It’s a myth that’s plagued weight training for women forever and is probably one of the most common excuses personal trainers hear: lifting weights will make me bulk up! I really wish I didn’t have to say this so often, but let me tell you this: you can lift weights without getting bulky!

I’m going to break it down for you so that you can get over the fear of “hulking out” and understand it’s possible to lift weights AND stay lean.

Why you should add weight training to your routine

A well-rounded fitness program doesn’t just include weight training. While cardio is great for overall fitness and weight loss, weight training can help shape and tone muscles, as well as helping to burn more fat. Using a combination of training styles can help to maximise weight loss, as well as helping to improve strength.

Resistance training can help your body to burn calories even after your workout has finished – this is known as Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption or EPOC.

Getting started: plan your weight sessions

Like any fitness plan, results tend to come with consistency. That’s why it’s important to have a plan and know what exercises you are going to do. When you’re starting out, it might take a little experimenting to find a routine that you feel comfortable with, but once you find it make a note of what exercises you did, how much you lifted and for how many repetitions. As for how often you should do these workouts, one to two weight training sessions throughout the week is a good place to start if your goal is weight loss.

Remember to plan time during your week for foam rolling and recovery sessions too. After lifting some heavy weights, stretching and foam rolling can really help reduce muscle soreness.

Start light, then move to heavier weights

Okay, so the term “heavy” is relative. What feels heavy to one woman might be totally different to another. What I mean here is the weight needs to be challenging (on a difficulty scale of 1 to 10, I recommend sitting at about a 7), BUT it’s important that you can still maintain correct form when lifting ‘heavy’ weights! The wrong technique may lead to an injury, something you want to avoid.

As I’ve said, lifting “heavy” weights can help your body to adapt, but it also sets off a bunch of other positive changes. As you gain lean muscle, your metabolism can increase, regulation of your hormones improves and your central nervous system learns to adapt to and manage physical stress. Remember that progression is important, so if you find it easier to lift those weights you’ve been working with, it might be time to increase it a little.

Follow a healthy diet

Building strength is good for your body, but just like other training styles it needs support from your diet. This is another area where the idea that weight training leads to bulk can be confused. Maybe you’ve seen bodybuilders eating calorie-laden, protein-rich meals to support their “gains”. Let me assure you, that isn’t the only way to build strength.

In comparison to fat, muscle uses a lot more fuel because it requires energy even when you are resting. Therefore the more lean muscle you have, the more energy you burn at rest. If you want to increase strength while looking lean, you should also be mindful of what you’re eating. Yes, protein helps with muscle repair, but that doesn’t mean you should be having protein shakes or protein bars several times a day, each and every day! You should be aiming to eat a balanced diet to give your body the energy and nutrients that it needs.

Here’s a couple of reasons why you won’t turn into “The Hulk“ if you start weight training:

– Adding substantial muscle mass is hard work, believe me! It generally takes numerous, regular weight training sessions to achieve the type of muscles that bodybuilders or weight lifters have (much more than 1 or 2 sessions a week).
– Muscle growth is supported by your diet. For someone to build SIGNIFICANT muscle mass, they usually follow a strict diet that assists with muscle gain.
– Your hormones affect the way you build muscle. Women produce less testosterone than men, which makes it physically harder to develop muscle.

So there you have it, girls – it is possible to weight train and stay slim! It may take a little bit of time to see the changes in your body, but I know lots of girls absolutely love the strength they’ve found from lifting. As women, strength training is really important for our bone health too.

Just remember: always warm-up before you start lifting any weights (don’t skip the cool down either) and focus on your form as you lift.

Love, Vanessa

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