Weight training for women
Why you should be doing it right now (and why you won’t bulk up)
By now, we all know the many benefits of exercise: weight loss, strength, improved health, stress relief and increased energy, to name a few. But what are the specific benefits of weight training – especially if you’re a woman?
A common misconception is that weight training is intended for men and that women will “bulk up” or look “manly” if they lift weights. In truth, with the proper routine and guidance, most women will gain lean muscle and a desirable level of definition with regular weight training over a period of time.
According to Danielle Tetreault, founder and owner of Fit It In Fitness in Nashua, weight training by definition refers to exercise performed with resistance, such as barbells, dumbbells, resistance bands and body weight.
Although Danielle and her team work with a wide range of clients, many of the individuals she trains one-on-one or in a group setting are women looking to lose weight, build muscle and improve their overall health.
Weight training helps build strength and delay the onset of aging, Tetreault said, which is especially important for women because as they age, they are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis, a progressive bone disease characterized by a decrease in bone mass and density that can lead to an increased risk of fracture.
Exercise will help boost bone strength, and therefore it is advantageous to devote time weekly. Other benefits of weight training include balance, flexibility, increased metabolism, heart health and stress management.
Dr. Meenakshi Garg, a board-certified physician at the St. Joseph Hospital Internal Medicine practice in Nashua, adds that she is frequently asked by her patients about the best way to lose weight.
“Cardio training definitely helps to burn more calories, but strength training is the only way to continue to burn fat during and after your exercise,” Dr. Garg said. “The more lean muscle mass you have, the more efficiently your body uses calories.”
So what’s the key to getting started? “Plan, plan, plan,” Tetreault said. “You have to figure out how much time you are going to be spending per week on weight training. For best results, you should plan for three to six days. Set up an appointment with a fitness coach to complete an assessment. This will help you set goals, understand your starting point and choose the appropriate program for you. The atmosphere and accountability are important aspects as you begin. It's easy for us to say we will exercise regularly, but make sure you will enjoy it and do it consistently.”
If time or money are factors, you don’t have to go to a gym to enjoy the benefits of strength training, Dr. Garg points out. You can train in your own home with a few inexpensive pieces of fitness equipment such as dumbbells, weight bars, kettle bells and barbells, which can be purchased at any sporting goods store. Push-ups, pull-ups and crunches are other simple exercises that use your body weight for resistance and help increase muscle strength.
And “strength” is not a synonym for “bulk” – so there’s no need to worry about gaining too much muscle. Women who are looking for these types of results, namely female body-builders, have very specific diet, exercise, supplement and weight training regimens.
“’Bulking up’ is a term used loosely to describe gaining muscle,” Tetreault said. “The truth is that your genetic makeup and nutrition habits will determine how your body will look as you do weight training. Your muscles will not miraculously grow forever simply because you use weights. Muscle definition occurs due to a loss of body fat and increase of lean muscle. The best workout routines should include a balance of upper body, lower body, core and cardiovascular exercise. You should include variety daily and change your workouts every four weeks.”
Dr. Garg echoes this, saying “This is a major misperception and because of this, most women avoid lifting weights. The fact is that women do not produce a fraction of the testosterone as compared to men – the hormone responsible for increase in muscle size.”
Sample exercises to try in your fitness and weight training routine include push-ups, chin-ups, rows, squat variations, single leg deadlifts, planks and cardio intervals. Remember that your body weight is one of the best forms of resistance you can use while working out.
Tetreault first started weight training 14 years ago for sports as a young athlete in high school. She stresses the importance of keeping balance in your routine as well as functionality to successfully weight train and see results. Using your body weight to perform proper movement patterns, as opposed to using weight training machines, is the best form of weight training, she adds.
“My best advice is to put aside your reservations about weight training and start learning exactly what it is from a fitness professional,” Tetreault said. “It does not have to be intimidating if you are in the right atmosphere with the proper program design. I work with women of all ages who value the benefits and love the rewards of weight training. They have seen tremendous changes including a faster metabolism, decrease in body-fat, increase in range of motion, extreme improvements in blood work results and less stress.”
Julia K. Agresto is a freelance writer based in Nashua.