Obese women indeed strength train differently than thin women, and this is one of the reasons they can’t lose weight.
Obese women strength train a lot differently than their lean counterparts, and while this creates obstacles to fat loss, it’s important to know that it is not the obesity that causes overweight individuals to work out differently than thinner ones.
In my years in the fitness industry, as well as being a “gym rat,” I have observed a very intriguing phenomenon in the way that women of different sizes work out.
First of all, in general, most women, regardless of amount of body fat, tend to use light weights when doing resistance exercise.
There is a range within this range, so that some women use very light weights, while others use heavier than average weights, and only a very small percentage use a “Wow!” amount of resistance.
Most women do not want a muscular look. The muscular look, however, results from very low levels of body fat in combination with a very-well-strength-trained body. Low levels of body fat make the musculature visible.
Obese women almost always use particularly light resistance, whether it’s with a machine, dumbbells or barbells.
Trust me when I say that this is NOT because their excess size prevents use of heavier resistance. Strength training is not the same as running.
There is nothing about obesity that makes a woman physically weak in the sense of strength training.
A very large person is on an even playing field as a lean person when it comes to weight workouts.
Ask an obese woman who strength trains why she strength trains.
She will probably tell you to lose pounds. However, training with light weights will not get her the desired results.
Overweight women usually fear that if they use heavy or even moderate resistance, or work out in a way that feels intense, that they will get bigger. This is a myth.
Go to any crowded gym and observe how obese women do strength training. The weights are often very, very light.
They are afraid of getting bigger if they use more than a light resistance. I’ve had my obese clients use heavier weights—without any problem as far as performing the exercise. They have the ability, but the myth gets in the way.
This phenomenon is particularly obvious with the lat pull-down, any chest press, bench press, seated row and bent-over dumbbell row.
Now, look at the women who are lean and buff. How much weight are they lifting? Almost always, it’s a lot more than light, and often it’s “a lot for a woman.”
In other words, an obese woman will be using 50 pounds for a lat pull-down, while the lean, tight, buff size 6 counterpart will be pulling down 115 pounds.
The best way for the obese to lose body fat via exercise is to lift heavy, and intensely.
Intense strength training with moderate to heavy resistance ignites a hormonal response in the body that causes an accelerated resting metabolism. This hormonal response does not occur with light exercise!
An obese woman’s body will shrink, shrink and more shrink only when she begins using moderate weights with high intensity, or heavy weights with medium to high intensity.
The formula for this, in general, is using a load that makes 8-12 repetitions exceedingly difficult. If you can do more than 12 reps, increase the resistance!
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.