by Mike Westerdal
Many women shy away from the idea of building muscle because they are afraid they’ll ‘bulk-up’ and look like one of the female competitive bodybuilders that used to come out of the former U.S.S.R. Fortunately, that’s just a myth. Women who lift weights to build muscle do not instantly turn into masculine-looking hulks bulging with muscle.
However, despite years of strong evidence to the contrary, the myth persists and countless women refuse to lift a weight out of fear of bulking up. It’s time to set the record straight once and for all.
Whether you’re a man or woman, young or old, resistance training is one of the greatest gifts we can give not just our bodies, but our minds and spirits as well. Let me explain why. First, muscles only get bigger and stronger when they encounter some sort of resistance. Without resistance, muscles may get ‘toned’ but they will never increase in size or strength. The muscle growth occurs as a result of the muscle cells’ reaction to the stress placed upon them by the resistance—free weights, dumbbells, machines or even body weight.
When the muscle cells encounter resistance they send signals to the central nervous system, which then releases a flood of hormones into the bloodstream. This sets off a chain reaction that serves to better prepare the muscle cells for the next time they face the same resistance. In this case ‘better prepared’ means the muscles are bigger and/or stronger. That’s why the next time you use the same resistance it is a little bit easier than it was the time before. To push the muscle to continue to get bigger and/or stronger, you need to challenge it even more by either increasing the resistance (weight) or reducing the rest time between sets.
This is where the myth that says that women who build muscle will wind up looking like female linebackers. Fortunately, that’s just not true. Unless a woman has a particular goal of joining the NFL, building muscle can produce a number of life-enhancing benefits without bulking her up. Basically, strength training to build muscle for women offers the same benefits as it does for men. These benefits include changing the appearance of the body, reducing body fat, lowering the risk of injury and boosting overall health.
Though healthy eating habits combined with an aerobic exercise regimen will slim down a woman’s body, there’s no better way for a woman to transform her physique than by building muscle through strength training. Besides being a quick and effective way for a woman to tone and sculpt her body, strength training offers many other benefits, making it an essential element to overall health and fitness.
Among women, a regular resistance training routine—combined with a proper, healthy diet—will increase muscle mass. But let’s make it clear that this does not mean that a woman’s body will bulk up.
The fact is that when a woman increases the amount of lean muscle mass she has, her body requires more energy to maintain the muscle. Fat burns fewer calories than muscle mass—even when the muscles are at rest. So by increasing muscle mass a woman can boost the number of calories she burns throughout the day and lose weight while shedding unwanted extra body fat. In addition, because of the fact that muscle takes up less space than fat, her body will be more toned.
There are a number of other important benefits that result from women building muscle. Besides burning more calories throughout the day, a regular, consistent resistance training program gives you more energy throughout the day. Exercise—weight training in particular—also stimulates the release of endorphins, which elevate the mood and increase self-esteem and self-confidence. Improved health and lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other health problems are other important benefits for women. Lastly, the process of building muscle increases joint flexibility, balance and coordination, thereby reducing the risk of injury.
It’s clear that there are many benefits that arise when women start building muscle. The only real potential downside arises from improper training techniques and bad form. A woman who has never lifted weights might want to consider consulting a professional to learn the proper way to train and assist her in developing a diet and exercise routine that’s right for her. If you’re still concerned about building up read this follow up article entitled, “5 Muscle Toning Myths You Must Stop Believing“