Ladies: Lift Heavier!

Sep 24, 2014
Tagged with: Ladies: Lift Heavier!

After being in the health/fitness/exercise fields for 11 years, there are two things I’ve heard women say that have become my pet peeves. One is, “I want to lose weight without doing any work” (no joke, a woman walked into my office at the gym and that’s the first thing she said) and two “I don’t want to lift weights because I don’t want to bulk up.”

I’m going to address the second one because it’s something I used to believe. While I’ve always loved lifting weights, I was always conscious of trying not to “bulk up” when I lifted in high school. I have really broad shoulders, which used to bother me (I’ve since embraced themJ) and I didn’t want to make them look any bigger. So, I kept my weight low and my reps high. However, I have since learned that unless you are taking testosterone and specifically training to increase muscle size (hypertrophy), you are not going to get the huge, bulging muscles you see on the cover of weight lifting magazines. Therefore, I would like to encourage all you ladies to lift heavier!!!

Many women tend to lift lighter weights and range between 10-15 repetitions per set. This targets muscular endurance, which is the ability of a muscle to contract repeatedly or for a prolonged period of time. This is not bad, but I’m advising you to increase the weight and drop your repetitions to 4-6, which targets muscular strength. This is the capacity of your muscle to exert a maximum or near-maximum force against a resistance. I believe muscular strength is more valuable to women, and here is why:

Strong is good.

Muscle strength is what you use when transferring out of your chair or lifting a bag of groceries. It can also improve sports performance, prevent frailty and weakness, reduce symptoms of some chronic diseases, improve sleep, and make you more confident! When you do aerobic exercise (running, cycling, swimming, etc.) your muscular endurance is improved through these activities. So use your resistance training sessions to build some strength!

Strong looks good.

A lot of women start lifting weights for that “toned” look. But, low weight and high reps = muscular endurance and muscular endurance does not increase muscle size. Without an increase in muscle size, your muscles are not going to look different, therefore…no “toned” look. While targeting strength has different parameters than targeting muscle hypertrophy, some hypertrophy will happen with strength training. This will not only make you stronger but will most likely (depending on your diet) make you look lean and sculpted.

Strong builds bones.

The heavier weight you lift, the better the bone-building effect you receive from training. This, along with sufficient calcium and vitamin D, greatly reduces your risk for low bone-mineral density and osteoporosis. Preventing bone loss can reduce your chances of breaking a bone, which is no fun for anyone but has especially disastrous consequences the older you get. Unfortunately, women reach their peak bone mass at age 30 and from there it slowly declines. After menopause, it declines even faster due to the lack of estrogen. People with spinal cord injury or others who are wheelchair users are at an even greater risk for bone loss due to lack of weight-bearing activities. No matter what your age, it’s important to start bone-building habits now in order to reduce fracture risk…and lifting heavy things can do just that!

So, try increasing your weight until you can only do 4-6 repetitions per set. The last few reps should be hard. Once you can comfortably do 6 repetitions, it’s time to increase the weight!

NCHPAD articles:


Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2000). Essentials of strength training and conditioning: National strength and conditioning association. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Seguin, R., & Nelson, M. E. (2003). The benefits of strength training for older adults. American journal of preventive medicine, 25(3), 141-149.


Author: Katie Henley

  • bobl07

    It is also important to lift because as we get older we lose muscle.