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Saturday 14 February 2015

This post was written in response to common anxieties that women have with fitness training.

Why is that girls fear the touch of a dumbbell? What is it that the gym bunnies, fitness fanatics and LBT ladies think will happen; or not happen by lifting up a barbell with some double figured plates on the end?

It has puzzled me for years, dare I say more than a decade; why ladies will not lift more than a 4kg dumbbell. I’m not totally sold on whether weights that size are even needed in general population gyms and leisure centres? On that note; why on earth is there a 4kg kettlebell?

In my kettlebell class, I won’t even honour the 4kg with afore mentioned term; I refer to it as ‘The Tiddler’. It doesn’t deserve to be classed as a Kettlebell. The ancient Kettlebell can be associated with Gladiators, used by the Soviet Union for their physical training, not to mention their use by farmers, in days of old, as a measuring tool; to even contemplate a 4kg product has to be a marketing drive. Filling the gap in the market for people who are drawn in by a new gimmick or a new dimension to an old tool.

‘Gladiator’s used Kettlebells; therefore if I use Kettlebells, I too will be as powerful as a Gladiator.’

‘Cogito ergo sum’ is what’s happening; unfortunately the power of the mind, is not the kind of power we’re talking about.

So let’s look at two of the main reasons girls avoid the cool shiny metal of a real weight:

“I don’t want big muscles.”

You need to realise the one, major factor in muscle building: Testosterone. A male hormone. Ladies do have a minute amount; with a slightly elevated level once a month. But even with this elevated level, it simply does not match what a man has. The Fairer sex’s endocrine system is just not conducive to muscle building.

Think about the actual weight that some men lift, with their testosterone filled bodies; add the protein shakes they consume and the amount they eat, and still some are not that big. Strong, they may well be, as well as lean and powerful; but not always big.

If you look at some of the ladies, in our fine University, that train with some heavy weights; they look awesome. The athletes on the High Performance Academy (@sportsolent_HPA) do some serious lifts with some serious weight on the bar and still maintain their perfect feminine bodies. They do not have big veiny biceps and hairy chests; nor do they have bingo wings or saggy derrières.

I’m going to leave the men out of this, because they are not even comparable or relevant in this. I am going to focus on the female of the species. The aim is to emphasise the point that lifting big doesn’t necessarily make you big. I, personally like to lift as heavy as possible. I am not a big girl in height or stature; I only weigh 60kg and am only five foot four inches. But I can assure you I do not lift anything with single numerals on and for a large compound exercise I don’t lift a bar that doesn’t total three numerals.

This isn’t necessarily what I’m encouraging; the aim is merely to make the point that when you pick up the 10kg bar to squat with, there really is room for an increase.

  • Lifting weights can be about getting bigger muscles (Hypertrophy) but it is the other benefits that women should concern themselves with: increased metabolism means you burn that pesky body fat at a higher rate and for longer than by just doing a simple ‘Fat burning’ session.
  • Lifting weights or working against a resistance can reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Lifting weights will make you stronger; your ability to lift things and carry things (shopping bags, book bags and just your own body weight) becomes less effort, making daily life easier.
  • This strength and/or power will improve your sporting performance. Every athlete will have a ‘Strength and Conditioning’ coach implementing weights and resistance to their programme.
  • Finally, the point that needs addressing is the pure aesthetic appeal of having a nice ‘toned’ figure; shapely and healthy. Much more achievable, and much more functional.

Don’t strive to be an unhealthy, unrealistic image of Barbie; skinny-fat with brittle bones. Be the Cindy or as depicted below with thanks from ‘Yea, she squats’ @yeashesquats.

(This group has a lot of ladies’ bottoms and very tones physiques. It is inspirational and shows some very hard working women lifting weights…but it has a lot of bottoms; be careful not to view in the office or in front of your Gran! I am also a fan of ‘Fitness girls’, but once again, to show a good physique the ‘Fitness girls’ are often barely clad; much like the dolls shown below. Just a word of warning about appropriateness in front of your boss.)

Back to another reason ladies fear the dumbbell:

“It’s too heavy- I can’t lift that!”


Look at any exercise training pyramid, (you will find hundreds on any search engine) they will tell you that for hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) is 8-12 repetitions. Now there is a lot of movement if you so desire specific ‘Power’, ‘Speed’ etc. to drop the repetition range considerably. There is dare I say movement to increase the repetition to 12-15 for ‘Endurance’. But, my big BUT (pun intended) is that one needs to consider what muscles they are working to an endurance range and why. My big BUT also has a very important point: these ‘Rep Ranges’ are on a basis of working to failure; not just stopping.

Not hitting 12 repetitions and putting the weight down.

It assumes that there is a degree of effort, a little sweat on the brow and maybe even an audible exhale. Maybe, on the second set, one less repetition is achieved! It should be hard work.

I would go as far as to say that if you can do an exercise more than 20 times, it is as much of a workout as drying your hair, or brushing your teeth!

So ladies, you don’t need to fear the barbell or avoid something that feels a little heavy; as long as you are safe and have guidance from an instructor or coach, go for it!

Try it, try lifting the next size dumbbell. Still doing more than 15 reps? Try the next one up. It’s all a little trial and error to start with. Then, soon enough, you’ll find that you’ll need to increase again to avoid plateauing and going over those 15 reps again….EXCITING you’ve got stronger!

Turn over a new leaf, train heavy now and feel the difference. Once you reap the rewards it will no longer seem like effort, it will be a way of life. You will feel empowered, with a new found strength that will reach your core. I’m not saying if for fun, I’m saying it because it’s true.

Fit girls lift weights.