Author: Nancy Farzan
There is still a lot of confusion and misinformation regarding strength training and women. For the past 25 years that I have worked in gyms and fitness centers, I have repeatedly heard these statements:
"But I don't want to get big!"
"I want to lose weight first, then tone up"
"How do I get rid of these" - as they point to their not so slim triceps and thighs
Usually these women have no qualm about participating in aerobic activities, but cringe with the idea of lifting weights. There seems that there is an underlying fear if getting big muscles. As if it is so easy!
Diet, exercise, genetic predisposition, and hormonal changes all attribute to a woman's physique and by manipulating diet and exercise, one can change their physique within their genetic potential. Gaining muscle mass does come easier to some, but it still requires hard work.
In the strength and conditioning world, body types are classified into 3 distinct categories called somatotyping . These categories are: endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph. While most people are a combination of 2, obvious examples of each are easily identifiable.
- Smooth, round body
- Medium/Large joints/bones
- Small shoulders
- Short limbs
- High levels of bodyfat (may be overweight)
- Bodyfat tends to settle in lower regions of the body: belly, butt, hips and thighs rather than being distributed evenly throughout the body.
- Pear shaped physique
- Can gain muscle easily but tends to be underdeveloped
- Difficult to keep lost bodyfat off
- Lose weight slowly
- Have to work hard to lose weight
- Slow metabolic rate
- Attacks of tiredness/fatigue
- Fall asleep easily
- Naturally lean
- Naturally muscular
- Naturally strong
- Medium size joints/bones
- Wider at the shoulders than the hips (chest dominates over abdominal area)
- Broad/square shoulders
- V or rectangular shape
- Efficient metabolism
- Gaining muscle is almost effortless
- Responds quickly to exercise
- Small joints/boned
- Long arms/legs
- Linear physique
- Small shoulders
- Lightly muscled
- Small chest and butt
- Natural low bodyfat
- Fast and efficient metabolism
- Difficulty gaining weight
- Difficulty in gaining muscle mass
Therefore strength training and diet effects each one differently. Most women can not make big muscles easily. It can be done but requires focus, hard work, and a genetic predisposition depending on their somatotype and family history. However gaining strength and changing body composition is certainly possible. In addition, there are many reasons beyond the cosmetic ones that are beneficial for all women.
1. Osteoporosis prevention and the role of decelerating the progress - Weight bearing activity is proven to help remolding of bones and strengthening surrounding tissues.
2. Raising metabolism - Lean body mass is more metabolically active than bodyfat and requires more calories to sustain itself. Resistance training and the lean body mass acquired from it can increase basal metabolic rate by up to 7%.
3. Having the strength to be independent - Lifting heavy objects (children, furniture etc) is a needed skill and having both good body mechanics and the confidence to do it is important.
4. Slows down the aging process - Every decade Strength training keeps the metabolism revving by keeping up more lean body mass and decreasing fat mass, the normal effects of losing muscle and gaining fat are delayed. Strength training also increases hormonal production that wanes with age.
5. A combination of strength training and aerobic exercise is proven to be most effective for fat loss. Muscle is twice as dense as fat thus the scale is not always a good indicator of body mass changes. Loose clothing, seeing definition in muscles as well as having body fat measured are more accurate measurements.
6. Women do not have the amount if testosterone in our bodies to build huge muscles however we do have it and need it for normal hormonal balance. During menopause these hormones wane and strength training can help raise testosterone levels which can alleviate some of the unwanted symptoms that can occur.
As stated earlier, genetics play the biggest role in how a woman's body will respond to strength training. However by manipulating the diet, adding in strength training and looking at other stresses, (environmental and lifestyle), we can improve within our inherited makeup.
But for the most part, getting big muscles is hard work! Even for the mesomorph. Twenty years ago, I trained and completed in numerous bodybuilding contests. I focused, trained hard, dieted even harder and practiced flexing my muscles daily. For two years, I ate, drank and breathed bodybuilding. I am naturally an endomorph with mesomorphic qualities. Muscle likes me. However I have to rigidly watch my diet to get super lean, yet when I continue with strength training, I stay leaner than I would normally be if not. As a woman in my 50s, I am facing the realities of hormonal changes, metabolic shifts and other repercussions of the natural aging process. However, by keeping a solid strength training program in my regimen, these natural effects are more manageable while I stay strong and healthy!
Therefore I can vouch for the benefits of strength training and women and it seems logical to advise women to consider adding it in for not only cosmetic reasons but for overall health.
Lastly, Don't worry. You will not get big!
Questions/Comments? Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
"Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary!"
Source: FitnessByFarzan: Women And Strength Training - Facts And Misconceptions