At the gym the other day, there was a woman doing shoulder presses in a shirt which read, in big, bold letters, “Strong Is the New Skinny!” And it’s true. The skinny, undernourished bodies to which many women aspired in the 1990s and early 2000s are quickly being replaced by strong, toned physiques. Muscle building isn’t just for men anymore. Muscle building for women is quickly becoming a part of the gym landscape, and it appears to be here to stay. Not only is a strong, fit body more attractive than a thin, waif-life one, but it’s also a much healthier way to live.
For decades, many women shied away from the type of resistance training that builds muscle because they were afraid of getting “too bulky.” The common theme was that women should stick with aerobics classes and the treadmill rather than lifting heavy weights lest they want to end up with a physique more like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s than one of an attractive female. Of course, this idea has always been nonsense. Muscle building for women doesn’t produce bulk and mass, as women lack the testosterone needed to build massive muscles. What it does build is healthy muscle tone, and because this muscle tone requires calories to support it, less of the calories a woman eats end up being stored as fat, and her body fat percentage goes down.
Now that we’ve established that muscle building for women is a good thing, the question becomes: What is the best way for a woman to build healthy muscle tone? The answer is that she should do progressive resistance training the same way men have been doing for years. The most effective muscle building exercises are compound, functional movements that work large muscle groups as well as the body’s core. These include squats, lunges, deadlifts, shoulder presses, and bench presses.
Muscle building for women doesn’t mean completely eschewing the cardio that women used to do. However, slogging away on the treadmill at a slow pace for an hour, which used to be the thing to do, is antithetical to building a muscular physique. Cardio workouts should be shorter and of a higher intensity. An example would be a 20-minute treadmill workout that includes sprinting for 15-20 seconds and then jogging slowly or briskly walking for the remainder of the minute. This type of high-intensity workout complements strength training very well, and it will help any woman achieve the type of toned physique that is now en vogue.