Are Weights as Good For Women?

We at Maximum Fitness all know women not only have just as much a right to be in the free weights section and squat rack as guys do, but benefit just as much too.

The problem…

Despite clear evidence to the contrary, however, over half the population are convinced the best way for them to achieve the body of their dreams is to perform cardiovascular exercise at a manageable pace for as long as possible, or ‘tighten those problem areas’ by ‘toning muscles’ with light weights and ineffective newfangled equipment or movement. In the meantime this interpretation of exercise is coupled with dangerous and confusing advice on eating with hoards of dieters eating less than their recommended energy requirements for balanced nutrition.

The question…

This is a sure-fire way to feel tired, hungry and miserable, leading to binge-eating and health problems in later life, and often weight gain in the short-term and long-term. Certainly, diet is a valid discussion that regularly dominates conversation amongst our members and trainers in the corridors of Maximum Fitness Gym and certainly will impact on an individual’s energy levels for training, their weight and appearance. But if, for the purpose of this article, we assume that our case study women who regularly weight train consume an adequate number of calories for the exercise they perform, would they become bulky if they increase the amount of weight they lift in the same way that men do?

Some answers…

1)Its my hormones…

The answer is that women and men both have the capacity to become stronger but our capacity to build muscle is different. Clinical evidence and our own experience suggests lifting heavy weights will not cause women to get big and bulky like men because women produce a lower amount of testosterone than men do. If we look at the median or mid-range testosterone levels in men and women, on an average, men have 16 times more testosterone than women, unless she is using exogenous testosterone injections and/or other anabolic steroids in which case women will also show signs of hair growth on the face and chest, deepening of the voice, and other effects (not advised! and not necessary!).

2)We are all individuals but the same rules apply…

Ultimately your genetic makeup will dictate where your body chooses to store fat so that when you start to lose weight (if that is your goal) your body will lose the fat in a certain order as well – it might come off your arms first, then your legs, then your belly, then your chest, and THEN your bum. Or in a different order. The key is that it is the intensity rather than the duration which determines how effective your training will be, and that is true whether your goal is weight loss or muscle gain.

3)This is how we do it…

Strength training not with targeted exercises, but with big compound movements that recruit lots of muscles is the best way to make your body an efficient fat-burner. Likewise rather than running in your comfort zone for one hour, one would need to perform high-intensity cardio for a long duration of time to maximize fat burning. The only problem is one cannot maintain high-intensity cardio for a long duration which is why the system known as HITT -High Intensity Interval Training- advises exercisers to alternate between intervals of high-intensity and low-intensity exercise. An example would be sprinting all-out for 100 meters then walking for 100 meters then repeating. This, like weight training, uses the anaerobic energy systems, specifically the Phosphocreatine system, which power short-term activity, followed by the aerobic system while you recover. After going all out, one must rest and give the Phosphocreatine system time to “recharge”. In strength training, it is this recruitment of the anaerobic energy system that burns body fat more exclusively, while cardio alone can cause both fat and muscle loss. Hence lifters lose chub, while aerobicizers’ are more likely to lose valuable muscle. Furthermore researchers have also found that lifting weights is better than cardio at whittling intra-abdominal fat—the kind that’s associated with diseases from diabetes to cancer. So our Maximum Fitness advice to women is to wean yourself off low weights and start doing higher weights for less repetitions.

4)Here’s the science bit…

A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, supports this claim. Women who lifted 85 percent of their max load for sets of eight reps whilst working out burned nearly twice as many calories during the two hours after their workout than when they did more reps (15) at a lower weight (45 percent of their max). This is because when you strength train, your muscles are broken down, and then rebuilt over the next 24-48 hours so while your body is rebuilding those muscles it’s recruiting more calories and energy to make the process happen (generally referred to as the ‘afterburn’ effect).  What this means is that your metabolism operates at a faster level because muscle, unlike fat, is metabolically active. Your body responds to this stimulus by becoming more regenerative. As your lean muscle increases so does your resting metabolism – so you burn more calories even when you are not working out!

5) Still need convincing?

Strength training not only builds stronger muscles, but also builds stronger connective tissues and increases joint stability. This acts as reinforcement for the joints and helps prevent injury. . If your maximum strength is increased, and your body awareness and understanding of how to maintain strict form on all movements (For example, when doing a standing barbell curl, tighten your abs to stabilize your body and prevent lower back from injury through using momentum) then daily tasks will be far less likely to cause injury. According to Dr. Barry A. Franklin, of William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, weight training closer to your maximum capacity can also improve health, including lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Cardiologists are even starting to recommend strength training for people who have suffered a heart attack as little as three weeks after the attack. Studies show that strength improvements are possible at any age. We regularly train a 92-year old lady who has built up significant strength through strength training at Maximum Fitness, proving that age is only a number!!  It’s not the case we get old and have to stop strength training, rather we get old WHEN we stop training!

This leads us to another very important reason that weights are good for women. Women are four times more likely than men to develop osteoporosis, particularly women on the thin side and dieters as the body is forced to leech calcium from the bones. Research has found that weight training can increase spinal bone mineral density by 13 percent in six months. This, coupled with an adequate amount of dietary calcium, can be a women’s best defence against osteoporosis.

6) Finally, strength training makes you feel like the boss!

Lifting heavier weights comes with a big self-esteem boost. How awesome does pressing a heavy weight over your head for the first time make you feel? Women who strength train commonly report feeling more confident and capable as a result of their program, increasing the ease at which they deal with general activities of daily living (ADL) as well as work, all important factors in fighting depression. Increasing your strength will make you far less dependent upon others for assistance in daily living and make you feel like the strong, independent woman we already know you are.

So in conclusion women who slowly and modestly gain more muscle will have more lean body mass and less fat, less injuries, stronger bones and a happier disposition. Finding a good fitness centre should be a priority. Maximum Fitness is a well organised and planned training set up, so there’s no need to wait for your weights. All this with a experienced staff on hand to ensure you adhere to an effective exercise program designed specifically for you.

So what are you waiting for? It’s easy to start – if you haven’t, or upgrade your training if you have. Call Nick at Reception and book a couple of 1-1 sessions NOW on…….or email info@maximumfitness.co.uk or check out the website for more info www.maxfit.co.uk