Walking into the University of Kansas student recreation center, one can always expect to see a good number of girls riding bikes, on the ellipticals and stair-steppers, and running on treadmills. One place where most don’t seem to venture is into the weight room.
A survey done of 100 KU females exiting the gym showed that while 92 said they worked out more than three times a week only 27 said that these workouts consisted of lifting weights.
The 65 women surveyed who workout regularly but don’t lift represent the majority of women who don’t believe that lifting heavy weight will get them reach their fitness goals. Matt Andre, a doctoral student in Exercise Science at KU, has been a personal trainer for a decade and has coached female Olympic weightlifters. In all his experience, Andre has faced two main objections from his female clients when it comes time to rack up in the weight room.
“There are myths regarding ‘toning’ that, if you do light weight and high reps, isolate body parts, and don’t go heavy, then you will magically burn fat off of those areas and add definition to the muscles. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. The other major myth is that heavy lifting automatically makes you huge. That’s not true for men or women,” Andre said.
Andre said that the main reason male and females bodies don’t react the same when lifting is not because men lift heavier weight but because of the different chemical composition in the body.
“Most men will build more muscle and at a faster rate due to hormonal differences,” Andre said. “Women typically have approximately 10% of the testosterone of males.”
Not only is lifting heavy weights a good way to build muscle but it also is an effective way to burn fat Andre said.
“It boosts your metabolism at rest,” Andre said. “Lifting heavy weights is stressful to the body in a good way. The process of adapting (which happens at rest and while sleeping) requires extra energy from the body. At rest, the body will tap into stored body fat to provide energy for these adaptations.”
Andre said another myth he deals with is that women think they need to do a lot of cardio to lose weight. The two things Andre said that they should really be focusing on are weight lifting and their diet.
“It depends on the person,” Andre said. “I have had many clients transform their bodies and achieve their goals with lifting alone. However, some will have to watch their diet more than others. For some, the stress of strength training will be enough that, even if they keep eating the same stuff, they will lose serious weight. For others, they will need to keep their diet in check.”
While cardio isn’t as essential to weight loss as many believe it to be, it is still an important component to being fit. Andre said the way to make sure your cardio is beneficial when trying to lose weight is to push yourself.
“If your best mile time is 9 minutes, then there is no point in going on a 3 mile run, because your pace will be way too slow,” Andre said. “You need to do shorter distances at much faster paces (such as intermittent run/walks where you run very fast until you can’t anymore, then you walk until you recover). Fast people stay lean because they have to work very hard when they are running 3-5 miles at a 6-minute mile pace (or faster).”
When Andre was shown the results of the survey of KU women he said he was sadly not surprised so few of them were picking up weights. He said almost every woman he has trained was hesitant at first due to these myths.
“When I can finally convince them to lift heavy and squat deep, they start to change. When they start to feel better and get strong, their confidence improves,” Andre said. “They are usually hooked pretty quickly.
Andre knows the myths surrounding women, weight lifting and weight loss won’t disappear over night he is optimistic about the future of his career field.
“In the past 10 years, the myths related to women and lifting are starting to fade a little bit, and I expect to see this trend continue to improve.”