September 5, 2012 11.40 am This story is over 140 months old

Lincoln fitness: Weights for women – bulky or lean?

Weight woes: In our newest column series, personal trainer Ross Burns reassures women that using weights has a positive affect on the body.

It’s one of the most common questions that personal trainers receive from women again and again: will strength training build large muscles and make me look bulky?

To be honest, the answer to that question is that it depends on a lot of things. However, in almost all cases the answer is no, strength training does not build large, bulky muscles in women. That might be enough of an answer to satisfy some, but there’s more to the story, and we’re going to cover all of the main considerations in this article.

It’s ironic that the very thing women need most to help them achieve their goals is also what they tend to fear the most. We have this shame in our society that women who lift weights or do any form of strength training will transform into a big, bulky bodybuilder. As you now know, this is simply not true. Strength training is actually the exact activity that is most appropriate for women who have specific physique goals.

When asked what kind of physique they would like to achieve from a fitness program, most women describe a goal of building long, lean muscles. They would rather be toned, than bulky. The good news is that your genetics, body type, and hormonal profile are all designed to develop this lean, toned physique. It’s in your physiology.

Strength training is also one of the healthiest things anyone can do – especially women. Here is just a sampling of the benefits of strength training for women:

  • increases lean muscle tissue, which builds strength and endurance
  • improves your posture
  • strengthens your bones reducing your risk of developing osteoporosis
  • reduces your risk of many other conditions including diabetes and some forms of cancer
  • strengthens your metabolism, so you naturally burn more calories throughout the day
  • burns bodyfat – belly fat, cellulite, etc.

Health benefits aside, every woman with specific physique goals needs to start strength training. Now, almost any form of strength training is going to be productive towards this end, but I think there are a few methods that work exceptionally well.

Training styles that emphasize whole body training instead of body part split routines and compound exercises (multi-joint) instead of isolation exercises (single joint) will be the most beneficial. These types of methods work because they focus on the entire body at once, instead of trying to maximize the development of a particular body part. There are also program design considerations as well. For example, circuit training is generally more appropriate than doing straight sets.

That’s why I prefer training styles and tools that integrate and emphasize these qualities in their traditional application. Methods such as bodyweight exercise and kettlebell training (among many others) are traditionally used for whole body training, which is the best strategy for building that lean, toned physique. It’s true that a training tool is NOT the same as a training method. However, some tools are commonly used for certain methods of training.

There are a lot of options out there, but I think one of the best ones is any good bodyweight training program. This is the type of training that ties everything together, and 9 times out of 10 results in exactly what most women are looking for.

Ross Burns is a community fitness instructor and personal trainer based in Lincoln. He also regularly blogs on his website about common fitness queries and issues, and run his own gym.