A Woman Using A Barbell While Doing A Squat In The Gym

How to Address the Myths Around Weightlifting for Women

BY Jill Calvert

Weight lifting is an essential part of any endurance athlete's program. Here's how to talk to your female athletes about the benefits and performance advantages.

As a female coach who trains predominately female athletes, the most frequently asked question I get is, “Should I lift weights?” While the modern training mentality is definitely shifting, I can confirm that a major concern for many women who strength train is still a fear of getting “big,” and that it will interfere with their endurance performance. I hate to admit it, but there was a time when I shared this mindset—thankfully, I have learned through education and experience that it couldn’t be further from the truth.

If I can offer one piece of advice from this article, it is that female athletes of all disciplines should embrace weightlifting; the physiological and psychological benefits just cannot be dismissed. As such, I want to offer coaches out there some tips on how I have managed to shift the mindset of many of my female clients, many of whom are now more concerned about the weight on the barbel than the scale—and have seen improvements in their endurance disciplines as a result.  

Let’s start with the “Why”

When you embark on a strength training program (assuming your energy availability matches your needs and your sleep patterns are consistent), then you are in a favorable position to develop lean muscle mass through weight training, which means:

  1. Improved ability to store glycogen 
  2. Increased metabolism 
  3. Increased mitochondria- more energy
  4. Improved strength and power output 
  5. Improved cellular chemistry 
  6. Delayed onset of osteoarthritis and improve bone health
  7. Reduced injury rates  
  8. Improved body image
  9. Improved confidence and self-esteem.

The list really is endless.  

How to Confront the “Bulking” Myth

I can guarantee that every female endurance athlete out there would enjoy all the above benefits, and as coaches, we would love the opportunity to enable them. Yet it still surprises me that strength training is dismissed and has such a stigma.

I am not saying that it is impossible for a female to grow (and grow large), but it’s important to communicate to your athletes that the type of “bulking” they’re concerned about requires a very long, focused and intentional process (and usually a team of coaches) to achieve. It is unrealistic to assume that 1-2 strength sessions weekly will contribute to any kind of excessive bulking. Instead, try to focus on the extensive performance benefits above, all of which your athletes stand to gain. 

Here is how I shifted the mindset of many of my female clients: 

Lead by Example

I lift weights, and I love it—and I am sure many other coaches do too. When the clients you are training share similar goals, such as improved body composition and performance, it’s easy to prove that the benefits of weightlifting far outweigh any body image fears. 

Be Visible

Use your social media platforms to document your training and eating.  This is powerful it can create a shift in your client’s mindset. As coaches, you have a profound influence on your clients; use this power to their benefit.

Be Approachable

Once a week, gather all your clients together and do a strength session together. This personally was a turning point for me. When my clients see me lifting more and saw I was not “She-hulk,” it gave them the reassurance they needed to jump on the same lifting ship.

Share the Performance Benefits

Talk about it and talk about it regularly. Write blogs, offer group chats or even try workshops with Q&A sessions to address some of the myths and benefits of weight training. As a female myself, it’s easier for me than it might be for a male coach to physically “prove” that weight lifting is more about strength than bulking—but men can make similar progress with awareness and communication. 

The information and benefits are not going to change, but if you stay consistent and chip away at the myths, I am positive that the mindsets will.  If this has resonated with you and you want more information or guidance, please drop me a line on @TriBuiltMe or visit www.tribuiltme.com

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About Jill Calvert

Jill Calvert is a triathlete, certified IRONMAN Coach, working toward a BSc in sport exercise and science and the founder of Tri Built Me, an endurance-based coaching platform focusing on building athletes of all abilities and communities. She currently lives and works in Saudi Arabia where she has grown and developed a Fitness brand and a team of passionate female coaches who offer professional Fitness training in Saudi.

Learn more about Jill at www.tribuiltme.com, @tribuiltme

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