Women Lifting Heavy Things

Tara Penawell Lifting a Heavy Barbell


The fitness industry has changed a lot since the days when doing aerobics videos in the living room was en vogue. Back then, cardiovascular fitness (or cardio) was where it was at. Lifting weights was almost exclusively about bodybuilding and was considered for men.

Fast forward to today, and the landscape has changed. The benefits of strength training are now widely circulated: stronger bones, improved body composition, better posture, and a more “toned” physique. Many people are incorporating resistance training into their workout routines, and women in particular have discovered the power of gaining strength.


Yet, there still is a hesitancy among some women to lift “heavy” weights. In my opinion, this is based on a few things. The first is that it is intimidating. Some of the lifts look challenging to execute and there is a concern about having proper form and safety. This is a legitimate concern and the reason you should build up to these lifts and get proper instruction from a trainer or an experienced person that you trust. It’s important to remember that “heavy” is different for everyone and will change with time as a lifter gains experience. What is heavy now may not be heavy later!

Secondly, there is a persistent idea or misconception that women should lift lighter weights and perform a lot of repetitions to build “long, lean muscle.” The implication is that if you lift too heavy, you’ll end up looking bulky or more muscular.

The truth is that either will build muscle – lifting lighter weights with many repetitions, or heavier for fewer repetitions. Muscle appearing “lean” has more to do with body composition or fat accumulation than training. This is determined largely by nutrition and caloric intake and is not dependent on how heavy you lift.


Women in a fitness class weight training with barbells

The truth is that we should all be more worried about losing muscle mass than gaining it. As we age, weare losing muscle tissue at the rate of 3-8 percent per decade, and it accelerates over the age of 60. This causes decreases in strength, power, function, and overall mobility as we age.

Much of this decline in muscle tissue occurs in the fast-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers are stimulated more by doing things like heavy lifting, sprinting, and jumping. These fibers are built for short, powerful bursts of energy but fatigue quickly. So when you are lifting weights to stimulate these fibers, you keep the number of repetitions low, lift heavy, and take a longer rest.

Heavy lifting in women who are perimenopausal or menopausal helps to regenerate satellite cells or stem cells in the muscle tissue, which helps maintain muscle mass. Generally, the number of satellite cells is strongly correlated with changes in estrogen. As estrogen decreases, so do the satellite cells and so does muscle.


Heavy lifting involves using compound movements like squats, deadlifts, pullups, lunges, and other moves that incorporate more than one muscle group at a time. You would perform 3 to 5 sets of 6 or fewer repetitions with a weight that feels challenging. Every repetition should be performed with good form. And when you can’t keep good form anymore, you stop. After a few minutes of rest, you do it again. Optimally, you’d do this around two times a week.

Heavy lifting is relative. If you are used to doing 12-15 repetitions, it might make sense to try 8-10 reps before going as low as 6 or less. You have to feel it out and get used to the weight and the exercises first.

This type of training may not be for everyone and that’s okay. Lifting weights is one of the best things you can do for your body. So, no matter what form that takes – keep it up!


Tara’s new series ‘Lift Heavy Sh*t: Barbell Training for Women‘, will teach you all you need to know about weight training, in an empowering female environment! You’ll learn basic barbell lifts such as: barbell back squat, bent over rows, deadlifts, landmine presses, Romanian deadlifts and more. Exercises can be modified to meet any level.

Elite Personal Trainer Tara PenawellTara has an extensive background in the health and fitness industry, with over sixteen years working as a personal trainer. Her experience and dedication to acquiring new skills qualify her to serve a wide range of clients. She enjoys the diversity of working with people with different goals and backgrounds. Above all, Tara is passionate about helping people meet their goals and find the joy and satisfaction that comes along with their success.

Tara also teaches weekly fitness classes, as well as virtually. Learn more about Tara’s schedule at the button below!

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