Lift Like A Girl !

Lift Like A Girl !

SEPTEMBER 10th, 2018 WRITTEN BY TIMOTHY SCHULTZ

(Estimated reading time: ~5 mins)

“You’ll look like a man.”

“Women shouldn’t lift heavy weights.”

“I don’t want to look bulky, I just want to tone up.”

“Women should train differently to men.”

“Lifting heavy weights is dangerous for women.”

“Strength training for women is a waste of time, you’ll never develop strong muscles.”

 

Ever heard one of these? I know I have – and I’m pretty tired of it.

Strength training is the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth and it should be performed by everyone – man and woman alike. I understand the fears and misconceptions surrounding strength training for women, especially the thought that touching a weight over 5lbs will turn you into a muscle bound monster who can’t fit into your skinny jeans anymore.

(Image source: https://www.deviantart.com/ramartwork/art/She-Hulk-TV-605805160)

 

Read on and I’ll break down how false this line of thought is! Well, unless you consider developing a ‘squat booty’ a downside – as you might just have to buy new jeans after all…

Myths and Misconceptions

“You’ll look like a man.”

“I don’t want to look bulky, I just want to tone up.”

Let’s tackle these together since they are similar lines of thinking.

First, it’s physiologically impossible for you to build the muscle mass equivalent to that of a man (or even close to it) without the use of exogenous hormones – steroids and the like. Strength training has a significantly greater hypertrophic effect in men vs. women (9). This is because you simply don’t have the hormones to support such muscle growth.

Here is what you might look like if you did partake in some external hormonal support:

(Image source: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/317996423674157559/)

 

If this isn’t your ideal body type that’s okay! Because remember, it won’t happen naturally so let’s just put that fear to rest. I am secretly jealous of those biceps though…

Trying to “tone up”? What you’re really asking for is to have an appreciable level of muscle mass and a low enough body fat percentage to see the definition in your muscle.

Here is what you’d look like if you did some good ol’ heavy lifting multiple times per week (combined with some healthy eating of course):

Strength training + Lower body fat = “Toned”.

#nofilter necessary!

“Women should train differently to men.”

“Women shouldn’t lift heavy weights.”

“Lifting heavy weights is dangerous for women.”

I couldn’t disagree with these statements more. I won’t try and convince you with my own anecdotal experiences training women (in the same manner I train myself) making some incredible progress; instead here are a couple of studies:

A study of elderly women performing a 12 week resistance training program showed significant strength gains due to muscle hypertrophy, the researchers concluded resistance exercise to be safe to be performed by elderly women (6). Lifting heavy isn’t dangerous at all as long as you lift within your current level of strength and with proper technique.

High intensity strength training in postmenopausal women has shown substantial strength gains working out twice weekly for 12 months (7). Continual strength improvements were seen for the full duration of this study! That’s gains all year long my friend.

So we have two groups of ladies training, elderly and postmenopausal women – both making some serious gains. Tell me again why women shouldn’t be lifting heavy?

 

“Strength training for women is a waste of time, you’ll never develop strong muscles.”

Let me shut down this point with one short gif:

That’s 315lbs! Well over double her body weight on the bar for two reps. That’s strong and straight up badass! Also, notice how she doesn’t look like a man?

Strength Training Benefits

Now that we are informed as to what WON’T happen when you touch a barbell, let’s look at the host of benefits that you WILL see following a well structured strength training program.

Increased Fat Loss

I can hear the triglycerides shaking in their boots! As strength training increases muscle mass, your metabolic rate will improve as muscle is metabolically active tissue (it burns calories at rest) (9,11). This means you can eat more of the foods you love, perform less cardio AND still lose body fat. This is the key to long term progress! No more slaving away on the treadmill, let your muscle burn away your fat for you!

Full-body strength training increases your metabolic rate, energy requirements in addition to decreasing body fat making it just as effective at reducing fat stores as opposed to aerobic training as per Ross et al (9,11). This is due to the fact that an increase in metabolic rate leads to a greater oxidation of muscle triglycerides creating a larger reduction in both local and total fat.

Studies have shown strength training in women brought about a significant reduction in intra-abdominal fat tissue as well as an increase in strength and muscle area (5, 9). Less belly fat AND a stronger body, who wouldn’t be happy with that!?

‘Fountain of Youth’

Between the second and seventh decades of life there is a 40% reduction in muscle and 30% decline in muscle strength (2). This loss of muscle in older adults, also known as sarcopenia is the biggest factor in the loss of independence.

Strength training of sufficient intensity and duration has shown to increase muscle hypertrophy and strength in older individuals (1,2,11). Since the adaptations achieved from strength training do not differ that greatly from older to young persons the decline in your muscle’s metabolic rate and strength capacity can no longer be accepted as an unavoidable consequence of the aging process.

The adaptations achieved in aging muscle due to strength training may prevent sarcopenia (3,10). These same adaptations will also exert beneficial effects on other age related diseases such as coronary artery disease, Type II diabetes, hypertension, obesity and osteoporosis (2,11).

Additional benefits seen with strength training include an increase in mineral bone density and stronger connective tissue (11,12,13). This means falling down later in life won’t be so devastating as you’ll have stronger bones to resist breaking a hip!

Internal Strength and Motivation

There’s nothing quite like standing up with what feels like a world crushing weight on your back. This is the secret to strength training – the internal strength and motivation it provides. Weight training not only makes you physically strong but the mental strength you will develop is second to none. Having trouble with your mindset, motivation or adhering to your diet? It won’t feel quite as hard to say no to dessert when you have developed the mental strength to grind out a heavy squat.

The problem is, even when ladies strength train they usually don’t end up going heavy enough to stimulate adaptation (put down those pink dumbbells down please). Now heavy is relative – my ‘heavy’ may not be ‘heavy’ enough for you or it may be too much, it’s all dependant on your current strength – but that’s okay! You will achieve this mental fortitude lifting heavy reps whether it’s 30lbs or 300lbs, as long as you are giving it your all (and lifting safely of course).

Do you hate going to the gym? Let me ask you what’s more motivating – spending time plotting away on the treadmill or achieving something you’ve never done before? Achieving a personal best on strength movements is the easiest way to keep motivation flowing, this sense of achievement cannot be understated. You truly don’t know what you are capable of! When you realize what your “fragile” body can do it’s pretty easy to rock up to the gym ready to crush your previous lifting records.

You should be training because you love your body, not because you hate it. Feeling strong and straight up badass lifting heavy weights will increase your self confidence vs. hating yourself counting the minutes on the treadmill because you need to burn off that treat you had earlier.

Mental Health

We now know that strength training has physical anti-aging benefits and can throw a wrench in Father Time’s hard work, but what about the changes in mental health due to strength training? A large review (4) summarized what regular participation of strength training will bring about:

  • Improvements in self-esteem.
  • Improved quality of sleep (you should know how important this is from my last article!).
  • Improved cognition in older adults.
  • Reduction in symptoms of depression.
  • Reduction in fatigue symptoms.
  • Reduction in symptoms of anxiety.
  • Reduction in the intensity of lower back pain.
  • Reduction in pain intensity related to osteoarthritis and/ or fibromyalgia.

These are some big issues and they don’t just affect women but impact upon our society as a whole. A prescription of regular strength training may be just what you need to unwind and take some stress out of your life leading to an increased sense of well-being (8).

Strength Training Downsides

To be honest there are some downsides to strength training as a woman, but it’s not what you typically think and it’s a very short list:

  • Strength training will develop calluses on your hands due to gripping heavy weight, that’s a fact. Your skin goes through the same adaptation cycle as your body when training: stress (weight in your hands) > recovery > adaptation (new calluses to prevent the original stress). You can either file these down and they won’t even be noticeable or simply wear weight lifting gloves to prevent them from occurring all together.
  • New wardrobe. Yeah, I wasn’t joking about the whole new jeans from growing a squat booty. But new clothes AND a shapely behind doesn’t really sound like a downside now does it?

Final Thoughts

Don’t allow weak minded individuals influence how you train and prevent you from reaping all of the awesome benefits heavy lifting has to offer. These opinions are often perpetuated out of a place of jealousy and weakness, typically from lazy men who don’t train themselves (let’s be honest here). Unfortunately that means this type of hate isn’t going anywhere soon, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be informed and flip a bird to these trolls.

Strong is sexy – inside AND out.

References

 

  1. Kirkendall, D. T., & Garrett, W. E. (1998, July 1). The Effects of Aging and Training on Skeletal Muscle. Retrieved September 03, 2018, from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/03635465980260042401
  2. Rogers, M. A., & Evans, W. J. (1993). Changes in Skeletal Muscle with Aging. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews,21(1). doi:10.1249/00003677-199301000-00003
  3. F. M. Ivey, B. L. Tracy, J. T. Lemmer, M. NessAiver, E. J. Metter, J. L. Fozard, B. F. Hurley; Effects of Strength Training and Detraining on Muscle Quality: Age and Gender Comparisons, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 55, Issue 3, 1 March 2000, Pages B152–B157, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/55.3.B152
  4. Oconnor, P. J., Herring, M. P., & Caravalho, A. (2010). Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine,4(5), 377-396. doi:10.1177/1559827610368771
  5. Treuth, M. S., Hunter, G. R., Kekes-Szabo, T., Weinsier, R. L., Goran, M. I., & Berland, L. (1995). Reduction in intra-abdominal adipose tissue after strength training in older women. Journal of Applied Physiology,78(4), 1425-1431. doi:10.1152/jappl.1995.78.4.1425
  6. Charette, S. L., Mcevoy, L., Pyka, G., Snow-Harter, C., Guido, D., Wiswell, R. A., & Marcus, R. (1991). Muscle hypertrophy response to resistance training in older women. Journal of Applied Physiology,70(5), 1912-1916. doi:10.1152/jappl.1991.70.5.1912
  7. Morganti, C. M., Nelson, M. E., Fiatarone, M. A., Dallal, G. E., Economos, C. D., Crawford, B. M., & Evans, W. J. (1995). Strength improvements with 1 yr of progressive resistance training in older women. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,27(6). doi:10.1249/00005768-199506000-00017
  8. Tucker, L. A., & Maxwell, K. (1992). Effects of Weight Training on the Emotional Well-Being and Body Image of Females: Predictors of Greatest Benefit. American Journal of Health Promotion,6(5), 338-371. doi:10.4278/0890-1171-6.5.338
  9. Hanson, E. D., Walts, C. T., Delmonico, M. J., Yao, L., Wang, M. Q., & Hurley, B. F. (2008). Do Sex Or Race Differences Influence Strength Training Effects On Muscle Or Fat? Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,40(Supplement). doi:10.1249/01.mss.0000321551.32741.56
  10. Walston, J. D. (2012). Sarcopenia in older adults. Current Opinion in Rheumatology,24(6), 623-627. doi:10.1097/bor.0b013e328358d59b
  11. Kraemer, W. J., Ratamess, N. A., & French, D. N. (2002). Resistance Training for Health and Performance. Current Sports Medicine Reports,1(3), 165-171. doi:10.1249/00149619-200206000-00007
  12. Kelley, G. A., Kelley, K. S., & Tran, Z. V. (2001). Resistance Training and Bone Mineral Density in Women. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation,80(1), 65-77. doi:10.1097/00002060-200101000-00017
  13. Pruitt, L. A., Jackson, R. D., Bartels, R. L., & Lehnhard, H. J. (2009). Weight-training effects on bone mineral density in early postmenopausal women. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research,7(2), 179-185. doi:10.1002/jbmr.5650070209

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