Ask The Trainer #134 – Women Lifting Weights

Ask The Trainer #134 - Women Lifting Weights


Chad, I have read your blog for over a year, and your advice has been very helpful in my training. I just got married, and my wife is starting to join me in exercising. Do you have any advice for women lifting weights who don’t want to “Look like a man with bulging muscles”? She wants to maintain her womanly figure but wants to be in great shape also.

Thanks and keep up the nice advice for us guys!



Hi John,

Thanks so much reading my newsletter! I’m happy to know it has been helpful to your training endeavors. Congratulations to you and your wife! That’s awesome your wife will be joining you on the exercise front.

Truthfully, I believe couples who are on the same page with fitness experience significantly more joyful and longer lasting relationships. Especially compared to couples who are “unequally yoked” when it comes to maintaining a healthy and fit body.

I’m glad you asked me this question. There are countless women who’ve cultivated a phobia of weight training. They assume that if they begin tinkering around with any dumbbells or barbells, they’ll wake up one morning and suddenly look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This exact phobia prevents so many women from ever experiencing satisfying changes with their bodies.

Skinny Fat

In fact, a lot of women engage in exercise routines that will actually make them “skinny fat”. The truth is intense resistance training is the ONLY path a woman can follow that will lead to real physical changes.

I’m talking about the characteristics most women want: An hourglass figure, a round, firm butt, toned arms and legs, and a small, tight waistline. Yet, so many of them run away from the weight room and hop on a Stairmaster instead for an hour or two.

Unfortunately, many women will look to the mainstream fitness magazines or random Pinterest workouts targeted at women that offer advice that will often times lack validity and/or professional experience. So many of these workout routines will prescribe very high volumes of aerobic exercise, but fail to include any weight training.

Don’t get me wrong, cardiovascular training does have its place in a complete exercise regimen.

However, most women tend to do way too much cardio while neglecting the one form of exercise that will have the most significant impact on actually changing the shape of their body. This is why many women who exercise excessively develop what’s sometimes called a “skinny fat” body.

Volume & Duration

Throughout my decades of experience, I’ve noticed that the most common obstacle holding back women who exercise regularly is abiding by the notion that more exercise is always better. There’s a sweet spot for overall exercise and weight training volume to produce optimal results. However, there is also a point of diminishing returns where doing too much exercise becomes counter-productive.

Increasing the volume and duration of your workouts is only beneficial up to the point before you can no longer adequately recover from it. This is true for both men and women. But, women are even more susceptible to over exercising simply because, unlike men, their bodies aren’t equipped with high levels of androgenic hormones that will enhance the recovery process.

When people exercise too much, their adrenal glands begin to produce high amounts of cortisol. As cortisol levels rise, growth hormones levels in the body that support recovery and growth simultaneously plummet. This hormonal shift results in incomplete protein turnover in the body. In other words, protein breaks down at a faster rate than it can recover from.

In other words, an individual who is over exercising is going to continue to lose muscle mass, which will slow down their basal metabolic rate and create an environment that makes it easier for them to gain fat. So the loss of muscle will result in a less conditioned body and a slower metabolism. This how “skinny fat” bodies are made.

Understand, there is no amount of nutrition or supplementation that will protect someone from overtraining when they continually exceed their training threshold or sweet spot.

Not By Chance

In regard to women developing big bulging muscles, I need to point out this isn’t something that could ever happen by chance. In fact, for a women to develop big, bulging, manly looking muscles, she would have to take a cocktail of anabolic steroids and/or growth hormones, She’d also have to lift like an absolute beast.

Make no mistake, there are women like this out there, but none of them became this way by accident!

Consider the men you see at your local gyms. They are lifting weights intensely. In some cases, they lift for several hours per day, trying to build big, bulging muscles. Yet, after months or even years, they still aren’t anywhere close obtaining the muscle size or conditioning they’re after.

Keep in mind these men are naturally brimming with testosterone. Even so, they can’t rapidly build big, bulging muscles, no matter what they do. So, how in the heck would a woman be able to build big, bulging muscles by accident?

I’ve been involved in the world of bodybuilding and fitness for quite a while. During that time, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many women competitors in physique competitions. A number of them are very fit, feminine women who compete in bikini divisions. You know, the kind that turn a man’s heads as they walk down the street.

Bulging Muscles Myth

I’ve seen a lot of these women train in the gym. Let me tell you… they are grinding away on the weights even more intensely than most male lifters I know! Yet, their bodies don’t exhibit big, bulging muscles; but rather, shapely, toned muscles that still appear very feminine and complement their shape. Women who are lifting weights in similar fashion to a men will more than likely have similar results.

The last point I want to make is this: women should incorporate a few more reps on their exercises than men typically would. This is because women generally don’t possess the capacity to recruit as many muscle motor units as men do.

For example, a man’s ideal rep range for stimulating muscle gains is 6-10 reps. Therefore, a woman would be better off by increasing her rep range to 8-12 reps. As a general rule of thumb, I would limit weight training sessions to no more than 45-60 minutes. This is to avoid overtraining. I’d also limit intense cardio sessions to no more than 20-30 minutes.

Effective Training Split

It’s most advantageous to devise a weight-training split where you train all major muscle groups on non-consecutive days throughout the week. Incorporate cardio and other forms of exercise, like Pilates and yoga, on days opposite of your weight training.

For example, Monday- Back & Chest. Tuesday- Cardio & Yoga. Wednesday- Legs & Glutes. Thursday- Cardio & Pilates. Friday- Arms, Shoulders & Abs. Saturday- Cardio & Yoga. Sunday- Rest.

Hopefully, this information offers your wife some reassurance that she’s not going to develop bulging muscles with weight training. As with any type of exercise, proper form is vital to getting maximum results while preventing injury.

I wish you and your wife all the best of success together!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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