Strength Training for Women: Dispelling Misconceptions

Okay, so you’re a women and you want to have a flat belly, defined arms a nice round butt and firm legs. But you’ve been told to stay away from heavy resistance training if you don’t want to look like a man with boobs.

Misconceptions about strength training—often based on unfounded fears of becoming too muscular—can keep women from pushing their fitness levels.

That’s unfortunate because strength training provides several important health benefits for women. Most important, it helps them maintain a healthy weight. It also can help them avoid osteoporosis and prevent back problems. If you’ve never lifted weights, consider working with a trainer for your first few sessions; chances are the results you get will make you stick with it.

Myth 1: Strength training causes women to become larger, heavier and muscular.

The truth is, strength training helps reduce body fat and increase lean weight (1). These changes may result in a slight increase in overall weight, since lean body mass weighs more than fat. However, strength training results in significant increases in strength, no change or a decrease in lower-body girths, and a very small increase in upper-extremity girth. Only women with a genetic predisposition for hypertrophy who participate in high-volume, high-intensity training will see substantial increases in limb circumference.

Myth 2: Women should use different training methods than men.

Women are often encouraged to use weight machines and slow, controlled movements out of a fear that using free weights, manual resistance, explosiveness (high velocity, low force), or exercises that use body weight as resistance will cause injury.

In fact, no evidence suggests that women are more likely to be injured during strength training than men. Proper exercise instruction and technique are necessary to reduce the risk of injuries for both men and women. All strength training participants should follow a program that gradually increases the intensity and load.

Furthermore, sport-specific exercise should closely mimic the biomechanics and velocity of the sport for which an athlete is training (2). The best way to achieve this is to use closed-kinetic-chain exercise that involves multiple joints and muscle groups and the ranges of motion specific to the sport. For example, the push press–rather than triceps kickbacks–offers a superior arm extension training stimulus for improving the ability to throw the shot put in track and field.

Myth 3: Women should avoid high-intensity or high-load training.

Women are typically encouraged to use limited resistance, such as light dumbbells, in their strength exercises. Often such light training loads are substantially below those necessary for physiologic adaptations and certainly less than those commonly used by men.

Most women are able to train at higher volumes and intensities than previously believed. In fact, women need to train at intensities high enough to cause adaptation in bone, muscle, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. When exercise intensity provides insufficient stimulus, physiologic benefits may be minimal (3). To gain maximum benefit from strength training, women should occasionally perform their exercises at or near the repetition maximum for each exercise.

In Brief, Women simply don’t naturally possess enough of the male hormone, testosterone that will allow them to become huge muscular hulks! Hence weight training will NOT to make you a bodybuilder unless you tried so hard to be muscular.


  1. Fox E, Bowers R, Foss M: The Physiological Basis for Exercise and Sport, Madison, WI, Brown and Benchmark, 1993
  2. Stone MH, Borden RA: Modes and methods of resistance training. Strength Conditioning 1997;19(4):18-24
  3. National Strength and Conditioning Association: Position Paper: Strength Training for Female Athletes. National Strength and Conditioning Association, Colorado Springs, 1990

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