Strength training has terrific benefits for females. It has been repeatedly shown to help alleviate symptoms of depression and PMS, improve the immune system, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and provide a huge boost in confidence as strength, balance, and muscle tone improve. It is also extremely helpful in building bone density, and may be one of the most important factors in preventing osteoporosis.
Yet some women still refuse to consider strength training as an exercise option, believing that only training methods traditionally associated with females (ballet, Pilates, aerobics) will help them lose weight and attain a lean and feminine physique. There’s nothing wrong with barre exercises or aerobics, but the addition of some free weight training to an exerciser’s weekly routine can produce absolutely amazing results.
Common Misconceptions About Female Weight Training
Many women still believe that weight training will result in a bulky, unappealingly masculine physique. In general, females do not possess high enough testosterone levels to achieve extremely pronounced muscle hypertrophy. A sleek, toned appearance is the more likely result. Anyone who feels she is “getting too big” can always cut back on weight level or repetitions per set.
Plus, bone density and strength increases occur even when the exerciser is using only her own body weight, or rather light free weights; no one has to bench-press 200 lbs. to increase strength or build bones. In fact, even using heavier weights, women may increase muscle strength by as much as 44% prior to gaining any noticeable muscle mass.
Muscle tissue also burns a lot of calories, even while the body is at rest. One pound of muscle uses up 35 calories per day, while one pound of fat burns a measly 2 calories. Eschew strength training after age 35, and lose about a half-pound of muscle per year while adding a whopping 1.5 pounds of fat. So women who lift weights have higher metabolisms and get to consume more calories per day without gaining weight than do women who practice only aerobics.
Another common objection to weight-training is the “I’ll have to live at the gym” excuse. Actually, using free weights instead of machines has been shown to produce better strength gains and bone-building results, so an exercise program is fairly easy to design at home.
Overtraining may also lead to osteoporosis; shockingly, elite gymnasts, skaters, and dancers often develop such problems partly by not giving their bodies time to recover and build bone and muscle after a strenuous workout. Perform 2-4 weight training sessions per week and 3 sessions of cardiovascular endurance activity for optimal results.
Common Sense Strength Training Tips for Women
If an exerciser is over 40, overweight, has never trained before, has been away from training for a considerable length of time, or has any preexisting condition or injury, a full physical by a qualified doctor should be performed. No article, DVD, or book can ever supplant professional medical advice.
Take increases in weight, sets, or repetitions at a slow and steady pace. Be realistic, and set reasonable goals. A workout journal can be a great way of tracking both short-term increases in skill and strength and long-term achievements.
Choose a workout that requires movement in all directions and at all angles. Include some movements that improve balance and posture. Exercise novices should consult a personal trainer to learn proper form and determine how to design a truly personalized training regimen.
Make sure to incorporate old tried-and-true standards that use only the exerciser’s own body weight as resistance. Planks, crunches, and pushups are all ideal for this purpose; and can be readily modified to fit the needs and personal fitness level of the individual.
Most of all, have fun with the process. Change the routine every now and then. Doing the same old “twenty squats, twenty deadlifts, twenty hammers curls” sequence for weeks on end inevitably leads to repetitive stress injuries, boredom and loss of motivation, and a greater risk of eventually skipping workouts or dropping out of weight training entirely.
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