What Makes Muscle, Keeps Muscle. Why Women Should Lift Heavy Things.

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Kate walked into Cressey Performance last weekend literally hugging her copy of The New Rules of Lifting for Women. “You HAVE to make this required reading for any woman who trains here,” she said. “Tony, everything you tell us not to do, is right here in this book – it’s amazing.”

In all honesty, Lou Schuler, Alwyn Cosgrove, and Cassandra Forsythe did me a huge favor when they wrote that book. Now, instead of resisting the urge to want to swallow a grenade every time a woman states that she’ll get “big-n-bulky” if she lifts anything over ten pounds, or asks me why I don’t like slow, drawn-out, steady state cardio for fat loss, I can just tell them to go to their local bookstore or log onto amazon.com and buy the book.

Likewise, whenever I’m at a party or a get together, and someone finds out what I do for a living (cue theme music from Jaws playing in my head), and they ask, “so um, yeah, how do I get into shape?” I just tell them to go buy the book, and I move on with my life.

All kidding aside (even though I’m not really kidding), when it comes to training women, they’re usually caught off guard when I basically tell them to do the exact OPPOSITE of what they’ve been doing for the past 5-15 years. Which is:

  • Pick up heavy things off the floor.
  • Sometimes, lift said heavy things over your head.
  • Eat more calories
  • Get off the treadmill. Seriously, get off.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, but I don’t think I’m that far off. I had a really great conversation with Experience Life Magazine editor, Jen Sinkler, last week about women and training, and one of the questions she asked me was, “why do you advocate for women to lift heavier weights in order to get that more “toned look.”

Jen’s smart – she knows that there really is no such thing as “toned.” Really, all we’re talking about when someone says the word toned, is improved body composition. Or, as I like to call it, being less fat. Sorry, it’s true. But for the sake of argument, and because “toned” is the buzz word that most magazines use (and most women recognize), we’ll roll with it.

In short, what makes muscle, keeps muscle. The amount of muscle needed to lift a weight that allows you to perform 20-100 reps (think pink dumbbells, and Tracy Anderson) is so insignificant compared to the amount of muscle needed to lift a weight that limits you to say, eight reps – that it’s no wonder many women end up spinning their wheels for years on end.

Seriously, stop and think about it. For many, it’s not uncommon to carry around a purse that weighs more than a tank on a daily basis. Likewise, they carry groceries, move furniture around, carry their children, or any number of daily “life” stuff that requires them to lift heavy things. However, when asked to lift a barbell, and label it “exercise,” they immediately drop down in the fetal position and think they’re going to turn into some she-man. It’s absurd.

Lifting appreciable weights, in essence, “signals” the body to KEEP muscle. This point alone is crucial considering that many women have been chronically dieting since 1994. This is why I feel lifting heavier weights is the key to the look that most women are after. They start to lose some body fat, MAINTAIN lean body mass, and PRESTO MAGICO – muscle appears.

In the end, it comes down to this: continue what you’ve always done, and you’ll continue to get what you’ve always gotten. In other words, if performing endless repetitions of pink dumbbells and spending an inordinate amount of time on the cardio machines and taking step aerobics classes hasn’t done anything for you in five years, why would doing MORE OF THE SAME change anything?

Which brings us back to Kate. Kate first started with us a few months ago after a male friend of hers finally convinced her to step outside her comfort zone and give us a try.

Understandably, she was a little reluctant at first. Here I was telling her to lift this, flip that, throw those – all in an effort to get her in tip top shape for her wedding this Fall. It rocked her world to be told that she didn’t have to spend an entire day on an elliptical trainer (and that she could actually eat a carb). As the weeks have passed, she’s addicted, and states how training at CP is the highlight of her week. Well that, and my uncanny wit and charm, of course.

As such, she’s seen a dramatic difference in her appearance – she’s leaner, stronger, and no one will dare bring a +1 to her wedding and live to tell about it!

Above is a video taken last weekend of her “finisher” circuit she completed after her regular training session:

  • Sloshpipe Carry – 80 yds (PVC pipe filled 3/4 with water)
  • Overhead Sledgehammer Hits x 8/side
  • Tire Flips x 10

Awesome. I love to see women getting after it! Nice work Kate!