Fitness Myths #2


Often women state that they want to be “toned” but not build muscle. There is a common misconception that a woman who lifts heavy weights will “bulk up.” As a consequence of this, women often do weight training with weights that are too light and with too many repetitions.

There are two aspects of strength training that I would like to underscore.

1. Hormonal differences between men and women prevent women from building the amount of muscle that men are capable of building with the same weight training routines. The photo with this post is of a champion female bodybuilder (prior to the era of steroids in women’s bodybuilding). This woman achieved this look by lifting heavy weights for many years. This is the amount of “bulk” a young woman working very, very hard can achieve without the use of drugs.

2. As a woman, you need all the muscle you can get. Muscle mass begins to decline at age 30 and can be as high as 10% muscle loss per decade. As women start with less muscle mass than men, this loss of muscle impacts women more significantly. Loss of muscle is a key factor in loss of independent functioning in older adults. Build muscle early in life and maintain it as long as you can. To do this you have to do strength training, and do strength training at a higher intensity that you think is needed. Doing exercises with low weights for high repetitions just does not stimulate the type of muscle growth that is needed to maintain good muscle functioning throughout life.

In addition to helping you remain strong and functional, building and maintaining muscle has other benefits. Pound for pound, muscle burns more calories than fat. Muscle loss is often associated with fat gain, even though weight may remain the same. This higher fat mass interferes with a number of metabolic processes needed for good health.

Recommendations for strength training are to perform exercises of 2-3 sets at a resistance that allows you to perform 8-12 repetitions per set. If you can perform 15 repetitions of the exercise, the resistance likely needs to be increased. A minimum recommendation for frequency is to perform exercises for each of the major muscle groups twice per week.

You do not need to join a gym or have a lot of equipment in order to do an effective strength training routine. There are a number of exercises that can be performed with no, or little, equipment. A set of resistance bands and space to exercise may be all you need. But if you are not familiar with strength training, meeting with a professional trainer to set up a program is a good first step. This also allows you to learn proper form for each exercise and to set you on a program that is varied, fun, and effective.

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