One of the first questions women ask when it comes to resistance training is ‘will I bulk up?’ The answer is simple, NO. You want your body to look better, right? Well sculpting a great-looking body takes commitment, dedication and sweat but can also be very rewarding – that’s the fun part. As any athlete will tell you, there’s no short cut to fitness. To get a truly better body, you need to train hard and eat smart. And that’s the key: to combine resistance workouts with cardiovascular training and a nutrient-packed diet.
This is where it gets interesting, one of the primary goals of women is weight loss and there is this underlying fear that lifting weights will make you bulk up…so not true. Here’s the reality, women benefit exactly the same as men from lifting weights. Yes, you will gain muscle, but you will not gain like a man (remove the image of female bodybuilders from your mind), instead you will become toned and shapely. Women do not actually have to train any differently to men, it is almost impossible for a woman to develop muscle like a man.
If you are a woman and want to gain muscle and improve your shape and curves, then you are going to have to lift heavier weights. This means instead of doing endless reps with tiny, pink weights as spelled out in the media, you need to lift some heavy weights and really challenge yourself. Don’t get me wrong, high rep sets (15-20 reps) does have some benefits, it is not optimal to getting the shape you want.
Still not convinced? The very moment you explain to women that they can workout like a man, they start to tune out. They’ve been convinced that only men can workout with heavy weights and lower reps while the ladies should stick to ‘toning exercises’ and ‘sculpting workouts’, this is not the truth, people! Muscle tone is actually the result of building some muscle, and then losing enough fat to make it visible. Muscle is muscle, it is no different for women, there are workouts that build it and workouts that don’t.
Think about it, you ladies that are afraid to bulk up should realize that most men don’t even bulk up to the levels that you’re afraid of. If you visualize female bodybuilders then visualize steroids as well. The truth is if you want to look toned and defined, firm, lean and athletic, while remaining completely feminine and sexy, you will need to build some muscle. The very thing you are afraid of is what is preventing you from achieving the body you want.
You don’t have to lift hundreds of pounds on every exercise like a man would, but you do have to equally challenge yourself and continue to push yourself to progress and gradually lift heavier weights over time. This is called “Progressive Overload”. Here are a few exercises that you can use as a base for your workouts, however, I recommend consulting a quality trainer and plenty of online research before embarking on a body-sculpting journey:
Deadlifts are a full body exercise, meaning it stimulates just about every muscle in the body. It hits the legs, back, traps, abs, obliques, etc, and are a must for building a fully developed body.
Squats are perhaps the most effective exercise you can do for overall leg development. Free-weight barbell squats are a compound exercise that hits the entire upper leg, quads, hamstrings and glutes. Like deadlifts, if you don’t squat you are selling yourself short and are a must for sexy, toned legs.
These are great for targeting the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. They help tighten up your legs and butt and give you the curves you want.
Pull-ups work the muscles of the back, biceps and forearms. Most gyms have assisted pull-up machines, which allow you to do pull-ups with less than your bodyweight.
Dips work the muscles of the chest, shoulders and triceps. They are a great exercise for overall upper body development, especially the shoulders and triceps (think of the excess fat under your arms).
As stated already, women need to lift heavy, challenging weights in order to gain muscle. Lifting heavy weights will not cause you to get big and bulky like men because women produce a fraction of the testosterone that men do. Remember, it is of the utmost importance to use proper form in the gym when lifting, always warm up properly, and try to rest for 60-120 seconds between sets.
Most women have ‘trouble areas’ or places on the body where fat is stored and really quite difficult to get rid of. In most it’s the thighs, glutes (butt), triceps and ‘love handles’. After dieting to lose weight and tone up, these areas are the last places you want to regain excess fat. If you don’t keep your diet clean and controlled then you will gain fat in these areas.
Stay focused, motivated and healthy.