By Gregory R. Owens SR
For many women the new year commences with a desire to lose weight and look toned. Many will join the local gym and start their fitness quest by focusing their workout around mid-to-high intensity sessions on the elliptical, treadmill, stationary bike, and other cardio machines.
Nearly everyday that I work out at the gym lifting weights and conducting my strength training, 90 percent of the women in the gym are focused on cardio machines. I believe most of the 90 percent of women working on cardio machines are doing it because they are comfortable, have some familiarity, and believe they will someday achieve their fitness goals. I think the over usage of cardio machines is from a lack of awareness for most women and misconceptions about weight training.
Research shows that adding resistance training as part of your workout routine is a for-sure method for increasing lean body mass and reducing body fat for women. Weight training has a significant effect on fat loss. The more muscle a woman has, the more calories she will burn at rest. Basically, muscles speed up the metabolism, resulting in more effective fat loss. Weight and strength training is a much better approach than focusing only on cardio if your goal is to achieve a toned, healthy physique.
Below are truths that counter many of the myths and misconceptions about weight training for women.
Strength training is possibly more important for women than it is for men. Women have to rely on growth hormone to do a large portion of their work for fat loss. On the other hand, men have high levels of testosterone in addition to growth hormone.
A 2006 study concluded that “growth hormone, produced in the pituitary, plays an important role in bone and muscle development, particularly in women. Men rely to a larger extent on muscle-building testosterone. Since women rely on growth hormone to increase muscle and bone strength, the more growth hormone stimulated weight training conducted, the better the outcome.” Growth hormone clearly is more crucial for women than men.
Studies have found that heavy weights lifted at a slow speed are a good way to boost growth hormone levels for women. Equally important to lifting weights is to utilize as many compound, combination, and full-body movements as possible, so that you are increasing lean mass and decreasing fat simultaneously, rather than isolating muscle groups to increase their size.
Another misconception is that weight training will lead to weight gain and a bulky physique. The truth of the matter is that strength training may cause women to gain some weight. However, if the weight gains are in lean body mass, you will look more lean and toned. This is because muscle is denser than fat, meaning it covers less space on your body. By losing fat and gaining muscle, you can stay the same weight – or even gain some – but actually be slimmer than you were before.
Additionally, your diet plays an important role on what you look like in your body, and a bulking diet looks a lot different than a solid nutritional protocol for a woman on a fat/weight-loss program. The bottom line is that the way you eat and train will determine how your body develops. A full-body training program and a diet rich in protein, vegetables, and healthy fats is an effective path toward fat loss and strength for most women.
Having more muscle mean you can burn more calories (and fat) over time.
Understand that healthy is all about how you look and feel about yourself.
I would encourage anyone to focus less on what you want to lose and more on your physical and emotional gains. Scale watching can lead you down the wrong path, so a degree of strict discipline is in order.
During my many years of weight training, I have learned that muscle reacts and grows from muscle failure and not by how many plates are placed on a weight bar. A weight lifting study on women found that regardless of what the training style was – heavy lifting with low reps or low weights with high reps – strength and muscle gains occurred.
Strength training at whatever style you are comfortable with will yield positive results, and if a lean and toned look motivates you, you will be able to work towards your goals.
Another big myth is “you can be too old for weight training”.
“Sarcopenia” is the gradual loss of muscle mass that begins for most women after age 35. Contrary to popular belief, this decline in muscle mass and strength is not a result of the aging process; rather, it’s due to inactivity.
If you’re an older adult, you don’t need to fall for the myth. Studies show that resistance/weight training is the best way to prevent and reverse loss of muscle for older adults. Particularly for women, resistance training is an effective long-term strategy to preserve muscle and positive changes in body composition. Increasing your muscle mass (no matter the amount) is something anyone can do. As I mention often, age is simply a number and not a limitation.
Here is something you need to know about healthier bones and joints as women age.
Women that do not exercise can lose anywhere from 3 to 8% of their muscle mass each decade as a result of inactivity. If you do not use your muscles you will eventually lose your muscles. Studies have shown positive results from strength training such as reduce lower back pain, promote bone development, and reverse several skeletal muscle aging factors. Strength training not only develops muscles, but also can ease joint pains.
Additionally, there is a strong correlation between weight training and stress reduction/anxiety.
Hopefully, I have convinced you that it’s time to join your local gym and start hitting the weights hard, knowing now that there is plenty of upside for women to weight train just as hard as men. Once you have joined the gym, work with a certified personal trainer to show you how to perform resistance training exercises with proper form. Make weight training a part of your lifestyle, and you will experience noticeable results to how you look and feel.
Weight training can make a significant impact to an improved body image. Mirrors in gyms also serve to validate a positive body image. According to one study, weight training is associated with “significant improvements in several dimensions of body image, health-related quality of life, and physical activity behaviors, satisfaction, and comfort.”
Remember no pain, no gain.