There’s a strange phenomenon I’ve noticed, and I’m not the only one to notice it.
Somehow, the idea of “being fit” for women has only really entailed cardio, maybe lifting some light weights. Like, 5-10 pounders.
For some populations and workouts, light weights have their place, so I’m not here to bash that.
But when I find myself in a conversation with a woman about general fitness, I am can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. Not in her, of course! But in the social acceptance of what I am hearing:
“I know, I need to start exercising.”
I never hear “I need to up my weights”, or even “I need to do some strength training”. It’s always something along the lines of running and walking, or just moving the body from here to there or quickly in place, etc…
Movement is important. Walking is a great form of exercise, and I’ve lost a great deal of weight myself simply from walking. I even used to pound the pavement as a runner. But there is a balance that our bodies were designed for and evolved around, and a large piece of the population is missing out on this balance.
And it’s an important balance to maintain for better health now and as we age.
Ladies, I’m here to convince you to get off the treadmills and ellipticals, or to at least stop wasting so much of your precious time on them. I’m here to convince you to get strong, and I’d like to explain the benefits of real strength training.
And no, you won’t get bulky. I’ll explain that too. So please, read on to see how changing up your exercise to include more strength training can improve your health in ways that cardio alone never will.
Reason 1: Prevents Bone Loss and some diseases.
Maybe you’ve heard this before, but if you haven’t, it’s been shown by innumerable studies now that strength training can help slow and even stop bone loss.
More women than men (8 million vs 2 million respectively) will be diagnosed with Osteoporosis each year. Bone loss occurs at a rate of about 1% per year after 40 in healthy adults. This loss in bone matter contributes to fractures and broken bones from even the smallest of falls.
But did you know that strength training has been shown to be more effective than pharmaceutical methods to improve bone density and help prevent these losses? The science behind it is pretty basic.
When you train your muscles (meaning using weights that are more than you encounter in your daily activities, so those 5 lb weights may not be doing it for this purpose), you are putting stress on both the muscles and the bones they connect to. Skeletal muscle is responsible for all of your daily movements, so when you add a load to these movements that is significant, you are also stressing the bone.
This is a good thing!
When we stress our muscles, we encourage muscle growth via several methods, one if which is, essentially, helping draw glycogen into the muscle (where much of our glycogen is stored, along with the liver, which is why Carbs are important!). This aids in the repair of muscle cells that have been damaged (in a good way, growth comes from breaking down and rebuilding muscle) via exercise, and mostly happens in the resting period after our workout.
Not only is glycogen, carrier of wonderful things for our bodies, being drawn into the muscle cells for repair and muscle-building, but it’s also being brought to the bone that the muscle connects to.
By placing stress on the bone in this manner, the body responds by boosting bone growth in that area. This highlights the importance of good nutrition, because while you can integrate strength-training into your routine to help in your skeletons health, you need to provide the building blocks for this growth! All the more reason to make sure your nutrition is on point for these workouts.
Reason 2: Burns more calories.
Okay, to this one is a bit tricky. Cardio actually does burn more calories than strength training (usually, there are some exceptions). If you’re starting out your health journey and aiming to lose weight, then cardio is likely where you still start, and you will progress.
And then you will plateau.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll plateau right where you want to. Great! You’ve found balance in your body! But for many people, it’s usually just shy of their goal. For some, it’s maybe halfway there.
Maybe you get down to the last ten pounds to lose, and the scale stops budging. Now what?
Cardio is great for burning fat stores, but it largely depends on how much effort you put into it. As you get more practiced at walking, jogging, running, biking, whichever- your body becomes more efficient at that exercise and “toned” cardiovascular-wise. This is great! Cardio health is important for longevity. But eventually you reach a point where, at your current pace and nutrition, you will stop losing weight because you’ve found homeostasis.
So how do you knock yourself out of this and back into a state of burning calories and reaching your goal? Hint: It involves changing your goals a little bit. Can you guess it?
Grow your muscles!
Why does this do anything?
Muscle is constantly in a state of flux. It is regularly being broken down and rebuilt (hence why we love muscle mass at all, and how we can build muscle mass). All this breaking down and building not only requires the building blocks (protein, carbs, etc), but it also requires a lot of energy. Better known as calories.
So, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you’re burning simply by maintaining them (some estimates place it around an extra 250 calories burned a day, but this really depends on your muscle mass and activity). And if you exercise those muscles and really get them breaking down and rebuilding more than through everyday activities, you’re going to burn even more.
Reason 3: Makes you look toned without getting bulky.
This brings us to a great point about muscle building, and why so many people bother with strength training at all:
This is where the road diverges for many people. We all have ideas of how we want to look to others, the shape we want our bodies to be, and more often than not I hear a fear of many women becoming huge, muscle-mammoths that look like strange copies of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But here’s the thing:
It’s not going to happen that way.
You won’t step into a gym and a month later have biceps bigger than your head. Muscles like that don’t happen overnight, or even over a few months. It takes *years* to build up a physique like that, and a lot of hard work and intention. If you don’t want big muscles, trust me, you will not get them.
The female body has less muscle mass than the male body. It’s just the way we start out. We’re certainly capable of building muscle mass, but once you take into account the differences between men and women in their hormones and their general muscle mass and body composition, men have a huge head start when it comes to building mass like that.
I’d like to share an image, and I want you to consider it for a moment.
Many women will look at a picture like this and think “See, that’s what I DON’T want to look like!”. Some women may actually have this as a goal, so a few notes on physiques like this.
They take years to build. The woman pictured above likely spent 7 days a week in the gym building her physique (maybe a day or two less, depending on the phase of her building protocol), and I can guarantee she didn’t look like this the whole time.
It takes a caloric surplus and a lot of heavy weights to build a physique like this. But if you saw her in her “bulking” phase, she would have looked pretty different. Maybe even fat. During the phase where physique competitors build muscle, or “bulk up”, they tend to also carry extra body fat because of their caloric surplus. As competition day approaches, they enter into a “cutting” phase where the calories are cut down and they begin to shed the fat. What’s left after this work is something similar to what you see above.
Except the above photo shows a little more work, including s spray tan to emphasize the muscle tone, and possibly even some water-manipulation to help really drop the fat and swell her muscles at the same time. It’s all actually very complicated and hard core.
It takes great intention to do these things. So if you’re afraid of getting bulky like this, trust me: you won’t. Lifting would have to be your life in order to achieve a physique even close to the woman’s above.
We have muscles, and when we exercise them, they do grow a little bit at a time. And when we have healthy, strong muscles beneath any layer of fat, the way our body is shaped does change. It may be hard to see under 35% body fat, but if you’re also working toward losing body fat (best achieved with a combination of strength training and some cardio, see above point) and making headway in that regard, as the fat drops off, you will start to see the forms of that hard work.
Reason 4: Boosts Confidence.
And isn’t it nice to see the fruit of your labours? Exercise of any sort takes effort and commitment, but there’s something special about being able to notice it’s positive effects on not only your physique, but also your performance.
The more you run, the further you can run.
The more you lift, the heavier you can lift.
The stronger you become, the more you can do.
Feeling your own strength is empowering. It encourages you to keep going, and helps you realize that you can do more, that you can take care of yourself and achieve the things you want to achieve.
And when a woman has confidence, there isn’t much that she can’t do, is there?
So, to wrap things up, Strength Training can:
– Prevent bone loss as we age and, potentially, mitigate the effects of diseases such as Osteoporosis.
– Help us burn more calories faster and achieve our goals
– Help us look better shaped and toned without necessarily looking bulky (unless we really want to)
– Make us feel more confident and capable!
I hope this article helped argue my case for incorporating strength training into your daily routine. It’s nothing to be afraid of! Frankly, I’ve come to enjoy my strength training as much as I enjoyed running, and I emphasize it more in my daily living than anything else now. Strength training, with regular movement like walking, can be beneficial in so many ways!
What’s important to remember, regardless of your chosen activity, is to back it up with great nutrition! If you need help figuring out how to make these changes in your life, reach out to a Nutrition Coach like me!
Check out my Nutrition Coaching page for information on what I can do for you and how we can work together, even at a distance!