This weeks’ Fitness Chat Feature Friday is with Rochelle Louw, a Biokenist at the University of Pretoria and was recommended by the Biokinetics Association of South Africa. She discusses why women should lift weights in depth, backed by science. The idea is to change the preconceived ideas people have about women performing weight training and to bring to the forefront the benefits thereof.
Traditionally when women say they are going to start exercising, the style of training is always assumed to be a form of cardiovascular exercise, either traditionally in the form of running, cycling, swimming; aerobics or more recently, Zumba. If toning is on the agenda, then it is common to hear exercise regimes like Pilates or Yoga than weight lifting. Why is this, why is heavy weight lifting usually left to men or female body builders?
Firstly, what is weight training? Weight training is form of resistance training, and is classified as an anaerobic exercise, which means without oxygen. Anaerobic exercise consists of brief intense bursts of physical activity, where oxygen demand surpasses oxygen supply. The resistance which is used to obtain the benefits of weight training include: dumbbells, barbells, resistance machine with pulley system etc.
So why are women hesitant to include weight training into their exercise regimen? Ask any lady why she does not want to do weight training, and more than likely it’s because of the idea that it will make their muscles too bulky, it’s dangerous, it’s bad for your joints, and once you have muscle, you can’t stop lifting or it will all turn to fat. These are all false stereotypes and the actual benefits of resistance training, if widely known, would convince more health conscious females to incorporate it into their exercise routine.
Benefits to resistance training and specifically lifting heavier weights
More Efficient Weight Loss
Contrary to popular belief, resistance training can burn more calories than cardiovascular training. The advantage of women lifting weights to lose weight lies in the fact that the body is able to burn fat both during and after resistance training. This is known as EPOC: excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, where muscles continue consuming oxygen hours/ days after the heavy training session. In addition, strength training increases lean muscle mass, which creates more muscle contractions and thus burns more calories.
In general we understand healthier people tend to live longer. So what strength training brings to the table is decreasing sarcopenia – muscle degeneration which occurs more or less in your 30s. Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after the age of 30. Keeping the muscles strong is essential, especially for women, as to be able to carry on with normal activities of daily life that can become challenging to the elderly.
In 1991, professors William Evans PhD and Irwin Rosenberg MD (working for the USDA Human Nutrition Research Centre on Aging located at Tufts University) released a book called Biomarkers. In it, they detailed the results of the factors that influence aging based on almost a decade of research; the top two markers to predict life expectancy were muscle mass and strength.
Longevity is also improved in the well-established fact that weight training improved bone density, therefore decreases osteoporosis, which results in decreasing the risk of breaking bones after a fall.
Women are believed to be weaker than their equal weighted male counterparts. However research has shown that when you compare the cross-sectional areas of males and females the difference in strength diminishes. Women have the same potential to gain strength. But here lies the fear of women bulking up, and the impressionable image of female body builders. It needs to be noted that some of these competitors knowingly inject themselves with steroid hormones and a cornucopia of drugs to generate a massive bulk. The fact is that, women who train naturally have a very limited potential to develop a large increase of muscle bulk. Charles Poliquin who is known for training females of Olympic calibre, has stated that he typically sees a gain of about 4kg of muscle with a corresponding reduction in fat mass and overall girth reduction.
To quote the study by Staron et al., significant increases in maximal isotonic strength (1RM) were observed over a 20-week weight training programme for the lower extremity with no change in thigh girth. So, if women train naturally without steroid hormones, it is highly unlikely they will turn into Ms Olympia. In a ground breaking paper published in the NSCA Journal, multiple studies are cited that show clearly that weight training in women causes “a reduction in fat weight, an increase in lean weight and either no change or only a slight increase in total-body weight. All demonstrated significant increases in strength and in most cases these changes were associated with no change or a decrease in lower-body girths and only minimal increases in upper-body limb girth.
Improves emotional well-being
With the improvement of muscle shape and form, decrease in fat percentage it is obvious to assume that positive changes in self-concept takes place and improvements in self-esteem. But on a more positive level weight lifting has direct on improving the psychological well-being, decreasing anxiety, stress as well as depression.
Additionally, this is why women should lift weights:
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Improved quality of sleep
- Increased energy
- Healthy heart
- Improved cognitive function and memory
Therefore ladies, stop worrying about what weight training might do, and instead enjoy the benefits of what it can do, provided you have a well worked out program from a professional as well as proper exercise technique. It’s time to feel stronger, leaner, healthier and more confident.
Cardoso, Crivaldo Gomes, et. Al. 2010. “Acute and chronic effects of aerobic and resistance exercise on ambulatory blood pressure.” Clinics (Sao Paulo). 65(3):317-325.
Heinonen, A. et al. 1993. Bone mineral density of female athletes in different sports. Journal of Bone and Mineral, 23(1):1-14.
Ikai, M. & Fukunago, T. 1968. Calculation of muscle strength per unit cross sectional area of human muscle by means of ultrasonic measurement, Internationale Zeitschrift für Angewandte Physiologie, 26:26-32.
Kirk, Erik P., et. Al. 2010. Minimal resistance training improves daily energy expenditure and fat oxidation” Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise.; 41(5): 1122-1129.
Laubach 1976. Comparative muscular strength of men and women, Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 47(5):534-542.
Magyari PM, Churilla JR. 2012.Association between lifting weights and metabolic syndrome among U.S. Adults: 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Journal of Strength Conditioning Research. 26(11): 3113-7.
Muir JM, Ye C, Bhandari M, Adachi JD, Thabane L. 2013. The effect of regular physical activity on bone mineral density in post-menopausal women aged 75 and over: a retrospective analysis from the Canadian multicentre osteoporosis study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 23; 14: 253.
Roveda, Eliana, et. Al. 2011. Effects of endurance and strength acute exercise on night sleep quality.” International SportMed Journal. 12(3): 113-124.
Staron, R.S. et al. 1990. Muscle hypertrophy and fast fiber type conversions in heavy resistance-trained women. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology 60(1):71-9
Stone M, Stone Meg, Sands W. 2009. Psychological Aspects of Resistance Training. In: Principles and Practice of Resistance Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics;p. 229-241.
Tucker LA, Mazwell K. 1992. Effects of Weight Training of the Emotional Well-Being and Body Image of Females: Predictors of Greatest Benefit. American Journal of Health Promotion. 6:5
Sarcopenia With Aging. Online available: http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/sarcopenia-with-aging?. Accessed date 2017/02/08