Ashleigh Lawrence is a VPT/strength and conditioning coach, at Gymbox Holborn. "I want to clear a few things up about strength training for girls, and why it's not just for dudes" she says. We're all ears!
So you joined the gym, what next?! The gym can be a scary place for women who have never been before. There are lots of machines and weights that you have no idea how to use! So you jump on the treadmill, or go to spin class. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, a lot of women end up stuck in this routine, and never experience the many benefits of strength training.
You only have to have a glance around the weights room (aka, the 'man cave') at any gym to see that men are usually the ones dominating the space. However, more and more women are beginning to realise that strength training is a great way to stay fit, and look amazing.
Many of my clients express concerns about becoming 'too bulky' or that by picking up a dumbbell they are going to suddenly turn into the Incredible Hulk! The reality is that it's extremely difficult, even for men, to put on that amount of muscle, and it doesn't happen by accident or overnight. It's even harder for women to put on large amounts of muscle, as our hormones aren't designed for that. The girls that you see who are very muscular have put in years of training, and are incredibly strict with their eating and supplementation (not to mention steroids for many of the female bodybuilders).
Burn, baby, burn
In fact, the muscle that you fear putting on is actually what's going to create that toned physique that you are working towards. By increasing your lean muscle mass, your Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) increases. This is a fancy way of saying that as you gain muscle, your body burns more calories at rest. So if you're eating the same amount, you will be burning fat without even getting out of bed! Except you will want to get out of bed, because you will be experiencing all of the benefits of weight training, such as feeling more confident, looking sexier naked, having increased libido and brain function, increasing your strength, so you can get better sleep, and increased energy levels.
Live long, live strong
Strength training also has other health benefits such as increasing your bone density, which will reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Weight training has also been proven to dramatically reduce the risk of Type II diabetes, as well as reduce your risk of cancer. In fact UCLA has recently completed a study proving that the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of premature death!
A lot of women don't know the benefits of strength training and think that running on the treadmill for hours on end is going to help them achieve that toned look they are after. What they don't realise is that solid-state cardio training alone isn't going to cut it. Your body needs muscle, not only for those curves in the right places, but to make your body a more efficient powerhouse at burning fat.
Rock that body
My client Kathy has been training with me for 10 months now, and has seen a great improvement in her physique. She had always been into fitness, and her nutrition was quite good. She was happy with her body and simply wanted to add to her fitness routine, which mainly involved spin, yoga and other classes. The pic on the left is Kathy on holiday last year, versus July this year. The only difference in her routine is that she has added in 2-3 days per week of strength training. Not only is she really enjoying the challenge, but she is incredibly happy with the changes in her physique.
Strength in numbers
NHS recommends that you should do muscle strengthening activities for at least two days per week, in addition to at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. I would recommend getting started with compound lifts such as squats, bench press, overhead press, pull ups (or lat pull down), and rows. Aim for between 8-12 repetitions on each exercise for two or three sets. If you can do more repetitions than that, then you aren't going heavy enough to tax your muscles properly. Rest for a minute or so between each set. Rinse and repeat for each consecutive exercise.
Make sure you always use correct lifting technique. If you are unsure, get in contact with a VPT who can help guide you. Incorrect technique can not only hinder your progress but cause injuries and inconsistencies in your physique.
In conclusion, weight training for females is an incredibly beneficial tool. Not only will it increase your confidence and appearance, but massively benefit your every day health and wellness. So stop chasing that elusive 'box-gap' on the treadmill, and hit the barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and sculpt buns ripe for twerking!
Follow Ashleigh on Twitter.