“I don’t lift weights because it’ll make me bulky.”
“I want to try Cross Fit, but I’m afraid I’ll get too big.”
Do these statements sound familiar? Yes? We thought so. Among the general female population, there exists a prevalent myth that lifting dumbbells heavier than 5 lbs will transform a normal-sized woman into the female version of the Incredible Hulk. But we’re here to clear something up, once and for all: Lifting weights will not make you “bulky” or “big” or “manly.” Toned and lean and sexy, yes. But manly? No. The truth is, weight training—when combined with a sensible diet and cardio—will help you lose fat, shape up and have the body you’ve always dreamed of.
First, let’s address the “manly” myth. Nix the worry that weight training will give you big, veiny, Schwarzenegger-like muscles. In order to appear super-duper shredded, the body requires a lot of testosterone, which the female body simply doesn’t have. So, physiologically speaking, it’s pretty much impossible for a woman to look like a linebacker, unless she’s a bodybuilder on a serious training regimen or is shooting up steroids. As far as getting “bulky,” the appearance of bulk most likely stems from a poor diet, not weight training. The true culprit that gives women a bulky look is excess body fat. Period.
Despite study after study documenting the benefits of strength training, most women are still shying away from the weight rack. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, less than a quarter of women regularly strength train. Whether this is due to fear of bulking or sheer intimidation, who knows, but if you step into any gym, the gender divide becomes immediately apparent: Men tend to congregate around the weights, while women tend to consign themselves to the cardio machines.
Ladies, it’s time to ditch the elliptical and make friends with the weight rack. Don’t believe us? Below are some scientifically-proven reasons to stop shying away from the weight rack:
You’ll look better in a swimsuit. Covet arms like Jennifer Aniston? Want a booty like Rihanna? Pick up some weights. Weight lifting will help you sculpt a leaner, more defined look, reducing overall flab and tightening up problem areas (saddlebags, anyone?). Not to mention, just two strength training sessions a week can reduce overall body fat by about three percentage points in just 10 weeks, even if you don’t cut a single calorie.
You’ll fit into your jeans. Once you start strength training, you might notice a slight increase in your weight, but the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story. Because muscle is denser than fat, it squeezes the same amount of weight into less space. By contrast, the more fat you have, the more space you’ll take up. So, in other words, the more muscle you build, the tighter and leaner you’ll look. A smaller pants size? We’ll take it!
You’ll burn calories 24/7. Here’s the thing with cardio: You scorch mega calories while you’re doing it, but the calorie burn stops as soon as you hop off the treadmill. When you pump iron, on the other hand, you continue to expend calories for hours afterward. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who completed an hour-long strength-training workout burned an average of 100 more calories in the 24 hours afterward than those who skipped the weights. Plus, muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more muscular you are, the faster your metabolic rate will be. This means that even when you’re sitting on the couch, you’re still burning calories. Pretty cool, huh?
You’ll look younger. If you feel like your arms keep getting more jiggle-y with each passing decade, blame Mother Nature. As we age, we steadily lose muscle mass, making us look flabbier over time. Luckily, regular resistance training can counteract this fate, helping older adults turn the clock back on time and regain lost muscle mass. Research published in the journal Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise finds older adults who begin lifting weights after 50 may win the battle against age-related muscle loss. Here are the best moves for getting rid of pesky “batwings.”
You’ll reduce your risk of injury. Find yourself constantly getting knee tendonitis or suffering from low back pain? Take this as a warning sign that your muscles are weak and that it’s time to hit the weight room. Strength training has been shown to reduce the risk of muscle injuries in athletes, studies show. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, adhering to a resistance training program strengthens the connective tissue surrounding the joints and corrects muscle imbalances, making yourself less prone to pesky knee injuries and similar ailments.
You’ll strengthen your bones. Regular weight training strengthens your bones and wards off osteoporosis-related fractures. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that 16 weeks of resistance training increased subjects’ hip bone density, and elevated their blood levels of osteocalcin—a marker of bone growth—by 19 percent. By boosting your balance, weight training also slashes your odds of winding up with a fall-related fracture.
You’ll gain some serious confidence. When you strictly do cardio time and time again, progress eventually stalls out. With strength training, you’ll see results much more quickly. What’s more, you’ll feel like a total boss when you master the perfect deadlift or kill it at the squat rack. Seeing yourself get stronger—and witnessing the results of your physical progress (ahem, a rounder booty!)—cultivates self-confidence like none other.