When it comes to females and strength training, there are a ton of questions that have been asked.
Today, Cydney Bushue, a top ranked female powerlifter is answering these questions from her perspective.
Table of Contents:
- Isn't strength training only for men?
- How heavy should I be lifting?
- Will it increase my chance of injury?
- Am I going to 'bulk up' if I start strength training?
- How do I conquer the fear of entering the weights section when it’s dominated by men?
- Where can I learn the right technique?
- How should I warm up before a weight session?
- Do I have to diet when I start with weight training?
- How long breaks and how many sets/reps should I be doing?
- Can weight training help me get a six pack?
Isn't strength training only for men?
Absolutely not. Strength training is for anyone and everyone. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself to stave off the effects of old age, heart disease, obesity, etc. In my honest opinion, I believe that everyone should be participating in some form of lifting. Do you know how it feels to walk into a gym and feel like a whole badass? It’s amazing.
Another added benefit is developing your muscles, toning, and for those who enjoy powerlifting, like myself, lifting some insane weight. It’s a great confidence booster and it always gives me a goal to strive for. I’m always pushing myself to be bigger and better.
How heavy should I be lifting?
Well, that all depends on what your primary goals are. For me, I want to lift as much weight as I possibly can when I compete in powerlifting meets. In my off season, when I’m not preparing to compete, I typically do some heavier volume work anywhere from 75-90 percent of my max. You’ll find that in time 90 percent will start to feel easier as you get stronger. During my peak, I’ll typically stay within the 85 percent to max effort lifts.
For someone who is using this as just a means to stay healthy or be fit, you typically won’t max out as often and you would be doing more volume based work. You would still get stronger, but each goal requires a different means of lifting weights. As always, you should make sure that your form is a priority so you don't injure yourself.
Will it increase my chance of injury?
If you’re paying attention to your form and not trying to pr every two weeks then no. Just make sure that you’re properly warming up and wearing your belt, sleeves or wrist wraps (should you need them) before you lift any big weights.
In my 5 years of powerlifting I have not sustained a single serious injury. This is because I took the time to focus on the things I wasn’t good at and practice performing them with better technique. For example, my chest tends to go down when I squat heavier weights, so I might incorporate some safety squat bar work into my program.
Also, pay attention to your body. I can not stress this enough. If your body hurts (not sore. There is a difference), then back off on the weight or cut your workout a bit short. Training on an injury in the hopes that it will go away or you’ll forget about it while you're working out is the easiest way to get hurt.
Am I going to 'bulk up' if I start strength training?
Not necessarily. It all depends on what you do. Not everyone's body is going to tone the same either. For me personally, I got fairly muscular when I started lifting, and my genetics had a very heavy role in that. Although to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But there are other women out there pulling the same numbers as myself and they don't have that insanely wide frame.
If you’re just trying to tone up, then you would probably look at different styles of programming to see what suited your wants and needs the best.
How do I conquer the fear of entering the weights section when it’s dominated by men?
Honestly, the gym can be a very intimidating place, especially to someone who is new to lifting. One of the best things that I did for myself when I started lifting was bringing a friend with me. Having him there reduced my anxiety by a longshot. Eventually I tapered off, switched from a commercial gym to a powerlifting gym and started working around new people. Don’t be afraid to go up and talk to people, ask for a spot or ask to work in with someone. Every single person in that gym is there to get better in some way or another, just the same as you.
Another thing that really helped me was researching my workout and going in with an understanding of how to complete my workout. It helped me better navigate my environment and get comfortable with operating some of the cable machines. You could also do what I did and wear your headphones. Focus on yourself and your goals.
I will say that nowadays powerlifting is becoming a very female populated sport. There are some amazing and strong female lifters out there and they all started somewhere. It takes years to get where we’re at. Stick to your guns and put effort into your training.
Where can I learn the right technique?
For some of your smaller accessory movements, you could look to sites such as bodybuilding.com or Youtube. Look for that particular accessory and how to best perform that movement. If you’re new to the lifting game, you could always start with a generic introductory 4 to 8 week program and get a feel for the sport.
You could also invest in a coach. I myself am coached by one of the best in the business. You want to invest in someone who has your best interests in mind. You should be looking for someone who helps you improve your form, and pays attention to things like fatigue, stress, being hurt or overly sore.
How should I warm up before a weight session?
Stretching is a key factor to reducing the chances of injury. Warm up anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes before attempting any heavy lifts. You may not notice a difference but your body will thank you down the road. You can also do a mini 5 minute session on a recumbent bike to warm your muscles up.
Also when you’re warming up with your main movements, take reasonable jumps in weight. There’s no reason you should be throwing random heavy weight on the bar and rolling with it.If you aren’t warmed up and you just decide to max out, you may injure yourself.
A lot of people don’t realize that your sleep quality can either make or break your workout. Life happens, we can’t sleep well or sleep 8 hours every night. But, the better quality sleep you get, and the more rested you feel, the more you can get out of your workout.
Do I have to diet when I start with weight training?
Nutrition, for most (including myself), is one of the hardest parts when it comes to lifting and being healthy. If you eat like trash, you’re not going to perform at your best. Your macros are there to provide you with the amount of protein, fats and carbs to make it through your day. Not only are they set up to help you perform at your best but nutrition can play a massive role in your recovery as well.
How long breaks and how many sets/reps should I be doing?
It all depends on what you’re doing. For barbell movements (unless you’re doing speed work) you would typically take 3 to 5 minutes in between each set. For your accessory movements you should try to keep your rest time anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute.
I usually recommend mid/heavy volume work. It builds up your stamina, teaches you to perform better under pressure. Another thing it can do is help alleviate some breakdowns in your form. Every rep should be performed as if you’re going for a single.
If you’re prepping for a meet, then you would usually do heavier sets of 1-3 that would be closer to your one rep max. An important note to remember is that your total is built in the accessories. Don’t skip that part of your workout.
Can weight training help me get a six pack?
Abs aren’t for everyone. Some people can stay lean and be toned enough to have abs. Others can just bulk in a way. If you’re good enough with your nutrition and gym schedule, you can absolutely develop abs. You just need to be aware that this takes a lot of willpower and self control.
The Final Thought
While strength training may not be for everyone, we hope that this gave you some insight into the weight room just a bit more.
If you have any questions about powerlifting and strength training, please let us know and we will help you however we can.
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