What Really Happens When Women Lift Heavy Weights – Shape Magazine


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Toss the pink dumbbells and start moving some serious weight. Lifting heavy is the key to building metabolism-revving muscle, leaning out, and looking and feeling stronger than ever before, says certified strength and conditioning specialist Holly Perkins, author of Lift to Get Lean and founder of Women’s Strength Nation.

These body transformations will make you ditch your fear of “bulking up” once and for all. (And this is just the beginning: here are 18 other ways weight lifting will change your life.) 

It Gives You Confidence

“I’ve been doing CrossFit for just over two years now, and I have never felt more confident or as capable as I do now thanks to lifting. My arms and shoulders actually have visible muscle separation, my glutes are bigger and perkier, and I have real quads,” Nichole says. “I feel like I can wear whatever the hell I want because I love my body so much, not only for how it looks but also for what it can do. Lifting is the best thing I have ever done for myself.”—Nicole Bennett, @pickle.b

It Transforms Your Health

“Being fit is the best thing I can do for my body,” says Lauren, who follows a PHUL routine (four days of lifting per week, each dedicated to power, hypertrophy, upper body, lower body). “I have a lot of health issues, and my doctors are thrilled with how well weight lifting is working for me and my overall health.” —Lauren Snowden, @polkadotfit (Related: Here Are All the Science-Backed Benefits of Strength Training.)

It Makes You Feel Feminine

This mom of two went from soft to rock hard, thanks to squats, power cleans, bench presses, and lots of deadlifts. “I am very, very proud that I recently deadlifted 10 pounds over my body weight,” says Megan. “When I first started working out I just wanted to be thin—I had a goal and I hit it but wasn’t satisfied. I felt frail and got a lot of comments about it. Lifting has made me feel strong and confident. I feel more womanly than I ever have in my life.” —Megan (And, FYI, this is exactly why femininity isn’t a body type.)

It Makes the Skinny Arm Pose a Thing of the Past

This girl’s got guns. And they are smoking hot. “Lifting heavy has helped me in more ways than one,” says Tiffany. “I have a confidence now that never existed when I was just skin and bones.” —Tiffany

It Zaps the Baby Weight

Squats, hip thrusts, triceps dips, hammer curls, Arnold presses, rows, and tons of lateral shoulder raises have helped this new mom become healthier than ever. “Pregnancy really did a number on my body. I went from 130 pounds to 200 pounds and started my fitness transformation at 185 pounds,” says Amberly. “Now, I just want to show my daughter that women can be a strong, muscular badass and that it’s not just about being thin. Seeing her try to mimic me has been a highlight of motherhood.” —Amberly, @olebattleaxe (BTW, this is how often you should do heavy weight lifting workouts.)

It Makes You Love Your Body

“Lifting has changed my body in more than one way,” says Leah. “Before, I was 150 pounds of no muscle, and I wasn’t happy with my body. Now, I’m 130 pounds, but can squat 180, deadlift 225, and bench 110. Lifting has allowed me to love my body and be proud of what it can accomplish.” —Leah, @leah.bo.beah

Life is a series of moments that make you into the person you are at the present moment. Google photos reminded me that 3 years ago I was small (middle). I was probably running 25km+ a week, and eating only 1300 calories a day. I used to binge a lot. I had body dysmorphia and thought I still looked like I did on the left (OCT 2012) Life caused me to alter what I was doing. I was drinking 4-5x a week in University & didn’t give a shit about what I looked like (obviously). It took me years to figure out who I wanted to be. What I wanted to be. Did I want to be someone who ate junk all the time & didn’t work out? So I picked a goal. I trained for a half marathon and it still took me years to figure out how to eat properly. I taught myself to count macros, I learned about nutrition, and I finally broke out of the “I have to be skinny mentality” I ran 5×5 and taught myself how to lift. I started eating to be stronger and grow, rather than to shrink. I competed, fell in love with the sport, & here we are today, now. My path wasn’t linear. I gained 20 pounds back after I traveled for 3 mos. I lost it again. I put some muscle and some fat on. But these days I feel strong. I can do things I never dreamt of doing & my life revolves around these things that make me happy; lifting, running, hiking, being active. & Most importantly, eating, in a balanced and healthy way. (Mmm pizza) I’m not perfect & I still have days where I look at myself and see the girl on the left, but I know where I am today is only another part of the journey that I’m on, and I can’t wait to see where I end up.

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It Banishes Belly Fat

“When I first started trying to lose weight, I realized that just doing cardio would help me lose weight, but it wouldn’t give me any definition,” says Shannon. “So I’ve focused on weight lifting instead, really zoning in on three big lifts: the deadlift, squat, and bench press. Lifting heavy has transformed my body, not into that of a bulky man, but into a leaner, stronger woman.” —Shannon, @gunzandbuns

The picture on the left I was 28 years old and 10lbs lighter. . It was the summer before I made a decision that changed the entire course of my current lifestyle. . I got divorced the year before and was still trying to find myself. I had no real identity other than a girl who was a perpetual student (finished MBA not long after I was divorced), I worked two jobs 7 days a week until around that same time. . Being single, no school, no second job, I had nothing that made me who I was other than junk food and cable binges. Fast food and Lifetime movies. . It wasn’t until a year later the guy I was dating at the time sent me an article about @staciardison (who will forever be a secret girl crush) that was posted on @nerd_fitness about being skinny fat. I had NO idea that was a thing! That guy, this article, her story, changed my life. . It turned into me researching women and lifting. It kickstarted my blog @winetoweights (winetoweightlifting.com). It led me into New Rules of Lifting for Women, skyrocketed my belief in myself, gave me the confidence to sign up for Crossfit, I ran a half marathon. I did Crossfit competitions, I competed in an Olympic Weightlifting meet, I got my ISSA personal trainer certification and traveled to Boulder to get Crossfit Level 1 certified. . It turned into me being that person for other women, and behind able to encourage and motivate and inspire others, and finding my PURPOSE! . Today on the right, at almost 36 years old I am training for a bikini competition. . It’s so funny how when you look back, sometimes small series of events can lead to the most massive transformations and change where the future is headed. . #bikinicompetitor #workout #nerdfitness #hudybooty #crossfitgirls #crossfit #beforeandafter #transformationtuesday #skinnyfit #skinnyfat #progresspics #progressnotperfection #thisis35 #nrolfw #issa #cfl1 #olylifter #onlyupfromhere #aginggracefully

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It Helps You Gain Lean Weight

Jennifer has gained more than 20 pounds since she started lifting, but she’s leaner than ever. “I feel better, I feel more confident, and my body is able to do things I never imagined that it can do.” —Jennnifer, @jenniferhurdy (Also see: This Woman Gained Weight from Strength Training But Is Still the Same Clothing Size.)

It Helps You Drop a Size

Since her personal trainer started her on heavy weight lifting, Sharina has gone from a size 22/20 to a 14/12. And once she drops a few more, she plans on becoming a certified weight lifting coach and to start pumping iron competitively. “I’ve managed to hit 250 pounds on my deadlifts recently, and I’m working up to a 220-pound squat.” —Sharina, @dumbbells_and_dumplings (Next up: 15 More Body Transformations That’ll Convince You to Lift Weights.)

It Earns You a Body You Never Thought You’d Have

“I think the thing that I love most about lifting, in general, is what I love about deadlifts: It’s all me,” says Stephanie, who can deadlift close to 300 pounds. “Whether I succeed, whether I fail, whether I gain strength, or put on visible muscle, that’s all me. Nobody can take that away from me, or claim any part of it. It’s all a cumulative effort of the time, of the effort, of the literal blood, sweat, and tears I’ve put in in the gym. When I rip that barbell off the floor, that’s the ultimate expression of every piece of it—there’s an indescribable pride to when you know that nobody but you can take the credit for what you’ve just accomplished.” —Stephanie (Related: What Happened When I Weight Lifted Like Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson for 3 Weeks.)