Weight lifting has long been the domain of men. For women there are a lot of barriers to heavy lifting. Sure, most of your clients will be willing to pick up the five- or eight-pound weights and do some easy reps in the hopes of thinning their arms or doing a few squats to try to lose thigh inches, but not many are open to the idea of real, heavy lifting.
Lifting can seem intimidating, especially in a gym where the weight section is dominated by big dudes. And women often fear heavy lifting will make them look like those men.
Trainers know better, though, and it's up to us to show our female clients how beneficial weight lifting is. Bust their long-held myths, support them as they get started to ensure safety and good form, and help them feel confident in the weight section of the gym.
As the trainer it's your job to convince your skeptical lady clients that lifting is the next important challenge to tackle. Women, and anyone of course, get so many benefits from regular weight lifting sessions: added strength and confidence, stronger bones, fat burn and weight loss, better athletic performance, and fewer injuries. It's a win-win-win-win. Here are just a few of the facts you can share with clients to get them to try it.
The most obvious benefit for anyone of lifting weights is getting stronger. And, most important to building stronger muscles is to really push the weights. Some women are okay with doing some light strength training, and that's great for muscle endurance, but real lifting actually builds strength. By real lifting we mean heavy weights and compound exercises like deadlifts, rows, and squats. Getting stronger makes everyday chores and activities—picking up the kids, taking out the garbage, cleaning—easier.
A big motivation women have for working out is burning fat. Cardio has long been considered the ultimate fat-burner, but there is mounting evidence that weight lifting not only burns fat but may even do it better than cardio.
In one study researchers found that adults who walked for exercise lost as much weight as those who walked and did weight training. But, those who only walked lost lean mass, while those who included lifting lost fat and maintained muscle. Additionally important for most women, lifting is better than cardio for losing belly fat.
Again, cardio is always thought of as the holy grail of calorie burning, but strength training is important for burning them up too. In fact, you may actually burn more calories from doing heavy lifting. Yes, an hour of cardio burns more calories than an hour of lifting, but it's after the fact that the magic happens.
The secret is that lifting causes an increase in the body's resting metabolic rate—the rate at which it burns calories when you're doing nothing—for hours after the workout. A study with young women found that those who worked out by lifting weights for 100 minutes saw a 4.2 percent increase in resting metabolism for 16 hours after the fact.
Weight lifting increases muscle strength, and that means every normal or athletic physical task becomes a little bit easier. It also becomes less risky. When you are stronger you can move in more efficient ways and that works in your favor to prevent injury. Runners for example, who also work on muscle strength, can prevent knee injuries. The stronger muscles supporting the knee joint promote good form and prevent pain and injury.
Not all your female clients are athletes, but you probably have some who are really into certain activities and sports: running, cycling, soccer, or dance, for instance. It's easy to get into one particular type of activity and really focus on it. This is not a bad thing, but amateur athletes need to understand that they will get better at that sport by adding weights. A couple of days a week of lifting will help your clients become faster runners, crush their PRs, and become all-around better athletes.
Having muscle strength is so important, but the great thing about lifting is that it strengthens bones too. Women are especially susceptible to losing bone density and strength as they get older, and doing anything to combat it can prevent fractures and breaks.
Here's how it works: just like with muscles, when your bones are impacted they respond by breaking down and building new cells. When you do a strength training move, such as a squat, the muscle that is contracting and extending pulls on the bones in the leg. This in turn causes the bone to make new cells. With consistent lifting and strength training bone loss can be prevented or even reversed.
The best reason of all to convince your female clients to try lifting is that they will feel good. It's a new challenge, and feeling and actually getting stronger is an empowering experience that builds confidence and self-esteem. Then there are the physical benefits as well. Lifting improves body composition, increases muscle tone, and burns fat. Your clients will like how their bodies look after consistent weight lifting, and that will only increase confidence more.
To get female clients into lifting you will need to address some common myths. These are untruths that keep a lot of women out of the weightlifting gym. From being afraid to look like the muscle-bound men that populate the gym to thinking that smaller weights are adequate, it's time to correct the wrong thinking too many women have about heavy lifting.
This may be the biggest myth holding women back from lifting, and it needs to be busted. Anyone who has been lifting and strength training for a while knows that lifting with heavy weights doesn't bulk you up. In fact, those really big guys pushing it in the weight section have worked very hard, spending hours and hours there to get so bulky. They eat seriously restricted diets and a ton of protein to get there.
A typical person working with a trainer, doing a few weekly sessions of heavy weight lifting will not get bulky. What she will get is leaner and more defined. The real result of moderate weight training is losing fat and developing muscle tone.
Send your skeptical clients to this ISSA blog post to read more about why lifting doesn't lead to unwanted bulk.
This isn't technically a myth because how a gym makes you feel is subjective. But, the big guys and serious ladies working out with the weights aren't trying to scare others away. They're just working really hard. As with any other sport, the participants are generally warm, welcoming, and inclusive of all ability levels.
Women interested in starting weight training, but who are intimidated, really need the right guide. A good trainer to teach form and set up a reasonable starting routine that builds and develops as she gets stronger is the key to helping her feel more confident. Lifting is for everyone and is scalable, even for beginners who are coming straight from the couch.
Some women will say they already lift, but it doesn't really count unless it's heavy lifting. Of course, this is relative and different for everyone, so it is important to figure out an appropriate place to start. For your client who is not interested in serious body building but is willing to add some more intense strength training to her workouts, heavy lifting means using weights that allow her to do eight to ten reps in a row.
Older women likely have the intimidation factor to the extreme when it comes to lifting, and you're more likely to be able to convince younger female clients to give it a try. But don't make the mistake of not pushing the older ones.
Of course the ranges of motion and the weights used are likely to be smaller for older clients, but they still can and should lift. As we get older we lose both muscle and bone mass and lifting can slow or even reverse that. One study of post-menopausal women found that those who engaged in twice-weekly, high-intensity strength training increased bone density, muscle mass, strength, and balance.
Lifting is for kids and teens too, but you have to know how to do it correctly and safely. Check out this ISSA post to find out how.
By pushing lifting so much your female clients may mistakenly think you want them to ditch cardio and focus on weights only. Make sure you aim for a good balance, especially when starting out with weights. As trainers know, there is a place for both cardio and strength training.
For women, especially those trying to lose weight, cardio is a big draw. Their fitness monitors tell them they're losing a lot of calories doing it, and they can feel it too—cardio makes you sweat and breathe hard and feels like you're really doing something.
But as we know, cardio is not the magic bullet for weight loss. Yes, it burns calories while it's happening, but as soon as the cool down is done and the heart rate is back to normal, so is metabolism and calorie burning. With heavy lifting, on the other hand, the body continues to burn more calories than normal for hours, up to 24 hours, after the training session.
Cardio is great for a calorie burn, for endurance and fitness, and of course for heart health. It is also an important part of an overall weight loss or maintenance plan, but it isn't everything. Women get the most health benefits, weight loss, and fat burn from doing both cardio and strength training, while of course also eating a sensible diet.
Another myth that could be added to the list is that you need to get into some semblance of decent shape before beginning weight lifting. This activity is highly scalable, which means that anyone at any fitness level can get started. As a trainer you are the guide who will start clients out at their current level and help them build up to heavier weights and more technical lifts.
More than anything else, women need guidance and that push to get started in heavy lifting. To start lifting with no prior experience is overwhelming for anyone, but especially for a woman who rarely, if ever, sees someone who looks like her in the weight section.
You're ready now to answer all the questions and address the doubts your women clients have about lifting. Armed with all the benefits of heavy lifting and the information to bust the myths you can get them started on a weight lifting journey they won't regret.
If you want to learn more about serious bodybuilding and coaching, check out the ISSA's comprehensive course for Bodybuilding Specialists.
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Osterberg, K.L, Melby C.L. (2000). Effect of Acute Resistance Exercise on Postexercise Oxygen Consumption and Resting Metabolic Rate in Young Women. Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 10 (1) 71-81
Nelson, M.E., Fiatarone, M.A., Morganti, C.M., Trice, I., Greenberg, R.A., Evans, W.J. (1994). Effects of Hig-Intensity Strength Training on Multiple Risk Factors for Osteoporotic Fractures. A Randomized Controlled Study. JAMA. 272(24) 1909-14
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