can women lift (1)

Weightlifting Women: Can Women Lift Heavy in the Gym?

Of course: weightlifting women can lift as heavy as they want!

The more important questions are: what is preventing you from lifting heavier, and how can you fix that while respecting your female body?

As a Fitness Specialist for Women I spend so much time reminding women that weightlifting journeys are integrative processes!

“Lifting heavier” is not as simple as just picking up and moving around heavier weightsthere are so many things that contribute to your strength which means there are so many opportunities for your training to go wrong…

Let’s review some information on:

  • Why you may not be lifting as heavy as you want
  • What type of training you may need to include in your exercise program and when
  • When you can expect to notice an improvement after fixing your program
  • What you need to know as a woman lifting weights

What’s stopping me from lifting heavier?

Whether you’re a leisurely gym-goer, or training for Olympic Weightlifting, the first thing you need to address to improve your strength is your diet.

If you are on a low-calorie, low-protein or low-carb diet, I can almost guarantee that you will not lifting any heavier while you maintain that imbalanced nutrition.

For a weightlifting woman to build lean muscle mass and strength, she would need to eat a high protein diet with your calorie intake no lower than 200 calorie deficit a day (maintenance preferred) and a wide variety of nutrients from diverse fruits and vegetables.

The second thing to consider (and this is especially important for competitive weightlifting or bodybuilding) is how regular your exercise routine is.

To maximize strength, you need to repeating the same workouts on a weekly basic for 6-12 weeks and adding intensity to each week.

This is called progressive overload and it helps make sure that you are continuously challenged to build strength.

The final and most neglected thing to consider when trying to get into more heavy lifting is how much you are working on stability training.

Stability training is a commonly overlook part of training that needs to be in every strong woman’s weightlifting exercise program.

What is stability training and how often should I do it?

Stability training is a modality of training that intentionally challenges joint stability to improve balance, correct muscular imbalance, prevent injuries and enhance sports performance.

Stability training exercises include:

  • Isometric holds
  • Contralateral movements
  • Unilateral movements
  • Exercise performed on an unstable surface
  • Slow tempo movements
  • Compound movements

and much more!

In all of my years in the fitness industry, I have observed that the biggest roadblock in a woman’s weightlifting career is usually the lack of organized stability training for the joints.

A lot of times, people only focus on the amount of weight that they lift and completely disregard the quality of the movement, the muscular endurance to perform more than once, and the joint safety during performance.

As a result, these people will end up on a long training hiatus due to injury, overtraining or even a lifestyle-induced hormone imbalance. After they recover and return to training, they find that they have to start from scratch.

You can avoid this disappointing cycle by implementing stability training in three ways:

  1. Include stability exercises into every warm up
  2. Dedicate 1-3 workouts a week entirely to stability training
  3. Take time off of heavy lifting every 6-12 weeks to do stability training exclusively

When can I expect to notice an increase of strength?

Once you start working stability training into your exercise routine, you will start to notice improvements fairly quickly!

First, you will simply feel stronger. All of the movements that you have already been doing will begin to feel more sturdy, stable and controllable-you’ll even notice the improvement in your day-to-day activities!

After your first 2-6 weeks of exclusive stability training, you will notice an increase in strength and stamina when you cycle back to a weightlifting exercise program.

You’ll be excited to realize that not only did you not lose any strength while you weren’t lifting heavy for six weeks, but you built some instead!

Even more exciting, is when you realize that those 6 weeks of stability training will allow you to increase your weight lifted by 2-5lbs every week during your heavy lifting training-without injury or overtraining!

Continue alternating cycles of 6-12 weeks of strength building workouts, with 2-6 weeks of stabilization strength training workouts and reach fast success in your muscle building and strength training journey.

What else do I need to consider as a woman lifting weights?

It is simply an act of respect to acknowledge the structural and functional differences between the male and female body-this knowledge is meant to be empowering, not limiting!

The female body produces more sex hormones that actually encourage fat storage around the hip and belly area, along with in the breasts.

(This is one of the reasons that muscle building is ideal for women-the muscle mass boosts the metabolism!)

The male body produces more sex hormones that stimulate muscle growth, and men also have higher metabolisms that assist with lower body fat.

(Hence the annoyance of so many women watching the men around them easily get into shape)

Knowing this, it should go without saying that it is more realistic for a man to achieve a higher percentage of muscle mass with a lower percentage of body fat than a woman.

If you are a woman lifting weights for a change in physique, please keep this in mind and respect your body.

Also keep in mind that within the strength training community (and especially in bodybuilding) it is commonly advised to adhere to a high-protein and low-fat diet so as to prevent fat gain while gaining muscle.

I do not recommend low-fat diets to women at all, as they are known to cause nutrient deficiency, mental health issues and hormone imbalance.

Dietary fats are an essential nutrient that the body needs to function properly.

Because muscle-building is partially dependent on hormone balance, it is even more important to consume ample amounts of healthy fat sources when you are weightlifting woman.

Here are some other circumstantial details to consider as a woman who lifts:

  • Loss of periods is a symptom of overtraining and is an indication that you need to stop heavy lifting for a few weeks and take a deload
  • During PMS and menstruation, you may notice a temporary reduction in strength-this is normal and should not last beyond menstruation.
  • Weightlifting is safe for most women during pregnancy but please check with your doctor first, and reduce your lifting intensity as you get closer to birth.
  • Weightlifting has many benefits specific to women, one of them being that it helps prevent bone density loss as you age.

Learn more about female-specific weightlifting benefits here!

So basically…

Yes, you can absolutely keep getting stronger you big, bad, beautiful queen!

But you may need to update your workout program to respect your body and all of it’s amazing joints a little more…

Take a look at your exercise routine and start planning on where and when you’re going to implement more stability training.

Remember, strength is so much more than big numbers on the barbell!

You are powerful and you deserve to see and feel that!

This article was written by Elexis Smolak CPT, CNC, WFS founder of Adapted Fitness and Integrative Health and Fitness Specialist for Women. Learn more or schedule a virtual coffee at