While some women, especially those facing illnesses or injuries that impede their ability to perform load-bearing exercise, do best with cardio only, most would benefit from adding some kind of weight training to their workout routine. Ko says it’s never too late to start, and adds that the “bro culture” of the weight room is changing and becoming more welcoming to people of all genders.
How: Stand with your feet under your hips and hold 8- to 10-pound dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing inward. Stand with a long, tall spine. Bend your elbows and bring the dumbbells upward toward your chest, keeping your palms facing each other. Pull the dumbbells up until they touch the front of your shoulders. Pause here for 2 seconds and contract the muscles in your upper arms. Slowly lower back down to the starting position. That's one repetition. Aim to complete 10 to 15 reps.
To go a little deeper, we can look at powerlifting meet results to see how the gap between men and women shifts when comparing less competitive lifters to more competitive lifters. As mentioned in a previous article, women lift about 67% as much as men in the squat, 56% in the bench, and 71% in the deadlift, on average (using allometric scaling to correct for differences in body mass). However, those gaps are larger when looking at less successful lifters (those in the 10th percentile of relative strength) and smaller when looking at more successful lifters (those in the 90th percentile of relative strength). A 5th percentile woman has about 62% as much relative strength as a 5th percentile man in the squat, 53% in the bench, and 67% in the deadlift. On the other hand, a 95th percentile woman has about 71% as much relative strength as a 95th percentile man in the squat, 60% in the bench, and 75% in the deadlift. An analysis of weightlifting results in CrossFitters had similar findings (though they didn’t correct for differences in body mass): larger sex gaps in snatch and clean & jerk performance in lower-level lifters and smaller gaps in higher-level lifters.
Stand holding medium-weight dumbbells at your sides, feet hip-width apart, core braced, knees slightly bent. This is the start. Hinge at your hips and push your butt backward, lowering your torso. Hinge until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings; focus on keeping your core braced as you do this. From this position, squeeze your shoulder blades and row the dumbbells to your ribcage. Pause, then lower the dumbbells and stand up, squeezing your glutes. That’s 1 rep. Do 3 sets.
Now bring yourself into a standing position by simultaneously straightening your back and legs. Remember to keep your back straight – do not let it slouch, as this can cause injury. Once assuming the straight stance, stick your chest out and contract your shoulder blades. This is one repetition. Do at least five repetitions to build strength and muscle. Once you can do these repetitions easily, add weight to the bag.
Thank you so much for this article, what a breathe of fresh air!!! I have been an athlete all of my life and have done very intense training with weights and have never looked like a man! When I was training my hardest back in the old high school days, I could lift 400 pounds on the leg press machine and never had man legs. I would bench press 80 or so pounds and didn’t have a man’s upper body. As a matter of fact, with a mix of heavy lifting days, with lighter lifting days (high intensity super sets, keeping the heart rate up, essentially cardio/strengthening rolled into one) I dropped my body fat percentage from 25% to 21% looked super lean yet with lots of muscle. I was 5’4 and 121 pounds. I was lifting as much as I could at the time, and I looked perfectly feminine. I was a sporty, fit, lean & ripped girl. I just cannot believe how pervasive this myth is among women. I have had to to tell women exactly what you are saying in this article, because they are so afraid that one single day of heavy weight lifting in the gym will cause them to balloon into Arnold Schwarzenegger over night! I want to see more attractive sporty and muscular women on magazines instead of these waifs who are unhealthy and provide the wrong image for women to strive for. They are only endorsing the best way to suffer from osteoporosis and getting blown away by a strong gust of wind. Keep up the good work on all of your articles that shatter the most prevalent training myths and give people the real info straight up.
Calling all new moms! Whether you're looking to stay in shape during pregnancy or get back into shape post-delivery, this workout is designed to help you feel like your best self. A blend of Pilates and barre moves, it follows the guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists so that you can rest assured that you're exercising safely.
This is most-likely due to not being informed, or even misinformed (by the media), about how women should train. What about diet? One of the most common breakfast meals recommended to women is yogurt and a banana. Now there is nothing wrong with eating a yogurt and banana, but where is the protein and essential fatty acids? If you are a woman trying to gain lean muscle, you will need to eat adequate protein and good fats (essential fatty acids). It is time to stop listening to the media and misinformed individuals and time to become educated and get results. In this article, we will go over some basic diet and training information and then direct you to where YOU can get diet and training help and direction!
With that out of the way, this article is going to start with a review of the research comparing strength and muscle growth in men and women. After that, I’ll focus just on the research using participants with prior training experience, and then I’ll review the inferences we can draw from sex differences in strength sports. At the end, I’ll discuss some other sex differences and female-specific considerations beyond rates of strength gains and muscle growth.
As for yoga, it is a wonderful form of exercise. But it is not the best way to change your body. I practice yoga for the relaxation benefits of it and the breath control. Everyone in my yoga class asks me how to get cuts in their arms. Yoga is an excellent complement to strength training but it does not change your body the way strength training does.
How: Stand with your feet shoulder-width distance apart and your toes turned out slightly. Extend your arms forward and keep them parallel to the floor throughout the movement. Bend your knees and reach your hips back as if to fully sit down on the chair. Lower your hips until you feel the chair underneath you, but don't fully sit. Touch the chair with your butt, then immediately press into your heels and stand back up to the starting position. That's one repetition. Aim to complete 10 to 15 reps.
There are some things on here that you can do from home if you own the equipment, such as I do, but there are some things you cannot do without going to a gym… because who really owns a Leg press in their home? That is why there are alternatives to almost ANY exercises such as using resistance bands instead of cables for the cable curls, etc. Tweak the program to best suit your needs!
“There are so many misconceptions about strength and resistance training,” says Larry Tucker, a professor in exercise sciences at Brigham Young University. “One is that you’ll become muscle-bound”—so bulked up that your body becomes rigid. That myth was somewhat dispelled when athletes who started strength-training saw that they could hit a ball farther, jump higher and run faster, Tucker says. “Gradually we started realizing there are benefits beyond sports.”
Hey Alejandro! Yep, I’ve read it. I ALMOST picked it for MASS a couple months ago, actually, and it’s included in the lit review for my thesis project (we’re using load/velocity profiles to track fatigue recovery in men and women). Tell me if I’m crazy, but it seems like the effect sizes were just large because the variability was so low. Looking at figure 1, it doesn’t seem like the differences are really all that large or meaningful.
What’s more, when you strength train, you get more calorie-torching bang for your buck. Working with weights keeps your body working long after you’ve stopped lifting. This is the process commonly called “after-burn.” There is much talk in exercise circles about the body’s ability to continue burning calories after exercise, called “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” or EPOC. A study reported by the University of New Mexico (UNM) reports that the body takes between 15 minutes and 48 hours to return to a resting state after exercise. This means you can continue burning calories after you exercise. The UNM study reports that the intensity of the workout has the most effect on how long the after-burn effect lasts.
You see, we all build muscle the same way. We all require the same muscle building fundamentals to be in place in order for muscle growth to occur. We all need and benefit from similar amounts of weight training volume, frequency and intensity. We all need to force progressive overload to happen and lift heavy weights that are truly challenging for us. We all need to ensure certain dietary requirements are in place.
During weeks 9-12, you will be lifting in the 4-6 rep range. What this means is that you want to complete at least 4 reps but no more than 6 reps for each set. If you cannot complete 4 reps, then the weight is too heavy and you should decrease the load. If you can complete more than 6 reps, then the weight is too light and you should increase the load.
I am a 47 year old woman that has been athletic all my life. I love to tinker with my own training – my training goals are somewhat contradictory – faster 1/2 marathon times and stronger lifts. I just discovered your content a few months ago (MASS subscriber as well) and have found it extremely helpful in trying to create plans that achieve both without over training. But I really appreciate the attention and info for female athletes – this article in particular. There is much more work to be done by the research community – but anything that continues to educate women about the value of resistance training is a needed step to a healthier community
A proper warm-up is an important part of an effective strength workout. Start by foam rolling your muscles to wake 'em up. "Foam rolling loosens up tight muscles so that they work the way they're designed to," says Davis. A dynamic warm-up is another important part of your pre-workout routine, it preps your muscles for the work they're about to do and helps increase your range of motion. Increasing your range of motion allows you to go deeper into those squats and fully extend those bicep curls, which means more muscle recruitment and better results. "These two combined reduce your risk of injury and allow you to push harder during your workout," says Davis. Get started with this five-minute warm-up.
Because of all of the muscle groups engaged simultaneously, this one is a calorie torcher! We estimate that in the 33 minutes of this video, the vast majority of the population will expend 8-12 calories a minute. That’s roughly 264-396 total. Here’s the thing; you can easily step up the burn even more by grabbing weights that are heavy & challenging for you to lift. Just make sure that you don’t ever sacrifice form for a heavier weight.
This is true and this should be the focus. Not ‘you can’t get bulky so lift’. I’m a dancer and heavy weight training ruined my lines (which I need to work). I’m fit and strong either way but I need to be more careful with how I train because looks matter to me professionally. It would be nice to hear trainers talk more about how they tailor workouts to clients needs and wishes than to make sweeping statements about women’s bodies.
That's because women lose up to 5% of their lean muscle tissue per decade, starting in their 30s—and that number increases after 65. "I cannot stress enough how important muscle mass is to your life," says Perkins. "There is a direct correlation between your health and the amount of muscle mass that you have. The more you build, the faster your metabolism hums, the tighter and firmer you get, and the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off." It also decreases your risk for diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and makes you less likely to fall or become injured.
Start standing, holding light-to-medium-weight dumbbells at your shoulders, chest up, core braced. Step your right foot back, then bend at both knees, lowering your torso until your left thigh is parallel to the ground. Press back up to standing, then press the dumbbells straight overhead. Lower them back to your shoulders and do a lunge rep with your left leg. Alternate legs on every rep until time’s up. Do 3 sets.
Loved this weight training video! I am 70 years old and have been working with your videos and DVDs for about 5 years. Although I have always worked out, I really like the consistency of your workouts. I do everything from yoga to weight training to aerobic workouts 6 days a week. I had open heart surgery to remove a benign tumor from the ventricle of my heart a couple of years ago and know that your workouts before and after surgery helped me to a quick recovery. Many thanks!!
Why: "The best way to maintain and improve bone density is through exercises that involve your entire lower body," says Perkins. "This move is considered a weight-bearing, compound, complex exercise, and is number one for bone health. In addition, the majority of age-related falls and bone fractures involve the pelvis. This move specifically targets and strengthens the muscles and bones of the pelvis." (Here are 4 more strength-training exercises you can do with a chair.)
I enjoy these workouts. They're straightforward and good for beginners, not too complex or exhausting. My only complaint is that the 10 minute lower body workout is done without holding weights. After she says bigger muscles should use heavier weights, she doesn't show any weights with the legs, which are pretty big muscles. Bodyweight is fine, but this isn't advertised as a bodyweight workout. I think a beginner video should show basic squats and lunges with weights. Other than that, it's great.
How can one express that this is not the case any more clearly than explaining relative gains, different baselines and even addressing the implications of the results (the very fear of getting as big vs not getting any muscularity) at great lengths like Greg did? Hey, this is strongerbyscience, the home of strong-nerds, not the clientele for a …dumb-sized pink message sticker or fitness catchphrase in a glossy lifestyle magazine. I expect the audience of this blog of having above average interest in and knowledge about the topic and reading comprehension (only their written English becomes bumpy at times as a non-native speaker like me…). I fully trust the overwhelming majority to understand the article the right way and even educate others about it.
Sit with both feet about hip-width apart on the ground, feet flat on the floor. Your shoulder blades should be against a bench, arms wide for stability. Lift your right foot off the ground, raising it as high as you can and bending your knee. This is the start. Now brace your core, and use your left glute to press your entire torso off the ground, driving your torso and left thigh so they’re parallel to the ground. Pause here, then return to the start. That’s 1 rep; do 2 sets per leg.
“I think the most important thing about any athletic pursuit for women ... is the general sense of competence you get from knowing that your body can do whatever you need it to,” says Karen Ko, a Toronto-based strength coach and personal trainer. “This is huge for women. We’re socialized to defer to men in areas of physical activity — they are the experts, they are inherently stronger than us. Strength training challenges this narrative and is extremely empowering.”
I’m sure there are some people in a state of mild disbelief as this point. After all, men have more testosterone, and testosterone is anabolic; therefore, men should be at a huge advantage when it comes to building muscle and gaining strength, right? An implication of this analysis is that, assuming a given woman and a given man start with similar amounts of muscle mass and strength, they’d be likely to gain the same amount of muscle and strength if they both started lifting. That just doesn’t sit right with some people.
Get on all fours with feet and knees hip-width apart. Place hands shoulder-width apart and spread fingers wide. Pressing firmly through hands, lift knees off mat and straighten legs. Walk hands forward and feet backwards to adjust position. (If you have tight hamstrings, bend knees gently.) Squeeze thighs and imagine pressing them against a flat plane. Press heels down onto mat as much as possible [shown]. Keep neck relaxed and breathe deeply.
Many women worry that weight training will somehow transform them into Hulk-ettes, so they spend hours doing cardio in order to maintain their "feminine" figure. The truth is, women just don't have the hormonal support to gain muscle mass like men. The hormone testosterone is responsible for large increases in muscle mass. Women's testosterone levels are a fraction of men's. That means you can bench press without concerning yourself about how much chest hair you might grow.
I’m a weight lifter, and I’m not afraid of the freeweights, nor the heavy ones. I went to a gym test session at a “girly” gym, and was so annoyed at the girl’s surprise that I was capable of tripling most of her clients’ weight limits. And I haven’t regularly lifted in months. So even now, seriously out of condition, I’m capable of lifting more than most.
What is the most common thing you see women do in the gym? Cardio. And if they do lift weights the pick up a 5 pound dumbbell and do endless reps. As we have discussed, women need to lift heavy, challenging weights just like men in order to gain muscle. While machines do provide sufficient stimulation to gain muscle, nothing can beat free-weight/compound exercises.
How her body has reacted: Once I started lifting, I got a lot of feedback from friends saying I’d lost weight. Funny thing is, I didn’t really lose any pounds, I was just looking leaner and fitter. Now that I’ve been lifting regularly for several years, my energy is better and I feel stronger. I’m positive that my physical fitness helped me have a faster and (somewhat) easier delivery of my son in 2016. I continued to lift responsibly through my pregnancy, which helped me quickly get back into pre-pregnancy shape later. Overall, I feel better and look better thanks to this lifestyle change.
Hi Jay.Your site is a breath of fresh air.I’m 67 and have loved working out with weights for years.Started with library physique books as they were called when I was a boy.Common sense books that taught progressive weight training.Thank you for bringing back that common sense for today’s people.I will send this information about training to my daughter. She will appreciate your advice. Best regards
Most of the time, there are meta-analyses to answer questions like this. A meta-analysis is essentially a “study of studies,” pooling the results from many different (smaller) research projects to make some sort of comparison. Meta-analyses are useful because individual studies may have skewed results, and a single study can’t possibly hope to answer every facet of a general research question like “how do relative gains in strength and muscle mass differ between men and women?” (What if they used different exercises? What if they used different training programs? What if they manipulated diet differently? What if they used people in a different age range? What if the study lasted twice as long? etc.)