"It is a shame for a woman to grow old without ever seeing the strength and beauty of which her body is capable."
I'm about to paint a picture for you. You walk into the gym, and you see a girl lifting.
Not doing cardio or some sort of stretching... this woman is cranking out rep after rep.
Jeez, how many reps is she at now? 25?
She hops off the Leg Extension Machine and you briefly talk to her. Turns out that was the first set of her leg workout for the day.
Now, regardless of whether she's trying to get stronger or just lose weight, this is NOT the right way to lift weights at all!
Breaking the Stereotype
I'm gonna say something crazy here:
Women should lift the same as men.
More to the point, women should lift the same as men WHO KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING. Not some guy who devotes an entire day to abs and calves.
Ignore your media outlets and forget equality in the workplace for a moment; equality in the gym is the issue I'm talking about today. Call me a fan of diversity or equal opportunity or what have you, but this discussion needs to happen now.
When's the last time you saw a woman at your gym deadlift 225 off the ground? It's not impossible at all! A quick Internet search shows plenty of women who actually lift well over double their bodyweight.
Yes, women have a few biological differences from men (absence of testosterone, for example). Women also tend to focus on different body parts than boys; a guy wants a huge chest almost the same way a women wants a perfect butt.
Furthermore, lifting weights is NOT just for building muscle. Proper weightlifting skyrockets your metabolism from the workouts alone and can help in any weight loss program.
In the hopes I can help break the trend I've been seeing at the gym, here are 5 tips I will give for how women should lift:
1) Throw on More Iron
It doesn't matter if you want to build strength or slim down: you NEED to lift heavy and moderate weights. Women who lift very lightly see SOME results from high-rep weightlifting, but that goes for any muscle group. For months at one point, I did a high-rep workout with nothing but bodyweight squats. I retained my muscle overall, but my legs were not NEARLY what they were when I was using a barbell.
Women's results would be even more conclusive if they focused on weights in the range of 85-65% of their 1RM. This is the sweet spot for muscle growth and metabolism increase.
By the way, if you're worried you can't "tone" your muscles at this rep range, trust me: building your biggest muscle fibers and cutting down your body fat will leave you more toned than ever before.
2) Warm Up Right
Connected to the previous item, women not used to lifting heavy will have to get into the habit of warming up properly.
First, stretch your whole body for 5 - 10 minutes with a mix a dynamic and static movements.
Next, perform at least 3 warm up sets for your first exercise in your routine. Here's a method I like:
50% of 1RM for 5 reps
65% of 1RM for 3 reps
75% of 1RM for 1 rep
HINT: 85% of your 1RM (one-rep-max) is generally a weight you can perform for 6 repetitions to failure. Let that be a guideline to base it off.
Eventually when you get stronger at the exercise, add a 4th warm up set at the beginning with just the empty barbell for 5 reps.
3) Go Big or Go Home
For men and women alike, the big lifts are the important ones. Deadlifts, Dips, Rows... these movements hit numerous muscle fibers at once and help increase your metabolism in the long-term.
Pick compound exercises that hit all of your muscles.
If you want toned arms but haven't worked on your back much, throw some Chin-Ups into your routine.
Want to improve your butt and thighs? Forget the machines and bust out some Squats and Sumo Deadlifts instead.
4) Isolate Where Needed
If creating the perfect body was as simple as performing 5 exercises a week, every powerlifter would look like a Roman Statue (I'm looking at you, 5x5 enthusiasts).
Just as some guys need to perform curls and other isolation for big arms some girls will need smaller movements to get the right look for their abs.
In fact, even from a strength training perspective, isolation is a must.
Having trouble locking out the Bench Press? Throw Skull Crushers and Close Grip Pushups into your routine to strengthen the triceps.
Stuck at the bottom of your Squat? Use One Leg Romanian Deadlifts to improve your hamstring and glute strength.
Front-load your routines with compound movements and throw in isolation work towards the end to create an effective split.
I still prefer free weights and bodyweight exercises over machines, but that's a discussion for another day.
5) Push Yourself
Some girls I've talked to are afraid that if they put too much effort into weightlifting, they'll instantly turn into the Incredible Hulk. Besides the fact that there's nothing wrong with women with a bit of muscle, this just isn't realistic.
For both men and women, you can only build so much muscle naturally. Giving your lifts your all is essential for both muscle gain and fat loss.
You don't have to go crazy; 45 - 60 minutes of weightlifting (not counting warm ups) is plenty of time.
There you have it ladies! Lifting shouldn't be any different from the way the fellas do it.
Now you can turn into Wonder Woman and embarrass the men at your gym.