The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that healthy adults -- both men and women -- should strength train twice weekly. But some women hesitate to strength train, and in particular to pick up free weights, often because of popular misconceptions about how to strength train and what might happen when they do.
The increased muscular strength and endurance from weight lifting benefits both women and men. It can make everyday activities like moving groceries, picking up a child or carrying boxes upstairs easier. Free-weight training is particularly beneficial since it forces more muscles to work together, stabilizing the weights instead of simply pushing weight along a set track as with weight machines. But strength training is particularly beneficial for women because it can also help reduce bone loss and prevent osteoporosis.
Bulking Up -- Or Not
Some women express concern about bulking up "too much" from weight training. As with men, some women are predisposed to bulk up more than others, and scientists don't completely understand why. But how many sets and reps you do of each exercise also affects how your muscles develop. Bodybuilders perform low numbers of reps with very high weights. If you do more repetitions -- the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends eight to 10 repetitions per set as enough for most exercisers -- with enough weight to make the last repetition a challenge, you won't experience bodybuilder-style hypertrophy.
Sets and Reps
Some fitness magazines perpetuate the myth that women should only lift small weights, showing muscular fitness models working out with tiny dumbbells. Although you should always suit the amount of weight you lift to challenge but not exceed your ability, you must also increase the weight for a continuing challenge as you get stronger. Every time you can do more than your target number of repetitions, increase the amount of weight you're lifting by between 5 percent and 10 percent.
Some women still suffer from the misconception that they can't do push-ups and pull-ups. Rven if you're not strong enough to do full push-ups and pull-ups right now, doing modified versions of those exercises can help you quickly build enough strength to do the full versions. Both push-ups and pull-ups are excellent exercises for getting the most out of your workout in the shortest possible time, because they work multiple muscle groups, including your core, at once. Other time-efficient, highly beneficial exercises include squats, lunges, chest presses, lat pulldowns, shoulder presses and rows.
Some women's fitness magazines promote the idea of lifting free weights to help correct "problem areas" like the thighs and back of the upper arms. This works, to a degree. If you lift weights appropriately you'll build lean muscle mass in those areas, which in turn leads to a firmer look. But if you're overweight, you'll need to weight before your new muscles can show through to the best benefit. And although it's tempting to focus only on problem areas, you should work all sides of your body -- left and right, or front and back -- in equal balance. This helps prevent injury and preserve the sort of muscular strength best-suited for performing your everyday tasks.