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Nia Shanks: Why Women Should Lift Heavy Weights


Posted by Nia Shanks of Nia Shanks: Beautiful Badass under Weight Training (Strength Training) on 14 November 2012 at 12:00 AM

I know what’s on your mind, so I’ll get this out of the way right now: lifting heavy weights will not make you big ‘n bulky.

Nia Shanks lifting heavy

That’s a picture of me deadlifting 330 pounds, and I’m not classified as “big ‘n bulky”. All of my female clients participate in weight lifting, and many of them squat over 1.5 times their bodyweight, can perform sets of chin-ups and parallel bar dips, and other awesome feats of physical strength. 

Even though they were skeptical when they first started lifting weights, not a single lady ever said she got big.

If heavy, progressive strength training made women muscle-bound-beasts, I would’ve been out of a job 10 years ago.

Now that we’ve properly dispelled that myth, let’s move on.

Why YOU Should Try Lifting (Heavy) Weights

First, let’s define “lift heavy weights”. In my opinion, that means using primarily compound exercises and performing sets between five and 10 reps with a challenging weight. For example, performing 10 reps with a weight you could easily perform 15-20 reps with is not challenging and, therefore, doesn’t qualify.

Here are some favorite exercises for beginner trainees:

Nia Shanks workout image: Rack Pull, Push up, Inverted Row, Squat to a Box

Check out the full Challenge and all of Nia's coaching tips in this Guide.

An excellent workout would consist of performing each of the exercises above for about four sets each for five to eight reps per exercise (4x5-8).

If regular push-ups are too easy and you can perform sets of 10+ reps, then make them more challenging by doing more advanced variations or loading them via resistance bands, weight plates, weight vest, or chains. Remember, each exercise must be challenging.

Some favorite accessory exercises to include are standing overhead presses, chin-ups, and bodyweight glute bridges or hip thrusts to round out and balance the training program.

I’ve provided a detailed workout program for beginners on my website, so we’re going to keep things simple and to the point.

Let’s get into the four reasons you should lift heavy.

Lifting heavy can be fun and addictive (in a good way, of course). This one is best understood through personal experience. It’s true though. You can actually have fun while working out, and it can become very addictive. Reason being – when you achieve physical feats you didn’t know you were capable of, you get addicted and want to see what else you can do. You have fun because you beat personal records, and you get stronger week after week.

It will increase your self-confidence. No one’s self-confidence ever increased from curling a soup can, even a family size soup can. Once you start lifting heavier weights, getting stronger, and seeing what you’re physically capable of achieving, your self-confidence will most certainly increase. Again, don’t take my word for it – get in there and lift!

Results in less time. I would estimate that the average female trainee spends a minimum of 60 minutes in the gym each session. For one, most believe the myth that “you have to workout for at least 60 minutes, or it’s not even worth it.” This is completely false.

Truth is, if you lift heavy weights, you can complete a results-producing workout in as little as 30 minutes. In fact, my clients and I rarely spend more than 40 minutes on a workout. Heavy, progressive weight lifting will help you build a better body in much less time. Don’t underestimate the power of three total body workouts per week, each taking about 40 minutes. 

It’s safe. “But, lifting heavy is dangerous!” This is a common remark when women are told to lift heavy. After all, we’ve all seen the YouTube videos of weight lifters getting crushed by a heavy bench press, or someone blowing out their back from a heavy deadlift.

As long as you use perfect form at all times and stay away from failure, your chance of getting injured is low. You can even make the argument that lifting heavier weights for lower reps is safer than high reps. For one, it’s much easier to maintain focus with lower rep sets. This way, you are paying complete attention to every single rep and you don’t risk pumping out sloppy reps just to get the set completed. 

Those are just four of many more reasons why women should lift heavy. And now that you’re armed with the necessary information, it’s up to you to take action.

Now go throw some weight on the bar and get strong!

Follow Nia's work on her Facebook page - Beautiful Badass - for more coaching tips on strength training for women and read up more about the Beautiful Badass technique on her website now!

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Giving the Challenge a try this lunch time - really cool to see a woman advocating lifting heavy as I've only heard it from guys before (and usually guys who are massively muscley!!) Thanks Nia

    Nia S and Lucille W encouraged this.


    Cool article. Great strength building exercise for beginners.


    I have always avoided weights as I feared that I would turn into the incredible hulk, but you look great and it is so good for your fitness as a whole... right, show me to the weights room!

    Nia S and Abi M encouraged this.


    Awesome article! What's your opinion on "easy gainers".


    I always love reading articles which advocate women to lift heavy things and debunks many of the myths that placate the notion that women are these delicate flowers that shouldn't (or worse, can't) "train like the boys." Nice job, Nia!

    encouraged this.


    all i really do anymore is bench, squat, deadlift and overhead press with the odd chin up and dips thrown in!! Find exactly what you say here is spot on!! more people should be made aware of what you have said!

    Adrian K encouraged this.


    Fair play to ya for telling women its ok to lift weights,and really good article.

    Adrian K encouraged this.


    Nia, would you be kind enough to go to the 'Exercise & Fitness activity' section of the 'training section' of my profile and look at my indoor routine and tell me if it's time to lower my reps but add more weight? I'm noticing a big difference in my arms and shoulders after 14 weeks so I'm not sure weather to add more reps or a bit more weight. Thanks :)


    Hey Gaina, I good way most beginners will train is to increase weight when you reach a certain number of reps in the exercise. For example, once you can complete 3 sets of 8 reps with a certain weight, you should start to think about increasing the weight, then working up to the point where you can reach 8 reps again with the new weight etc.

    Gaina C encouraged this.


    simple and straightforward article - thanks for the motivation...


    Great article. Since I'm not a gym fan, I can see now a little more the fun of weight lifting.


    I've been lifting heavy for a little over 3 months and can't begin to explain how much I love makes me feel amazing, and I'm seeing some truly fantastic results. For the first time in my entire life, I have a waist!

    Adrian K encouraged this.


    I'm looking forward to heading to the gym tomorrow to try out a few heavier weights now :-D


    Very informative article. I do strength training with all of my clients, including females and also including a woman in her sixties. It is progressive and they do develop strength, but to date I have not had anyone get bulky on me yet!! The benefits of developing core body strength cannot be over emphasized for both men and women, and using weights, body weight or resistance bands are all forms increasing the strength of your core muscles. Think you need to upload some coaching videos on here to help people build up their confidence perhaps.. Nice one, keep it up.

    encouraged this.


    I don't do gyms but a few months ago I started fooling around with my husband's old weight set left over from his high school football playing days. At first I could barely lift just the bar without plates but slowly and gradually I have worked my way up to deadlifting 125 lbs. Husband now says my butt is "poochier" than before and so I'm a confirmed lifter. The only drawback is I have no gym access so if I go heavier I'll have to buy more plates and that's too much $$$$$ right now. Maybe someday somebody around here will open up a reasonably priced gym and I can expand my repetoire. Great article!

    Adrian K and Jenna A encouraged this.


    Hey, Kathy. Yep, that's definitely a compliment! Don't underestimate how much you can accomplish with the tools you already have and more advanced bodyweight exercises. Gyms can be nice, but they're not mandatory.


    Perfect timing! I'm 53kgs and trying to meet the weights requirements at crossfit - so nice to know I can do it without packing on the weight!

    Adrian K encouraged this.


    From the first time I tried weights I love them - the feel of lifting and the way I look, great article.

    Adrian K encouraged this.


    @kathyc1 I reckon you should casually mention you're after more weights when you next have any of your husband's old school friends round - there's gotta be some dust covered plates in garages near you!


    Also, search on Craigslist or go to a store that sells used equipment like Play It Again Sports. These places are great for used equipment.


    Thanks to all for the suggestions on trying to find more weights/equipment!


    Cant see any reason why not,once proper technique and correct lifting techniques are used then no reason why women cant lift heavy weights !!!


    The gym can be a little intimidating when you're first starting to lift especially in a big box gym like the one I go to - but reach out to friends who may be a little more weight savy than you are to help you out. Most gyms also include a free personal training session upon sign up that people don't take advantage of...I used to work at a gym and rarely did people take advantage of it....but hey it's free so just do it!


    Excellent article. I great set of advice for beginners and reminders of the basics for the more experienced.

    Adrian K encouraged this.


    Great article Nia, this has certainly inspired me to lift heavy/ier :)


    Does anyone know where I could find some sort of guide for techniques for general weight lifting? I've heard that women need to do a few things a little bit differently (not sure whether this is an urban myth or not...) but even so I don't really know. I'm looking to do a bit of weight lifting in 2014 so any pointers would be grand :)


    Fantastic! I just started, got excited about it.

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