Go to any public gym and you're likely to see the same pattern: the free weights section is largely populated by men, while women stick to the cardio equipment or smaller machines with minimal weight. This is the result of the long-standing myth that weight training for women will lead to a "bulky" or "masculine" figure. We picture the exaggerated muscles and extremely low body fat characteristic of female body builders. Many believe that this extreme appearance is the result of ordinary weight training alone, and that all women who lift weights will become somehow masculine. In fact, the opposite is true.
The exaggerated physique of female body builders is the result of weight lifting and extreme dietary measures, usually including supplemental testosterone and anabolics. In contrast, women who lift weights regularly are typically lean, feminine, and far from bulky. Because women don't naturally produce the same amount of testosterone as men, women who lift weights will see different results than men who do the same exercises. Without the added supplementation of testosterone, anabolics, and/or steroids, a woman's hormonal makeup will not allow her to put on the large amounts of muscle mass that a man might.
Women who strictly do cardio exercises might be fairly lean, but they often lack the muscle tone and definition that leads to the coveted aesthetic of a bikini model. Other women fall in the middle of the spectrum, only picking up 5-pound dumbbells and doing hundreds of reps in an attempt to "tone." They leave the heavy weights untouched, believing that the old adage of "light weight, lots of reps" is the key to a feminine figure. However, the most effective way to build lean muscle is to train with heavy weights and fewer reps. Weight training works by breaking down existing muscle fibers and then resting to allow the fibers to repair themselves. It is during this repair phase that our muscles grow and become more defined. Using heavier weights will break down the muscle fibers more effectively, allowing you to achieve results faster.
Weight training also torches calories. On top of the calories you burn while actively lifting, the lean muscle built by regular weight training helps you to burn more calories even at rest, leaving you with an overall slimmer figure. During your muscles' repair phases, your body uses energy (calories) to repair itself even when you are asleep.
Besides the aesthetic benefits, weight training for women offers significant benefits not visible to the eye, including improved bone health. Women are particularly prone to osteoporosis and other bone ailments. About 80% of Americans affected by osteoporisis are women (http://nof.org/articles/235). Regular strength and weight training helps keep bones strong even as we age, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and broken bones. Studies have shown that over time, strength and weight training can not only prevent bone loss, but may also help build new bone.
In addition to bone health, studies have shown that there is a correlation between weight lifting and mental health. People struggling with depression may benefit significantly from adding strength and weight training to their regular routine. The endorphins produced during exercise, combined with improved self-image, can help alleviate symptoms of depression.
Women of all ages are slowly making their way into the weight room and seeing the results they've always wanted. To build a strong, lean figure, regular weight training should be a staple of any exercise routine. When balanced with proper nutrition and moderate cardiovascular exercise, weight training can lead you to the body and health you've always wanted.