“Strength training”, especially for women, is often quite misunderstood, which in turn leads to needless doubt and fear. This is primarily due to the misplaced concern that weight training might make women bulky and big, hence making them look less “feminine”. Objections expressed include things like, “I don’t want to look like a body builder” or “Dead-lifts? No, No. That’s a man’s exercise” or “I just want to tone up, you see”. Not surprising then to see men dominate the weights section of most gyms with all the free dumbbells, barbells and machines while women work out on treadmills, in group aerobic classes or worse, tucked away in a corner with a few sets of pink 5-pound weights.
Effect of strength training differs for women, compared to men
Let’s clear a few misconceptions to start with. For one, it is impossible for any woman to look like a body builder (unless she is using exogenous testosterone/ steroids) as women don’t have the testosterone (male hormone) to get big muscles. Even if they lifted heavy weights, the probability of a woman beginning to boast physical features of Arnold is negligible. Sadly, this irrational fear holds a lot of women back from improving their body composition.
The truth is that a structured strength program offers exercises to get you stronger and bring out the definition in your body, without adding any bulk.
The exercises that women typically do to bring out definition or to “tone” their muscles don’t actually work. Despite several hundred repetitions and hours on end on the treadmill or elliptical trainer, they are left wondering why their bodies don’t change. So, it’s time to give strength training some serious thought.
Thinking beyond biceps and physical strength
Contrary to what is commonly believed, strength training goes well beyond building big biceps. It serves a much broader purpose of making you physically, mentally and emotionally stronger. The result is in presenting yourself a more confident you, who is comfortable in who you are. It’s about not having to worry or look for help when you need to put your bag in the overhead compartment on an airplane. It’s about knowing you can lift your baby off the floor without being anxious about throwing your back out. It’s about being able to carry the groceries or shopping bags without having to make endless trips to your car. It’s about being empowered to live independently for 30, 40 or 50 more years. Most importantly, getting stronger is about removing limitations. The stronger you are, the more you CAN do and the fewer things you CAN’T.
Beauty in strength
We live in the country of “Nirbhaya”, one that makes headlines of rape, domestic violence and abuse in newspapers almost everyday. Of course, we also belong to the land that worships Goddess Durga, the epitome of Shakti. Women need to realize that “Strong is beautiful” is an imperative, not merely to feel confident about her physical security but also to be able to speak up and stand for her own self whenever and where ever required.
Science Behind Strength Training
The importance of cardiovascular (or cardio) exercise is quite well known and accepted, especially how it’s great for our heart, cholesterol, and blood pressure. And whether you choose to walk, cycle, or swim, you know that it will help you burn calories and lead to fat loss. But that’s only half the equation. Without undermining the importance of cardio workouts whatsoever, you need to remember that limiting your exercise routine only to this will mean that you miss out on the big benefits of strength training. Strength exercises help improve your fitness level in ways that aerobics (or cardio) just can’t deliver. Strength training is essential for a balanced fitness program.
Studies suggest that strength training has some serious scientific weight to it, and imparts unique benefits—
- Weight loss – If you want to lose weight, then it is crucial for you to incorporate strength training into your routine. Research studies have demonstrated conclusively that strength training burns fat much more effectively than any other exercise does, besides making you look trimmer and shapelier. Unlike aerobic activity (like cardio, walk, swim etc.) that burns fat while you’re exercising, anaerobic activity (like strength training) burns fat in the minutes, hours and days following exercise, as your body recovers from your workout. Studies reveal that strength exercise burns more calories (or fat) for as long as 24 to 48 hours post workout!
- Enhanced fertility– Consistent strength training boosts sex drive, improves the egg quality, blood circulation & oxygenation to the ovaries and assists in better implantation of the foetus, hence increasing your chances of getting pregnant naturally.
- Hormonal Balance – Strength training is a panacea for all hormonal disorders be it Diabetes, PCOD/PCOS or Thyroid. This is because strength training improves how the body uses insulin and allows glucose to get around the body better. More and more research has shown to link resistance training with improved insulin sensitivity. Muscle is metabolically active tissue, and it uses glucose, or blood sugar, for energy. During a session of resistance training, your muscles are rapidly using glucose, and this energy consumption continues even after you have finished exercising. Hence, for any woman struggling with diabetes, PCOD, thyroid—strength training is among the most-effective remedies, with zero side effects.
Moreover, with consistent strength training, your newly insulin-sensitive metabolism will burn fat more efficiently. The accelerated fat loss in turn helps in reducing the risk for all metabolic & hormonal imbalance conditions.
- Pregnancy & Post pregnancy
Pregnancy– Due to its blood sugar regulating effects, strength training during pregnancy reduces the chances of developing gestational diabetes and hypertension. It strengthens your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments so that you are able to carry the extra weight without straining your hip and spine.
Post pregnancy– Spending hours on sit-ups are not the best way to tighten up your abs. Strength training along with a sensible diet will help you lose the post pregnancy flab, tone and tighten not only your abdominals, but the whole body.
- Anti ageing & Menopause-
As you age, there is a decrease in your bone tissue (bone resorption) over time. When you’re younger, new bone tissue generates and bone resorption is balanced. But later in life, this balance gets disturbed. Bone tissue losses accelerate and outpace the creation of new bone. This acceleration is especially striking among women who have reached menopause. After menopause women lose estrogen, a hormone that protects bones. This loss of bone density makes women more prone to osteoporosis and leads to weakness and postural problems among many older women.
Resistance training not only prevents those bone losses and postural deficits but also stimulates the development of bone osteoblasts: cells that build bones back up (a process known as bone remodeling). Therefore, it is by far the best way to maintain and enhance total-body bone strength, increase bone density, cut your risk of injury, help ease arthritis pain, improve balance, reduce the likelihood of falls and prevent osteoporosis.
To conclude, let me state my favorite quote from writer Rikki Rogers- “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t”.