Traditionally we think of weight lifting as a male dominated sport. Years ago this was certainly the case. Nowadays with body toning and body pump aerobic classes, boot camp and cross fit, where light weights and body weight resistance are used, more women are using weight to exercise, but the gym is still largely a man’s domain.
We tend to think that if a woman lifts weights she will end up with bulky masculine muscles and lose her feminine appearance. However this cannot happen as women lack the same amount of testosterone that men have. Muscle size is also partly genetic – if you have short muscle ‘’origin/insertions’’ it is easier to build muscle ‘peaks’ than if you have ”long” muscles. Successful body builders have short muscles. Successful dancers have ”long” muscles. This can’t be changed! Some women genetically have more testosterone than others (Women with African roots will always have better muscle definition than women with Asian origin for example) which means they will respond more quickly and effectively to resistance training. The muscular female bodybuilders or athletes however have also often been taking chemical enhancements to ”encourage” their muscle growth.
That aside, why should women be hitting the gym?
Inactive adults in their 30s and 40s lose 1/2 lb muscle yearly and this may double past the age of 50! As our metabolism slows down due to this muscle loss we start to put on weight (the fat is no longer being burned) but the weight gain from the fat masks the muscle loss for a while. 1lb muscle can burn 30-75 cals daily just by existing! So by increasing or even just maintaining muscle mass (we are not talking heavy weights) we can speed up our calorie burning potential and stay slim!
Most of you probably also know that muscle weighs more than fat but takes up less space so by increasing your muscle mass you will even drop a dress size or 2!! You will look trimmer and have the muscle firmness of your youth. The middle age spread is NOT ‘’normal’’ despite what we think! It is due to years of overindulgence and decreased activity. The decline you associate with aging is actually more related to inactivity and muscle loss.
Speaking of youth, various recent studies have shown that it is possible to build the same amount of muscle through resistance training appropriate for each individual whatever your age. Regaining the muscle mass you had in your youth means you regain the strength of your youth and hence you are slowing down the aging process.
Losing muscle of course has the effect of growing weaker and having less energy although we associate this with AGING not muscle deterioration! So increasing our lost muscle mass will make us FEEL younger.
This means not only do we look better physically and we can perform regular daily tasks more effectively but we have more energy for our recreational interests and sports such as going swimming with friends or playing ball with the grandchildren.
Body composition also includes preserving bone density – vitally important for women as we have less bone density than men (that testosterone thing again!) and strength training is important to lessen the effects of osteoporosis.
Certainly as we age we are up against this and other physical obstacles – joint issues or blood pressure problems etc. But an experienced personal trainer can help you work around these. In many cases a good weight training program can improve posture which is often to blame for neck, back or even knee problems so by strength training you are keeping signs of aging at bay!
By strengthening the connective tissues such as ligaments, tendons and the small stabilising muscles around the joints you are also keeping your joints healthy for as long as possible.
Strength training does not have to be the traditional body building split routines or olympic weight lifting routines that gym imagery conjours up. Muscle developed by resistance training should normalize the body’s curves. If you wanted the big bulky size of a bodybuilder you have to put in a lot of hours of intensive training, eat a great deal and probably resort to additional ”supplements”.
Nowadays there are different sorts of strength training programs to suit women of all ages, fitness levels and” limitations”, such as circuit and interval training, boot camp and cross fit, body toning and body pump, functional training, body weight training and more. If you think the local gym is still too daunting or beyond your budget or your time is limited a personal trainer can show you how to work out at home with a couple of sets of dumb bells and bodyweight.
Smart women realise that while weight training may not be the answer to eternal youth it certainly keeps you younger for longer!