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2 Myths About Women and Weight Lifting Debunked

If you lift big, you get big, right? Well, maybe, but then again, maybe not.

It’s long been female gym folklore that to get lean you do high
repetitions with a light load to “tone and shape,” while at the same
time telling those looking to get bigger that they need to lift heavy. Let’s look at a few misconceptions around this advice.

Myth #1: Tone and Shape

women's fitness, women and lifting, women and strength training, bulky womenFirst, that whole “tone and shape” thing needs to be put to bed once and for all. Despite
what any piece of marketing tells you there is no training system,
method, or tool that will change the shape of a muscle.
That is
genetically determined. Pilates won’t do it, nor yoga, kettlebells,
weightlifting, swimming, or any other thing you care to name. Your
parents ultimately have more to do with your possible physique than just
about anything else does.

So while muscle size and body fat levels can be changed with training, ultimately the shape you end up with is a genetic lottery.
What people really mean, in my experience, when they say “tone and
shape” is that they want to lose some body fat and make their muscles
firmer. They hope that by doing so they change the shape of their body
from couch potato round to more muscular and athletic.

Ultimately, when it comes to losing body fat the most important thing
is diet. So if you’re looking to shed body fat – and let’s make that
distinction over senseless worrying what the scales say,
because remember, your shape is what it is, so best just to be as lean
as you can be – then you need to worry first and foremost about what goes in your mouth. The number one exercise to help you stay lean is not eating crap in the first place.
A typical cheeseburger has 308 calories in it – that equates to about
45 minutes on a rower for most women, or half an hour running at 13km/h
(8.1mp/h). Easier to just not eat that in the first place. As the saying
goes – you can’t out run a bad diet.

Myth #2: High Reps and Light Weights

But there’s still that myth out there that to get lean you need high reps and light weights. Women often comment that they’re worried about bulking up, and that they “put on muscle if they look at a weight.” Uh huh. Let’s talk some simple math for a moment. A single kilogram of muscle takes a calorie surplus of 9000 calories to be created.
That’s thirty cheeseburgers extra you need to eat above your
maintenance calories to even think about growing some extra muscle.

And not only do you need to eat those extra burgers, but you need to train specifically to put on size. While you can make muscles bigger from weight training, that’s not a necessary side effect.
My entire life has been dedicated to making myself as strong as
possible while staying as light as possible. For evidence think of rock
climbers, gymnasts, track and field athletes like sprinters and jumpers,
and dancers who all possess incredible levels of strength while staying
light. So how do they do that?

women's fitness, women and lifting, women and strength training, bulky womenWeight training has two different types of effect. One is on what we can call the neural component of training and the other is on what we could call the metabolic effect. The
short version is that the neural effects are those that improve the
connection of the mind to the muscle. They increase both the size and
strength of the message from the brain to the muscle allowing it to
contract harder and faster. Think of this like upgrading your muscle
software from dial-up to cable Internet. It’s entirely possible to
enhance this capacity and not see any increases in muscle size. The
opposite is true for the metabolic changes. At certain rep ranges you
will see increases in muscle size brought about via an array of
mechanisms.

The funny part to me is that it is low rep training that
changes the neural component and higher rep training that has more of an
effect on the metabolic changes.
In other words, lifting
weights only for a few reps is less likely to cause size gains than
lifting weights for more reps. Please note there are other factors here,
such as eating all those burgers and how many total sets you do, as it
is still possible to lift for only a few reps at a time, but do many,
many sets and still cause metabolic changes to the muscle. So if you do
many total sets and overeat you will likely still grow. 

Strong and Lean

The funny thing is that out of the females I know it’s the ones who are the strongest who are also the leanest.
My buddy, female fat loss guru Josh Hillis, shared with me the
following that he’s witnessed in his fat loss training, “When girls can
do three chin ups and deadlift body weight for three reps they are
usually around the 19-21% body fat range.” Despite what most people will
tell you, a female at the 19% range is in rock star shape. (And given
sixty percent of the world is overweight or obese these women will
really stand out as having fantastic bodies.) He even added that, “Vanessa Hudgens has deadlifted 180lbs as well as using kettlebells in her training and Jena Malone has done 235.”

Clearly how much weight you lift doesn’t make you big and bulky, and it’s about time that women stopped fearing that it will. The main things to focus on, if looking to get lean, are the following:

  1. Don’t over eat. If you’re not keeping a food diary that is your biggest problem with losing weight.
  2. Lift heavy for a few reps. A sample deadlift workout might be three
    sets of three reps with a two to three minute rest between sets. These
    need to be hard, near all-out sets for them to be useful.
  3. For the rest of your workout do only whole-body exercises such as
    loaded carries and sled pushing, and bodyweight exercises such as
    burpees, lunges, squats, and pull-ups.
  4. Ignore the “friends” that try to derail you by telling you that
    despite all evidence to the contrary you’re training incorrectly. You
    paid for a trainer for their expert help, don’t go off reservation and
    start listening to someone who gets their workout advice off Biggest
    Loser.

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