Muscle on top of muscle, huge, powerful bodies packed with power — weightlifters can create an indelible image.
Few can attain such form and most — particularly women — have no desire to. But weight training for women, also referred to as resistance training, is gaining steam. Publications and websites from Shape and Women’s Health to bodybulding.com and the Huffington Post are touting the benefits of the growing trend of women’s weight training.
A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who did weight training burned an average of 100 more calories during the 24 hours after their training session ended. And some studies have shown that just two sessions of strength training a week can reduce overall body fat by about 3 percentage points in just 10 weeks, without cutting a single calorie.
We asked local experts Gerry Gallo and Vicki Campbell about the merits of weight training for women. Gallo is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and lecturer in the department of health and sports science at the University of Dayton and Campbell is an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certified health and fitness specialist at Personally Fit.
Q: Some women are concerned that working with weights will make them bulky, should women expect to bulk up as a result of weight training?
Gallo: That is one of the most common misconceptions about resistance training. Women don’t typically gain as much size as men because they don’t have as many of the hormones necessary for muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle size). Most often, what they’ll see is increased muscle definition.
Campbell: Women are physically incapable of bulking up in that manner as the result of naturally lifting weight. For them, it’s more about preventing loss of muscle mass which happens as we age.
Q: What are the benefits of weight training for women?
Gallo: It will lead to an increase in lean muscle mass and a decrease in fat mass and an individual who carries more muscle mass will burn more calories at rest. Resistance training also increases spinal bone mineral density, which is very beneficial for women who are prone to bone degeneration and osteoporosis. It has also been found to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, reduce the risk of diabetes and enhance overall daily living.
Campbell: You will get stronger and feel stronger from the inside out. You will have stronger bones, which helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It can also provide a good cardiovascular workout. You will look better and feel better.
Q: In some cases, the scale might not reflect the amount of effort that is being expended in the gym. Why is that?
Campbell: I tell everyone, ‘don’t concentrate on the scale.’ If you’re going to weigh yourself, don’t do it every day, maybe just once a week. It’s not just about the pounds. I’m working with a client who is getting married. She has only been coming in for three weeks and she has already told me her pants are fitting differently. She tried on her dress the other day and noticed that her stomach is flat and she hasn’t lost a pound.
Gallo: It’s easy to get discouraged if you look at the scale after a few months of training and see that you’ve only lost two pounds but what you don’t realize is that you may have lost four pounds of fat and replaced it with two pounds of muscle. Muscle is more dense than fat, meaning it takes up less space so, even without much weight loss, your clothes are going to fit better and you’re going to look and feel better overall.
Q: Is weight training just about barbells and dumbbells?
Gallo: It will depend on the experience and goals of the individual. Someone with no resistance training experience should not be exposed to dumbbells right away. Medicine balls, resistance bands and machines are excellent tools and can expose you to the proper form, technique and range of motion required for a particular exercise. You want to progress to free weights and make sure to master the form and technique of an exercise before utilizing them.
Campbell: We use cords, medicine balls, kettlebells and strength training machines as well as barbells and dumbbells. TRX suspension trainers can also be great because they use your body weight so you can change the resistance just by changing your foot position.
Q: Should weight training be limited to certain ages?
Gallo: “I’m too old to start” is one of the biggest misconceptions about resistance training. People who are 70 and 80 years old still see benefits. It’s definitely never too late to start.
Campbell: We have people come in here well into their 90s and they look great. They don’t do it because they love it, they do it because they know it’s good for them. I work with a lot of older people who don’t like how their upper arms wiggle-waggle and this helps with that. You don’t just feel stronger, you are stronger.
Q: How do you get started?
Campbell: You need to determine your goals and develop a program, not just a workout. And whatever program you decide on, having proper form is very important when it comes to strength training. In order to not hurt yourself, it’s best to work one-on-one with someone to prevent injury.
Gallo: You’ll want to find someone who has a recognized certification in the area of personal training. Think of it like getting the correct prescription from a professional. Look for credentials. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) are two gold standard organizations when it comes to training. Do the research — contact a local gym or university — to find someone with the correct credentials.
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