Day: March 25, 2011

Strength Training for Women: Dispelling Misconception

Myth 1: Strength training causes women to become larger and heavier.
Actually, strength training helps in decreasing body fat and increasing lean body mass (muscle mass). Many people when trying to lose weight overlook the benefits of strength training for fear of weight gain. Now, there may be a slight increase in body weight initially but the key to losing weight has very little to do with the number on your bathroom scale. “Your weight reflects only the amount of fat, muscle and other substances in your body; if you lose weight you cannot determine what you have lost, fat or muscle.” This is why your metabolic rate (metabolism) is important. Metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories. This figure is mostly dependent upon your specific body composition, the relative amounts of fat and muscle in your body. Muscle burns more calories than fat! With understanding this concept, if weight loss is your goal you should focus on fat loss and muscle gain. Lowering your overall bodyfat and increasing your lean body mass (muscle) will help you to burn more calories throughout the whole day.

Now, I get a lot of questions regarding size and strength training. “I don’t want to get big.” Women that get big in the weight room already have a genetic predisposition for muscle growth (hypertrophy) and train with high volume, high intensity exercise programs. The best way to increase muscle size is by lifting light weights with more repetitions and to increase strength by lifting heavy weights with low repetitions. Muscle size will usually not increase as much as it will with lighter weights and more repetitions. A general rule is that heavy weights for about five reps or less is better for strength and more reps and lighter weight is better for size. Therefore, an exercise program that varies the intensity from heavier weights, fewer reps (5–8) to lighter weight more reps (12–15) 2 – 3 days per week is just what you need to give your metabolism that boost to help you “loss weight” without “getting big”.

Myth 2: Women should use different exercise programs than men.
It was once thought that using free weights, plyometrics (high velocity, low force) body weight or even manual resistance would cause injury.

In fact, there is no evidence that woman are more likely to be injured during strength training than man. Using proper form and technique when exercising is the key for both men and women in reducing the risk of injury. Following a strength-training program that gradually increases the intensity and load will also help in reducing the risk of injuries.

Myth 3: Women should avoid high-intensity or high-load training.
Strength training programs that most women perform are light weight in nature. Often such programs are below those necessary for physiologic adaptations and are much lower than those used by men.

“Most women are able to train at higher volumes and intensities than previously believed. In fact, women need to train at intensities high enough to cause adaptation in bone, muscle, cartilage, ligaments and tendons.” Thus, training at lower levels will keep physiologic benefits to a minimum and in turn, will keep you from reaching your goals. To get the most benefit from your strength training program, one should, occasionally lift weights at or near repetition maximum for each exercise.

Using the OVERLOAD principle is one way to ensure you get the most out of your strength training routine. There are three ways one can overload: by increasing the weight, the repetitions, and the sets. As discussed earlier, strength is increase more by lifting heavy loads for fewer repetitions than by lifting light loads for higher repetitions. So, if you are now able to lift a given amount of weight 15 times instead of 8 times, you are ready for an overload change. Here we have used both weight and repetitions as the overload. You can also use just repetitions as a way to overload. Trying to increase the reps puts added stress on the muscles. As muscle strength increases the number of reps you can do increase. Be aware that at some point weight will need to be increased as well to ensure proper overloading. Also, by adding a second or third set will allow those muscles to work harder even at the same intensity.

Remember, that lifting weights (strength training) is a great tool for increasing ones strength for overall functioning, preventing osteoporosis, speeding up your metabolism and losing weight. It takes a lot of hard work with varying intensities, rest periods between sets and how much food you consume to “get big” in the weight room. And that bathroom scale isn’t showing you the whole truth.