The benefits of strength training for women are well-documented. I’ve written about this topic in previous posts in June’s One Small Step and The Ideal Workout Formula. But I have found clients are sometimes still skeptical. The roots of this skepticism come from some common myths surrounding strength training.
Myth #1: Strength training will give you bulbous muscles and an unfeminine look. There are a couple of reasons why this isn’t true. The first is physiological. Women don’t have the testosterone to build big muscles. The male hormone is the primary reason why male and female musculatures are different from one another. What about female body builders? Professional female body builders aren’t allowed to use testosterone but there are other supplements that they can legitimately use which mimic the effects of testosterone on the muscles and allows them to achieve hypertrophy – visibly enlarged musculature. The second reason why strength training for fitness won’t give you the Hulk Hogan look has to do with the science behind strength training. There are formulae that dictate specific results. Body builders, male and female, workout with very heavy load (weight) in which they can only perform 1-6 reps in a set. The formula for basic fitness is to use body weight or light external resistance (10 lbs or less) that allows the exerciser to fall somewhere between eight and sixteen reps in a set. The myth-busting truth is that a woman can’t achieve hypertrophy from a basic strength training regimen any more than I can serve a tennis ball like Serena Williams from playing recreational tennis a few times a week.
What basic strength training will do for women is boost their metabolism to help them lose weight (or maintain a healthy weight), increase their overall strength to allow them to perform activities of everyday life more easily and reduce the risk of injury from those activities, improve their posture and balance and tone their muscles. Toned muscles are very feminine – they give a streamlined look to arms and legs and a toned core means no muffin tops or flab along bra lines.
Myth #2: Strength training requires one to choose between a dirty weight room full of men at a gym or buying a lot of big, ugly equipment for the home. Not true. However, I do agree that the weight area tends to be predominantly male and the filthiest section of any gym. But, if you belong to a gym or club, there’s no need to ever touch a free weight there. All gyms and studios offer strength training classes or classes that are cardio and strength fusions. If you’re not a gym-goer you can do a full body strength workout with an unlimited of variety of exercises to choose from using body weight only or a combo of body weight and resistance tubes. Resistance tubes are extremely versatile, inexpensive and take up very little space. Most resistance tube sets come with several resistance levels and tips on how to perform various common strength training exercises.
Myth #3: The only way to progress in strength training is to keep increasing the resistance weight. It’s true that strength training does work through progressions – eventually your muscles will adapt and you have to progress the exercise to continue to make gains. But increasing the weight isn’t the only progression and, in fact, there are other progressions that work better than increasing the load in terms of functional training, core strengthening and balance. A progression could be adding more movement and incorporating more muscles in an exercise. For example, instead of doing a basic standing biceps curl you could incorporate the biceps curl in combination with a lunge. Another way to progress is to add balance challenges – using a stability ball, standing on one leg, closing your eyes or using a BOSU. Having several planes of movement all in one exercise is another way to progress in strength training. Not convinced? I’ve been strength training regularly for several years and I rarely need to use free weights over 8 pounds.
Ladies, there’s really no good excuse for not strength training. It is so good for you. And I’m not just talking about the health benefits. A strong body makes you stand taller, more self-sufficient, confident and, well, strong. One of my favorite client stories: after she had been working with me for about six months, she was at a friend’s house while her husband was away on a business trip. The friend had recently bought a new TV and had offered my client the old one. The friend offered to work out a time when my client’s husband could come pick it up after he returned from his trip. My client said, “Are you kidding?” My client scooped up the TV, carried it to her car, drove home and lugged it up her dozen or so front steps into the house. She told me that she knew she wouldn’t have even attempted to do that six months prior. I was proud of her but I know that I wasn’t as proud of her as she was of herself. She knows she can do anything – she is strong, inside and out. You can be too.
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.