Resistance Training for Women – Leaning Out, Not Bulking Up

Resistance Training for WomenContrary to what you’ve heard, you will not bulk up. You will NOT bulk up. YOU will not bulk up. You WILL NOT bulk up.

I repeat: you will not bulk up.

Ladies, for those of you who are still don’t believe me, I’ll say it again: you will not bulk up. Here’s why, plus some tips on resistance training for women.

Though, if you want to get “skinny”, there are plenty of resources out there, including online courses such as How to Get Skinny Fast  and Get Skinny Quick – if you believe in anyone who throws the “skinny” word around. In contrast, an effective and appropriate resistance training program will produce lean muscles, limbs, a strong core, and a pretty amazing uptick in energy.

Why do Resistance Training?

Personal trainers are constantly proving to women that resistance training is the most effective program (along with diet, but more on that later) for weight loss and looking svelte. This is because it builds skeletal muscle (which puts a higher caloric demand on the body – ie, helps your body burn calories more efficiently) and changes your body composition by decreasing body fat and increasing lean muscle. As an added bonus, resistance training for women increases calcium storage in bones.

What You’ll Be Doing

Lifting things. All types of things. Dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls, slam balls, plates, kettle bells, and – shockingly effective – your own body weight.

You will be lifting these things in sets. For those of you still worried about bulking up, see the beginning of this post. Also, you can stick to the “light weight, more reps” mantra which is weight-training gospel for lean muscle mass without bulk.

Any good program will probably include the following:

  • Deadlifts – learn to deadlift online
  • Goblet Squats
  • Wood Chops
  • Dumb Bell Rows
  • Walking Lunges with Medicine Ball
  • Lat Pull-Down
  • Kettle Bell Swings
  • Body weight lifting on the TRX
  • Some cardio mixed in at the end of sets. Examples: wall throws with the slam balls, jumping split squats, tabata on the treadmill.

How you structure your daily workout – ie how you put together your sets of exercises – will vary depending on your workout goals. At a very basic level, you can disregard “chest day” or “leg day”. Picking a range of exercises that work out many areas of the body in one day can feel great, and unless your goals are strength only, concentrating on one group of muscles per day is really unnecessary. Figuring out how to sequence your exercises can be a very rewarding part of resistance training for women. Seeing how the exercises you’ve picked targets certain chosen areas and gets you results is a super rewarding part of your training!

Starting a Resistance Training Program

Find a Dedicated Personal Trainer Always a good start. It is an investment, so be picky. We recommend Equinox trainers as Equinox is the only well-run gym to require their trainers have additional levels of education on top of flimsy national certifications. Remember that certifications, experience, and expertise is important in a trainer, but so is someone who treats you with respect (shows up on time, follows through with your programming, gets excited about your progress) and someone whose style jives with your personality.

Research Your Own Program  If – and only if – you are a pretty confident, body aware, and comfortable in a gym, you can grab a book and cobble together your own program. Joan Pagano’s book, “Strength For Women: Tone Up, Burn Calories, Stay Strong” is a good choice. It can be dangerous, though, to go off of a book or video without someone to check your form. Repetitive injury from bad form is counter-productive.

Go to a Crossfit gym Maybe. Many of us in the industry have mixed feelings on Crossfit. While we see a lot of serious injuries from the combination of people going beyond their ability and instructors who are unable give individuals instruction, we also see people extremely motivated by the Crossfit program. Another benefit is that the workout is pretty much set for you, so you don’t have to think, just follow the group instruction. Whether or not you take to the Crossfit workout or not, nothing beats the personalized training and personalized programming you get with a personal trainer.

Get Gear Besides the actual weight equipment, you don’t need much in the way of gear. Flat-soled or negative-heeled shoes would be the exception to this – they are integral to a solid, injury-free workout. Contrary to running or cardio classes, you need to actually feel the floor.

Eat Before and after. You will hear plenty of advice on what to eat, but it’s more important that you just do it. Some people prefer protein before and carbs after, or protein/protein, or carbs/carbs. Experiment with what makes you feel best, just don’t eat too soon before the start of your workout (although if you threw up on the gym floor, you certainly wouldn’t be the first!). Still confused about pre- and post- workout nutrition? Take a course and see what the athletes do.


Regardless of why you are looking into resistance training for women, it’s recommended that address your nutrition FIRST. The best-laid and best researched weight training programs don’t go far if your nutrition isn’t dialed in. Our favorite resource is Susan Teton’s course, A Transformational Dietary Makeover for Weight Loss and Health.

As mentioned above, resistance training puts a higher caloric demand on the body, so you’ll need to eat and eat well.

If you have any moderate to major food issues, this course is an amazing resource. It address emotional, mental, and physical blocks to the basic nutritional advice, as we discus below.

Sugar Get rid of it. The faster it’s out of your diet, the quicker your weight loss and energy increase. Sugar can be found in the obvious culprits – sweets, sodas, etc. – but can also be found in abundance in processed foods such as frozen meals and store-bought sauces.

Processed Foods See above. They also carry an excess of calories and salt.

Vegetables Eat more. Work them into breakfast and snacks

We hope you’re pumped to start your program! Once you get going, you’ll most likely become addicted. Enjoy that extra energy.

If you are one of the small percentage of women who don’t end up liking resistance training, you can always go back to Yoga for Weight Loss :).