Weight training for women has a common concern: engaging in resistance training may lead to “bulking up” or gaining significant amounts of muscle mass. But this is simply not the case. More likely, it will lead to weight loss.
Gender Affects Muscle Mass
First, I’d like to discuss the basic physiology of women that significantly debunks this concern. Imagine a healthy adult male specimen with an ideal amount of muscle mass. Compare that to a healthy adult female specimen. I’m sure most of you are imagining that the female is overall slightly smaller and has significantly less muscle mass than the male. What other differences are there between the two specimens? They have different reproductive systems. The male reproductive system, more specifically testosterone, is completely necessary for building significant amounts of muscle mass. Testosterone is an anabolic substance; without it, the human anatomy is dramatically less efficient at building muscle mass.
Testosterone Makes the Difference
Taking this into consideration, here’s another scenario. This time, instead of adult male and female specimens, imagine prepubescent male and female children engaging in an identical resistance training program. Theoretically, both children should have similar responses and gains from their training because neither is producing significant amounts of testosterone. Now imagine those same children of similar size and health entering puberty and continuing with their training. Along with the mood swings experienced with the influx of hormones, the male specimen brings testosterone into the equation. As these children continue with their identical resistance training programs, the male should begin building significantly more muscle mass and at a much faster rate, while the female experiences a response to the resistance training similar to the response she experienced prior to puberty.
Genetics Play a Role
I’m implying that if women engage in the same resistance program as men, it is very unlikely that they will experience the exact same response as men. That being said, I am also a firm believer in genetic individuality; certain individuals’ physiology may differ slightly compared to the usual. Although men typically produce more testosterone than women, women do still produce a lesser amount of testosterone from the ovaries and adrenal glands. It’s more than reasonable to assume that a certain percentage of the female population might produce higher than average amounts of testosterone. Although this is possible, it’s also certainly not the norm.
Increased Metabolism Enables Weight Loss
In either scenario, muscle mass requires energy in order to function, whether you are exercising or just moving around the house. Our bodies get this energy from calories, so an increase in muscle mass will lead to an increased rate at which we burn calories, or metabolic rate. Now with an increased metabolic rate, it becomes easier to lose weight!
It’s also important to keep in mind that muscle mass is a dense material and weighs substantially more than fat. Taking this into consideration, the scales won’t necessarily show the results at first. Stay patient and determined, because over time you will notice a physical difference.
Here are some more reasons women need strength training, and more thoughts on why the ultimate goal of weight training isn’t always bulking up, but can instead be a boost to women's health.