Women and strength training
By Rebecca Feist
Strength training is important for everyone from teenagers to mature adults. However, it is particularly important and useful for women. I often hear women say, “I only have 30 minutes to work out so I am just going to do cardio.” Big mistake!
Cardiovascular exercise is necessary to maintain heart heath and must be part of any wellness program. However, smart women will spend an equal amount of time on strength training as well. For women, strength training benefits include increased bone density, increased metabolism, strong ligaments and tendons, and increased quality of life. When strength training, there is an applied force on the tendons (which grow stronger), and this stimulates bone growth as well as supports the joints. In addition, women wishing to lose fat will do so more easily if they strength train. By participating in a regular strength training program and lifting heavy enough weight, muscle fibers will increase, and as a result they will gain more energy. That means a faster metabolism! This is especially important for women in their metabolism-slowing menopausal years. Strength training is the best way to combat that metabolic decrease and the increase in body fat that comes along with it. Finally, there is an amazing confidence and accomplishment women can feel by being strong and in control of their bodies.
It’s important to address the statement that makes exercise physiologists cringe each time they hear it from their female clients: “I don’t want to lift too heavy because it makes me bulky.” This is absolutely and unequivocally not true. While different bodies respond differently to strength training, women simply do not have high enough amounts of certain hormones or the right bone structure to build big bulky muscles. Even if a woman lifted her maximum on a regular basis, she simply does not have the genetic makeup to attain large muscles.
This myth has contributed to many women choosing to lift very light weights to avoid the unattractive bulk they incorrectly assume they will gain. Unfortunately, this means they are not gaining the wonderful strength benefits listed previously. In order for a muscle to build and change, it must be challenged to do more than is comfortable, so it needs to adapt. That means when strength training, women should lift a weight that fatigues the muscle in eight to 12 repetitions. Most current recommendations are to lift one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions depending on fitness level. With consistency and the right amount of weight, women may see benefits from as little as 20 minutes per day. The best way to get started on a program to assure proper form and a well-rounded routine is to meet with an exercise physiologist. Go ahead ladies – get your lift on!
Rebecca Feist is fitness operations director at the Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center.
For more information, visit www.wrcameronwellness.org/.