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Why Women Need to Weight Train
by Janiss Garza

We all know how necessary exercise is to maintain fitness for a lifetime. What many people don't realize, however, is that exercising is a threefold endeavor: it involves cardio, flexibility and strength training. Some forms of cardio exercise are walking, running, aerobic dancing, swimming, or any of those machines at the gym — treadmills, ellipticals, stationery bikes and the like. Flexibility involves stretching, generally after a workout, but also as exercise on its own in a practice such as Yoga. And of course, there's strength training, done by picking up a barbell or pair of dumbbells, hitting the gym's weight machines, using resistance bands or tubing, or just using your own body weight.

(Article continued below.)

Women are often eager to embrace a walking program or to take Yoga classes, but to this day many of us still shy away from weight training. This is unfortunate, since we women need to build strength and muscle tone at least as much as men do. Many of us don't understand what weight training really is, and why it is so beneficial. Instead, women often buy into misconceptions that the fitness industry is still working to overcome.

Here are a few of the more prevalent myths:

1. If I lift weights I'll look like one of those muscle bound bodybuilding women... or even worse, like one of those muscle bound bodybuilding guys!

This is one of the biggest lies, and one that refuses to die. Those musclemen and women spend hours in the gym, lifting extremely heavy weights to build the huge muscles they have. They eat Spartan diets of broiled chicken breasts (no skin, of course), a half cup of plain rice and steamed broccoli. They often supplement this regimen with hefty doses of steroids. Unless a woman is planning to do all of this — and providing she is "genetically gifted" besides — she is not going to get big muscles. Hormonally, most women just don't have the testosterone to grow big, manly muscles, and the majority of people in general also don't have the dedication (or desire) to work for mega muscle growth, either.

Doing weight exercises with 3 to 10 pound weights 3 times a week is only going to give a woman attractive muscle tone and help her to lose body fat. (Losing body fat is different — and better — than merely losing pounds. The fat is what you want to get rid of most, and weight training will do this far better in the long run than doing cardio exercise alone.) Now, a leaner physique is something that most of us would like to have!

That said, there is always the exception to the rule — the woman who says, "I did weights and my arms and thighs got huge!" There's a simple answer for that very small percentage of women — train lighter and less frequently. Concentrate more on core exercises like Pilates and use weight training as a supplement. Women who tend to get big also need to watch their diet — sometimes they are eating more without realizing they are overcompensating for the extra activity of weight training. The rest of you women — if you know what's good for you, pick up those dumbbells and get moving.

2. If I weight train, I'll get stiff, inflexible and unfeminine.

That's related to the misconception that weights give you manly muscles. The truth is that it's improper weight training that reduces flexibility. If you weight train the right way, using proper form, full range of motion and stretching the muscles worked when you are done, your will keep your flexibility — you may even enhance it. In addition, you will have better posture, have better balance because you have increased strength, and walk with more grace and confidence. All this makes you look more, not less, feminine.

3. Weight training is boring!

There are, literally, hundreds of different traditional weight-training exercises. Because trainers have gotten creative in the past few years, there are now an infinite number of ways to use just one pair of dumbbells. If you set up a workout properly, you won't have time to get bored because you are focused and you are working towards a goal. You know which body parts you are working, you know which exercises you are doing that day, and you know which weights you are going to use. Exercise is like planning a trip — you need to know how you are going to reach your destination, and there are many different ways to get there. You can fly, take the train, or drive. You can use classic exercises like squats, crunches and bicep curls or you can use the weight machines at your gym, or you can get creative with a stability ball or other equipment. There are DVD workouts for every taste, from instructors like Jari Love and Tom Holland who offer up tried-and-true (and effective!) exercises, to unusual toning routines like Self's Bikini Ready Fast! or the fat-burning blend of The Firm's impressive workouts. Boring is a state of mind; you'll be surprised how different things look through a changed attitude and a mind open to all possibilities.

So we've explained away some of the most common myths women have about weight training. But why is weight training so necessary for us? Click here for Part 2 of this feature

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