“Why should I strength train? I don’t want to get big.” I hear this misconception over and over again.
Many women are so fearful of increasing muscle mass that they miss out on the benefits of strength training. Some never get the results they want. How can you change the shape of your body and fight flab if you don’t strength train? We live in a society obsessed with size. Women want to be really small and men want to be really big. The awesome presence of some body builders intimidate women who want to get in shape but do not want to look manly.
It’s really hard to increase muscle mass. Body builders get big by working out for hours and eating more food than most people could handle. Some of the greatest body builders boast about drinking a ton of high calorie protein shakes. Duane Johnson eats 9 servings of fish, a dozen eggs and six servings of rice a day to achieve his mass. If you’re getting big and you don’t want to, its probably because of your diet. Also, men have hormones that increase muscle mass that women lack. Females who look overly muscular usually achieve this by taking steroids or other similar supplements.
The fear of looking bulky has some women staying away from exerting themselves in a way that will lead to a leaner and more healthy body.
Strength measures the amount of force a muscle can perform in one movement. Being able to lift a five pound weight one hundred times is not strength. That is a sign of muscle endurance. Being able to lift a thirty pound weight five times is a sign of strength. The benefits I list below are based on results of a well thought out strength program. If a person approaches a strength training program haphazardly and doesn’t learn proper form, doesn’t get proper rest and recovery, or doesn’t strengthen the opposing muscles, this person will most likely get injured and will not benefit from the strength training programs. After reading the benefits please read on as I will describe some safe ways to approach strength training.
Among the benefits are:
A more sculpted and toned body
Higher caloric burn
Slowing down of the aging process
Protects joints and prevents injuries
Prevents fatigue and increases self confidence
Sculpts the body: Strength training adds muscle gain which strengthens the body. The abdominal muscles around the waste act as a corset for the internal organs. Strengthening this area keeps the organs from popping out and helps in shaping a women’s figure. Flabby arms can be toned as well as droopy glutes and thighs. Strengthening the torso creates an hour glass shape that makes the waste look smaller. Adding muscle mass helps in burning fat. You can’t shape the fat in your body but you can shape your muscles.
Osteoporosis prevention: I see women popping calcium pills left and right fearing the threat of osteoporosis. Calcium is an important component of preventing bone degeneration but not as important as strength training. The only way for bones to get stronger is for them to feel loads and impact the way you do from strength training. In fact, if you don’t exercise, the calcium you are taking might not get used by the body at all. The scientifically proven, number one way to prevent and cure osteoporosis is gradual increases in weight lifting.
Higher Metabolism: The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you are burning. One of the main complaints I hear is from women who don’t eat a lot but still can’t lose weight. This is a problem of low metabolism which can be raised by toning the body and increasing muscle mass.
Higher Caloric Burn: Strength training burns calories. It takes more energy to lift something heavy than to lift something light. Working harder leads to higher caloric burn which is important if you are trying to slim down.
Slowing down of the aging process: Strength training has been touted by experts to be one of the best ways to slow down the aging process. As people grow older, their metabolism slows down. This is caused by loss of muscle mass. Keeping the muscles strong counter acts this degeneration and helps prevent fat gains that come with aging. Strength training has been linked with helping to prevent adult onset diabetes and in easing symptoms of menopause. Also, it prevents osteoporosis as stated above. Strength training keeps the ligaments and tendons strong, preventing injuries that older adults face. I’ve seen people in the gym well over the age of fifty with the body of a twenty year old. One of my older clients even told me she grew two inches taller after taking my classes because strength training improved her posture.
Protects Joints and Prevents Injuries: While doing the same repetitive motions over and over again may lead to overuse injuries that fray the ligaments around a joint, strength training can strengthen the joints and help prevent such injuries. I personally believe that all athletes should participate a strength training regimen in order to prevent injuries. Stronger muscles can absorb shock. This is also important in the case of an accident. Someone who is strong will have less severe injuries in a car accident than someone who is not physically fit. Some of my students have thanked me for showing them downward facing dog during yoga which helped strengthen their wrists and helped prevent them falling flat on their face when they tripped. Strength training and rehabilitation are synonymous. Strength training is your physical therapy. With an 80% success rate, it is the most effective way of healing injuries. I have personally cured my own lower back pain and I owe it all to strength training. Allowing your injured muscles to stay weak is a great way of being a slave to your injuries forever. Strength training has been known to cure many aches, pains, and muscle imbalances where pills and chiropractic adjustments have failed.
Prevents Fatigue and increases self confidence: One of the top complaints that people have is that they are too tired. Strength training counters fatigue. If you are strong, you are less likely to get worn out. You are also more equipped to handle stress. You can pick up your kids and heavy objects with ease. This increases a sense of self confidence. You can lift things you couldn’t lift before and perform tasks with less risk of injury. If you are not an athlete, I believe it is still important to strength train so you can be equipped and prepared for life.
Great Meditation: Strength training calms the mind. Since I’ve been strength training, I rarely get angry and I find I am more emotionally sound. Proper resistance training takes requires controlled breathing, exhaling as you exert yourself and inhaling during the eccentric contraction. This teaches us centering and clarity. When we feel anxious, it is good to hit the weights for about a half hour and let off steam. It teaches our mind and bodies to focus on something difficult and we leave feeling more clearly and prepared to tackle those obstacles that once weighed us down. Of course, it is important to cool down and stretch after weight lifting. No wonder one of the side effects of regular exercise is that it fights depression.
Don’t do more than twenty reps of weight lifting. If you can do more than twenty, you aren’t lifting heavy enough and you most likely will not reach your goals as fast. To get stronger, you want to aim for five to twelve reps. After your last rep, you should not be able to lift any more. Remember, this article is about “strength” training, not endurance.
Warm up. This means that you do some light exercises that get muscles you are going to train ready to lift something heavier. For example, you can do some pushups or light bench presses before you do heavy bench presses. Warming up prevents injuries.
Cool down. Strength training wears away at the muscles so they can get stronger. It can also raise the heart rate considerably. It is good to cool down with 5 or 10 minutes of light cardio to help get the healing blood going through those muscles. Always stretch after strength training. This lengthens the muscles that have been shortened, helps prevent soreness, and brings a sense of relaxation after a tough workout. Lack of a cool down can lead to stress, anxiety, soreness and injuries.
Recover. Strength training works by stressing the muscles and causing little tears in them. When the muscle heals, they heal stronger. You know you worked hard when you are sore the next day. Do not repeat your strength training on a sore muscle. As a general rule, rest the muscle group you trained the next day. If you like to strength train every day, do one body part on one day and another body part the next. Remember, if the muscle does not heal, it will not get stronger. Recovery is an important component of strength training. Do not overlook it. If available, use the steam room, Jacuzzi or a massage to help penetrate sore muscles.
Always work out the opposing muscle group. If you work out your chest, you must work out your upper back. If you work out your abdominals, you must work out your lower back. If you work out your quads (front of the thigh), you must work out your hamstrings (back of the thigh). If you work out your biceps (front of the arm), you must work out your triceps (back of the arm). When you do a pushing movement, you must do a pulling movement. When a muscle contracts, the opposing muscle relaxes and stretches. Focusing on one side will weaken the other and this leads to muscle imbalances which leads to injuries and pain.
Get educated. Strength training is important, but if you don’t know what you are doing, you are in danger. Find a trainer to help you. Most gyms offer one free training session which you should definitely take advantage of if you don’t know what you are doing. I do believe that signing up for a training session for at least a month is best if you want to learn how to strength train on your own. That is usually how long it takes for the brain to understand the proper movements. If you have injuries, find a good physical therapist. I have worked with people who have all kinds of physical ailments from doing exercises incorrectly on a regular basis. This can really mess up your body and you have to spend more money later on in order to fix these problems. Invest in a mentor, even if just for a while. Invest in your health and educate yourself about your health. It will save you greater pains in the future.
Learn to use free weights and multiple joint exercises. It can take you a while to isolate every muscle but if you stick to lunges, squats, pushes and pulls, you’ve pretty much hit every part of your body. Skipping the machines for free weights and functional movements can help you incorporate your core and teaches your body to balance. If you are short on time, learn multiple joint exercises.
Strength Train at least twice a week. Studies have shown that if you work out every muscle twice a week, you will get results. Even once a week is better than nothing. You can strength train more often, as long as you mix up what you do to prevent over use injuries
Utilize strength training in disguise:
One of the things we group fitness instructors like to think about is how to get results to women who are afraid to lift heavy weights. One of these ways is by teaching people how to lift their own body weight. Modalities such as Pilates and Yoga do just that in a slower, more supportive environment. I’ve heard women say they have gotten better results doing Pilates because lifting your own body weight is much harder than lifting five pounds. And because no weight lifting is involved, women are more likely to accept it. Also, stretch bands are portable, inexpensive and light. Yet they give great resistance and tone the muscles. Wobble boards and balance training help to challenge the muscles and strengthen the core.
A while ago I was at a seminar and learned that for some reason, women team sports lack a strength training program. That is just the way it is. Meanwhile, the face of sports is changing. Records are broken left and right due to advances in strength training. Those who do not benefit from strength training and therapy suffer more injuries, aches and pains. I believe it is time we educated women and teach them to empower themselves. Whenever I read a book or a historic quote, women are referred to as the “weaker sex.” These days, we no longer buy this slogan. How can we be the weaker sex when we do so much and take care of so many? We play so many roles in our lives and we need to be strong in order to do this. We must change our perception about ourselves if we are to take control of our health and our lives.
NOTE: I JUST UPDATED THIS BLOG WHICH WAS WRITTEN OVER TEN YEARS AGO! I KEPT THE FINAL PARAGRAPH UNCHANGED BECAUSE ITS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF HOW MUCH HAS CHANGED AND HOW FAR WE HAVE COME
By Rhea Morales