Put down the pink dumbbells and step away from the bench!

I go to the gym quite a bit, and I see so many women using lightweight dumbbells that they could probably lift in their sleep.  I get lots of complements on my arms, and let me tell you, I didn’t get them from using dumbbells that a small child could lift.  Many women have misconceptions about weight training, so I want to outline the benefits and bust the myths that are out there keeping you from looking and being your best.

When you do resistance training, with your own body weight, dumbbells, machines or exercise bands, you stress the muscle causing micro-tears. The body then goes into repair mode, and anticipating it will need to withstand a similar or even heavier load, it rebuilds the muscle bigger and stronger.  If you consistently work out with a weight that is too light and isn’t challenging (an easy 20 repetitions for example) your muscles will not be stressed or injured, and the cycle of injury, repair and rebuilding won’t happen.  The result is, you may be working out a lot but you won’t see any changes in your body.  That’s no fun!

“But I don’t want to get big and bulky.”  I hear this all the time from women who are afraid of lifting heavy weights. Not gonna happen. Only the very genetically gifted woman will get close to what you might call “bulky” and that is only if she trains consistently and with heavy weights and eats appropriately to fuel muscle growth. For the vast majority of women, this is not the case. In general, women do not get bulky because they lack enough of the hormone testosterone, which supports muscle growth. That’s why your man is naturally bigger and stronger than you (unless of course you are a female bodybuilder and he is a couch potato).  You just don’t have the hormones to produce that kind of muscle growth easily. Let me tell you I have had to work extremely hard (in the gym and in the kitchen) to get the level of muscle I have, which isn’t near “bulky.”

Although you won’t get big and bulky, you will create shapely, toned muscles, which will transform the way your body looks.  Nice rounded shoulders create the illusion of a smaller waist and look great in sleeveless tops. Working your legs and butt will make your tush round, high and tight and set off your favorite pair of jeans. Your body at the exact same weight will look tighter and leaner, because muscle is much more dense (and less bulky!) than fat.

This photo shows the jiggly jello like fat next to the firm and much smaller sized muscle – both are the same weight. Beyond the aesthetic, or eye candy benefits, the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at rest, contributing to your weight loss efforts. Studies have shown that strength training can benefit your heart, improve your balance, strengthen your bones, increase your energy, boost your mood and help you lose weight.

So make sure you challenge yourself.  Doing 8-15 repetitions is ideal, but make sure that your last few repetitions are very difficult but doable.  If you employ a well rounded program which includes resistance and cardiovascular training, along with a good clean diet, you will see results, including increased strength, muscle definition, – Michele Obama arms anyone? – and a shapely, firm body overall.

So drop the pink dumbbells, ok?