Suzy's Guide to
Weightlifting for Women
Why make a weightlifting guide for the "weaker sex"...? Because we're not the weaker sex. Male dominated society says we are, but society is wrong. On the cellular level there is a subtle difference between male and female muscles - male muscles are weaker and rip easier. Female muscles have more quality and durability, and thus rip less easily. For building larger muscles this means men can rip their muscles easier, which instigates repairs which causes the muscles to bulk up and become "ripped". This doesn't mean however that women cannot do the same. It simply means women have a higher threshold for ripping their muscles, and have to therefore challenge themselves more than a man does in order to attain the same amount of ripped muscle tissue.
Another difference is how we treat the two sexes, even at a young age. "Wow, look at the big boy! Look how strong he is!" More weightlifting equals more muscles, its as simple as that. What you got between your legs makes no difference.
But wait! Women can't lift weights or they will look like a man! They'll get all bulgy and whatnot.
False. On the cellular level women's muscles are still very similar, but a woman's body fat is dispersed differently from a man's. The end result is that women look more shapely and curvy. The only time a woman will end up looking masculine is if she's being taking steroids and/or hormone therapy, and thus she sheds that fat which gives her those attractive curves.
Aerobics/etc is a great way to keep fit and toned, but its not a good way to actually LOSE weight, build muscle mass or increase bone density. Here in Canada the Canadian government is now recommending that ALL women over the age of 30 start weightlifting to stay fit and increase their bone density in order to stave off obesity, arthritis, osteoporosis, various cancers and a host of other medical problems caused by low bone density and lack of exercise.
I've been saying for years that people should just run and jump more often. I do it all the time. But now that I'm pushing almost 30 myself (I'm 28) I need to start thinking about maintaining or increasing my bone density and overall health. That means I need more meat and dairy in my diet (see The MacNevin Diet) and a lot more weights when I exercise.
Cause girls, the older you get the more cardio and aerobics just doesn't cut it any more.
Interesting Fact: Years ago there was a study on the effects of testosterone on female bone density. Women who took testosterone pills developed better bone density and decreased their chances of osteoporosis... and they developed larger muscles. Testosterone basically acts like a steroid on the female body (users also notice an increase in facial hair and start to look more masculine).
But it wasn't the testosterone that increased the bone density. That was a byproduct of the larger muscles.
You see when you lift weights your body sends messages to your brain that you are straining under pressure. Your brain responds by storing that information and when you sleep your body builds more muscles and increases your bone density (so you can lift more without hurting yourself).
But this effect only works if you are lifting something that is actually difficult to lift. If its too easy for you then nothing is gained (hence the term "no pain no gain").
Fortunately (or unfortunately) for women that muscle gain is less noticeable. When a woman gains muscle mass its well-hidden. Which can also be a curse because then men think you are a weakling when in reality you could probably beat him arm wrestling. The eyes can be deceiving and so is the female body.
There is a common misconception: Fat and Muscle are not transferable. They are not even related. Eating greasy food is not going to give you more muscles, its just going to make you store fat. Your arms may get bigger, but thats fat baby, not muscle. They are totally different things.
Fat = Stored Energy, the result of too much sugar or fat in your diet.
Muscle = Protein cells that can stretch and flex.
Weightlifting is arguably the best way to lose weight because it uses a lot more energy than you'd think. When you do cardio you're not lifting anything, you're just moving around. Weightlifting requires you to move and lift at the same time.
Those tiny pinks weight you've been using don't even make you break a sweat. Time to lift something that actually takes some effort.
Interesting Fact: Most women don't even know how much they can lift and are often surprised that they are stronger than they thought.
The librarian who works at my high school (I teach chemistry) carries books all day long. She's short, over 50 years old and looks like she weighs about 135 lbs. But guess who won several arm wrestling competitions vs the gym teachers? You go girl. Carrying books around for 30 years has made her arms tough as iron.
Some men are very intimidated by strong women. A rare few actually prefer strong women. Its a weird phenomenon in which men idolize "Amazon" women (as compared to the even weirder phenomenon of idolizing women who are weak and helpless).
I am not going to go into details about how to weight train. We're going to leave that to this site instead: Stumptuous's Guide to Women's Weight Training which is an excellent guide to weightlifting and pays extra attention to both technique and common misconceptions about weightlifting. Here's some of the things she has to say:
Many women find that the traditional squatting leg position of legs at shoulder width or narrower isn't the best for them, since it seems to put pressure on the knees; many with wide hips do not feel particularly stable in this position either. A good variation is to place the feet wider than shoulder width, as wide as you feel comfortable with. This has the added benefit of giving you a more solid base to support the weight on your shoulders. Turn your toes out a bit. Don't try to make them point forward if they don't want to.
Some women also say that the bar is uncomfortable because they don't have a lot of muscle in their upper back yet. Make sure the bar is sitting low, not up around the neck. While squatting, consciously pull shoulders back and push your chest out so that whatever upper back muscle you do have makes a little shelf for the bar. You can roll the bar in a towel if desired but make sure the padding isn't too thick or it becomes difficult to hold the bar properly.
I was having a lot of problems with traditional deadlifts in which the feet are at shoulder width and the arms outside the shins: kept crunching my kneecaps with the bar, leaning over too far, feeling unstable, and generally not really enjoying the exercise. Then I was introduced to sumo deads, which are perfect for short, wide-hipped women like me. The stance is similar in all respects (hips begin low, hamstrings and glutes still do the work, alternating grip if desired) except for the placement of the feet and hands. Think of how a sumo wrestler gets ready to take on his opponent: he stands with feet wide and barely clad butt hanging out (you can eliminate the bowing part). This is how a sumo deadlift is done, with feet wide apart and hands hanging straight down from the shoulders inside the knees. As in the wide stance squat, toes are turned out slightly. This modification allows for greater engagement of hip and glute muscles as well as an easier trip up to the top of the rep.
The standard bench press bar weighs 45 lbs on its own. When I began bench pressing way back when as a former couch potato, I could never have pressed it properly. I was just not strong enough and it took me a while before I could even balance the dang thing properly with short arms. I began on a machine (ick, ptooey) but if you lack the upper body strength, as many female beginners do, you should begin on dumbbell press to gain the strength as well as some of the balance (although you will still have to get the hang of the bar).
Another thing I did for quite some time which worked well for short arms was to use an E-Z Curl bar. That's the bar that is shorter and kind of zig-zaggy. I found it much easier to balance and the perfect width for my hands was right up against the plates on either side. While we're on the subject of chest exercises, here's a suggestion for doing dips. The average dip station (which looks something like two parallel bars) sets the bars too wide for narrower shoulders to accommodate. I found that using these made an unpleasant crunching in my shoulder joints. I switched to a narrow set of bars, found on a dip station with V-bars. These are bars which are set at a slight angle to one another, rather than parallel, so that they form a "V". Using the narrow end of the V solved my problem.