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Lift Heavy—Your Body Will Thank You (And Still Look Feminine)

woman at the gym doing bicep curls and learning to lift heavy

I just read this post by a friend of mine, Heidi Smith:

“Today is clean out my closet day—I am finally ready to let go of my ‘skinny clothes.’ Three years ago, I was doing an insane preparation and was the thinnest I’ve ever been. I was weighing my food and tracking everything. To some, that may look like discipline; now I realize that I had put myself in a prison.

I was going to bed starving and having horrible blood sugar crashes. For what? Because I thought to be beautiful was low body fat? I am not naturally thin. I lift. I am active. I never stop moving. I eat healthy. But I have learned that it is okay to enjoy food, and my body wants to be more.

For me to be extra lean, there is a lot of sacrifice that I am no longer willing to make a constant. Remember, every body is different. Having body fat does not mean you are lazy or letting yourself go. Life is too short, and I no longer care if people think that I have let myself go. I am going to let myself live.”

Do Women Get Bulky When They Lift Heavy Weights?

When I began my own lifting journey after my first husband’s death, I was apprehensive. I was told my whole life that you’ll look bulky and not feminine when you lift heavy weights. At the time, all we knew of women lifting were extreme body builders who became the poster for “this is why we don’t lift.” But, of course, that view comes from both extreme dieting, extreme hours in the gym, years of dedication, and, oftentimes, a side of steroids.

The truth? Women can’t get bulky like that without extremes. According to an article in CNET.com, it’s simply not the way our bodies react to healthy weight training. Between our low levels of testosterone and menstrual cycles—it won’t likely happen without an artificial steroid.

Benefits of Weight Training as a Woman

As I began to lift heavy, I noticed something. My arms were sculpted, I moved better, and I generally just liked what I saw in the mirror.

I decided to step on the scale one day and was shocked. My number on the scale—it had not changed. In fact, it had gone up four pounds. I had to fight the intrusive thoughts that flooded my mind right away. I had to use my newfound weightlifting knowledge to combat the feeling of defeat.

1. The adage of “a pound of muscle weighs more than a pound of fat” is wrong. A pound of muscle and a pound of fat are still both one pound. However, a pound of muscle is more dense than a pound of fat. Meaning, it takes up less space in your body. Had I replaced one pound of fat with two pounds of muscle? Very possible. One pound of fat is about the size of a grapefruit. One pound of muscle is about the size of a tangerine.

2. Weightlifting burns more calories than cardio because it can increase your resting metabolism—keeping your body in fat-burning mode even when you are not actively working out.¹ Overall, science has found that those who focus on “strength training lost more fat and had better blood sugar maintenance than those who did cardio or a combination of both.”²

3. Eat more. The more we deprive our bodies of nutrition, the more our bodies react. In fact, when you drop your calorie intake too low, you can cause your body to go into starvation mode—and it will actually store more fat. I eat twice as much as I used to because food is fuel. Without it, we cannot function the way God intended. Stop counting calories. Focus on nutrition.

Why do we continue to focus on a number on the scale and allow it to define us? As we age and after having children, our bodies change. We also need to change our mindset. I am 20 pounds heavier than I was before I had kids. My friend who got rid of her clothes, is about 25 pounds heavier than she was at her leanest.

Both of us were unhappy in our skinny bodies—but now? Both of us are thriving in the bodies that we strive to nourish and strengthen instead of starve.

Resources

¹https://www.businessinsider.com/strength-training-better-cardio-burning-fat-2023-10
²https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37493759/

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

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