Women use weightlifting to shape up, not bulk up


A few years ago, Corky Navarro got tired of carrying 176 pounds on her 5-foot frame and joined a gym. Today, 66 pounds lighter and wearing a size 3, her slim, sculpted physique is a testament to what weightlifting can do for women.

"This is really the only type of exercise that specifically targets body parts. You can totally rearrange things," says Ms. Navarro, 28.

More and more women are turning to weightlifting as a relatively simple means of toning and shaping their bodies. This isn't the bulky, muscle-bound, Mr. Universe style of bodybuilding, but the kind of workout that, when done correctly a few times a week, gives a woman a strong yet decidedly feminine look.

Let's explode a couple of myths about women and weightlifting right off the bat:

* It won't turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger unless you really want to look like that. Genetically, it's extremely difficult for a woman to put on that much mass.

* It isn't too hard for women. Nobody says you have to bench press 200 pounds. Most gyms are equipped with light weights, although many women find they want the challenge of more pounds after a few weeks.

* Besides helping people look good, weightlifting offers significant health benefits: more energy, stronger bones, an easing of pain such as backaches or headaches.

* When alternated with aerobic activities such as jogging, walking or bicycling, weightlifting speeds up the loss of unwanted inches. Women can see dramatic changes relatively quickly if they stick to it.

The trend has found its way into the mainstream.

Richard Cotton, senior director of education for the American Council on Exercise, says fitness club owners report more women in the weight rooms. A National Sporting Goods Association survey found that, in 1985, 48 percent of the people using exercise equipment were women. That rose to nearly 52 percent last year, Mr. Cotton says.

Choosing a gym

* Shop around. Chances are there are several near your home or office. Find one where you feel comfortable.

* Check the hours. Good gyms have convenient hours, from as early as 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. to as late as 11 p.m. or midnight.

* Talk to employees. Are they knowledgeable? Helpful? Make sure your membership includes training on each piece of equipment at no extra cost.

* Talk to other gym members. How long have they been going there? Do they have any gripes?

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