When it comes to strength training for women, myths abound, especially the one that lifting weights makes you ‘bulk up.’ Thankfully, times are changing as people become better informed.
In the first of our series of Strength Training for Women, PerformancePro’s Dan Boulle provides an overview and our Director of Education, Alex Adams, shares a deeper insight into the sports science behind weight training for women.
The boom in the fitness industry brings ideas around athletic training for all. This includes the understanding that for women, far from being the wrong thing to do, lifting weights is actually the right thing to do.
Our body’s musculature is what gives us shape, good posture, firm bum cheeks. Muscles are also a massive calorie-consuming engine. A well-toned, well-nourished body burns more calories throughout the day than a starved one which endures nothing more than low intensity cardio.
We now know that body weight isn’t always a good measure of health. Yes, it plays a part in monitoring overall wellbeing but it isn’t necessarily a figure to be lowered. Women who train correctly and eat well often experience the counterintuitive reality of increased body weight whilst losing inches off their waist and hips.
Quite simply, healthy muscle tissue weighs far more than body fat. Watch the grease and fat from cooking float on top of the washing up bowl, then drop a piece of raw steak in. The steak sinks like a stone.
As far back as 1986, researchers were finding that gender made little difference to strength, when lean mass and body weight were accounted for and equated.
Men and women showed similar levels of strength relative to their limb length and muscle bulk. The major difference was the amount of muscle mass the different genders carried.
Many women come to PerformancePro fearing that weight training / resistance training / strength training (all terms that mean essentially the same thing) will cause rapid and undesirable muscle mass. Whilst this is not impossible, a closer look at the gender differences helps explain why this fear is unfounded.
Males and females both produce many of the same hormones, to a greater or smaller degree. It is actually the amount, not type of hormone, which has the greatest influence on whether a person will grow new muscle tissue.
If we ignore calories (the actual controller of weight loss/gain, irrespective of type) then hormones can be thanked (or blamed!) for most repair and growth processes in the human body.
The hormones thought to increase muscular growth on some level are testosterone and growth hormone. Technically, different growth factors depend on the type of stress. In general, these two hormones are naturally higher in males than females, so this is one of the reasons for major differences in the amount of muscle mass each gender carries.
Certain styles of strength training can lead to muscle damage. As the body repairs the damage, the muscles grow back larger in order to cope with the same stress in future. This is bodybuilding.
BUT not all strength training causes this process and if it does, it’s nowhere near the scale generally associated with bodybuilding.
In other words, strength training does not need to increase muscle mass. The central nervous system has a clever way of adapting to stress from heavy strength training in a way that doesn’t require any new muscle. We can make our systems better at doing the same work or more work without large increases in muscle because there are different ways to lift weights.
At PerformancePro we tailor your strength training to your specific goals. And, if you’re not sure where to start, we can help you with your goal setting too!
In Part 2 of Strength Training for Women, we look at the specifics of strength, endurance and body composition and how they affect the approach we take.
Meanwhile, in our recent series of PerformancePro client profiles, three female clients share their very different and individual experiences of strength training for women.
Everyone’s motivation to consider professional personal training is different. Whichever path you take, we’re with you every step of the way.
Take your first step and book your free consultation with PerformancePro today >>