I am often asked by women who want to “lose weight and tone up” about weights and reps. There is a common idea out there that women should lift light weights at high repetitions, or they will end up “looking like a man.” The truth is that men and women with similar goals can do identical weights programs, in the same rep ranges, and end up with lean, strong physiques which are appropriately masculine or feminine. Whether you exhibit masculine or feminine characteristics has far more to do with your physical gender and hormone levels than how heavy you lift.
For both men and women who want a natural, lean physique, but who may not have been active for some time, the first step is to start to learn the basics of weights training and establish a foundation of strength, stability and co-ordination. This ensures that you stay safe and avoid injuries when you start more intensive lifting later on. Initially, this does mean performing high-reps with body-weight or light weights. Once good form and stability have been established, which can take around eight weeks depending on the individual, the next step is to focus on growing lean muscle mass. This is where the average female client who wants to look like a Victoria’s Secret model freaks out and tells me that she doesn’t want to “look like a man.” But growing lean muscle mass is essential to boosting the metabolism and creating the lean, toned look these women are after. This is not to say that we are going to pursue muscle growth indefinitely. There will come a time when a client who is training to look a certain way will have built enough muscle and burnt enough body-fat and will be happy with their level of muscle definition, and the shape they have created. At this point, it’s time for maintenance.
While you are in the muscle-building, fat-burning stage, however, you should aim to lift weights which are heavy enough to cause you to fatigue within eight to twelve repetitions. If you are able to achieve fifteen or more repetitions in two sessions in a row, without assistance from your spotter, it’s time to increase the weight.
Once you are happy with the muscle mass you’ve created, which may take months, depending on your level of dedication regarding diet and the frequency and intensity of your weights sessions, it’s time to go into maintenance mode. This is where you can be more creative and flexible and have more fun with your strength sessions. Lower-weights at higher repetitions become appropriate here, as do circuits, isometrics and plyometrics, power-lifting and stability exercises. Variety is important in this stage to keep you interested and motivated to maintain the physique which you have worked so hard to create, and to avoid the dreaded “plateau” by continually providing different challenges for your body to adapt to.
Do you use weights in your training? What guidelines do you follow?