Nancy Nutt - Bench Press Champion with some of her hardware.
 “I Want to Tone, But I Don’t Want to Get Too Big” 
 (or “Why Weight Training is Important for Women”)
 by Sasha Meshkov, MS, CSCS 
If you are reading this, you are probably already reaping the benefits of resistance training.  If 
you have not yet begun to incorporate weight training into your exercise program, you may find 
some of your concerns addressed below. 

Common Reservations Many Women Have Regarding Lifting Weights: 

Fear: “I don’t want to get too big and look like a guy - or those women in the muscle magazines!” 

  • Apart from highly dedicated training and dieting, it takes a substantial amount of pharmaceutical enhancement and cosmetic surgery to achieve that look.  Several sessions per week of resistance training alone (even with immaculate nutritional habits) won’t generate extreme muscularity gains for most women. 

Fear: “Once I stop exercising, won’t all that muscle turn to fat?” 

  • Muscle and fat are chemically different substances.  A table won’t turn into a chair without some major structural reorganization.  Muscle cannot alter its composition and turn into fat. Muscle can, however, atrophy from lack of use.  Excess calories can be stored as fat. 
  • The body can’t “store” fitness; it is designed to move!  We don’t say, “Okay, I have breathed enough for a while.  I am bored with breathing” and expect our bodies to continue to function for a significant period of time after our last breath!  Its no different with resistance training.  Exercise, including resistance training (which does not have to consist solely of gym workouts), is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. 
  • Why would you stop exercising?  Ideally, it is fun!  If not, find a way to make it enjoyable! Worst case:  learn to love it! 

Fear: “I don’t want to build; I just want to tone.” 

  • A toned muscle is a muscle with significant endurance and strength. 
  • Women have estrogen in much greater abundance than testosterone.  Estrogen has an atrophying effect on muscle, whereas testosterone has a hypertrophying effect.  For a woman to gain substantial size in most cases, they will have to spend money on more than just a gym membership and a personal trainer... 
  • There is, excluding liposuction, no such thing as “spot reducing.”  Just because you have emotional distress over a particular area of your body does not mean that your body will magically recruit fat from that region to fuel whatever exercise you have selected.  For example, if you have large fat deposits on your thighs, doing hundreds of side-lying leg lifts won’t necessarily “trim n’tone” your thighs. 

Why is Weight Training Essential for Women? 

Physiological Benefits of Weight Training: 

  • Increased lean mass 
  • Increased bone density (and resulting decreased risk of osteoporosis) 
  • Increased connective tissue strength 
  • Increased muscular strength 
  • Increased muscular endurance 
  • Increased metabolism 
  • Increased muscle capillarization 
  • Increased physical capacity 
  • Improved muscle balance 
  • Improved posture 
  • Decreased body fat 
  • Decreased risk of injury 

Psychological Benefits of Weight Training

  • Enhanced kinesthetic awareness 
  • Improved body image 
  • Improved physical appearance 
  • Improved quality of life 
  • Increased confidence 
  • Decreased isolation (much-needed in these “Dilbert “ days of cubicles and computers) 
  • Decreased symptoms of clinical depression 
  • Its fun! 

Ideas to Consider: 

  • Since women lose bone mass at a greater rate than men, weight training is especially crucial.  Typically, after age 35, women lose 1.2% per year, whereas men lose 0.2% per year.  For optimal bone remodeling to occur, significant resistance must be used.  Ideally, this means progressing beyond the light weights used in group fitness classes. 
  • Additionally, the increase in lean mass associated with weight training strongly correlates with a faster metabolism.  This means that women will burn more calories twenty-four hours a day, not just during or immediately following the exercise sessions.  If you consider that a pound of fat contains roughly 3,500 kcals, exercise alone is not the most efficient mechanism to reduce that fat.  However, generating significant metabolically active tissue (muscle) will cause an increase in the basal metabolic rate, thus burning off those excess calories more efficiently! 
  • The bigger question is why DON’T more women weight train?  Most women are stronger than they might suspect.  After all, many women carry babies, kids, groceries, luggage, briefcases, bikes, push lawnmowers, vacuum cleaners, dig up gardens, etc.  They are engaging in some resistance training already!  All that’s left is learning optimal biomechanics, how to use the equipment and how to train to obtain the results they are after!  Plus weight training improves grip strength, so we can open that very important jar of peanut butter by ourselves! 

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me
For further reading on this and related topics, check out our website’s bookshelf! 
Sasha Meshkov, MS, CSCS is Triple Gold Certified through the American Council on Exercise, and is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer.  She has a Master’s Degree in Geophysics.  Sasha is a Continuing Education Provider for ACE and the NSCA.  She is a longstanding member of the ACE Faculty, and is the Program Director of one of the original programs accredited by ACE to prepare students for the ACE Certification Exams almost a dozen years ago.  Sasha was a member of the ACE Aerobics Instructor Certification Exam Committee, and was a Reviewer for the ACE Aerobics Instructor Manual.  She also served as a Reviewer for the National Health Club Association’s Strength, Weight & Cardiovascular Training Certification Manuals. 
     Sasha owned two fitness studios for nearly a decade, and served as the USA Team Coach for the World Aerobics Championships and as US Head Judge for the National Aerobics Championships.  She is an NPC Bodybuilding & Fitness Judge & Emcee. 
     Sasha started powerlifting in 1995.  She competed in the 1997 IPF Worldmaster Powerlifting Championships (9th), the 1997 USPF Senior Nationals (Bronze Medalist in the 60kg) and was the 1996 ADFPA Colorado State Overall Women’s Champion.  After an extended post-World’s dessert festival, she recently competed in a whole new weight class at the 1998 USAPL Women’s Nationals (2nd).  Back down to her normal weight, she discovered that the monoab is not for her. 

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Reproduction of this article, in whole or part, for any purposed other than personal use is prohibited without written consent. Copyright 1998 Sasha& Company, Inc.