HarveyMushman AKA Kyle has been reading 70′s Big for a while. His wife, Julie (hi Julie!), competes in roller derby and also had an ACL replacement in March of 2011. When she started her linear progression, they focused on using the leg press to help strengthen her knee through a full range of motion.
One day when Julie was using the leg press at the gym, a woman approached them and said (according to Kyle, who shits you not), “Women shouldn’t use this leg press with plates because they’ll get big. You should be over there [gestures to the selectorized side of the room] using the machines with light weight and high reps to tone instead of get big.”
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we’re up against. This is The Enemy.
This is a persistent myth that women hold onto, but it ends up being an excuse that keeps them from doing anything that is hard. I want to review why this is such an absurd assumption — aside from how it isn’t based on any factual evidence.
1. Women have 1/10th the testosterone of men.
Hormones regulate our body and our life, yet women lack significant amounts of this very important hormone that creates a domino effect in a complicated neuroendocrine system to “get bigger”. In fact, you can’t even truthfully say that “lifting heavy weights makes men bigger” because there are thousands of goobers who prove this wrong every day. “Hard gainers”, skinny guys, and the misinformed prove to us that lifting weights hardly results in getting bigger, even when it’s the goal.
So why would we assume this would be the case for a female? And even if it was the case for men, women have a small fraction of the testosterone that a man does making it incredibly difficult to “get bigger”.
2. Muscle is metabolically active tissue.
When you have more lean body mass (AKA muscle), your metabolism is higher. That means you use more energy when you have more muscle. That also means your body is more efficient at using fat as energy, thereby reducing body fat. Lower body fat also results in a higher metabolic rate. All of this means your body is efficient at being lean and strong, which is what “being toned” really means.
3. Lifting weights to get stronger with compound movements significantly raises metabolism too.
When you lift weights, you damage muscle fibers. When you lift weights with compound movements, you damage muscle fibers all over the body. When you recover from lifting weights, the body will repair this damaged muscle. When you recover from heavier, compound movements, your body will repair lots of muscle all over your body. It requires energy to repair things, and a greater energy demand is a higher metabolism. Of all the women I’ve trained, I’ve never had anyone gain body fat; they’ve always lost body fat while increasing muscle (by a little bit).
4. Why would a woman suddenly become bulky anyway?
I know, I know, I’m trying to apply more logic to a person that holds onto a belief without any factual evidence. But if you’re a female, especially a skinny one, why would you suddenly become bulky if you’ve been skinny your whole life? If you’re a heavier female, you definitely are carrying more body fat. If you accept # 2 and 3, then you know your metabolism will be higher and you will burn more fat by a) lifting and recovering from lifting lifting weights with compound movements, b) having a greater lean body mass (even if it is only several pounds).
In order to be truly bulky with muscle mass, a women usually needs chemical help (AKA steroids). The women who are naturally muscular are genetically gifted and comprise a very low percentage of the population. If you were one of these women, you would already know (and you’d probably be proud of your physique anyway).
5. Higher reps with lower weights seems to be the thing that actually increases muscle mass the most in women.
Perhaps a literature review is in order for this topic, but those of us that are actually practitioners in the fitness or strength and conditioning field see that women seem to develop muscle very well with higher reps. I’ve heard of various people (including Robb Wolf) talk about how this seems to stimulate growth hormone. It’s an observation I’ve had for a while, because when you look at fitness/figure competitors and CrossFitters, they carry more muscle than average. The commonality in training is doing higher amounts of volume for sets of higher reps.
I’ve pointed out in the past (can’t find the post) that a good program for a girl who wants definition in her musculature is to strength train, then do some back-off work like walking lunges and leg curls to accumulate reps and volume. That’s what the gals do who get paid to do it. The point is that the method of training that women typically use (lower weights, higher reps) to avoid “getting bulky” is actually what helps stimulate lean body mass gain anyway. It’s just that they are doing it with three pound dumbbells instead of 50 pound dumbbells. Getting stronger is the key to metabolic activity, lower body fat, and being a kick ass woman.
The truth is that none of this really matters. I could keep going with a list of bullets 50 items long. Facts or statements are just a hodge podge of information that won’t sway an emotional belief. Some of you can print posts out like this and show it to your clients, spouses, or friends and they may take action. I don’t expect that to work in non-gym environments (i.e. It’s easier to convince a woman who is doing CrossFit than someone who lives and dies on the elliptical). Instead I’ll take the Robb Wolf approach and say, “Just try it for a month.” There are plenty of examples in the “Getting Girls to Train” series to get women training, but the hardest part is convincing them that the big scary physique that they think they’ll grow is just a silly myth.