Don't be intimidated: Weight training not just for men

Lisa Reicosky

For women looking to lose weight, get healthier or feel better about themselves -- both mentally and physically -- adding some weights to your workout routine may be the ticket.

Weights can be intimidating. How do we get started, and how do we avoid getting bigger instead of smaller?

First, strength training will not bulk you up.

“You would have to take testosterone or steroids to get bulky,” said Melissa Rife, a personal trainer. “Actually, the opposite occurs since the muscles get tighter and leaner.”

What weight training will do, she said, is make your body burn more calories, even at rest.

“It increases your metabolism. There’s a better carryover, which means the muscles keep burning calories after you’re done,” she said.

That’s great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there’s even more advantages to adding strength to your routine.

Strong muscles mean better posture, and weight training helps fight osteoporosis by promoting bone growth.

It’s best for beginners to start with very light weights, like one, three, or five pounds, in order to work on proper form.

“One of the biggest mistakes women make is with their form,” said Kim Wagler, who owns a fitness center with her husband, Chad. “They won’t get the benefit (of the weights) because of poor form.”

Rife recommends that beginners start with these basic exercises: Bicep curls, rows, push-ups, squats, lunges, crunches, a tricep exercise, leg raises, calf raises, and shoulder raises.

Start with one or two sets of eight to 10 repetitions, with a minute rest between each set. Work your way up to three sets. If it is too easy, add reps or weight.

“The last couple of reps should feel challenging,” Rife said. “If you’re starting out struggling at the third or fourth rep, that’s when you’ll get hurt.”

Beginners will probably notice muscle soreness the next day or two. Rife said the pain should be gone before you work those muscles again.

“When you start, three times a week is good. The other days, do cardio. Don’t overdo it or you’ll get hurt,” Rife said. “Also, ‘No pain, no gain’ is not the way to approach exercise. Pain is a flag that something is wrong and that activity should be stopped.”

One more important thing to know before you start: You can’t “spot reduce.”

That means, said Wagler, “You have to do a total workout. People think they can do 100 exercises for abs and get flat abs.”

Both recommend that beginners get professional instruction before staring a routine. If that’s not possible, several Web sites offer instruction on exercises.

“The Web site I like to use is,” recommends Rife. “Put in strength training in the search block. It has good info and it has pictures of the various exercises. People can also use it to look up other info on various forms of exercise and health. “

Strength-training tips

- Reduce your body fat, increase your lean muscle mass and burn calories more efficiently.

- Develop strong bones. By stressing your bones, strength training increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. If you already have osteoporosis, strength training can lessen its impact.

- Control your body fat. As you lose muscle, your body burns calories less efficiently, which can result in weight gain. The more toned your muscles, the easier it is to control your weight.

- Reduce your risk of injury. Building muscle protects your joints from injury. It also helps you maintain flexibility and balance -- and remain independent as you age.

- Boost your stamina. As you grow stronger, you won’t fatigue as easily.

- Improve your sense of well-being. Strength training can boost your self-confidence, improve your body image and reduce the risk of depression.

- Get a better night's sleep. People who strength-train regularly are less likely to struggle with insomnia.