Women and Strength Training

        Most of the time when people think of women in the gym, they think of the term “cardio queens” because women are more prone to be on the aerobics machines rather than lifting weights. One of the main reasons women tend to shy away from weight training is because of the fear of becoming bulky. I also think that women tend to shy away from weights because they are uncomfortable. Then, even when women do occasionally chose to do weight training, they often choose weights that are too light to get all of the wonderful benefits that weight training has to offer. It’s time to step out of our comfort zones and lift some weights.

        Being healthy and beautiful in today’s world is a little skewed. Women are surrounded with magazine pictures of crazy skinny models and TV ads with women that set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and for every normal woman in the world. Did you know there is such as a thing as being skinny-fat? A lot of the models have very little muscle and may seem small to the eye but most likely they still have a high percentage of body fat which puts them at just as much risk as an obese person. Most of these women are not healthy. Even men prefer women that are more muscular. A study was done where men were shown a picture of a skinny model and of a strong, toned woman. 98% of the men chose the muscular woman.

        The first myth, that women will become bulky if they start a weight training program, is very false. First of all, women have smaller muscle fibers than men, so it is physically impossible to gain as much muscle mass as a man. The second reason is because we don’t have the same hormones as men. The main hormone that helps men get bigger faster as they begin to lift weights is testosterone. Women have 10-30 times less of the hormones that make men gain muscle mass. So instead of getting big, we gain muscle definition and tone. 

        Hopefully now you might be considering starting a weight training program in addition or maybe even replacing some of your laborious cardio sessions. Weight training has so many benefits. To start, weight training increases your bone density which prevents osteoporosis. Osteoporosis should be on the mind of every woman. Women build their bone density until they are 25- 30 years old. Then after that, women lose the bone that was built up. Weight training builds up your bones while you are in the building years and slows down bone deterioration while we age. In addition, it also builds up and strengthens your ligaments and tendons.

     Weight lifting also increases your daily caloric burn. A study done by Wayne Wescott, PhD, showed that women who weight trained 2-3 times a week gained 2 pounds of muscle and lost 3.5 pounds of fat in 2 months. For every pound of muscle gained, 35-50 more calories a day are burned. That means if a woman were to do this for a full year, then she would gain 12 pounds of muscle and burn an extra 420-600 calories a day by the end of the year, without having to work harder!  That’s an extra 45-60 minutes of cardio you would have to do to burn those calories.

        To add to the list of benefits, weight lifting helps maintain muscle mass as we grow older. As we age, we tend to lose 8% of our muscle mass every decade. Weight training is the gateway to stop this process. If a person has very little muscle mass and continues to lose the little mass they have as they age, there is a point where that person can no longer function because of all of the muscle mass lost. This is not an ending anyone would want to be a part of. It also lowers LDL, the bad cholesterol and increases HDL, the good cholesterol while decreasing blood pressure.  Lifting weights helps decrease depression and build confidence. A Harvard study showed that people who had depression had better success with weight training for 10 weeks in reducing clinical depression symptoms than counseling. Weight training can also help manage chronic conditions such as arthritis, back pain, diabetes, and obesity.

        Now that you have read many, but not all of the benefits of weight training, I hope you are inspired to add weight training to your program if you haven’t already. Even if you are already lifting, may this spur you on to lift more and challenge your muscles.

Key Notes:

If you’re a beginner, try weight training with weight that you can only do 8-12 repetitions and do 8-10 exercises, one set of each exercise. For instance:

  1. Squat (Body weight if that is hard enough, then hold dumbbells when extra weight is needed)
  2. Step Ups with Dumbbells (Use your body weight in the beginning and add weight when needed. Do not use a step that causes you to bend your knees more than 90 degrees!) http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/barbell-step-ups
  3. Front squat (Instead of holding the dumbbells to your sides like in the squat, hold one dumbbell at chest level and squat. Make sure when you are squatting that you are only going down to where your thigh and calf make a 90 degree angle, not all the way down like in the video!)           http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/goblet-squat
  4. Dumbbell Bench Press        
  5. Shoulder Press
  6. Incline dumbell Bench Press
  7. Bent Over Dumbbell row (the form is the same on the video below, just substitute dumbbells) http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/smith-machine-bent-over-row
  8. One Arm Dumbbell Row http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/one-arm-dumbbell-row
  9. Upright Row (Only lift the dumbbell so that your arm is parallel to the floor, not any higher!) http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/dumbbell-one-arm-upright-row