Function over form or form over function?
This is the key deciding question you’ll need to answer if you’re a woman lifting weights. And likely, you’ve faced plenty of hurdles in terms of proper technique and nutrition.
Often times, the fears that women can be plagued with in regards weight lifting are part superstition and part stubbornness. Sometimes we can fall into a routine that fails to show results. And other times, we’re afraid to take on the big weights for fear we’ll turn into mutant beasts.
In this article, we’ll begin to take the fact from fiction and explore some common misconceptions about female weight-lifting. Taking eleven of the most common mistakes seen at the gym, we’ll go through and dismantle any of your worries or doubts. So you can focus, instead, on throwing that bar up over your head and letting the world know the beast inside you.
1. Don’t be afraid of your muscles
There is muscular hypertrophy – the scientific terms for enlarging a muscle – and then there is aerobic exercise. While they do overlap depending on the activity, if you’re a weight-lifter, you should be more interested in hypertrophy.
Believe it or not, scientific research has shown that women who regularly lift heavy weights in their 20s often forego many of the skeletal issues plaguing them when they get closer to menopause.
So there’s more than just appearances at stake with this. You’re keeping your body healthy by throwing on another plate.
In order to grow your muscles and make them both more appealing and defined, you need to increase weight resistance. Use a weight that you can do between 8 and 15 good, solid reps. If you can’t execute a proper rep, you need to go down in weight. However, if you can do 15 reps and not experience muscle failure – look for a bigger barbell.
The goal of each one of your exercises should always be muscle failure. Muscle failure is the surest way to maximize the benefits of that exercise and create defining features that show your hard work paid off.
If you’re worried about developing an overly “male”-looking muscular physique, most women do not have the testosterone levels to do that. What you will do is develop your own feminine physique that is in line with the nutrition you supply your muscles and the work that you put into it.
But if you’re not pushing your muscles to failure, i.e. using the little barbells when you could be using a much larger 20-30 lb ones, you’re cheating yourself.
2. Feeding those Muscles
When you do your workout, your muscles rip and tear in ways that require your body to repair them. That’s if you’re doing it right!
In order to get the most out of your workout, you need to not just tear them – you need to repair them! And that requires proper nutrition.
You may notice powerlifters consuming a ridiculous amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat in startling quantities. That’s the manner of nutrient consumption required to maintain that physique.
If you’re not looking to appear like that, you don’t need to consume those levels. But you still have to eat protein and carbohydrates during and after a workout in order to maximize your gains.
If you’re not looking to lift a Clydesdale, you can keep your serving portions to a “handful” – the amount that fits easily in your hand. Whether that’s a handful of almonds or an apple – you need those nutrients to bring your body to its fullest potential.
The role of multiple small meals throughout your workout cannot be emphasized enough than in your very muscles themselves. If you’re looking to gain meaningful mass – you’re going to need calories and protein. Despite what you may have heard, it’s very difficult to gain fat while eating during your workout. Those nutrients are getting transported to your active and injured muscles. Rejuvenating your tissues is the main priority of your body during and after a workout. Keeping yourself supplied with good foods and nutrition can keep your body lasting longer and maximize the amount of muscle tissue you build.
3. Get ugly with your reps!
Intensity, alongside using heavier weights, is an important concept for women to grasp.
When you put your body through real stress, your facial expression is going to change. You’re going to make an ugly face when your muscles are nearing failure. Get over it!
Stop staring at other people in the mirror and focus on your set.
If you want to build the body of your dreams – it’s going to require discomfort. And part of that discomfort is going to be apparent on your face while you’re making those muscles work. Don’t concern yourself with your fellow gym-goers and instead concentrate on your form – bringing each muscle to a total and complete failure. If that distorts your expression – that’s a temporary price to pay for Athenian beauty.
The uglier your face gets during a workout, likely the prettier the curves will be afterwards.
4. Stop making it all about the abs
Every single person you see in the gym – yes, even the flabby, pasty ones – has a full six pack. It’s just hidden beneath layers of fat and tissue.
The secret to revealing your own defined six pack doesn’t lie in dedicating half your workout towards it. Simply using your own weight against itself, at various angles and repetitions, should be enough to define your abs so that when the fat disappears – your musculature shows.
5. Ditch the weights for a slimmer waist
You don’t curl a bigger dumbbell to get a smaller bicep, do you?
Now, if you want a smaller waistline – why would you use a heavier weight?
Using heavier weights for your abs will not create a slimmer waist. Now, if you want the sort of abs that will help you pick up a barrel full of fish and chuck it across a field – by all means. However, if you’re going strictly for appearance and want that slim, waspy look – ditch the weights on the midsection altogether.
Focus instead on using isometrics and plyometrics. Exercises such as the plank and experimenting with different angles for added resistance will do more to reveal your slimmer features and defined abs than doing an oblique crunch with a twenty pound barbell.
Placing more emphasis on repetitions and body resistance will create tone and definition that will make your 6-pack pop.
6. “Show” muscle vs Core Muscle
A big mistake women make is confusing “show” muscle – the sort that makes your biceps buldge and your pectorals look like wings – with core muscle. Core muscles are needed for doing a handstand. They are absolutely essential in their own rite but killing yourself in an aerobics class won’t do you any good for “show”.
And doing your weight-lifting sets on a Swiss ball or BOSU is equally as worthless. Now, that’s not to say you wouldn’t develop some fantastic balance and a musculature that is useful for a variety of functions – but it’s not going to help you a single bit in presentation of your curvy superficial muscles.
So, if you’re going for the physique of a female Terminator, ditch out on doing your reps on the Swiss ball and instead focus simply on executing the rep correctly and with the proper amount of resistance. This will result in a more defined musculature that is sure to impress all those who gave you funny looks when you stopped going to morning Zoomba.
Additionally, placing your attention on the actual rep itself will give you the meaningful sort of targeted muscle failure that will lead to increased muscle growth in that group. Body building is all about targeting muscle groups versus a lot of core-related excises that define and coordinate one group with another. Each serves a purpose but for presentation alone, target the group you want to grow and push it specifically to failure.
7. Going to Aerobics Class to get Inaerobic Gains?
Aerobics doesn’t build “show” muscle. It burns calories.
If you’re looking for superficial hypertrophy – the mouthful that means lots of gleaming, big and well-defined muscles – you’re not going to find that in an aerobics class.
By fact of being in a high-intensity aerobic workout, your body is prioritizing burning calories – not building superficial “show” muscles. If you’re looking to trim fat and reveal definition, losing weight is essential. However, if you’re weight lifting, aerobic activity has a strict purpose and often falls outside the scope of what you’re trying to do – build physique.
You have to choose one. Physique or definition. At least for the time. And if you’ve chosen weight-lifting as your option, you’re better off foregoing an aerobics class when you would be better off blasting out a few more high-weight reps.
It’s still recommended that you should engage in some manner of aerobic activity at least forty-five minutes each day. So, that’s not to say you should stop going to aerobics class altogether. It just means you’re not going to get large and defined muscles through it. Additionally, incorporating a split aerobics/weight lifting regimen means re-evaluating your nutritional requirements. More work? More meals pushed out through the course of your day.
8. Don’t sit on a plateau – Shock your muscles
Ever reached a plateau in your workout?
You’re going weeks on end and not seeing any change?
While you could always change it up by revisiting your form, a lack of workout diversity leads to reduced results. If you do the exact same workout routine every week, your body will adjust to this and you will see reduced benefits. That’s not to say it’s not still beneficial – but your body will not grow significantly until you “shock” yourself out of it.
Even runners, who are famous for getting up and doing basically the same exercise every day, have to resort to a Fartlek regimen to break their body’s habit and increase their speed.
If you considered yourself like a machine, your body has increased the efficiency of the tasks you’re putting it through. That efficiency means you’re not gaining as much as you could be. For those defining muscle groups that set you apart from the pack – you need to try something new.
A great suggestion to break you from your milieu is considering High Intensity Interval Training. This demands your body pays attention to what you’re doing. It doesn’t know what to expect next so it can never efficiently anticipate. You’re pushing yourself to utter exhaustion and your muscles learn very quickly from that added shock and trauma. And you will be surprised the growth and definition they show you in response.
9. Irregular workouts yield irregular results
Changing it up too much obscures the effects of any one routine. Any workout routine serves a purpose, so picking up a piece of home gym equipment, something as simple as a resistance band is a great idea. Anything to get you moving daily! Whether it’s hot yoga or powerlifting, each is inherently designed to bring about its own results. You have to know what you plan to get out of your exercise and stick with it long enough to see if it delivers the effects you want.
If you don’t stick with any one routine, you’re going to find your results will be all over the place. It’s not uncommon to drop weight or reps in traditionally strong areas when you haven’t been training regularly.
In the case of muscle-building exercises – it’s the dedication to really get results. While it’s important to find different exercises that challenge your muscles in new and exciting ways, you need to keep track of it all to make sure you’re not getting lost in your progress.
10. Not feeding your muscles properly
There’s a thing called the “peri-workout” period. It covers the time directly before, during, and about an hour after you’ve ended your workout. Now, depending on the sort of physique you’re looking for, you need to supply your body with nutrients at all stages of this period. That means eating.
It doesn’t have to be a huge horse meal but simply drinking a protein shake with a mixture of carbohydrates will do wonders for keeping your body tuned and attentive to your workout.
When you’re working out, your body is using its insulin to transport nutrients to your muscle tissue. It’s not at all interested in storing any of that food as fat. Supplying it with a mixture of carbohydrates and protein can help you quickly repair torn and exhausted muscle tissue so you get the most gain out of your workout.
If you’re looking to build muscle and get those definite features to your figure – you need to eat. Otherwise, your muscle tissue will tear and your body will break down fats and tissues to get the parts it needs to repair your body. The downside of using your body’s own fat reserves, in this case, is that you won’t notice those muscles getting bigger.
They may get more defined, but certainly not any bigger. Because when your body uses its own fuel reserves to repair muscles, it’s not interested in making them any bigger than they are. Biologically, this makes sense.
Weightlifting is all about duping your body’s biology into growing larger and more unsustainable muscles. In order to do that, you need to eat regularly and often.
11. Skipping your stretch? Think again.
Your muscles need to warm up before you throw them through the grinder. A lot of women make the mistake of forgoing a good stretch routine before getting into their sets. That’s a big mistake. Now, the stretching that you’re used to seeing – bending down to touch your toes, pulling your foot up to touch the back of your leg – these are best saved for after the workout. Many traditional stretches are only beneficial if your muscles are already warmed up. However, new studies have suggested the benefits of dynamic stretching – using movement to warm up the muscle group while gently getting it ready to do some serious heavy lifting.
Especially if you are just waking up or finished a long day of sitting in a cubicle – dynamic stretching offers you a great pre-workout method of getting the most out of your reps.
This is also a great way to get you loosened up before rolling into your next day’s routine.
It’s also just as important to finish with stretching as it is to begin with it. This is a great way to break up lactic acid build-up in the muscle tissues. Not to mention, stretching also has been shown to reduce sports injuries. No sense in doing all that work to be forced off the bench by an injury.
And with all these tips, never forget to stay hydrated and get a full night’s sleep. In order for you to push your body to limits and bask in the glory of a sculpted body – you need your rest. Following these simple tips and correcting your knowledge is the first serious step you will make to showing up the “experts” lurking around your gym.