By Carrie Sloan
You’ve probably heard this "advice" before, ladies: When it comes to your gym routine, stick to cardio. Lifting real weights could leave you looking like Wolverine! After all, if you stray from "ladylike" exercises -- you know, Pilates, yoga, spin class -- you just might morph into one of those hairy, grunting gym beasts you spy doing dead lifts and walking away without wiping up their sweat. Worse yet, you might sprout a neck like a tree trunk -- with muscles to match.
The Rumor: Unless they want to sport more muscles than curves, women shouldn't lift weights.
Is the rumor true? For answers, we turned to an expert: personal trainer Rowdy Yates, a fitness manager at Crunch Fitness in New York City.
The Verdict: It’s nearly impossible to turn a woman into a She-Hulk.
“I always tell people I can guarantee fat loss, but muscle gain is a much more difficult goal to achieve,” says Yates. “If a female says, 'I want to gain muscle,' that’s the toughest goal I can imagine.”
Because women have lower levels of testosterone (which helps build muscle mass) than men, it's harder for ladies to build muscle tissue in the first place. “Your body,” says Yates, “is working against the goal of ‘bulking up.’”
However, there are several good reasons for women to pump iron instead of run on a treadmill, whether the goal is better-fitting pants or better long-term health.
First, an overwhelming commitment to cardio alone can actually cause you to burn muscle, not fat.
“Cardio queens" (as Yates calls them) might do their routine six times a week, but won’t see any difference in their physiques. That’s because they’re losing lean tissue. “Eventually,” he explains, “cardio is just going to keep you from gaining weight -- not help you lose more.”
Lifting weights, on the other hand, burns calories more efficiently. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who weight-trained burned an average of 100 more calories 24 hours after their training sessions ended, even if they were just parked on the couch. (Now that’s a fun way to burn fat.) In fact, the only thing you’ll gain by lifting weights is a few clean, defined lines (think: Michelle Obama’s arms).
There are other long-term benefits as well. Research has shown that weight training will not only prevent bone loss and osteoporosis-related fractures, but women who lifted weights for a year actually saw significant increases in the bone density in their spine and hips.
But word to the wise: If you’re out of shape or new to lifting, ask for help. This needn’t mean shelling out for a personal trainer; most gyms will offer a free assessment before you belly up to the barbells.
Yates's top tip for losing weight? Find a workout you like. “There’s no right or wrong way to resistance train,” he says. “It’s not just free weights anymore. You’ve got power yoga, Pilates, TRX, kettlebells.” Once you pinpoint a routine you enjoy, you’ll be amazed at how fast the pounds melt off.