The Importance of Weight Training for Women

 

Although we don’t like to hear it, research tells us that as we get older we lose muscle mass and gain body fat, which we touched on in a previous blog.

Body Composition, Metabolism and Weight Loss

Our lives are also becoming more sedentary with increased car and computer usage resulting in reduced use of our muscles. So, as we age, we need to focus more on building or preserving muscle, which is basically resistance or weight training.

Resistance training is not about pumping iron in a gym to create bulging muscles. It’s about strengthening your muscles and bones by lifting, lowering, pushing, or pulling.  This can be using dumbbells, barbells, rubber tubing or resistance bands, or weight machines, but you don’t have to lift weights to engage in resistance training.  Using your own body weight or any other object that causes your muscles to contract can be just as useful.

Why do women shy away from weight training?

Most importantly, resistance training is not just for men, but it is just as important for women.  Despite this, many women shy away from engaging in resistance training, possibly for a number of reasons.  The main reason is that many women fear that they will “bulk up” or develop an overly muscly physique.  It is safe to say that women don’t have the testosterone levels that men do and so will not gain muscle mass in the same way as men.  Also, in order to get “bulky” you need to engage in a specific form of resistance training where you focus strategically on increasing volume (with heavier weights, or reps or sets), so a woman is not just going to get “bulky” by doing resistance training.

Another reason women avoid resistance or weight training is because they may be fearful that they will injure themselves.  But it’s actually the opposite.  This type of training can help protect you against injury because you are increasing your muscle strength and bone density, as well as your mobility, stability and flexibility, which means you will be less prone to injury from falls or during an accident and at reduced risk of a range of conditions, including heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis and even your mental health!

Finally, many women want to lose weight and body fat, and therefore think that doing only cardio-based exercises like power walking or running is the best option.  But resistance training not only strengthens your muscles, but also improves your metabolism which means that if paired with good nutrition, can be more powerful for fat loss than cardio training alone.   And the best news is that this increased calorie burn not only happens during exercise but afterwards as well! As mentioned in previous blogs, this is known as EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption .  This is because some exercise, usually high intensity resistance type training, is more of a challenge for our bodies to recover from and so it uses energy for an extended period following the session in an attempt to return back to its normal state.

How much Resistance Training should I be doing?

So, to get the best from resistance training, the aim is to do at least 2-3 separate 45-minute sessions each week, with at least 1-2 days rest in between so that your muscles can recover.  And when you first start, it may be hard to work out which weight to lift.  This is a matter of trying out what feels comfortable to you – you want to feel as though you could do a few more repetitions at the end of a set, so although your muscles might feel fatigued, they shouldn’t be completely exhausted that you can’t do another rep (that’s where bodybuilding comes into play!).

Finally, as you get stronger, you want to challenge yourself so that you continue to see gains.  This means changing your weights, numbers of reps and sets, rest periods and frequency of training so that you can progressively build muscle mass, strength and endurance.   Sometimes this can be tricky to determine on your own, so when in doubt, hire a trainer or do a structured group fitness class to ensure you are training safely and effectively.

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