Top Three Reasons Women Don’t Lift

Guest post written by: Jim Laird

Over the last 10 years I have counseled thousands of women about their fitness goals. During these conversations I often times must cut through misconceptions and long held beliefs about losing weight and “toning.” Even so, their motivation is loud and clear. Women want to look good and feel good, and they are willing to try almost anything to get there.

Women are not lazy. This is evidenced by the hours of endless cardio they enthusiastically sign up for all in the name of fitness. Spinning, Zumba, Boot camps…and let’s not forget marathons and triathlons. Add in fad diets, crazy calorie restrictions, and dietary supplements promoted by some of the industries well-known TV coaches and it’s a train wreck waiting to happen.

Too few women do any strength training and this is quite simply the answer to the problem. All women need to lift weights. A proper strength and conditioning program will help women achieve their goals and more:

  • Improved body composition
  • Improved hormone profile
  • Improved blood sugar regulation
  • Increased confidence

And, these results can be achieved with less work. My female clients typically train only 2-3 times a week, many of them cutting their exercise volume in half. In my experience, nothing works better at giving most women what they want (look good and feel good) in less time than strength training. The Miss Fits are perfect examples of how strength training can really work for your “average” woman.




So why do so few women strength train, especially in light of the fact that women are more likely to hire a trainer or coach?


I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I need to work off the ice cream (or pizza) I ate this past weekend.” The reality is that women are busy and not taking care of themselves. They are balancing work, relationships, and kids. Add in sleep deprivation and subpar nutrition, comprised of things like fat free yogurt, carrot sticks and popcorn, and you have a recipe for a binge (i.e., that ice cream or pizza). And, then, the kicker. Women will kill themselves in the gym thinking they can undo the damage. I like to equate this to driving a car 100mph with bad brakes and bald tires. Somebody’s going to get hurt. Even if she hires a trainer, she will likely be thrust into a program that is way beyond her ability to adapt. The bottom line is that more attention must be paid to lifestyle (stress, sleep, nutrition, etc.) as part of a holistic approach to health and fitness.



Loading non-optimal movement patterns

When coaching normal everyday women to lift weights, health and efficiency in the movements should be your number one priority. While some women will push through pain, most women do not want to be so sore they can’t walk up and down the stairs. It’s also important to keep in mind that the majority of women have never lifted weights and, as a result, they will see strength gains with very little work. So, slow down and take the time to build quality movement patterns.



Ignoring or laughing at the fear of getting “bulky”

This is a common concern among women and can often times be addressed by understanding what is defined as bulky. I’ve had a size zero client described as “big.” What I’ve learned is that some women view muscle definition as being “big” rather than the more appropriate term of “lean.”

While most women do not have the hormone profile to put on massive amounts of muscle, it’s critical to be honest about how there are certainly exceptions. The CrossFit games is a good example of how some women respond to high volume training. I also like to educate women on the use of performance enhancing drugs not only in strength sports but in fitness modeling as well.

If you happen to train a woman that puts on muscle easily then you can manage that with the appropriate training program. Hypertrophy can be controlled with volume. However, most women will drop clothing sizes with little weight change or possibly an increase in weight but be prepared to educate your client. Dismissing her concerns is a one-way road to nowhere.



Are you looking for more information like this to help you train your female clients? Are you a woman interested in learning the benefits of strength training? If so, then you must attend Train Like A Girl 2. Train Like A Girl 2 is a 2-day seminar being held in Lexington, Kentucky on February 8 & 9, 2014. It’s only a few weeks away so you don’t want to miss your chance to attend this super exclusive event. This is a seminar for everyone with a world-class list of presenters and coaches.

We promise an event this is responsive to your needs and super hands-on, learning from some of the best in the business. Check out our video and last year’s attendee testimonials on our website at TLAG 2. You don’t want to miss it. Register Today!

We have also added a bonus workshop, CrossFit: A Smarter Approach, on the afternoon of February 9th that will be held at J&M Strength and Conditioning. If you are unable to attend TLAG2, you can still attend this workshop.



Jim Laird has been working as a Strength and Conditioning Coach helping clients achieve their goals since 1997.  He has 4 years of Division One coaching experience and over a decade of working with clients in the private sector.  He has worked with everyone from housewives who just want to look good and feel good, to professional athletes in the NFL, LPGA, and MLB; his most notable client being Scott Downs who is currently with the Chicago White Sox and is going on his 13th year in the MLB.  Jim has also helped dozens of young athletes achieve athletic scholarships to Division 1 schools.

As an elite level Powerlifter, Jim pushed his body to the limit for years, and now understands the difference between working out to be healthy, and working out to achieve a high level performance goal, and he want to help others do the same. Jim has a reputation for two things: getting more results from less work, and getting his clients both strong and healthy.  Jim’s motto of “Training Smarter, Not Harder” has earned him the respect and recommendation of numerous orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists.


Categories: Fitness, General


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  1. says

    Jim – I really appreciate the work that you and Molly are doing for the community of women “lifters.” I took a lot time and development by the owner of my former gym (Crossfit Wilmington) to break my preconceived notions of having to “burn off” what I ate with cardio. I was an absolutely wreck emotionally and physically in my high school/college days – doing 2+ hours of cardio and thinking that was “normal.” The life I live now is SO much more fulfilling and have sustainable results that seem to improve every year. Not being depressed and having more time for life is a massive bonus as well! I only wish I had you, Molly, and the community of quality trainers (like Sarah and Jason) spreading this message back then! Keep up the good work!

  2. Janet says

    Nothing will turn me off working out faster than being too sore to move. A little discomfort is one thing, but not wanting to change positions because of the degree of hurt you will be in is a whole ‘nother matter. I tried working with a personal trainer once (it was part of the “welcome” package for a gym I was starting at) who overdid the weights. There was no getting better, either because my muscles didn’t have enough time to recover and stop hurting before I was overdoing the strength training again. As soon as my sessions with the personal trainer were over, I stopped going to the gym. Bottom line, if it ain’t fun, I ain’t gonna do it.

    • says

      Janet you are so right. Hopefully we can educate more people about adaptation and difference between performance and health. Robb is been beating that drum for years. Thank you for your feedback.


  3. Isabel Ege says

    Hypertrophy can be controlled with volume.

    Can you please explain what you mean by volume?
    I have been lifting heavier weights ( 100 pounds back squat, 85 pounds front squat,155 pounds DL, 65 pounds bench press) for the last 14 months 3-4 times a week (45-60 minutes) I did not drop any dress sizes but went up at least one size. I’m much stronger and my legs and arms are much firmer but bigger. And there is very little definition.
    I sleep like a baby 7,5-8 hrs a night from 10pm to 6am.
    My job requires me to stand 7hrs ( 5 days a week )
    I’m 44 years old. 5,7 tall and last time I weighted myself I was 145 pounds.
    I had my first menopause symptoms when I was 41 years old.
    Thanks in advance.

    • says


      Let’s look at what bodybuilders GENERALLY do: relatively high reps (8-15) per set and relatively high number of sets (3-5 sets) and “lots” of exercises. You may then see as many as 75-100 repetitions for a given body part in a workout. To avoid hypertrophy we keep reps low (typically fewer than 5) and total sets low (2-5) so we are talking about 10-25 reps total…much, much less. Proper nutrition, sleep etc is where the magic happens.

    • says


      Thanks for your feedback I would take a good look at your diet. It helps to write down what you eat. (Most women in my experience don’t eat enough of the right things (protein and fat)) Have someone who has experience working working with athletes take a look at it.


  4. says

    Good things happen when ladies lift (especially the squat). I love to see articles like this promoting lifting. One doesn’t have to only run to remain fit or get in shape.

  5. says

    I can’t tell you how many of my friends are terrified of the free weight area at the gym! I was and still am an athlete and was raised in the weight room. Morning cardio, followed by practice in the gym, then evening weight training. I guess I was lucky to learn proper technique and proper lifts, but it doesn’t hurt to learn about it if someone might not know.

    I can say that weight lifting is my favorite part of going to the gym. Maybe because I can outlift some (not all) men, or because it gives me that strong feeling. Women need to spend more time in the weights and educating themselves rather than on the cardio machines. Muscle burns more than fat. End of story.

    Let’s keep it up ladies!

  6. says

    Great article, 95% of my clients are females and I have trained hundreds of catwalk models over the years, weight training is a must and sometimes women need to be prepared to put on some size in order to refine, rather like a sculpture.

    For me i find the female market much more challenging than the male market, its more specialised and they require more refined level of training.

    Would love to know your thoughts. Tim

  7. Melanie says

    “Too few women do any strength training and this is quite simply the answer to the problem. All women need to lift weights.”

    Yes they do!!

    Wow great timing on this article. I’m watching my 69 year old mom get smaller and weaker each year, now with osteoporosis in her spine. I’ve been trying since I was in my early 20’s to get her to lift weights…I’m now 41. I’m one of those women that packs on muscle easily and loves being strong, but I know my mom has always thought I’m too big-her sensibilities are from a different time. So, coming from me, this kind of encouragement isn’t heard.

    I’d love to convince her to attend Train Like a Girl. After reading this, I’ll at least run the idea by her.

  8. Carla Flaim says

    What keeps me from training is two things. Like you mentioned being overly sore is defeating for me. The second thing is not knowing where and how to find a trainer that is as tuned in as you guys are. Oh and there is another factor — cost! The biggest reason is the not knowing where to find a person who will meet me where I am in my journey and really hear my issues and concerns. Thanks

  9. says

    I love lifting! I’m not a Crossfitter, but I love my regular ol’ lifting. I was a certified (or maybe “certifiable” is a better word!) cardio queen for *years* before I got over my fear of “the guy area” of the gym — the weights. And I’m so glad I did. Not only is it great for my shape, but I love *feeling* strong. I love being mobile and physically capable, and I tell myself the more muscle mass I can build and maintain now, the better off I’ll be when I’m 60, 70, 80. (I’m 35 now, and would like to avoid turning into one of those little old ladies who can’t even carry her own groceries up the driveway or get out of a chair under her own power.) And let’s not forget about the effect of weight-bearing exercise on bone health. Use ’em or lose’em.

    I’m not the strongest gal in my gym, but I hold my own. Took me a *long* time to be able to do a couple of unassisted pullups (no kipping), but I love that I finally can! And I have to say, whenever I’m lifting, it seems like the guys like it, too. Far too few women have the guts to–pardon the pun–“man up” and lift. (Most likely they’re probably just happy someone walks over and breaks up the sausage fest, but I like to tell myself they’re thinking it’s great to see a woman lifting.)

  10. Dhruv Bhagat says

    Nowadays, I see lot of girls lifting weights to covert their fat into muscles instead of just losing it by doing cardio.

    This is because of the Aesthetics. There are lots of model celebrities who have literally 300,000 to 500,000 fans on Instagram only.. They always share pictures lifting heavy weights.


  11. says

    Great article and points you brought up. I go through the same challenges with some of my female clients. And, even though I try to explain to them the benefits of strength training, they get all concerned about “bulking” up. The reality is they don’t have the same levels of testosterone as males, so the chances of them bulking up are slim to none. If anything, an over dosage of metabolic conditioning can be an issue for most female clients, which is why balance is the key factor here.

  12. says

    I agree, Jim, that female clients come to fit pros with the expectation that they’ll be performing endless cardio exercises. But when we introduce strength into their program, they love it!

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