During a recent discussion, my mom mentioned that she never wanted to put on any muscle. Although I’m on a crusade against this sentiment, I still understand where she’s coming from. The idea of women wanting to build muscle is a relatively new concept for the general population. And an athletic or sculpted figure was definitely not the ideal feminine look for my mother’s generation.
I tried to explain to her the benefits of it. I’m not sure if it hit home, so let me expound upon it here.
But before we go any deeper, let’s get a few things out of the way. First, the main objection most women have for not wanting to build muscle or get strong is that they don’t want to look bulky or masculine. So I’m going to say this for the 5 billionth time:
YOU WILL NOT GET BULKY!!!
It’s very hard for women to put on a significant amount of muscle, as we don’t have the hormonal profile for it. As someone who wants a little more lean mass, I WISH it were that easy.
The amount of muscle a woman can naturally build will vary from person to person, but generally speaking it takes a very concerted effort to build even a modest amount of muscle. Meaning you won’t pick up a 5 lb. dumbbell a few times and accidentally look like Arnold. Take a look at this article to get an idea of the rate of muscle gain for women.
Second, when I talk about women putting on muscle, I’m not necessarily talking about a bodybuilder or athlete level of muscle. There’s a spectrum that ranges from slightly toned to very muscular, the latter being hard to achieve without performance enhancement drugs.
If you just want to look toned or sculpted, you need to build muscle. Now, if you want to have absolutely zero visible muscle, it would still benefit you to practice some kind of resistance training. The difference would be using lighter weights. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting visible muscle, but I will always do my best to convince women of the benefits of it. (Ahem, mom…)
Speaking of those benefits. What exactly are they?
You will look firmer.
Maybe you’re not quite on-board with the whole building muscle thing. That’s totally fine. But if there’s one thing I’ve heard across the board from women, it’s that they want to look firm and tight. And guess what helps with that? Yep. Muscle. Fat loss is also important in this department, but you can drop weight and get to a small size, but still look “flabby”–which is often called skinny fat. To get a taut physique, there needs to be some muscle building via resistance training. Again, it doesn’t have to be a significant amount of muscle (unless that’s what you want). Even just a few pounds of muscle can make a difference in firmness.
You can workout less.
If you truly enjoy spending an hour doing cardio, then go right ahead. But most people I know would rather not spend hours in the gym. They want the most results in the least amount of time. Enter metabolic training aka lifting weights faster. Think of Crossfit and Orange Theory. Metabolic training is very effective in burning fat and building muscle and can be done in 30 minutes or less. The caveat is that this type of training done at full intensity is not appropriate for most beginners. However, I do believe that it can be scaled for all levels. So if you’re just starting out you can practice this style of exercise, but at a slower pace, which will still be challenging for you. Once your conditioning is at the point where you can really start to push it, you get a great payoff for a short (but intense) period of work.
You get stronger.
Activities that build muscle also build strength, and vice versa.* Strength is good, especially for women. It’s a great boost to your confidence to lift a previously intimidating weight or do a tough calisthenic feat. Ask any woman who lifts how she feels when she hits a personal best, and she’ll likely gloat about the feeling of accomplishment. Getting stronger also helps to prevent injuries as your muscles and ligaments become sturdier. Increased strength can also improve your posture and reduce lower back pain. And for all the ladies on their grind, a strength training session is also great for relieving stress.
*That’s up to a certain degree. You can build strength without putting on much muscle, and you can also put on muscle without building much strength. But let’s not worry about that for now.
You’ll age better.
As women age, they begin to lose muscle and bone density. This reduction of lean mass leaves them weaker and more vulnerable to injury. Doing exercises to preserve or build muscle can help women maintain tissue quality, mobility, and functional ability. This reduces the risk of falls, fractures, and injury and can shorten the duration of recovery. Weight-bearing exercises also strengthen bones, which helps to prevent osteoporosis. And as the metabolism slows after 40, lean mass can combat against weight gain, as muscle helps to boost your metabolic rate and can improve insulin resistance.
In short, building strength and muscle has the potential to improve your quality of life, from the surface all the way down to your bones. You’ll look better, move better, and feel better. You’ll prevent injury and disease. And because I believe in the life-changing benefits of strength training, I’ve included a *FREE* beginner’s workout routine that you can download by clicking the button below.
It includes two full-body workouts that can be done at home or at the gym. The workouts also come with instructions and links to video demos of each exercise. Hope you like it!