What are the Key Elements in Women's Weight Training?

Jennifer Voight

The key elements in women’s weight training are mostly the same elements that are essential to men. Weight training is using free weights or machines to develop strength, size, or definition of skeletal muscles to increase fitness, health, or appearance. Weights should be heavy enough that only six to 12 repetitions of the exercise can be performed at a time, but not so heavy that it is impossible to use proper form when doing the exercise. Using challenging weights will cause muscle fibers to grow and adapt to the stress of training, increasing strength and lean muscle mass.

Men tend to be able to achieve more muscle mass than women.
Men tend to be able to achieve more muscle mass than women.

It is a common misconception that women’s weight training will cause women to grow large, bulky muscles like men. Although the muscles of men and women are essentially the same structurally, they react to weight training differently. Men have higher levels of testosterone that cause muscles to adapt to weight training by growing larger as well as stronger. Women’s hormone levels prevent muscles from getting overly large. Rather, lean muscle mass will increase while staying relatively small and compact, creating a leaner appearance at skin level.

Using weights helps women to build lean muscles.
Using weights helps women to build lean muscles.

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Another misconception is that women should perform different exercises than men should. Many women tend to gravitate toward cardiovascular workouts instead of weight training. Although cardiovascular workouts have many benefits, including increasing endurance and overall fitness, women’s weight training will help with fat loss because the more muscle mass a woman has, the more calories she burns each day.

By building up strength over a period of time, a woman will be able to do a proper push-up.
By building up strength over a period of time, a woman will be able to do a proper push-up.

Women’s weight training will help increase the ratio of lean to fat mass, causing fat stores to shrink as more calories are burned. Additionally, the metabolism remains elevated after a weight training workout for approximately 12 to 24 hours. This “afterburn” effect is not present after a cardiovascular workout unless it is extremely intense and alternates high-intensity and low-intensity intervals.

Push-ups are one form of body-weight training.
Push-ups are one form of body-weight training.

While it is true that the average woman is not as strong as the average man, she can still perform any exercises that men use while weight training. When beginning strength training, some women may not be able to perform, for example, a push-up. With alterations to form, a woman can perform a push-up by resting her knees on the floor at first, working up strength over weeks or months until she can perform a push-up with the toes resting on the floor. She can and should perform the same exercises as men, but may need to alter form at first.

Women should choose weights heavy enough so that they can only do six to 12 reps at a time.
Women should choose weights heavy enough so that they can only do six to 12 reps at a time.

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