For today’s post, I thought I’d answer some of my readers’ questions about weight training. I cover topics from how to build muscle, heavy weights vs. fitness classes, bulking vs. toning, how not to be intimidated at the gym and how long it takes to get results.
What do the terms volume, load and intensity mean in weight-training ?
Volume refers to the overall amount of exercise sets and repetitions in a workout. Load refers to the intensity of the weights that you are using, this can be measured in accordance to your 1RM (the maximum weight you can lift for 1 rep in a compound lift).
Intensity refers to either the weight lifted or the amount of effort required to lift that amount of weight.
Additional reading: Women’s weight-lifting guide
How does lifting heavy weights improve a woman’s body shape?
Lifting heavy weights can transform your body by adding muscles and reducing fat. This process is difficult and seldom do women “accidentally” get big.
The truth is a bit different, women are discouraged from getting strong and are instead encouraged to go for ‘lighter’ forms of exercise like pilates and yoga.
What this does is feed into women’s fear about looking masculine. It is not realistic to generalize that weight-lifting will give everybody the same results. Weight-lifting is best understood as a process and building muscle mass a result of being good at it.
The result is complementary to your natural physiology. Only if one introduces a substance that increases testosterone does the result become amplified and exaggerated.
What this means is that a woman who lifts heavy can push her body to become the best natural version of itself. What this ends doing to a woman’s body is creating a toned, strong and curvy physique.
Whether it is bulky (a subjective word to describe muscle mass taken to it’s extreme form) is completely context-specific.
For instance, a highly developed lower body (glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings) in Colombia is highly sought after. Bodybuilding is the only process capable of developing this type of body-type.
In Lebanon (where I’m from), women are largely expected to be curvy ‘in the right places’ and slim in the right ones. Ultimately, bodybuilding is the process that can replicate this ideal if it is the one that you seek.
Since Beirut is also plastic surgery haven, a lot of women simply visit a doctor to get the hourglass shape through liposuction and the Brazilian Butt Lift surgery.
This type of surgery, however, is a costly investment, works only in the short-term and is potentially fatal.
Lifting heavy weights can produce an outcome that is more realistic and sustainable. Eventually, lifting weights provides health benefits that extend beyond fitting into a social ideal and this largely explains why it is a process that a lot of people enjoy doing way into their elderly years.
Additional reading: Benefits of lifting heavy weights for women
What if I sign up to fitness classes at the gym? Or if I do yoga/pilates? Won’t these also improve my body shape?
Fitness classes can improve many things on top of making you both look and feel better. The only issue is that pilates and yoga do not exert as much pressure on your muscles that will enable them to grow.
What this ultimately means is that you are missing out on a whole structure in your body that is sort of sitting there waiting to grow. Once again, the challenge is in the process and not the outcome.
The process of lifting heavy weights ultimately wakes the dormant muscles up, develops them and this results in an aesthetic that is visually appealing.
Here is a look at how underdeveloped muscles look on the female body. This underdevelopment of muscle is also known as a “skinny fat” body:
Now take a look at fitness model Michelle Lewin’s body. She has highly developed muscles.
How can I tone my body and not bulk up?
Let us start by defining bulky. Bulky is largely subjective. It is also not a term that all women will agree on.
Some may find the pictures of Michelle Lewin posted above as “bulky” whereas other women might find that her body matches their definition of “toning” more. The point here is that only we get to define these terms.
However, when women take large amounts of steroids and alter their natural physiology, then we can start to see how their bodies start to develop in unnaturally large ways.
If bulky is to mean unnaturally large or extremely muscular, then you don’t have to worry, as weight lifting cannot give you that aesthetic.
This is mainly because women do not possess the same amount of testosterone as men. It simply is not lying dormant in our physiology to reach high levels of musculature once we begin to deadlift or squat.
If you want to tone your body, you will have to lift heavy weights and eat high-protein meals. If you want to bulk up your body, you will do both and take large amounts of steroids with the goal in mind to get huge! You simply do not “accidentally” get that way.
Your body will more realistically get this developed only if you are training hard, resting sufficiently and eating well enough. The look below is that achieved by lifting heavy!
Pilates and yoga alone will never get close to bringing out this type of muscle.
What are your tips for entering the gym for the first time as a woman without feeling intimidated?
1) Have a plan for your workout that day.
2) Focus outside of yourself to reduce feelings of self-consciousness.
3) Put on your earphones and focus!
4) Trust that everybody there is focussing on improving themselves and their levels of fitness and focus on doing the same thing!
How long does it take to train to get a sexier physique?
You should see some great improvements after a few months. I think after 2-3 months, the body starts to look noticeably more developed and attractive.
The longer you do train seriously, the more developed you can get your body and this can last as long as you want it to!
I hope that you enjoyed this Q&A, let me know what your thoughts are on the subject of female weight-training in the comments below!