This Trainer Is Debunking the Myth That Lifting Heavy Weights Will Make You "Bulky"
Celebrity trainer Ben Bruno believes strength training can be "life-changing" for women.
There's no denying that there's still a camp of firm believers who think lifting heavy makes women "bulky" and "masculine." But celebrity trainer Ben Bruno is here to call BS on that belief once and for all.
In a recent Instagram post, Bruno shared a video compilation of women he trains (including the likes of Naomi Campbell and Rita Ora) to show how lifting heavy weights can empower you to be your strongest self, both inside and out.
"I’ve worked really hard over the years to get women to embrace getting strong, but a lot of them still fear lifting weights because they worry they'll get bulky," he wrote alongside the video. "I truly believe that strength training is life-changing for women because I've seen it over and over again: both in terms of the positive effects it has on their body, but more importantly, how it helps confidence, relationship with food, etc. I hope this video gets women excited to be strong." (Here's what really happens when women lift heavy weights.)
The video highlights several familiar faces, including Jessica Biel, who's seen doing weighted plyo box pistol squats like it's NBD, and Kate Upton, who casually pulls off 225-pound hip lifts. Even Chelsea Handler makes an appearance in Bruno's video: She's seen doing Bulgarian split squats while holding her full-grown German shepherd-Chow mix.
Bruno says he shared this video to debunk the myth that weight lifting will make your body look "bulky." But another factor that often holds people back from picking up heavy weights is the concern that weight lifting won't help them reach their weight-loss goals, the trainer explains. (Related: The Truth About Fat Loss)
"A lot of people approach workouts with the goal of weight loss," he tells Shape. "What they actually want, however, is fat loss, and strength training is the best way to achieve that and create that muscle tone and definition a lot of women want."
If you're worried about not burning enough calories, Bruno says that upping the weight you're lifting can elevate your heart rate just as much as running and other traditional cardio-based workouts. "It's important for women who are afraid of lifting heavy to realize that it doubles as cardio," he explains. "You are getting your heart rate up. Anyone who's done walking lunges, deadlifts, or rear foot elevated split squats with a challenging weight will tell you it's cardio like crazy."
That isn't to say that cardio doesn't deserve a place in your workout routine. But Bruno believes it should be more of a side dish versus the main course. (Related: You Don't Need to Do Cardio to Lose Weight—But There's a Catch)
Of course, weight lifting can offer tons of physical health benefits: In addition to helping you reach any weight-loss goals you might have, lifting heavy can also lead to stronger bones, improved flexibility, better heart health, and even help prevent injury. But Bruno says it's even more rewarding to watch his clients transform mentally, not just physically, during their weight lifting sessions.
"While it's incredible to watch my clients' bodies change when they start lifting heavy, it's so cool to watch women feel strong mentally," Bruno tells Shape. "Watching someone go from thinking there's no way they could lift that weight to reaching that goal and sometimes surpassing it, is amazing. I've witnessed firsthand how women start to feel more confident and capable when they choose to lift heavy."
It's all about finding a plan that fits your needs.
Just as you can use weight lifting to train for competitive powerlifting, Olympic-style weightlifting (like these strong AF female athletes), or for a bodybuilding competition, you can also use it to become fitter, healthier, and more confident. You just need to follow a plan that suits your needs, says Bruno.
For example, for someone whose goal is to become leaner and more toned, the trainer suggests using a challenging weight and doing exercises in the 8-12 rep range.
What defines challenging? Well, that will vary for everyone, says Bruno. But the general goal is for the last few reps to feel pretty hard. "Form is always paramount," he adds. "But the rule of thumb is, once you can complete 8-12 reps with good form, it's time to bump up the weight." (Related: The Basics on Reps, Sets, and Increasing Weight for Beginners)
As for the exercises themselves, Bruno says it's best to train each part of the body quite deliberately.
For instance, when it comes to the lower body, he says he usually focuses on hip-dominant exercises with his clients (think: deadlifts and hip lift variations). For the upper body, horizontal pulling exercises, like heavy-weight rows and pull-ups, tend to dominate, he explains. "We do this, in part, because of physique goals, but also for posture, since a lot of women struggle with posture, and pulling exercises can help with that," says Bruno. (Related: Create a Push-Pull Workout Plan with These Simple Workouts)
Overall, the best part about including strength training in your workout routine is that it's all about improvement, says Bruno. "Everyone starts at different points, but as long as you show up and are consistent, you'll definitely meet your goals," he shares.
If you're still nervous about grabbing a pair of dumbbells, don't be afraid to get some personalized advice from a trainer who can help you find a strength training program that works for you, says Bruno. Then all you have to do is stick to it—and pretty soon, you'll begin to feel stronger, sexier, and more badass than ever.