Can You Build Muscle Without Heavy Weights?
I speak to plenty of women who avoid lifting weights for fear of getting too bulky. Okay, looking like the Hulk is probably not the result most women are working towards, but there are huge advantages to adding weight training to your fitness routine. And no, you won’t suddenly tear all of your t-shirt sleeves apart!
Ladies, it’s time to stop being scared of lifting weights. I’m going to talk you through your fears and help you see why building muscle and using weights can help you feel better every day.
Building muscle does NOT equal bulking up
Firstly, let’s bust the myth that weight training makes you bulk up. I want to be clear about this right from word go: building muscle takes work. Building LOTS of muscle takes a bunch of hard work. No one wakes up looking like The Rock overnight. The average person’s diet and workout isn’t going to get you those kinds of results. Most bodybuilders spend hours in the gym lifting heavy weights and also follow a really strict diet that assists with muscle gain.
Because women naturally have lower testosterone levels than men, building lots of muscle generally takes a carefully controlled diet and lots of (heavy) resistance training. This means that it’s unlikely for you to ‘accidentally’ build yourself a bulkier or more muscular body.
I cannot tell you how many clients come to me saying they want to ‘tone up’. So here’s the lowdown — toning is building muscle! With resistance exercises, you may be able to achieve this faster, plus there are many other benefits. I’ve talked about some of the reasons to start weight training before, from increased strength to heart health.
“But I’ve never lifted weights before.” you say. Don’t worry, you’re not alone! A great starting point to help build your physical strength is bodyweight training. You don’t need any special equipment. These exercises use your own body weight and can be done almost anywhere! As you get stronger, they can also be modified for an extra challenge. In fact, bodyweight training is the foundation of my High Intensity Zero Equipment program
Some common styles of bodyweight exercises include push ups, squats, planks and lunges. The SWEAT app also recommends plyometric training to help increase your strength and power. Because of the simplicity of these exercises, you can easily move from one to the other, maximising your workout in a short space of time. Just make sure you aren’t skimping on the cool down!
Free weights & weight machines
Some of those weight machines can be scary, especially if you’re new to weight training. If you’re not sure about the correct way to use any gym equipment, please ask one of the trainers. Improper use may lead to injury, so getting your technique right is important!
While weight machines are great for some moves, free weights allow for a greater range of movement. One problem with weight machines is they’re not really designed with different body types in mind. A number of weight machines are awkwardly sized for women, which can make them even more difficult to use. This isn’t a problem with free weights, they offer more flexibility and can be used for a variety of exercises.
If you don’t have access to a gym, there's a lot of versatile home gym equipment you can use, or you can substitute household objects instead of weights. Just make sure you carefully select these items and that you grip them safely.
So, is lifting light weights the way to go?
Sorry girls, it’s not that simple. Lifting lighter weights and using more repetitions is a great place to start. This will give you time to work on the proper weightlifting technique. Beginners who are just starting out may prefer to build their strength and general fitness first, using bodyweight exercises instead.
I want to point out that having the right technique is very important, so starting out with lighter weights is a great way to get this right. Generally, if your reps feel about a 7/10 in difficulty for a specific rep range, then I’d say you’re on the right track. Aim for quality over quantity in the way you complete your repetitions. Once you have the technique right and find the routine is getting easier, gradually increase the weight you’re lifting.
Picking up weights for a set number of repetitions won’t instantly cause bulk, even if the weights are on the heavier side. In fact, lifting heavy weights places more demands on your body, which can kick a number of positive changes into gear. For example, hormone regulation can improve, you can retain bone mass and high blood pressure can be reduced. With lighter weights, your body doesn’t necessarily have the same stress (the good kind) to trigger these physical changes.
As I often tell clients, creating the toned look that many women are after takes more than the occasional run. To lose weight and build lean muscle, I recommend using weight training as part of a healthy lifestyle and fitness routine.
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.