The Truth about Strength Training and Women
You may be the woman who is trying to lose a pants size. Or the woman who is new to fitness. Or the cardio queen wondering why you can’t improve your race time or appearance. Maybe you love the idea of lifting weights for stress relief or gaining strength, but you are afraid of looking like the female body builder you saw on TV. If you can identify with any of these women, this post is for you.
There are several misconceptions about women resistance training. I want to dispel the four biggest myths, because there is so much for a woman to gain by strength training. Just a heads up, seventeen-inch arms and pecks aren’t the gains I am talking about.
Myth #1: I know cardio burns a lot of calories while weight lifting hardly burns any at all. This means if I lift weights for my workouts, I will not get any leaner.
While it is true that cardio burns a lot of calories, lifting weights does not burn as little as you may think. If you have ever researched how many calories a 45-minute run burns (about 600 calories for a 150-pound woman) and how much a weight lifting session burns (about 100-150 for the same size person) you would think it is a no brainer to go for a run. However, when you lift weights for an hour, your body is not done burning calories after your last rep. Thanks to Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) you continue to burn calories even while you are sitting at your desk or while reading a magazine on the couch.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Simply put, EPOC is when your body has an oxygen debt after working very hard. Steady state activities do not cause an oxygen debt in the body like bursts of strenuous activity do. The body is working in various ways to repair itself after a tough lifting session. This takes lots of energy. Calories are essentially energy units, and therefore the repairs are using calories.
Myth #2: Strength training is for men, because they are looking to bulk while women are looking to get lean.
This is one of those myths that just won’t go away unfortunately. There are women body builders who do lift weights to get muscular. What women need to realize is these women are not spending an hour in the gym and getting these results. Women bodybuilders spend hours (plural) in the gym doing lots and lots of reps of the same move. They are dedicated athletes that spend countless time on their craft. On top of the hours in the gym, they have very strict diets that can be anything from eating loads of protein to eating double the calories they need per day. They also have patience because to get man size arms on a woman takes years of discipline.
What exactly does strength training do for a woman’s body if not make it bulky? Strength training is going to shape muscles, lean out limbs and help shed fat. It will also help increase bone density and strengthen joints and prevent osteoporosis. If you have ever dreamed of shapely legs, a flat stomach or a rounder butt, lifting is what makes that dream a reality.
If you want to see the number on the scale go down and are not concerned with how your body is shaped, lifting may or may not be for you. Remember, muscle doesn’t weigh more than fat, it’s denser. One pound is still one pound. Resistance training helps aid fat loss and reduce your BMI. Cardio alone will help you lose fat but you will also lose some muscle mass. If your only concern is the number on the scale, do cardio. If you want to wear a smaller size and have a leaner, more toned appearance, give strength training a chance.
Myth #3: I will look lost in a gym! People will judge me if I lift weights at the gym. I won’t be able to lift as heavy as everyone else and I won’t know how to properly perform the exercises.
First, if anyone is interrupting their workout to judge you or study the weight you are using, there is a problem with them…not you. It is more likely no one will notice you are even there until they see you on a regular basis and are impressed with your consistency and progress.
Second, there is a reason weight training machines are adjustable, and dumbbells aren’t all super heavy! The gym is not just for athletes, bodybuilders and especially not just for men. If there is no weight light enough for you, do the move with just your body weight and work your way up. With consistency you will be lifting heavier weights in no time.
Finally, most gyms are staffed, and the staff are not being paid to watch their favorite show on the TVs above the treadmills. They are there to answer your questions and help their customers. If you do not feel comfortable asking for assistance, consider switching gyms. If you are very serious about perfecting your form (which is highly recommended for faster, better results) consider hiring a personal trainer until you are comfortable and confident being by yourself.
Myth #4 Weight training is damaging to the body.
Many people, not just women, are concerned about damaging their joints if they strength train. It is not strength training that will damage your body, it is improperly strength training that will. Just like any other kind of physical activity, there are safe and unsafe ways to strength train.
Always make sure to warm up, stretch and cool down. Do not try a move you are not familiar or comfortable with. Before you do any kind of weight lifting it is a good idea to go through the motions with no weights just to become comfortable with the proper form.
Make sure you can identify the difference between discomfort and pain. Discomfort is when the exercise feels like a challenge and you want to quit because you feel uncomfortable. This is where you are improving yourself. Pain is when you hurt. If you feel pain, stop doing whatever you are doing.
Weight lifting, when done properly can be very beneficial to the body and mind. Resistance training has been associated with increased confidence, mood and balance. It also fights fat which means a healthier heart. In addition, it helps prevent osteoporosis, diabetes and back pain.
Hopefully, women (and everyone else) will soon see that strength training has a very important role in womens health.