Posted by: Street | August 9, 2011


I know, I know….”but I don’t want to get bulky.” Do me the pleasure of studying this image below and think about what it is saying:

Allow me to focus on the left side of  the diagram above. On the left side you have pure strength training, where the intensity (i.e. amount of weight) and volume (number of sets/repetitions) are inversely related. This simply means that as one lifts heavier weights, she cannot perform as many reps. Makes sense right? Also, when training with heavier weights, it is generally advised to keep the volume low because of the amount of stress on the body.

Routinely I get asked (or told) the following by women:

1) “I want to lean out and tone up, what should I do?’ Answer: Strength Training program

2) ” My trainer says that I should focus on high reps and low weights for muscle tone.” Answer: Fire your trainer immediately

Let’s examine my prescription for strength training for a minute. If you again look up at the diagram above you’ll see that hypertrophy occurs at the mid-range of volume (8-12 reps) and the mid-range of intensity. Just to clarify, “hypertrophy” is synonymous with “bulky” in lady land. So women, don’t we want to avoid that? I can hear it already, “Well then I’ll just stick with the right side of the diagram, low weights and high reps.” This is me below:

Let me try another angle. Most women I know tend to stick with traditional cardio (i.e. running) in an attempt lose weight and body fat. Running is what you see on the right side of the diagram above. Low weight (your bodyweight) and High repetitions (180 steps/mile roughly?) is running! Most people only recruit 40-60% of their lower body muscle mass when running for distance, so why would you want to do that in the weight room? You are only spinning your tires! You must, must, must train with heavy weights to have an impact on the rest of your muscular tissue. What is the point of going to the weightroom if you are only going to recruit (work) 40-60% of your muscle tissue? Woudn’t it make sense to spend time getting most if not all of your muscle fibers doing work?

But don’t take my word for it, Penn State researchers put dieters into three groups–no exercise, aerobic exercise only, or aerobic exercise and weight training–they all lost around 21 pounds, but the lifters shed six more pounds of fat than those who didn’t pump iron. Why? The lifters’ loss was almost pure fat; the others lost fat and muscle (Campbell 2011). Take home message: LIFTING WEIGHTS IS PRETTY DARN EFFECTIVE.  Furthermore, when lifting very heavy weights, or when performing quick plyometric movements, people recruit nearly all of their muscle fibers, which serves as a training stimulus for the central nervous system. The result is that the muscles increase their rate of force development, getting stronger, quicker, and more powerful. The more effective muscle force production translates into better running economy. Very heavy weight lifting and very few reps focuses on neural adaptation rather than on muscle hypertrophy (bulkiness) because adding muscle mass will decrease running economy (Karp, 2010). DID YOU SAY BETTER RUNNING ECONOMY? You can bet your IT Band Syndrome and shin splints I did! By increasing your ability to produce force and power, you propel yourself better with less effort, which results in faster 5K and 10Ks! Yay!

In summary, lifting heavy weights will help you lose more body fat, increase your ability to run economically, reduce your risk of overuse injuries, and ultimately look sexy in the process.

Did I get through to you yet?




  1. I absolutely agree with this message. As a trainer myself, I get the statement from so many women saying “I don’t want to lift weights, because I just want muscle tone – not bulk”. As I ask further questions, we (the lady and myself) are able to come to agreement that when they say tone, they are indeed referring to muscle definition. Now, having good enough body compesition (low enough body fat) is critical to see the muscle. But, to have any muscle to see, one MUST weight train. And it must be a stimulus that promotes the muscle growth process, resulting in the “tone” that was desired in the first place. So ladies, pick up and begin using those weights, you will be glad you did!

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