While they want to improve their fitness and body shape, they fret about developing body-builder frames with rippling muscles and vibrating veins.
The boom in working out among women has led to the creation of a new language of the gym, say the researchers. Muscle toning has replaced body- building, and health and fitness have taken over from strength and sweat as buzzwords.
Sue Drew, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of the West of England, who is about to embark on a major new research programme, interviewed 60 weight-lifting women for a pilot research project and found that they had redefined what they were doing in the gym to fit in with a feminine image.
"They wanted to be fit but were concerned that they would develop large muscles. In fact, as body-builders point out, it is nowhere near as easy as that. Getting that kind of body takes more than weight-lifting alone," she says.
"Our study was aimed at exploring women's accounts of their relationships with weight-training. We found that they had brought in feminine words like body toning and that allowed them to take part in what is often seen as a masculine activity without compromising their femininity," she says.
Dr Precilla Choi at the University of Keele says that women are now realising the health benefits of weight-lifting and work-outs.
"Women do face a dilemma, but weight-lifting is very healthy and good for the building up of joints and bones, and is important in relation to osteoporosis. Many more women are appreciating that and taking it up. If you build up your body, you don't need shoulder pads."
The increase in weight-lifting and working out in the gym has been linked to its popularity among high-profile pop stars and celebrities such as Princess Diana. It may also, as psychologist Dr Lance Workman of the University of Glamorgan suggests, be encouraged by a new body shape fashion among women.
"If you look back over the century, body appearance among women changes every 10 years or so. The fashion of having a toned, healthy and athletic- looking body may be the first move away from the decade of the ultra thin look which many people now no longer associate with being healthy. There is now a realisation that thinness alone is not necessarily healthy," he says.Reuse content