Ah, the age-old discussion of why girls don't (or won't) lift weights. If I had a nickel for every time one of my female clients or friends has asked, “Why should I lift weights? Won't it make me bulky?” I could retire. Or at least get a pumpkin spice latte. There's a veritable ocean of misinformation out there on the Internet about how girls “should” approach our fitness—just check out the Health & Fitness section of Pinterest, for example. You’ll see row after row of photos of thin girls looking happy, because that’s what our culture says fitness “should” mean for girls: looking thin. (Which, if you ask me, is pretty dumb.)
When clients ask me these questions, it’s all I can do not to rant about the benefits of resistance training for women, the skewed cultural standards of female beauty, and the perpetuation of antiquated gender stereotypes in gym culture…but I’m getting ahead of myself. Here at Volt, we are ALL ABOUT girls in the weight room! So we thought it might be helpful to lay out some of the common reasons girls don’t want to lift weights—and then debunk them, one by one.
Girls, this post is for you—but if you’re a guy, DON’T STOP READING! Impress the ladies in your life by educating yourself on gym gender politics, and help set a well-informed example for some of your less-considerate fellow athletes!
1. "I'll get bulky.”
False. Our female bodies, magical and wonderful though they may be, simply don’t have the same testosterone profile as our male counterparts. Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone, and promotes the development of male secondary sex characteristics like muscle and bone growth. And although women secrete testosterone too, adult men produce about 20 times more than adult women. As a result, females simply cannot physiologically reach the same muscle hypertrophy (size) as guys. (Unless you are doing some serious, illegal supplementation…but that’s another post for another day.)
So this one is pretty simple: we girls just don’t have as much testosterone as guys do. Our muscles DO respond to strength training stimuli by increasing in size—but our bodies simply won’t support huge, “bulky” musculature. It’s science!
2. “Strength training won’t burn as many calories as cardio does.”
False again! Actually, if one of your goals is to lose non-lean body mass (body fat), strength training is your secret weapon! When you lift weights—heavy weights—your body signals to your brain that you are working overtime. This means that even when you put down the barbell, your body continues to work—and burn calories—to repair itself. One of the best ways to understand this metabolic effect is to think about the different energy systems your body uses to fuel different types of activities.
“Cardio,” as in steady-state aerobic activity, burns calories from your body’s fat stores after about 30 minutes of movement. So if you jog on a treadmill at a medium-intensity pace for 60 minutes, you will burn fat in the scientific sense. However, as soon as you hit that stop button, your body will also stop using fat calories for energy, and thus stop burning calories altogether. This is in contrast to anaerobic activities, like strength training. Let’s say you strength train with heavy weights for 30 minutes—while your body is deriving much of its energy from glucose (carbohydrate) in your bloodstream DURING your workout, AFTER your workout is a different story. Because you tax your metabolic pathways more during a strength training session, your body continues to repair itself (and burn calories doing so) after you stop. So, while the total number of calories burned during an aerobic workout might be more, the total number of calories burned both during and AFTER a strength training workout is MUCH higher—making strength training an essential practice not just for athletes looking to get stronger, but also looking to lose body fat.
Squats are arguably the most fundamental movement in your training repertoire. When done correctly, the back squat recruits every muscle of the posterior chain, takes your hips and knees through their full range of motion (ROM), and can be performed by anyone who can sit down in a chair. So whether you are a quarterback or a cross-country skier or an elite volleyball player, you will benefit from squatting heavy and often. Which is why it's so awesome to see @wesleyanvolleyball dominate their #squats and get better today!! #EarnEverything #Repost @wesleyanvolleyball ・・・ Wesleyan Volleyball putting in work even during finals week! Huge thank you to @voltathletics for giving us a vigorous off season lift routine. Go cards! #wesleyanvolleyball #fitness #VoltFamily
3. “Lifting weights is for boys.”
OK, this one is true and false! Historically, the realm of strength training has been presided over solely by men. Take a peek into a gym in the 1970’s and you’d probably see only dudes in the weight room. But THANKFULLY, the times they are a-changing! Thanks in part to our culture’s recent movement for gender equality, the gym is becoming more and more a place for both guys AND girls. There is nothing centrally “masculine” about the weight room—those are just old perspectives about what being male or female actually meant in society. This had more to do with our sociological roles than our physical bodies. The weight room nowadays is just as “feminine” as it is “masculine”—because these terms are totally arbitrary, until you attach meaning to them. It's actually an incredibly exciting time to be a girl in the gym, because we can positively affect—and change!—previous cultural standards.
So even though this “weights are for dudes” misconception has been true in the past, we are now proving this silly stereotype false. Nobody bats an eye these days when they see a girl setting up her bar for power cleans. And while there may be a remnant of this old-school thinking about gender roles in the gym, we ladies can chip away at that remnant with every single back squat! (Just thinking about legions of girls at the squat rack brings a single tear to my eye!)
Looking to reduce strength imbalances? The split squat can help improve unilateral strength and stability, limb to limb and within muscle groups of each individual limb. Love the hard work @shaunalea_22! #VoltFamily 🏋️♀️💪 • • • #Repost from @shaunalea_22 - Slayin it Saturday... Barbell split squats, 3RM @125. Core, glute, chest activation takes max focus! Take a look at that backdrop though... #voltathletics #voltfamily #marathontraining #saturdaynight #gymlife #fullbodystrength #strengthtraining #nosociallife
4. “I don’t know how to strength train!”
This one is the easiest reason of them all to debunk—because the answer is Volt! Seriously though, sales pitch aside: one of the primary complaints I hear from girls who want to lift weights is that they don’t know how (which makes sense, because as we addressed in #3, the gym used to be considered just for guys). But now, thanks to the magic of the Internet, there is information galore available about ANYTHING you want to know about! And in fact, this is the mission of Volt Athletics: to make safe, effective strength training programs accessible to anyone and everyone. With Volt programming, our male and female athletes get weekly workouts that specify exercises, rep counts, set counts, rest periods between exercises, and more. That’s why we’ve fortified our comprehensive online exercise library with detailed instructions, photos, and videos—to equip ALL athletes to learn how to lift weights. No more excuses, girls!
I hope that this post has helped debunk some of these mythical reasons why girls don't strength train. (In fact, I almost hope you haven't made it to this final paragraph but instead got halfway through, put on your lifting shoes, and ran to the weight room to CHANGE THE WORLD!) Stay tuned for our next post on girls in the gym: the real reasons girls SHOULD lift! Get after it.
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Learn more about Christye and read her other posts | @CoachChristye