I often have female clients (and some uninformed personal trainers for that matter) tell me that lifting heavy weight will make you big and bulky.
This is called steroids!
Ok, first off you need to remember the following points when working with female clients (or any clients for that matter), that want to “tone up”:
1. Learn why the terms “toning, shaping, and sculpting” need to be banned from your vocabulary.
2. The treadmill is probably the last thing you need to be doing. While it is a tool, it’s not a necessity for fat loss.
3. No, you won’t become “big and bulky” just because you’re lifting weights.
Seriously, let's get down to the truth. No one should ever worry about getting too big. The reality is that the hardest thing to do as a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach is to get someone to gain muscle mass. Strength is easy, muscle mass is much more difficult. If we acknowledge that the fear of "getting too big" is ridiculous, it is much easier to move on to the real process of training.
Legendary strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle once said “getting too big should be put to rest with other foolish statements. For example, imagine a client telling you:
"I'm not going to concentrate on nutrition. I'm concerned I'll get too lean."
"I'm not going to exercise regularly, I'm afraid that I'll develop too much consistency."
"I'm not going to do any cardiovascular work; I don't really want to live past 50 anyway."
All of these statements are as foolish and inane as "I don't want to lift heavy weights, I don't want to get too big".
Seriously, stop and think about it. For many women, it’s not uncommon to carry around a purse that weighs more than a tank on a daily basis. Likewise, they carry groceries, move furniture around, carry their children, or any number of daily “life” stuff that requires them to lift heavy things. However, when asked to lift a barbell, and label it “exercise,” they immediately protest that it will turn into some she-man or something. It’s crazy.
Don’t believe me? Ok let’s look at some research:
1. In a 2002 study, for example, scientists looked at what happened when women performed various resistance exercises at different weights and repetitions (85 percent of their maximum ability for 8 reps, versus 45 percent for 15). Subjects lifting more weight fewer times burned more energy and had a greater metabolic boost after exercise.
2. In another study published in July 2010, scientists followed 122 women for six years. They found that those who were assigned to do resistance exercises three times a week — sets of 8 reps at 70 to 80 percent of their ability — lost the most weight and body fat.
3. In 2007 a similar two-year study of women who did strength training with challenging weight twice weekly found similar effects on body and “intra-abdominal” fat
Seriously, I could go on forever! Do yourself a favor and do a little research on your own!
Soooo many times I have gotten the statement from female clients that they are looking to lose that extra 10-20 lbs of fat they gained in the past and that they want to “tone up” and they are very adamant that high reps is where it’s at because that’s what their last trainer did.
For the last few days I have been training a women that has finally broken down and started to listen to what I have to say. I can only hope she sticks with it! Now she is in good shape, but she wants to “tone up” more and get a little “leaner”, in the past she has spent 2 to 2 1/2 hours on the treadmill or elliptical machine every day while lifting the little pink dumbbells to work on her strength. OMG, that’s like a 3 hour workout! She is skeptical because of the lack of volume I give her. She want to do everything 25 times.
If you would like to learn more I urge you to read a great book called “The New Rules of Lifting for Women” you can get in on Amazon for less than 20.00! The book goes into much more detail on the subject than I can post on the blog.
A few more key point to take home: From a article by Tim Kontos, David Adamson, and Sarah Walls from elitefts.com
1. For women, toning is what happens when the muscle is developed through training. This is essentially bodybuilding without testosterone. Since the testosterone is not present in sufficient amounts, the muscle will develop, but it won’t gain a large amount of mass. The “toned” appearance comes from removing the fat that is covering a well-developed muscle.
2. Muscle bulk comes from a high volume of work. The repetition range that most women would prefer to do (8–20 reps) promotes hypertrophy (muscle growth). For example, a bodybuilding program will have three exercises per body part. For the chest, they will do flat bench for three sets of 12, incline for three sets of 12, and decline bench for three sets of 12. This adds up to 108 total repetitions. A program geared towards strength will have one exercise for the chest—flat bench for six sets of three with progressively heavier weight. This equals 18 total repetitions. High volume (108 reps) causes considerable muscle damage, which in turn, results in hypertrophy. The considerably lower volume (18 reps) will build more strength and cause minimal bulking.
3. Heavy weights will promote strength not size. This has been proven time and time again. When lifting weights over 85 percent, the primary stress imposed upon the body is placed on the nervous system, not on the muscles. Therefore, strength will improve by a neurological effect while not increasing the size of the muscles.
4. Bulking up is not an overnight process. Many women think they will start lifting weights, wake up one morning, and say “Holy shit! I’m huge!” This doesn’t happen. The men that you see who have more muscle than the average person have worked hard for years to get that way.
5. What the personal trainer is prescribing is not working. Many female athletes come into a new program and say they want to do body weight step-ups, body weight lunges, and leg extensions because it’s what their personal trainer back home had them do. However, many of these girls need to look in a mirror and have a reality check because their trainer’s so-called magical toning exercises are not working. Trainers will hand out easy workouts and tell people they work because they know that if they make the program too hard the client will complain. And, if the client is complaining, there’s a good chance the trainer might lose that client (a client to trainer equals money).
6. Bulking up is calorie dependant. This means if you eat more than you are burning, you will gain weight. If you eat less than you are burning, you will lose weight. Unfortunately, most female athletes perceive any weight gain as “bulking up” and do not give attention to the fact that they are simply getting fatter. As Todd Hamer, a strength and conditioning coach at George Mason University said, “Squats don’t bulk you up. It’s the ten beers a night that bulk you up.” This cannot be emphasized enough.
7. Most of the so-called experts are only experts on how to sound like they know what they are talking about. The people who “educate” female athletes on training and nutrition have no idea what they’re talking about. Let’s face it—how many people do you know who claim to “know a thing or two about lifting and nutrition?” These so-called experts are the reason you see so many women doing sets of 10 with a weight they could do 20 or 30 times. They are being told by the experts that this is what it takes to “tone” the muscles. Instead, they are only wasting their time doing an exercise with a weight that is making no contribution to the fitness levels or the development of the muscle.
Brian Van Hook MS CSCS
Van Hook Sports Performance Las Vegas