“I’m not sure about lifting heavy weights… I don’t want my arms to grow bigger!” This is one of the most common concerns of the women I train. The misconception is that lifting heavier weights will result in muscles looking bigger, while using lighter weights will slim you down and tone you up. When I ask them to define “heavy”, the answer is usually anything above two or three kilograms. If this were really the case, it would mean that, as women, we shouldn’t pick up our own groceries, move a chair, or carry our children!
Here’s the truth, ladies. Lifting weights will not make you look like Starla from Napoleon Dynamite and bulk you up, but it will actually give you the toned look that you’re after. Women do not have the same levels of testosterone as men, and that’s the hormone mainly responsible for size gain. As a result, when we weight train, our muscles develop but don’t gain a large amount of mass. Female bodybuilders have to eat in surplus, train heavy, and take supplements to specifically look like that. Plus they’ve been working consistently for years to achieve that physique!
Whether you are new to the weight-training world or not, here are Goodness’ top five tips to keep in mind when adding weights to your workout.
Focus on Form
Form means the way in which you execute the exercise, and it is the single most important factor when training. Correct form will not only ensure that you are working the right muscles, but it will also reduce the risk of injury. If you are unsure about how to perform an exercise, don’t hesitate to watch videos online or ask a trainer at the gym for help.
Don't Be Afraid to Lift Heavy
If you want that toned look, you will need to challenge your muscles. By progressively adding weights, you create stress on your muscles that will push them to develop. Learn how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and really enjoy the crank up in weights. You are much stronger than you think.
Perform Compound Movements
Simultaneously using more muscles results in burning more calories. That, in turn, means you can get in and out of the gym in less than an hour! Examples of compound movements include squats, which work not only on activating your glutes but also your quads, core, and back, and deadlifts, which work the hamstrings, back, core, and arms – all at the same time.
This will only work if you show up to the gym and are consistent in your efforts. A month on and another off is not going to cut it! Start with two training sessions a week, and then add in more based on how you feel and how many you think you can do without having to miss out on any. Once you start seeing results, you will get hooked and want to add more sessions.
No, you do not have to train three hours a day and six times a week to see changes in your body. It needs adequate sleep and resting days to recover from the stress it’s undergoing when you lift heavy, so don’t feel bad for training three times a week – that’s a great start. Focus on having active rest days during which you move a lot, stretch, and foam roll. Do not, however, use your rest day as an excuse to become a couch potato.
Nour El Chedrawi is a fitness trainer and sustainability consultant. She is behind the page @NourishByNour, a platform that motivates women to find balance and happiness in their fitness journey.