The other day I was watching a very well-known fitness professional performing exercises online. She was using 5lb weights for a bench press and was acting as if they were taxing her system. I always laugh at this. First of all, if she is ripped using 5lb weights for a large muscle group, she has some true genetic gifts going on. Secondly, this woman also has small children, who I am sure she picks up and carries around with her sometimes. I doubt they weigh 5lbs. Trust me, she is lifting more than 5lbs for her own workouts but she is trying to appeal to the masses and she is not doing the masses any favors by perpetuating the myth that women should only use very light weights.
Women are sometimes afraid of lifting heavier weights because they are afraid they will bulk up and look like the Incredible Hulk. Hypertrophy in women is largely based on good genes and lifting very heavy weights. I lift heavy weights during certain times of the year and I am far from ‘hulky'. I am pretty much only ripped in my dreams when I am leaping across buildings and crashing through windows. Hypertrophy training is also a method that requires more sets (4-6) and lower reps (6-10), meaning you could only do 6-10 reps, maybe 12, and that is it. If women think that they will get bigger muscles using 8-10lb weights, most of them will opt for 3 and 5 which will end up not doing them any good at all.
Something else that women tend not to think of, is that the purse or laptop bag they are carrying probably weighs 5-10lbs but they will use a 5lb dumbbell for a bicep curl. Now, if you were lifting the 5lb db while standing on one leg on a Bosu ball, that might challenge you, but if you are sitting on a bench lifting both arms at the same time…..well, you are probably not adding a lot of value to your workout.
Depending on your goals, you may never even need to do hypertrophy training. My goals are always centered on sports performance so performing hypertrophy workouts tend not to make it in my schedule. My focus is on stabilization endurance, muscular endurance and power. Hypertrophy and maximum strength workouts aren't functional for me. I rarely work out with any kind of machines (I don't belong to a gym) because my activities aren't done in one fixed plane of motion. Instead I use sandbags, bands, hoops, bodyweight, lots of reactive and balance training (including yoga and pilates), suspension training and plyometrics. This is what works for me based on my goals in mtb, trail running, etc. If you don't do balance work or reactive training, how do you think your body will respond when running over uneven terrain or riding on skinny singletrack?
Performing the latest routine from a magazine or whatever the celebrity-of-the-week is doing, may not help you achieve your goals and they could even hinder you from achieving what you desire. If you see that your favorite sports person does 4×4 min intervals at 85% threshold do you know at what point in the season? Is it four weeks out from a race or is it while he is tapering? If you read that the celebrity with the hot body only does Pilates do you think that if you just start doing Pilates, you will look like that? Do you think that your workout of 3 x 12 of everything works for every part of the year? What kind of tempo are you using? Depending on your goals, you might perform a tempo of 3/2/1 or 2/0/2 or 1/1/1.
One thing to keep in mind when you are looking at pictures of men or women who are really cut up or muscular (especially at pictures of women), is that they always look bigger in the pictures than they are in real life. My former coach looked like a bodybuilder in all of her race photos, however in person, she was this tiny little petite thing. My friend K looked like a Gladiator in some of her photos from her bodybuilding days (she actually was a bodybuilder and competed) however she was a tiny little size 4 in real life. The first time I saw Rebecca Rusch I couldn't believe how small she was! I envisioned her as much bigger because of pictures I had seen and how muscular she was. She is very muscular but also very lean and if you saw her in regular clothes, you wouldn't think “That woman really looks like the Hulk!” but you would think “Whatever that woman does, she kicks some serious boo.”
There definitely is a misconception among women that if they lift heavy weights they are going to get big and bulky. Go ahead and lift for a few weeks with more weight than you normally use. If you turn green, I'll buy you a coffee 😉