April 3, 2011

What Every Woman (and man) Needs To Know About Strength Training

Ask a woman what her goals are in terms of body image and what she wants to get out of ‘working out’ and you’ll get an assortment of answers, which isn’t all that shocking as everyone is different. But, ask ANY woman what she doesn’t want to happen as a result of working out and every single time you will hear, “I don’t wanna get bulky”. Hell, you’ll even hear those words coming from a lot of men as well as there seems to be the perception that lifting weights automatically means you’re going to look like a bodybuilder over night. But you know what? I don’t blame them, because who would actually want to be bulky? Not me, that’s for sure! Even the term is unappealing.

Unfortunately there is a misconception in regards to weight training and that it will make you bulky or turn you into a professional bodybuilder in no time. This is far from true as lifting weights may cause your muscles to grow, but it certainly does not contribute to fat gain and make you bulky. After all, if all you were made up of was muscle, there’d be no bulk at all.

Bulk is the result of bodyfat stored on top of muscle and the only reason anyone would appear bulky is because of a poor diet combined with high stress levels, the only reason anyone would ever look like a bodybuilder, is if they lived like a bodybuilder, ate like a bodybuilder, and took high quantities of steroids and growth hormone like a bodybuilder, it would never just happen by chance, I guarantee you that.

There are many benefits to lifting weights which is why not only women, but everyone would benefit from weight lifting, irrespective of the goal. Obviously the major differences in terms of programming would come down to ones goal, but the benefits remain the same.

First off, muscle mass increases your metabolism, which is the rate that you burn off calories, and every additional pound of muscle will boost your metabolism by roughly 50 additional calories per day, and that’s if you did absolutely nothing.

To put that into perspective, if you had 10 more lbs. of lean muscle on your body you’d potentially burn an additional pound of fat every week by doing nothing. Given that no one would actually remain completely inactive for an entire week, it’s likely that an additional 10 lbs of muscle would burn more than that. Obviously this is just a hypothetical example as gaining 10 lbs of muscle would likely take most people almost a year, and that’s if they did things properly, which is a big ‘if’.

Secondly, muscle mass will improve your pH levels creating a more alkaline environment. If you’re unfamiliar with what that could mean, just know that it basically means that muscle will improve your immune power and help prevent or cure diseases like cancer, and improve your chances at surviving by systemically creating an internal environment that disease cannot survive in.

Thirdly, the more muscle you have, the higher your insulin sensitivity will be, meaning it will reduce the chance of developing diabetes, or could even help cure it. Some literature suggests that muscle is the number one predictor of longevity (second to muscle being strength – which also happens to be developed by strength training oddly enough). All things being equal, the more muscle you have, the more strength you will have, the less fat you will have, and the longer you will live.

Finally, by symmetrically developing muscle on your body, you will improve your posture which will prevent the development chronic pain, or even help reduce it (ex. knee pain, hip pain, lower back pain, to name a few).

Women vs. men – main differences

While there are no specific reasons as to why women should shy away from weight training, there are some glaring differences in terms of how their bodies behave and react, and it mostly comes down to our evolutionary purpose for being on this Earth in the first place.

One benefit women have over men is that they generally burn more carbs at rest than men, but unfortunately store more fat after eating, primarily around the hips and thighs, in preparation to reproduce, as the fat is to be used during pregnancy and lactation to help develop the baby’s brain. Thigh fat contains (at least it’s supposed to) a high concentration of DHA, and if the brain detects low DHA it will lead to excessive hunger cues in attempt to get the DHA it needs to make breast milk so it can develop the baby’s brain.

Another benefit for women is that they generally burn more fat during exercise, although it generally comes from the upper body first (for reproducing reasons above), much to their dismay, which could cause unnecessary stress. Stress, regardless of what caused it (like burning fat off the upper body at the expense of the lower body), then elevates cortisol.

This process involves pregnenolone being turned into progesterone, which is then turned into cortisol and aldosterone, resulting in fat gain and water retention, which are likely two completely undesirable side effects. Low testosterone and estrogen result because pregnenolone is needed to make them as well, and if the body is using the same raw material to contribute to fat gain and water retention as it uses to contribute to fat burning then the result in terms of improved body composition is compromised.

Fasting and calorie restriction also contribute to negatively stressing a woman’s body causing hormonal dysregulation, and excess cortisol secretion resulting in fat gain for survival purposes (and reproductive, as already stated). Just another reason to prioritize strength training for improved body composition in favor of what may seem to be a more logical approach which is to restrict calories, or just not eat at all.

In terms of building muscle, not bulk, women are actually equal to men from a relative perspective as gene signalling and protein synthesis are nearly equal in men and women in response to strength training. Therefore, women can gain as much muscle as men, although from an absolute perspective, a 10% increase is much higher for men, given their starting point, so that shouldn’t deter any woman from strength training.

If you have any questions about the benefits of strength training for men or women, feel free to contact me at ben@paramounttraining.ca. I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

No comments:

Post a Comment