Recently I just got back into weight lifting. It dawned on me that I had reached a plateau from doing too much cardio and not enough muscle-building. As I went through the circuits, I wondered, “Am I lifting enough weight to work my muscles? Or, conversely, am I lifting too much weight, and will I be sore for days after this?” Without a personal trainer, it can be hard to know how much to push yourself. I decided to look into the matter so you and I will have more successful work out routines from here on out!
The Facts On Women Weight Lifting
- The average woman increases strength by 20 to 40 percent after several months of consistent resistance training.
- “The burn” is lactic acid stimulating muscle growth.
- A pound of muscle burns 10-20 calories per day, compared to a pound of fat which burns just 5 calories per day. For this reason, muscle building and weight loss go hand-in-hand!
- Benefits of weight lifting for women include: adding support to joints to prevent injury; increasing bone density to prevent osteoporosis; improving confidence and mood; and increasing resting metabolism to burn more body-fat.
Are You Lifting Enough Weight?
Women are often hesitant to lift heavy weights for fear of “bulking up” like female wrestler Chyna, so they use piddly six or eight pound barbells for their strength training. The reality is that, without a heavy enough load, you cannot possible change the tone and shape of the muscle – which is really what you hope to achieve when all is said and done.
You need to lift heavy enough free weights that your muscles actually become fatigued. Most women do not have the genetics or the hormones to naturally develop large “bodybuilder” muscles, so you needn’t fret about that – unless you’re on steroids.
- You essentially want to choose a weight load that exhausts you by 8-12 repetitions for the upper body and 12-15 repetitions for the lower body. While you perform each rep, spend 30 to 60 seconds slowly flexing your muscles.
Are You Lifting Too Much Weight?
You want to make sure you’re just barely able to complete the reps using the proper form.
- If you have to contort your body to get through it, then you have chosen your resistance incorrectly.
- If you need help setting the weight down, it’s probably a bit much.
- If you are struggling at rep #6, then take it down a notch.
Feeling sore is to be expected, especially if you’re a beginner. You’re feeling this way due to small tears in the muscle tissue, which are rebuilding in better ways than ever before. It’s okay to work out through mild soreness, but if you’re sore for more than a couple days, then you have probably overexerted yourself. Still do your weight training exercises, but work on the muscles that have not been strained (upper body one day, lower body another).
How Often Should You Do Strength Training?
To achieve noticeable effects, you should do some form of weight training at least three times a week. I like to do a half hour of weight lifting exercises before I take a spin class or run on the Cybex Machine. Many gyms also have hour long “power lifting” classes set to music that are a hoot! I find it’s a lot easier to perform dead lifts, squats and bench presses in the company of others in a motivational atmosphere that helps me put on a little bit more weight. (Believe me, when I saw the pregnant woman next to me lifting more weights, I knew it was time to add a little more resistance!)
If you’re not a member at a gym, you can use your free weights at home and pair it with an aerobic DVD, a 30-minute bike ride, or even a 30 minute brisk walk with your dog. It’s essential that you give yourself a day in between weight lifting programs to allow your muscles time to “recover” (which is when all the growth happens!)
One More Thing: Don’t Forget About Diet!
Another important consideration is fueling your muscles to achieve adequate growth.
- Protein: You can cut your calories, so long as you still consume 10 to 20 grams of protein less than an hour before lifting weights. After I work out, I like to have a chocolate protein shake to encourage my muscles to repair themselves. According to WebMD, women need at least 46 grams of protein a day (with the exception being pregnant women who need 71 grams). The best sources of protein include: eggs, almonds, salmon, yogurt, milk, spinach, roasted chicken, soy, lentils, and lean beef.
- Carbs: You’ll also want to fuel your body with complex carbohydrates, which will give you that post-workout insulin spike necessary to stimulate the anabolic muscle repair cycle. If you’re not consuming the right nutrients, your body could go into muscle-breakdown mode, which is exactly what you don’t want! The best sources of quick-acting carbs include: Cheerios, potatoes, pasta, bananas, dextrose, maltodextrin, bagels, or a sports drink like Gatorade.
- H2O: Be sure to drink enough water to make up for what you lost during your workout. If you’re not sure how much, try weighing yourself before and after your workout and drinking 24 ounces for every pound lost, says Men’s Health.
If you’re interested in DIY strength training for women, check out this increasingly popular book: The New Rules of Weight Training for Women by Schuler, Cassandra Forsythe M.S.m and Alwyn Cosgrove.