many more minds to be opened.  Many to whom I spoke think it is much more acceptable for a woman to prove her career prowess by working her way up the corporate ladder, all the while eating cupcake after cupcake at office parties, than it is for a woman to transform her physical appearance to create a successful career in the fitness industry.  “People just don’t do that.”  Furthermore, it is perfectly common to see a woman sacrifice her physical self to create a family and maintain a household.  There’s no judgment there, a family is an amazing thing that everyone who wants to should experience, but it can lead to a less physically healthy priority shift in many cases.

Nonetheless, many of today’s women are able to have it all—a career, a family and a healthy, rockin’ body.  So keep it up and make it your priority to educate a few others in the health benefits and beauty that comes with having some muscle on your frame.  Besides, I would much rather be called “butch” any day than skinny-fat!  :)

Related: Lift Heavy, Get Smaller Part 1: Workout
Related: 8 muscle building rules for women

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