10 Reasons Women Should Lift with Barbells
Let me just put this out there in the limelight before we start. Lifting heavy weights will not make you bulky. If you lift for 5-6 hours a day and do multiple heavy lifting sessions per day you may put on a decent amount of muscle. If you take steroids, the ones that build muscle not the ones that reduce inflammation, you will definitely get bulky. If you avoid doing either of things, lifting for 5-6 hours per day and taking performance enhancing drugs, you do not need to worry about getting bulky with muscle.
Let’s just take another moment to celebrate the awesomeness and amazingness that is your physical body. I’m a biology major, and by therefore nerd, and I just can’t help but get lost in thought sometimes about all the fascinating things my body is doing right at this moment. Your body is an intelligent piece of machinery that basically runs on it’s own. That being said, every body is unique and different and runs the show in it’s own way. Working out and lifting weights allows you to become the expert on all things relating to how your body functions. It’s amazing and sometimes eye opening. It’s definitely inspiring. If and when your body begins to build and develop more muscle and stronger muscle, things in your body will change. The way you look will change. There’s nothing you should do to control the way your body decides to look or how it decides to express it’s muscular changes. It just happens naturally. And that’s just a part of the ah-mazing-ness of your body.
Not one of the reasons I will be listing here as a benefit to lifting weights has anything to do with weight loss or helping you to look like someone on TV or in a magazine. The amazing and beautiful process of weightlifting shapes your body into a stronger version of what it already is. You can’t control the way your DNA makes it look, or how fast changes will occur. Your body already has a blueprint for how to handle that, and regardless of what you want, your body is going to change in the exact way that it knows how to. So I invite you to let go of what your body looks like and how it will change. Let go of that control, focus on the work, and the relationship you have with your body will most definitely change to be healthier and more loving.
Another thing to note here are what kind of movements do I mean by barbell lifting? There are so many different things you can do with the barbell to build strength. I’m mostly talking about powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, and a combo of both. Powerlifting includes deadlift, back squat, bench press. Olympic weightlifting includes the snatch and clean and jerk, as well as encompasses front squats, overhead squats, and overhead pressing. Someday soon I’ll write a blog post about the different kinds of barbell lifts. For beginners, stick to the big three (deadlift, squat, press) and build from there.
Okay, now that we got our concerns about being bulky out of the way, let’s talk about why barbell lifts are so good for women!
1. Access to Heavier Weights
There is only so much weight you can lift up to your shoulders with a dumbbell. Barbells allow you to utilize lifting racks, which means you can rack heavier weights at shoulder height in order to squat, press, bench press, etc. The more you can lift, the more you challenge your muscles and body experience, and as a result, the more muscle you build and the stronger you become.
If at this point you’re thinking to yourself, like many women do, that you don’t really want big muscles, you just want to be tone and lean. I would challenge that by asking you, how’s that going for you? The truth is that in order to get tone or lean, you need to build muscle, and to build muscle you need to significantly challenge your muscles by lifting heavy...with a barbell. In fact, for myself, I lose fat and gain definition the fastest when I am regularly lifting heavy weights, not when I do cardio or do 3 sets of 10 with the dumbbells. Access to heavier weights is most likely the fastest solution to getting tone and lean, and (read above) you will not get bulky.
2. Muscle Development That’s Lasting
Am I the only one that thinks about what life will be like in 30-40 years? I know I’m not. So, how do you see your life going at that point? What does the mobility of your body look like? How are you able to lift kids/grandkids/groceries/household items? As you get older, muscle and bone deteriorate, hormones change, and the body doesn’t move like it used to. At older ages it’s harder to get started and to teach your body to learn new things. I know because I’ve seen it in my clients. Developing new and stronger muscles in later years is vastly more difficult than it is in your younger years.
Weightlifting to build muscle is not just something you do once or twice and then check the box and never return to it again. Developing muscle happens when you lift heavy (ie with a barbell), consistently, and over a long period of time. Start now to develop healthy muscle and muscle memory so that when you’re older, you’ll have more muscle to help you continue to move throughout your life. Deterioration of muscle will happen overtime no matter what. That’s just a fact of life. However, the more muscle you have to start, the more muscle you will have as you get older. Not just so that you look a certain way, but so that you can continue to function safely and independently for a longer period of time.
3. Build Stronger Bones
If you haven’t heard by now, women can be susceptible to osteoporosis in later years of their life. As a woman, what can you do to decrease the likelihood of weak bones in the future? Lift weights!
Bone is an amazing structure in your body. Imagine a web of living strands of hard, rock-like matter, woven together so tightly that you can’t distinguish one individual strand from another. That’s bone. The more strands you have woven together, the stronger the material. The less strands you have, the weaker it is. So imagine that as you get older, you lose these very important strands of material that make your bones strong, as a result your bones more likely to break, collapse, and deteriorate. However, (and this is the really cool part about bone), when the boney material becomes challenged with force, impact, breakage, etc, it actually grows and creates more strands in the challenged area. It’s like it can identify the parts of itself that are weak, and grow to make them stronger. It’s amazing, AND it’s a beautiful metaphor.
What this means for you is that the more “stress” you can create for your bones, the stronger they will become overtime, so that you can decrease your likelihood of bone deterioration and osteoporosis in the future. It’s been proven by actual science that resistance training can increase boney matter in women. So why wait?
The very important thing to note is that there are two sides to every situation, too much stress on your bones can be a not so good thing. And too much stress on younger teenagers who are growing can be a not so good either. This does not mean that weightlifting is not safe, or that it’s not safe for kids or teens. In fact, the opposite is true. Weightlifting is perfectly safe for women of all ages. A well-trained coach will be able to safely guide you through weightlifting program that is safe for your own body, and be able to recommend a proper balance so that you experience the right amount of work with the right amount of rest.
4. Improved Technique and Form
When you do a natural body movement with no weight, such as getting up off the couch, rolling out of bed, or picking something up off the ground, the likelihood of injury is *relatively* low. Therefore, these movements don’t require a high level of good form or technique. However, moving poorly even without weights can leave you open for injury, especially as you get older. One wrong bend to pick up a pencil and you can throw your back out!
Learning to lift with weights REQUIRES you to move well. When you first start lifting, the weight should be kept very light so that there is room for error to learn how to move with proper technique and form. Once you improve technique and form, the weight on the bar will begin to increase easily. If you can lift 100 lbs with great form, that pencil will not be as big of a threat to you anymore. Take that old age!
Beyond that, your body has this amazing technique to remember patterns of movement over very long periods of time, hence the term “It’s like riding a bike,” which is something you never forget to do once you’ve learned how to do it. It’s the same with technique and form for lifting. Once you can deadlift with great form, your body and your brain remember how to do it for a very long time, well past your ability to weightlift may diminish. So no matter what stage in life you’re in, you’ll always have proper technique and form to pick up that damn pencil no matter how many times you drop it.
5. Power & Speed
Power and speed are essential if you’re an athlete. If you’re an athlete the need for speed and power is a real and regular pursuit no matter what sport you play. What if you’re not an athlete? Why would you need power and speed? Let that question marinate for a second. How could your life be improved if you have more speed and more power generated by your own body?
Let’s talk about your body for a second. You have an upper body, a lower body, and then a midsection. Your midsection includes vital areas like your abdomen and hips. The only way your upper body and lower body can work together is if your midsection is strong, powerful, and coordinated with what’s above and below. Having a strong, powerful, and coordinated midsection allows your entire body to work as a whole unit. And yet, as a coach I find that many, many, many...many...people do not know how to purposefully and actively utilize their midsection.
I used to work retail, which requires long hours of standing, walking, small and slight shifts as you move things around, pick something up and set it down across the room. There’s not a lot of speed or heavy lifting, but oye, after a shift my lower back would ache so bad I couldn’t sleep. I started lifting weights and my low back pain went away. Why? Because I learned how to effectively use my midsection to generate power and speed. If I can lift heavy things with haste, well than I sure as hell can lift light things slowly. Things like getting up off the floor, throwing a ball, jumping on the trampoline, running and chasing after nieces and nephews, dodging something that’s thrown at me, reacting quickly to the crazy things they decide to do, it all comes easier and pain free since I’ve learned how to generate power and speed from my hips and core.
6. Balance Your Body
Doing one sided movements can be eye opening and revealing. You learn so many things about one side of your body when it has to work on it’s own. This information helps you manage the differences in strength, balance, and coordination between both sides of your body. However, a large majority of the time the limbs of your body work in unison in order to create movement. Both legs are needed to effectively jump, squat, pick things up, and so on. Barbell lifts help you learn how to combine the efforts of your limbs so that they can work together in order to complete a task.
7. Self Education
As a coach, I can explain and teach, draw diagrams, and produce drills, but no matter how many times or different ways that I say it, nothing makes more sense to a person than feeling it in their own body. I absolutely love those moments when the light bulb turns on and I see the face of true understanding on my client’s face. They may say something to me like, “THAAAT’s what you meant by that.” That is a moment of coaching glory. Yesssss!
I’m a firm believer that each individual is the expert of their own body. You have an innate ability to know when something is not right in your own body, which no healthcare or fitness industry professional can tap into. Most of the time, we shut that censor off and ignore any communication from the body. Weightlifting tunes you in, teaches you how to use that information, and requires you to be precise about responding to bodily needs. It keeps you healthy, it keeps you moving safely, and makes you the wise expert of your body. Weightlifting, over time and consistent practice, will tap you into the expertise of your own body.
8. Mental Skills Required
As the weights go up, so does the demand for effective mental skills. In order to achieve success to lift increasingly heavier weights it takes consistency, discipline, level headedness, physical flexibility as well as mental, and the ability to check your ego at the door. Mindfulness is one of the most essential mindset practices, as it allows you to have some say so about the state of your mind before you approach the barbell. When you are mindful, you hear the things you say to yourself and you have an opportunity to change what the conversation sounds like. When you’re mindful and more self aware, you have the opportunity to interact with fear, rather than shove it away where it will certainly undermine you.
Outside of the mental skills required to actually perform the lifts inside the gym, your mental perspective outside the gym changes as well. Food starts to look like fuel and the relationship with it becomes less emotional. Your body becomes a machine that you enjoy maintaining with stretching, yoga, rest, and other healthy activities. Your workouts become an essential therapy process that you *get* to do instead of have to do. You may notice that you approach other tasks in life with the same amount of energy, vigor, and decisiveness that you learn to have when weightlifting. With weightlifting comes better mental skills, with better mental skills comes a happier and healthier overall lifestyle.
9. Confidence Building
I almost lumped this concept in with the previous section on mental skills. Although it seems related to mental skills, I feel that it is something entirely different. I see mental skills just like any other skill that you can practice and develop overtime. However, confidence is not a skill, it’s a result. Confidence is it’s own separate belief system that is experienced in your psyche and subconscious. Confidence is a belief in one’s self and a sense of trust that comes through experience. Confidence is very similar to faith and hope. Confidence is a reflection of the quality of the relationship you have with yourself.
It’s helpful to look at the relationship you have with yourself like you would any other relationship. Confident relationships aren’t built by force, desire, nice words, or even time. Having the right mental tools and skills may make obtaining a strong relation more accessible, however, the mental tools and skills are not the relationship itself. Relationships are built with quality time, love, compassion, positive experience, effective reflection, surviving difficult times, feeling accepted rather than judged. In this way mental skills may assist you in gaining more confidence, however confidence is not the skill. Confidence is a term used to describe the quality of the relationship you have with yourself. Through the up’s and down’s process of weightlifting, skills are acquired that will help you build a more confident relationship with yourself. Most of the time, you aren’t even aware that this process is going on, because it’s not something you have to force. It’s just one of the many ways that weightlifting organically and naturally improves the overall quality of your life.
10. Community of Strong Women
Last, but certainly not least. By engaging in barbell lifting you become a stronger more refined version of yourself. You turn yourself from aimless to laser focused, uncertain to confident, slumped to super motivated, lax to disciplined, lazy to energized, unproductive to achieving success. Why would you want to do this in a lonely bubble by yourself? Your personal success is amplified by more than a bazillion when it’s shared with a community. Not only is it amazing to be surrounded by empowering women who are doing the exact some transformations as you, but (and I can’t stress this enough) there are also other women out there who need what you bring to the table. Whether it’s so they can relate to your struggle, or so they can be inspired by success, it doesn’t matter. What matters in the end is that we share our amazing success with others, and they bring others along the way to find their own success.
Through weightlifting, women can make the world an entirely better place. I believe that with my heart and soul, a thousand gajillion percent.
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