It’s been accepted knowledge for some time in the industry that strength training, also called resistance training, is an essential component in any fitness regime and is as important for women as it is for men. It has myriad benefits including improved muscle strength and tone, pain management, improved mobility and balance, increased bone density and strength and reduced risk of osteoporosis, reduced body fat and better self esteem (Source: Better Health)
The relationship between muscle development and reduced body fat is particularly interesting. Basically the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism and therefore the more fat you burn. Strength training improves fat burning:
a) Because you metabolize more quickly in the day or two following a workout, when your muscles are repairing themselves (this is the time you may experience DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). After a really good workout you may hurt for days, but personally I enjoy this type of soreness because it’s like I can actively feel the improved metabolism and fat burning occurring.
b) Just simply having muscle improves your metabolism.
In addition, new research argues that exercising our muscles – releases chemicals called “myokines, which have a range of benefits including reducing the low level inflammation in the body thought to contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s – and possibly working as tumour suppressants” (Source: The Age) The research is new, as I understand it, but promising.
Whichever way you look at it, strength training can only do you good. There used to be a view that if women lifted heavy weights, they would look ‘bulky’ or ‘manly’. Something like this perhaps
This misguided view is in fact quite disrespectful. Diet is the major factor in stripping body fat to expose that degree of muscle mass, and it takes in some cases YEARS of hard work to achieve a body like the above. The suggestion that a woman might lift a few dumbbells a couple of times a week and accidentally wind up ‘bulky’ is ludicrous. You need testosterone for that, and women generally just don't have enough. In fact, a moderate amount of muscle mass is what is more likely to happen, and with a low(ish) amount of body fat you’re far more likely to end up with a body like this:
Bulky? Manly? Hardly. Of course this may not be everyone’s idea of the ideal body, and we need to be careful about presenting these almost-perfect bodies as something to aspire to, because the reality is that our genetics play a big part in determining overall body shape and composition. Two people that have identical training regimes and diets will still look different. Genetics might mean you develop larger quads, or have a thicker waist or broader shoulders than the person next to you, but this should never mean that you value your self-worth based on whether you look like a sports model. And it’s by no means a reason to stop, or even reduce the amount of strength training you do, because the benefits noted above far outweigh any aesthetic considerations (in my view). A fit, strong, healthy body is always going to be more attractive and add far more to your self esteem than feeling frail, under-nourished or obese.
Since losing almost a third of her body weight, Gen now blogs about her fitter, stronger, leaner reality over at G.I. Gen. Check her out there for more on a whole range of topics.