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Guest Column - February 2009

Exercise & Fitness

Women & Weights: Overcoming Barriers

By Jaclyn Haines, Abigail Thrine, Dr. Peter Titlebaum & Corinne M. Daprano


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esearchers have examined how women's perceptions of weight training may discourage them from engaging in a weight-training program. Shari Dworkin conducted interviews and observed women at two weight-training facilities over the course of two years, with the results published in "Holding Back" in Sociological Perspectives in 2001. She concluded that many women impose a "glass ceiling" on themselves when weight training, which discourages them from participating in an effective weight-training program.

Most of the women Dworkin interviewed were concerned that weight training would cause them to develop an appearance similar to a female bodybuilder. One woman who did not lift weights explained, "I don't want to be buff, but lean…I don't want to look like a female bodybuilder…I don't ever want to be non-feminine."

Dworkin found that women who did participate in a weight-training program also said they did not want to lose their femininity, and therefore they used lighter weights and increased their repetitions. Thus, it appears that gender expectations can be a factor when women opt not to adopt weight training as a part of their daily workout routine.

Further, Donald Fischer, in "Strategies for Improving Resistance Training Adherence in Female Athletes" in Strength and Conditioning Journal in 2005, concluded that a shortage of female mentors and weight-training instruction contribute to a lack of women's interest in weight training.

Lori Incledon, in her book Strength Training for Women: Tailored Programs and Exercises for Optimal Results, suggested that when women consider weight training, they automatically think about female bodybuilders and power lifters. However, what many do not understand is that women who weight-train professionally may train excessively, possibly consume performance-enhancing drugs, and sometimes allow the sport to dominate their lives Also, many women are not aware that it is physiologically more difficult for them to gain as much muscle mass as men due to the smaller quantity of testosterone in the female body.

Todd Schroeder, Steven Hawkins and Victoria Jaque reported in their article "Musculoskeletal Adaptations to 16 Weeks of Eccentric Progressive Resistance Training in Young Women" in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2004 that many women are unaware that weight training helps burn calories throughout the day. Increased muscle mass due to weight training increases metabolic rate; the higher the metabolic rate, the more calories burned throughout the day. Additionally, weight training has been shown to increase mood, boost the immune system, help reverse the effects of aging, and increase bone and weight density in post-menopausal females.