Many women avoid the weight racks at the gym because they don’t want to get bulky or “masculine.” But doctors agree: The worry is unfounded, and working out with weights carries substantial benefits.
One study found that strength training is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Doctors say it also helps maintain bone density to ward off fractures, as women are at higher risk for osteoporosis. Developing stronger muscles and tendons will reduce their risk, especially at menopausal age. Prevention initiatives at any age are encouraged.
“Unless they’re taking steroids or steroid supplements, an average woman cannot get as bulky as a man if they’re lifting the same percentage of their body weight,” said Dr. Chris Christakos, a family practitioner at Novant Health Salem Family Medicine. “What bulks men up is testosterone, and women just don’t have as much of it in their body.”
“The benefits far outweigh the risks,” he said.
Kelly McClamrock, a 29-year-old executive assistant at Novant Health, first found her passion for fitness in CrossFit, a branded form of interval training that features a mix of functional movements performed at high intensity.
From CrossFit to heavy lifting
“I feel amazing,” she said. “My body has never looked the way it does now.” She credits her work with weights and other exercise for torching body fat, improving her sleep, and energizing her throughout the day.
“After I did my first CrossFit workout, I was hooked,” she said. That was seven years ago. “I absolutely love it. I’m definitely all for the empowerment of women lifting weights.”
Is she musclebound? No. “If you met me in person, you could tell that I worked out,” she said. “But do I look bulky? Absolutely not.”
Christakos has a few suggestions for getting started. “First, I’d get a trainer,” he said, “and have them teach you proper technique. Then start developing some goals.”
“Even if you’re lifting light,” he said, “as long as you’ve got the right technique, and you’re doing enough repetitions, you can absolutely still benefit.”
“Do something about it”
“Women should do the exercises that they like to do,” said Dr. Ashley Perrott, a fellow family practitioner at Salem Family Medicine. “There are a variety of ways to increase muscle mass and strength. Join a gym and try a bunch of different options to see what works best for you.” Finding what keeps you interested and having fun will help maintain consistency.
“A lot of people think that to make a trip to the gym count they have to spend 90 minutes there,” Perrott added. “But exercise counts as long as you do it for at least 10 minutes of moderate activity. I tell my patients to fit 150 minutes of exercise a week.”
This is also the current guideline for adults established by the World Health Organization. It also recommends that adults should engage in strength training activities two or more days a week.
“Why not push yourself to be the best you can be?” McClamrock said. “If you don’t like something about the way you look, do something about it.”