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A common misconception I get from a lot of women is that strength training will make them big & bulky like men. Their thought process usually goes something along the lines of ‘I want to tone up without getting bulky so I’ll just stick to doing cardio and lifting the pink 1Kg dumbbells.’ But is this approach really the best way for you to get that toned look you desire? Or are there better, alternative options?
Two common Misconceptions
Firstly, no one exercise makes you bulky. Eating too much food is what will. Stop focusing on the 1% of women who lift who are ‘bulky’ & instead look at the 99% who lift who are ‘shaped & toned’ as you desire to be.
Secondly, there’s no such thing as a male and female squat – it’s just called a squat! Sex-specific moves do not exist. The basic principles of strength training apply to both men & women – priming your body for exercise by warming up properly, moving with good technique and doing the fundamental movement patterns. It’s the same for both. This is why men & women do not need to train differently – the main difference will be that women find it harder to pack on muscle than men.
Why results are different & how i differentiate between Doing out male & Female Programs
Men’s testosterone levels means that they naturally will find it much easier to add muscle to their frames than women. Even if your goal was to get big & bulky like the 1%, you would find it so much harder than a guy following the exact same program. In fact, I’m sure there’s women out there who compete at powerlifting etc. that feel insulted when they hear the ‘I don’t want to get bulky’ rant because they train so hard to get ‘bulky’ yet still find it hard to get there.
The two biggest considerations I’d have when designing female training plans is the use of bodyweight exercises & your actual goals. Upper body exercises in particular such as push ups & chin ups are advanced exercises so women do find it harder to make progress with them. But it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do them, it just takes longer to make progress at them than men. Secondly, if a girl does want to emphasise building certain areas over others such as glutes, quads, abs etc., that is fine. Everyone has different goals in mind but the same principles still apply.
Now that we know that sex-specific moves do not exist & that there’s no need for men & women to train differently, let’s look at some of the benefits there are to strength training for both men and women. These benefits apply to both sexes – you can increase your strength, drop bodyfat, get leaner & more toned and in general improve your fitness. All by following a structured program.
Trying to grow your glutes?
With regards to exercising and exercise selection, women generally prefer to train lower body more than men who tend to prefer to train upper body. However, that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t train their upper body and vice-versa! A common sight on instagram or in the gym is seeing women doing 100 rep sets of kickbacks or side-lying leg raises to get a ‘burn’ and grow the glutes. Here’s something they need to know: the glute max is the biggest muscle in the body. So, if you want to grow it, it responds well to strength training (like this exercise). 100 rep sets of kickbacks or leg raises might give you that ‘burn’ but that burn isn’t necessarily always effective. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do these exercises, but they should be something you add to the end of your session, not the main exercise.
That shape and toned look you desire comes from adding muscle to your body. Muscle is the thing that gives your body shape in the absence of bodyfat. So how do you add muscle? By strength training! And how do you get rid of bodyfat? By being in a caloric deficit. Adding some cardio can help here also but there’s no need to over-do it.
Hopefully this helps clarify a common misconception among women that you get ‘big and bulky’ from lifting weights. Stop focusing on the 1%. If you follow a program which emphasises a combination of strength, hypertrophy, core and some conditioning work, you will not get big and bulky. Couple this with a good diet & you will get that ‘shaped and toned’ look you desire. And by the way, one last thing - shaped and toned is another way of saying getting stronger!
Have any questions?
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Adrian McDonnell -
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