Tuesday, 2 August 2011


By Coach Sabina Skala

Should women strength train?

A few weeks ago one of the ladies I trained said “I don’t want to be strong”. She is a very attractive size 8 girl, she also happens to be pretty strong. I asked her, what she meant. She repeated that she didn’t want to be strong and she doesn’t like strength training. So That I could understand exactly what she meant, I kept asking more questions. The conclusion was, she didn’t want to strength train, as she didn’t feel feminine, was scared that shoe would become butch and muscular, plus she didn’t look pretty lifting heavy weights. At the same time she wanted a toned slender physique and take part in a competition that…. involved lifting heavy weights.

Doesn’t it sound ridiculous? It may, however this is what a lot of women who strength train are concerned about. Is the typical stereotype that women should be weak, fragile creatures, who cant handle anything other than push ups from their knees or biceps curls with 1kg dumbbells (preferably pink, as this looks very girly) valid in this day and age?

If I was asked a question – “do you want to be strong?”. I would say – YEAH! But at the same time I certainly want to look feminine and don’t want to resemble a “ladyman”. The trick is that usually when you hear that a woman is strong you don’t picture Lara Croft lookalike but rather some power-lifter type chick, who you are not really sure is a man or woman. So here just to prove how untrue this is, just look at the pics below.

This is Evelyn Stevenson. I have met the very gorgeous Eve – Who is UK powerlifting champion. She is a PROOF that stereotypes are often very WRONG!. Eve not only looks very sexy, she is a very strong girl! (1RM in training – back squat 130kg, bench 77.5kg, Deadlift 140kg).

So should women lift heavy…. let me quote Pavel Tsatsouline “ You better get on a first name basis with heavy deadlifts if you are after a hard butt”. And it is only 1 of many many reasons why strength training is so beneficial to women.

Lets look at all the goodness:

1. Strength training = strong ligaments, strong tendons and greater bone density. Weight training is a powerful tool against osteoporosis (disease characterised by porous bone and low bone mass). Those suffering from osteoporosis have an increased susceptibility to fractures of the wrists, hips and spine. According to the National ~Osteoporosis Foundation 28 million Americans suffer from this disease, 80 % of which are women! In fact, statistics show that one in two women over the age of 50 will suffer from and osteoporosis – related fracture during their lifetime. Therefore women, especially should seriously consider weight training as a type of insurance against becoming represented in these startling statistics. Stronger tendons, ligaments and muscles lead to stronger and stable joints decreasing the likelihood of injury. This enhances the quality of life and enables us to better perform our daily activities. This does not only apply to middle age or elderly women. Trust me I have seen teenagers who are less mobile, weaker and slower than my 74 year old client. This is a pretty scary picture and unfortunately very true in many cases

2. Aesthetics - Strength training increases your resting metabolic rate. Women who wish to permanently reduce body fat should treat the strength training as absolutely essential. Traditionally women rely on a low calorie diets, depleting the body from nutrients and as a result plummeting the metabolism and weakening the immune system. The common fear that strong means big and muscular doesn’t need to come true. First of all women are genetically incapable of building large muscles. We do not have nearly as much testosterone as men (approx 15-20 time less than men actually). The perception that women will bulk up when they begin a strength training program comes from the chemically-altered women on the covers of bodybuilding magazines. To get the look they need an “aid” that alters their hormonal profile and enables them to get more bulk and mass. Toning – so what most of women are after is the effect of muscle development (not in large amounts) and removing the fat surrounding the muscles. Muscle bulk comes from a high volume of work. Actually, the repetition range that most women would prefer to do (8–20 reps) promotes hypertrophy (muscle growth), providing the load is sufficient enough. Proper strength training does not necessarily promote size, as the primary stress is placed on the nervous system, not only the muscles. Therefore, strength will improve by a neurological effect while not increasing the size of the muscles..
If you look at the guidelines below for better understanding (data was taken from Gym Jones seminar manual - they have pulled it
from Michael Yessis book called "The Kinesiology of Exercise”).

***Please note that effects vary depending on age, existing fitness level, gender, the phase of the annual cycle, as well as the volume and intensity of the training. In general:
1-4 reps per set @ 2-4RM increase pure strength but do not increase muscle mass
4-9 reps per set @ 5-9RM increase strength together with muscle mass
10-15 reps per set increase muscular strength, muscular endurance and muscle mass
16-30 reps per set increase muscular endurance with little to no increase in muscle mass
31-50 reps per set or circuit increase muscular endurance with no effect on muscle mass
50-100 reps per set or circuit increase muscular endurance, cardio-respiratory endurance, and
there will be a possible loss of muscle mass (or fat) but absolutely no increase in strength

If you look at the highlighted part, it says that there is a way of training that increases your strength and does not increase the muscle mass as such. So, you can get stronger without getting bigger.
The chart below shows the number of repetitions and sets you should be aiming at when strength training.

Bulking up is not an overnight process. If you ever wake up in the morning looking huge after a day, week or even month of training, please let us know as we would love to know the magic training that caused it. Getting bigger is also calorie dependent. If you feel you are getting bigger, first be honest with yourself and check your diet and alcohol consumption. It may be not the muscles but the fat that surrounds them that is the issue. In most cases squats and deadlifts are not the problem – it is the Cosmopolitan cocktails or tequila shots on Friday evenings plus some chocolate brownies that make you fat/big.

If you’re a female athlete and training with heavy weights (or not), you still need to watch what you eat. If your diet is all over the place, do not blame training for putting on weight.

Summarising – if you still don’t see the benefits of lifting heavy weights, I don’t have more arguments to convince you. I know I will keep my strength sessions in my training for sure.


MikeMassie@fitnessbootcampaustin.com said...

Nice! I tell the women at my gym all the time that resistance training is what is going to get them the results they want. Some are skeptical, until they stick with it for a few weeks. By the way, strong = sexy in my book.

Peter Fabian said...

Great reminder--just uploaded to FB--thanks--peter

Wayne said...

Great Article Sabina

John said...

I will directing my clients to this to have a read , you have explained it really well.

Personal Training Southend

Anonymous said...

Ace Sabina... It's a popular myth that if us girlies pick up a bigger weight we'll all look like Cj ;-) in a heartbeat... If only it was that easy hey!!!??? You rock, keep up the excellent work you do.x

Sabina Skala said...

Thanks guys, glad you liked it. Keep strong xsaba

Steve said...


Hope you don't mind, I would like to share this with my clients, by putting the link to it on the facebook page.

Coach Cj Swaby said...

Go for it Steve, we would really appreciate it if you would. Too much misinformation out there about weight training.

Coach Skala did a fantastic job on setting the record straight!


Strength training for women said...

Strength is all about fitness. I was wondering if you can share some tips and ideas for the fresh learner it will help to choose normal exercise in the beginning..

Strength training for women