5 Reasons Women Don't Weight Train and Why They're Wrong
by Catherine Morris | February 17, 2021, updated about 2 years ago
A few years ago, I got bored of Pilates and decided to take a boxing class. Several painful sessions later, I came to an uncomfortable realization—I was fit, but I wasn't strong. The time had come to lift, and that marked a big turning point in my fitness journey.
The ideal of feminine fitness has changed a lot over the years, from the era of jazzercise classes (if you need a good laugh pull up a video on YouTube) to the yoga explosion, but one thing remains depressingly commonplace – the idea that being fit and female shouldn't involve lifting weights.
If you've ever heard (or said) any of the below, read on to get some ideas on why, and how, to start incorporating resistance training into your fitness plan.
1. “I'll get bulky”
If you spend any time in fitness circles, you'll know this one. Some women, especially those new to exercise, eye dumb bells with genuine fear that just picking one up will cause unsightly muscles to bulge all over their torso.
Personally, I think visible muscles are great—regardless of gender—and if that's your goal then awesome. If you're not going for the bodybuilding look, that's awesome too… but that’s no reason to shun weight training.
A woman who lifts will never have the same body as a man who lifts. That's science. Unless you're in intense bodybuilding training at the pro level, or choking down masses of steroids (for the record, we very much recommend not doing this), or are blessed with extremely unusual genetics, you will not look like the Mountain from Game of Thrones.
What you will have is better muscle definition, a leaner body, and (best of all) lots more strength and energy.
2. “Cardio is better”
Anyone who knows anything about exercise knows that rating different types of workouts is rarely productive. For one thing, the 'best' exercise depends entirely on you—what do you want from your workouts? Better strength? Better balance? More mindful movement? More stamina?
There's other factors to consider too—what's your starting point? Are you a complete beginner or a seasoned athlete? Do you have underlying health issues that rule out certain movements?
Cardio is not the be-all and end-all. It's great for increasing your endurance, it's good for weight loss (in combination with other efforts), and it will definitely increase your overall fitness, but any effective and sustainable exercise routine thrives on variety. If you want maximum health benefits, you need to keep surprising your body.
Chronic cardio puts a lot of stress on delicate joints, it's also harder to keep building your fitness as you'll plateau quickly. Taking spinning classes week after week, after week, or running religiously every day will work the same muscles, in the same pattern, ad infinitum. Sure, you'll have good quads, but there's much more to fitness than being able to run or ride a bicycle. Mix in some weights and you can work every muscle, in a variety of different ways to keep upping the challenge (and the gains). Which brings me to...
3. “What's the point? You only work one muscle group at a time.”
A friend of mine hates weight training because she thinks it's a waste of time: “If I have 30 minutes, I'd rather take a dance class that works everything than weights that only work one thing.”
All the talk about 'leg day' and 'arm day' only perpetuates this myth. There's a hardcore lifting culture out there (usually, but not exclusively, among men) and it gets a little cult-like if you really go down that rabbit hole. So don't over-complicate it. If you're short on time, simply choose compound movements that simultaneously work your arms, legs and core.
Think kettlebell swings, squats with an overhead press, lunges with bicep curls. That's the wonderful thing about resistance training—there's an almost limitless number of moves and you can use them singly or in combination to work all the major muscles, even if you only have 15 minutes in your day.
4. “It's too intimidating.”
Yes, your gym might not be open at the moment but when it does there's something we need to talk about. Gym fear. It's not easy to walk into the weights room and see muscular guys hogging the machines, casting a patronising eye our way if we get within sweating distance.
Oh, and let's not forget the outdated (but still sadly pervasive) stereotype that the feminine ideal is a dainty, trim waif who looks like a strong wind would take her out. It's enough to make any woman turn and run (we warned you about too much cardio).
There's no other way to say this—you have to get over it. There are things you can do to make it easier, but ultimately you have to decide that you have as much right to be there, and to use those machines, as the guys who look like they could have a side gig as the Rock's body double. Making space for women in the weight room starts with you, and me.
When restrictions ease and your favourite gym opens its doors again, think about enlisting a personal trainer to show you the ropes and help you find your confidence. A good trainer will walk you through the basics and show you how to safely use all the machinery. Once you're able to bust out a few reps and get a good sweat going, your confidence will soar.
If you don't want to wait, you can always connect with a trainer online and, with a few dumb bells or resistance bands, work together through some resistance moves from the privacy of your own living room.
If a personal trainer's not an option, enlist a buddy—we tend to feel more secure in groups, and getting support from a sympathetic friend provides that camaraderie, but also makes you more accountable. Dragging a friend off their couch means you both have to make it count.
5. “I can't do it, I'm too weak”
No matter how many times I hear this, it still baffles me. It's extremely rare that an adult human cannot lift a 5lb dumb bell. If you can lift your groceries from the car to the kitchen then you can weight train.
No-one is asking you to dive right in, hoisting 50lb kettlebells over your head like a pro. Being a beginner is an essential part of starting anything, it's just one stage in a journey that might actually end up with you tossing around kettlebells like it's no big deal but, at the very least, will make you feel mentally and physically stronger.
So just start. Pick up something heavy (with correct form!), put it down again. Boom, you’re doing it.
If you'd like to change up your fitness routine to include more weights, or you just want to get stronger, connect with one of our Which Doctor fitness professionals for one-on-one advice from qualified trainers. Our practitioners are available for online coaching, virtual classes and (when Covid permits) in-person sessions.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.