If You Are a Woman and You Aren’t Strength Training You Are Making a Big Mistake.

Not all strong women have to look this way. But we appreciate her obvious work.
Not all strong women have to look this way. But we appreciate her obvious work.

The following post is by one of our apprentices Marcus Hudnell.

When I say “strength training,” what do I mean? Strength training is considered “any type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular
contraction which builds the strength,anaerobic endurance, and size of skeletal
muscles.” This isn’t to say that the idea of strength training is constrained
to only lifting weights. There are countless bodyweight and plyometric exercises that
can be done anywhere, without using heavy weights or any weights at all. All over the
world, women are eschewing traditional strength and resistance training exercises, and
as such, they’re missing out on the bevy of benefits afforded by a smart and focused
strength training regimen.

When properly performed, strength training can provide significant functional benefits and improvement in overall health and well-being, including, but definitely not limited to: increased bone, muscle, tendon and ligament strength and durability, improved joint function, increases in bone density,changes in your metabolism, improved cardiac function (your heart is, after all, just one big muscle), elevated HDL (“good”) cholesterol. The physical benefits are awesome, but a good strength program can greatly affect your mental health as well. This is an aspect that is overlooked, but the intersection between mental and physical health should always be a point of focus in any fitness regimen. Putting yourself under greater physical stress in the gym will lead to a greater ability to deal with stress outside of the gym. Plus, haven’t you ever done a crazy hard workout and left with an endorphin rush that had you feeling like you could take on the world? Blame the post-workout endorphins, but there is also a shift in self-confidence and the belief that you truly can take on more than you ever imagined.

Nobody should miss out on the amazing transformation of both your physical and mental health that is a direct result of adding any sort of strength training routine to your normal workout plan. Here’s a great place to get started: This article on Gymlad.com gives a sampling of strength training exercise videos that are a great reference. The article also emphasizes the rest necessary when starting a new strength program.

Who I am and a bit of background (and my issues with body image)
I’m 26 years old, and I’ve been an athlete for my entire life, and was lucky enough to have been able to play the sport I loved at both the High School and College level. With that being said, I have a naturally lean body type that I feel extremely blessed with, because I’ve never had to worry about being overweight and watching what I eat. But I always had a difficult time gaining and maintaining the amount of body mass that I needed to compete (both effectively and safely). All too often we see professional athletes and fitness models with physiques that many view as unattainable. When putting the emphasis on aesthetics, it’s easy to forget about all of the awesome functional and internal positives that arise through proper strength training. Wouldn’t it be great not to stress over having to carry your groceries or move a couch across the living room (if you’re in NYC this probably isn’t far, but carrying groceries to your 5th floor walk up…)?

So I did a search for a few of the most common misconceptions out there regarding women and strength training, so that you might better be able to make an informed decision on what’s best for you.

Myths/Facts
1. Weight lifting will make you “bulky.”
This is BY FAR the most prevalent of all the myths floating around out there and is possibly the one that frustrates me most. As someone who spent a fair majority of my teen and young adult years ‘trying’ to be bulky and on an endless quest for mass, I can tell you it’s not easy.
▪ I also have assuaged fears from clients that curling this, or pressing that, will eventually turn them into their own unique versions of ‘She-Hulk’ and it’s simply not the case. In reality, many, if not all of the bodybuilders and fitness models you see work very VERY hard to attain these physiques, and their diets/programs are tailored towards achieving a certain aesthetic. These programs often include multiple workouts per day, and daily caloric intakes that are off the charts. Not to mention supplementation both natural and of the other ilk.
▪ At the end of the day, every body is different, and your genetic makeup may not even permit you to ever look like the person on the cover of ‘fitness’ magazine. The real benefit in strength training comes from the actual functional benefits such as: improved heart health, and increase in bone density, and the others I mentioned earlier in the article. These are positives that will show up in anybody through a proper and consistent program no matter who you are.

2. Lifting heavy weights is the only way/lifting super light weights will tone you.
▪ This one is a bit of a 2-parter, and is interesting, because the myth deals with two extremes. I’ll be honest, there was a time before I fully understood the physiological mechanisms that actually stimulate and cause muscle growth in the body, and I too believed that all someone had to do to become shredded was do tons and tons of reps with light weights and TA-DA! Instant shred. This isn’t to say that you can’t tailor a workout to maximize gains in either muscle size or strength, but the two are not mutually exclusive. As your muscles grow larger, they will undoubtedly grow in strength, however you can grow stronger and not necessarily put on size. However, for gains in strength to occur, the muscle must be worked to fatigue, no matter what weight you’re using. So instead of doing 100 reps with the 3-pound weights, grab a weight that you del comfortable doing 10, 15, or even 20 reps with and make sure that whichever weight you choose, your muscles are screaming for you to stop by the end of the set. Not only will you notice the strength gains much faster, but you’ll be way more efficient in the time you use for your workouts.

3. Cardio Burns More Fat.
This is another commonly misunderstood perception, and rightfully so. But have no fear, I’m here to clear it up for you! Muscle tissue is inherently the most metabolically active tissue in the body, and your body has to work to keep it around. This means that the amount of calories that your body will burn at rest, (resting energy expenditure or REE), is directly correlated to the amount of muscle tissue you have. While fat contributes to about 4% of your REE, muscle tissue contributes closer to 22%. To see the article click here. Therefore, adding muscle to your body will be one of the greatest factors in changing your metabolism, and affecting your physique. This isn’t to say that you should toss your running shoes, or give up on that elliptical. Traditional aerobic exercise may still be the quickest and most efficient way to burn fat and shed pounds, but for a sustainable change in your body chemistry (and the countless other benefits that I’ve harped on over the course of this article), you absolutely MUST expand your arsenal of exercises to include moves for strength and power.

4. Muscle will turn to fat.
This is also one that almost everyone has heard before and it is 100% untrue, and the reason why is actually very simple. Muscular tissue and fatty or adipose tissue are two completely different types of tissue. Muscular tissue is made up of fibers that will hypertrophy or atrophy, meaning it will grow larger, or shrink. This behavior depends on different factors such as age, gender (genetics in general), diet, and the type of training regimen, or lack of. Fatty tissue cells will also shrink or expand, but this is entirely independent of your muscle tissue fibers. If a person begins a strength program and sees gains in muscle mass, but then they stop training, naturally your muscle fibers will atrophy, and you may begin to store larger amounts of fat, but this has much more to do with factors such as a decreased daily caloric output due to your decrease in physical activity.

Maybe conclusion-ish?
Unfortunately, the nature of the fitness industry lends itself to the propagation of misinformation, whether it’s on the web, in print, or simply through word of mouth. With that being said, it’s always best to educate yourself and do the proper research before starting any routine or training regimen. The more you learn, the more effective you can be in making sure that you’re putting yourself in the best position to achieve your goals, whatever they may be. Ultimately, every body is different and the only way to find out what works for YOU, is to experiment and over time you will learn.

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