Bodybuilding Tips for Women
As a personal trainer, I’ve had numerous female clients confused about how they should approach their strength training and nutrition program. There seems to be a plethora of conflicting information out there when it comes to women and bodybuilding.
However, reaching your bodybuilding objectives is achievable for women of all fitness backgrounds. By ditching common misconceptions, training intensely with challenging weights, and eating for function you’ll be able to achieve your bodybuilding goals without all the confusion.
Ditching the Misconceptions
You might have heard lifting heavy weights makes you bulky or look like a man, muscle turns into fat and vice-versa, and exercising your abs, butt, hips, or wherever area will make you lose fat there. Well, I’m here to tell you to forget all that.
Lifting heavy weights will not make you look like a man. First, the term heavy is subjective. What’s heavy and challenging for one person may be another person’s warm up. At what weight would you draw the line? Second, I’ve trained numerous female clients with intense and challenging weights and although it may be subjective to my personal opinion, they still look like women and retained their femininity. Lastly, women simply do not and cannot naturally produce the amount of testosterone needed to bulk up like a man. It is also important to realize that the muscle built through strength training won’t turn into fat if you stop working out.
Contrary to what you may have heard, muscle size would simply regress or get smaller due to the lack of stress if you were to stop exercising. Generally, when avid exercisers stop working out, they don’t adjust their caloric intake accordingly; thus, leaving them in with an excessive amount of calorie consumption because of the lack of energy expenditure previously achieved through activity. This is what usually leads to fat gain. Muscle and fat are two very different tissues and they don’t convert back and forth. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about your muscle turning into fat if you decide to quit exercising.
Exercising a muscle group will help you strengthen, tone, and build that muscle, but it has very little to do with where you lose fat. The body generally loses weight all-over when you expend more calories than you consume. In other words, you really can’t control where you lose the weight so the best way to lose fat in a specific area is to create a caloric deficiency and to continue to lose fat all over until you’re happy with your problem areas.
Now, that we’ve ditched some of the common misconceptions associated with women and weight training, let’s talk about how to reach your goals.
Training with Challenging Weights
At the cellular level, men and women’s muscles are exactly the same. The big difference is the amount of hormones (testosterone and estrogen) acting upon the muscles. According to Bill Kreamer in the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, women have about 15 to 20 times less testosterone than men (2008). This is the very reason lifting intensely with challenging weights won’t make a women look like a man. Too often, the fear of looking like a professional women’s bodybuilder, whom generally abuse synthetic testosterone (steroids) in high amounts, make women shy away from challenging weights. However, women who train with intense and challenging weights end up with a firm, athletic, slender, and fit look because muscle takes up significantly less volume than fat. If you’re not as slender and tone as you want, chances are it’s because of a faulty or high calorie diet. This is why’s its critical to have a nutrition plan that supports your goals.
Eating for Function
For this section, I want you to think of your body as a bank account. When you’re in a caloric deficiency, it’s like spending more money than you make which is great for weight loss. However, if you continue to spend more money than you make, eventually you’ll max out your credit cards and run out of cash flow. When this happens your weight loss progress will stall. For this reason, whenever you’re in a caloric deficient state it’s critical to include a re-feed day weekly or in some cases twice a week. Think of your re-feed days as paying off your credit card debits. Thus, allowing you to continue to keep spending, or in this case continue to burn fat (Learn more about re-feeds here).
If you’re happy with where you’re at and you simply wish to maintain your figure, then you want to be sure to be consuming an adequate amount of calories for your activity. Think of this as balancing your budget. You’re spending just as much money as you’re bringing in.
Finally, if you want to put on weight you’ll need to consume more calories than you burn, or what’s referred to as being in a caloric surplus state. In this case, it’s like bringing in more money than you spend. You’ll have a surplus of cash flow in your bank account allowing you to pay in full for the items you want (muscle), or in some cases items you may not want (fat).
Whatever your goals are, you need to make sure you’re spending and saving wisely in order to provide your body with the right amount of calories. This will help ensure that you reach your goals.
There’s an overabundance of contradictory women’s bodybuilding information in the fitness world, but by ditching common misconceptions, training intensely with challenging weights, and eating for function, you’ll be able to successfully reach your bodybuilding goals without all the confusion.
National Strength and Conditioning Association (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd ed., Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.