Why females shouldn’t fear heavy weights: The myth of female specific training

Misinformation runs rampant within the health and fitness industry.

While it is not ideal, it is unfortunately an unyielding truth that we have to come with terms with.

Here at iNform we take the time to educate our clients, ensuring that they completely understand what they are doing, and for what reason. Often part of this education process is dispelling the myths proposed by mainstream sources of health and fitness related information (I should say that not all sources are spouting misinformation – but too many certainly are).

I like to think that we are doing our bit to dispel this misinformation one client at a time.

One such suggestion that appears more frequently than most, is the recommendation that females should train differently to men.


Which is a complete and utter load of rubbish.


Ultimately, this suggestion that does nothing more than perpetuate the myth that women can’t lift heavy weights because they will get ‘big and bulky’.

In my opinion, this has two very serious (and very negative) repercussions.

  1. It lends itself to the suggestion that weight training is not a suitable form of exercise for females – which as the title of this post suggests, is a misinformed load of…. well… you know what.
  2. It continues to spread the moronic suggestion that there is such thing as an ‘ideal female body’. Really, who actually thinks that they have the right to propose that a female with a muscular physique is unattractive? What people find attractive (in both themselves and in others) is no one’s business but their own. Moreover, people are born with anatomical and physiological differences (and as such, you know, we look different) – there is no such thing as an ideal body shape.

So, building on that first point, there are a number of reasons as to why women should lift heavy weights (and ultimately, should not train any differently from their male counterparts).


Strength is King

Lifting heavy improves strength.

Strength is important. This holds true irrespective of training goals or current training level. Strength limits the amount of work we can perform in a session, it determines our upper limit of power production, and it also plays a large role in our age related declines in functional capacity.

By training heavy and developing muscular strength, we can improve the amount we are capable of doing in a single session. This can improve our ability to attain body composition related goals (such as losing fat and building muscle).

Strength is integral to injury resilience, and our capacity for physical performance. The stronger we are, the greater our capacity for power production is – which translates to sprinting faster and jumping higher.

Furthermore, as we age our strength declines. This decline in strength will become something that will limit our ability to perform daily life tasks. By maintaining decent levels of strength, we can maintain our functional capacity into our older age. This will allow us to maintain a higher quality of life for longer.

This is important for everyone, regardless of gender.


And about getting ‘big and bulky’?


While building strength (and lifting heavy) does play an important role in the development of new muscle tissue, it is actually quite difficult for females to increase their muscle mass significantly due mainly to hormone related differences (and a number of other physiological factors).

So, although lifting heavy will add a small amount of muscle mass to your frame, it is not going to turn you into a body builder (not that there is anything wrong with that of course).


Bone Density

While this may be a little on the boring side, it still holds a pretty large amount of importance.

Females are susceptible to becoming osteoporotic later in life (more so than males). This susceptibility increases after the onset of menopause.

While there are a number of dietary factors that can play a role in maintaining a high level of bone density, so can strength training. Heavy loading has shown to stimulate an increase the production of bone cells. This can lead to a significant increase in bone density, reducing the risk osteoporotic symptoms (and the likelihood of developing osteoporosis).

As such, the implementation of strength training can play a HUGE role in osteoporosis prevention both before and after menopause.


Lifting Heavy Builds Confidence

There is nothing better than seeing all the hard work you have put into your training accumulate to a personal best in the gym.

While I acknowledge that increasing strength is not the be-all-end-all of training (we still want people to move and feel better), hitting a personal best does provide a tangible measure of improvement that truly demonstrates progress.

Getting stronger and achieving new strength goals is rewarding – way more so than lifting a 3kg dumbbell repetitively (unless that’s your thing – who am I to judge).

And more important is the knowledge that these improvements in strength carry over to various other aspects of life. This may be something as simple as being able to move your own furniture without assistance, easily change the tire on your car, or beat someone twenty years your junior in an arm wrestle.

All silliness aside, you get my point.

Being able to do difficult things independently is empowering. And getting stronger is rewarding. It provides a tangible measure of your hard work and dedication.


So, to conclude.

Gender specific training is a joke.

Strength training has HUGE benefits for males and females alike, and as such should be an integral part of everyone’s training program. This not only includes improvements in physical performance, but also increases in functional capacity and improved markers of health.

Females should not train differently from males, and while this holds true for most training modalities, it is exceptionally accurate when discussing strength training in particualar.

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