Updated 30 September 2014

Lift heavy to get lean

Many women shy away from strength training because they're scared of "bulking up". Kelly Dessington says this is nothing more than a myth.


Many women exercise to lose weight and get toned, yet after many weeks and months of working out with light weights and high repetitions, they get barely any results and get disheartened. The solution, says Cape Town personal trainer Kelly Dessington of specialist gym Progressive Edge Performance, is to lift heavier weights and do fewer repetitions.

Kelly, a petite blonde woman with a six-pack that would put most men to shame and a rather impressive resume of double and triple-digit lifting weights, does no cardio at all but maintains a lean body fat percentage in the low teens.She says that lifting weights will not only not make women bulky, but it will fast-track them to the toned physique they're after.

“Most women are scared that if they lift heavy weights they will look like body builders, but that won’t happen. It’s impossible. Unless they take supplements intended to bulk them up with the weight training women cannot get ‘bulky’,” she says.

And as far as research goes, she’s spot-on.

What the experts say

Health24 Fitness Expert and registered biokineticist Habib Noorbhai says this lingering myth over women bulking up from weight training is a very common misconception.

“Strength training has a variety of benefits for women one of which is preventing the earlier onset of bone and joint-related diseases such as osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.

“Performing low to moderate intensity weight training will ensure increase in strength gains, assist in the loss of body fat and assist with activities of daily living.”

He adds that “vigorous intensity weight training can initially lead to a minimal bulk up of muscle, but generally low to moderate intensity weight training combined with cardio, and following a healthy eating plan is the secret to getting toned and losing body fat”.

This article explains the more technical components to why strength training works so well – if done correctly.

Banish body fat

A lot of women who exercise do so to change the way they look, and a lot of the time that goes hand-in-hand with dropping body fat. According to Kelly, strength training is the most efficient way to do this. And given her extremely toned physique and the fact that she admits to doing virtually no cardio and only strength training, her argument is very compelling.

“Light weights don’t have the same effect on your body as lifting heavy weights does. However, if you want to look lean you need to drop body fat in conjunction with strength training... which means your diet plays a crucial role,” she says.

So where do you start? Kelly advises you ‘eat simply and “start with eating natural foods in the right portions at the right time”. If you’re unclear on what that means, it’s probably best to consult a dietician.

If you’re still not sure lifting heavier weights is the way to go, read this study in which researchers found that women completing strength training gained less abdominal fat than those who received standard physical activity recommendations and also lost a whopping 4% of their body fat. 

The experts say it, the researchers support it - strength training is the way to go ladies. Check out some of our fitness programmes to get you started, and book a session with a trainer to make sure you get the right guidance on form and posture.

For more pics illustrating Kelly doing some basic strength training moves visit FitnessEditor's Health24 blog here.


Do you lift heavy weights? E-mail us your pics


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