Exercise & Fitness

Women & Weights: Overcoming Barriers

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


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.

Even moderate resistance training can help reduce injuries because of the physical adaptations that occur in bones, ligaments and tendons after training, especially in older females, according to the Harvard Women's Health Watch in 2004.

Additional benefits of weight training were found in a study conducted by Erica Depcik and Lavon Williams in their article "Weight Training and Body Satisfaction of Body-Image-Disturbed College Women." This was published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology in 2004 and sought to examine the effects of weight training on body satisfaction among college-aged women with body-image disturbances. They found that weight training actually increased body satisfaction among women with distorted body images. The researchers also praised weight training's immediate feedback that allowed women to increase their weight loads as their strength increased. Lastly, weight training added to the overall health of a woman and was easily accessible due to the central location of recreation complexes on college campuses.

In 2006, a study's results were published by Ruth Henry, Mark Anshel and Timothy Michael in an article called "Effects of Aerobic and Circuit Training on Fitness and Body Image Among Women." This appeared in the Journal of Sport Behavior and examined the effects of weight training on fitness and body image among women. The researchers concluded that weight training enhanced both body image and overall feelings of well-being. Interestingly enough, the women who experienced the greatest improvements included those who were heavier and who were not previously involved in any other regular physical activity. Even more interesting, several of the participants actually gained an insignificant amount of weight during the study, but still reported improved body image as a result of weight lifting.

Finally, weight training for women has also been shown to drastically improve mood as reported by Courtney Rocheleau, Gregory Webster, Angela Bryan and Jacquelyn Frazier in their article "Moderators of the Relationship Between Exercise and Mood Changes: Gender, Exertion Level, and Workout Duration," which appeared in Psychology and Health in 2004. They found that positive mood benefits were apparent after one bout of exercise and in as little as 10 minutes of activity. Furthermore, women who participated in weight training exercises reported the lowest post-exercise negative mood, when compared to those who participated only in cardiovascular activity.

What conclusion can fitness facility directors draw from all this research? In order to encourage more women to use the weight room, an educational class teaching the benefits, myths and tips of weight training may be needed.


Jaclyn Haines is an undergraduate student at the University of Dayton currently studying Sport Management, Marketing and Spanish.
Abigail Thrine is the assistant director for Facility Operations for the Department of Campus Recreation at the University of Dayton.
Dr. Peter Titlebaum is associate professor of Sport Management at the University of Dayton with more than 25 years of experience teaching and coaching.
Corinne M. Daprano is an associate professor of Sport Management for the Department of Health and Sport Science at the University of Dayton with more than 20 years of experience working in the sport and recreation industry.

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