Dumbbells on Rack

Weight Lifting 101

Okay. Here it is, ladies, all of that cardio you’re doing will not help you achieve your goals of getting “long” and “lean” muscles. You see it every day, women slaving over the elliptical, spinning their proverbial butts off, and running for hours on end on the treadmill in hopes of Kelly Ripa shoulders, or a Beyonce booty. In order to build muscle you HAVE to apply resistance. I know you don’t want to get bulky or even WORSE…look manly.

Don’t worry, you won’t. No really – you won’t.

On the most basic level women just cannot respond to weight lifting like men because we do not produce testosterone. We just don’t have it in us. There is a lot of science and anatomy that backs this, so just take my word for it – ladies, if you want lean and “toned” muscles you HAVE to lift.

Exhibit A:

Jessica Biel - Hollywood's Most Toned Arms

Just go ahead and pin that to your “fitspo” board now. Do you think Jess gets those arms and back from endless hours of cardio? Think again. Okay, moving on.

Now that you’ve dragged yourself from any machine with an on/off button and over to the free weights what do you do now? There are several methods of training that all have their different benefits. While performing high rep/low weight sets does have some benefit, it is not always optimal to adding muscle mass.

Behold, the below is very vague overview of rep ranges:

  • 1-5 reps for strength (heavy)
  • 6-12 reps for hypertrophy/gain (medium)
  • 12+ reps for endurance (light)

For a breakdown of exactly what this means and gratuitous visual aid (you’re welcome) check out this site here.

While our bodies don’t respond to weight (resistance) like men, that doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t train like them. Women need to lift challenging weights (just like our guys) in order to gain muscle. Please note: gain muscle does not mean “bulk,” we’re still talking long and lean, okay? And while machines are great, nothing can compare to free-weight exercises. Not only do dumbbells incorporate a stabilizing/balancing component which gives your workouts an extra “oomf” they are also more versatile and allow for a great variety of drills to be completed.

To put this into action I recommend implementing multi-functional training which  can provide a total body workout that will transform, lengthen and tone you up.

Example Workout:

4 sets of 12 reps

A) Alternating forward lunge with shoulder press

B) Around the world squats

C) Alternating plank row

D) Inchworm to push-up

E) Balance dog with kickback

If you’re a beginner try starting with a total body routine 2-3 times a week on nonconsecutive days.  After a few sessions with dumbbells I think you’ll find an increase in metabolism, which when combined with the right diet can help shed pounds – more so than cardio alone. True story!


  1. <3 this website, you rock!

  2. Last night I couldn’t make it to class as I had intended and had to work with the gym in my office building. Did this workout along with a little cardio and I’m successfully sore today! Thanks for a(nother) good sweat, lady!

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  4. for someone who’s pretty familiar with weight lifting but has fallen out of shape, what weights would you recommend using for this set?

    • Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for reading. Each set should be a challenge to complete. Once you can complete a set with little to no problem it’s time to move up a size in weights. You should start heavy enough that you’re uncomfortable, but can complete each rep with proper form. Do trial and error until you find that sweet spot. Light enough to stay in control with good form. Heavy enough to challenge yourself. Does that make sense? Unfortunately, there is no set number for everyone. Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns. You can send me a direct email in the “Contact” portion of the site. Thank you again, good luck, girl!

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