Sophia McDermott Drysdale: 6 Reasons Why ALL Women Should Perform Resistance Training
6 Reasons Why ALL Women Should Perform Resistance Training
Even though the “ideal image” of a woman’s body has progressed from the stick-thin, French look of the 1960s to a more curvaceous look (thanks to the likes of Cindy Crawford and others in the 80s and 90s) there is still a widespread stigma that women who lift weights will get bulky and masculine looking.
Unfortunately, society still dictates that to be “attractive” one must be a delicate flower and that muscles are less feminine. This odd and incorrect ideology still permeates through all levels of society. I travel often to teach, and no matter where I am in the world, whenever I go to a gym I see women lifting three-pound dumbbells. They believe that they are actually doing something worthwhile.
For those clients who are feeling too bulky, there are factors other than muscle that can contribute to the feeling of thicker thighs or fleshy upper arms. A lot of the bulkiness that women complain about may be due to higher than ideal levels of body fat which are attributable largely to diet. I shouldn’t have to state that paying attention to diet while working out is also very important and part of a healthy lifestyle.
It amazes me that the one thing that women need to do—which is to lift weights or to perform resistance training in order to stay healthy, lean, strong and youthful—is the one thing that most women don’t do for fear of becoming bulky or too masculine looking. Their reasons are purely based on appearances; if this misconception was put to bed once and for all and the truth were revealed to mainstream society, all women would be lifting weights or doing resistance training in one form or another. Remaining healthy, strong and youthful is a great motivator for those clients who are on the fence about resistance training who may have always tried to stay slim by only performing cardio.
Muscle Building Breakdown – How those ‘gainz’ are made
The majority of the body’s muscular growth is achieved through testosterone and women naturally have significantly lower levels of testosterone than men. Muscle building occurs when there is trauma or damage to the muscle from resistance training overload, namely after a hard workout and testosterone helps draw matter to the damaged muscle site in order to repair. The scientific evidence is not conclusive, but the thought process is that daughter cells, produced by muscle cells that lay on the outer surface of the muscle, fuse to the existing damaged muscle fiber which helps to regenerate it. It is important to note however, that this process does not create more skeletal muscle cells, but increases the size and number of contractile proteins within the muscle fiber which leads to an overall muscle building effect or hypertrophy.
It has been said that the number of muscle cells we are born with is all we will ever have—just like fat cells, they only expand or contract (with the exception of puberty and pregnancy.) Trauma to muscle fibers results in the process of the splitting of these existing muscle fibers known as hyperplasia which in turn increases your strength and therefore your ability to deal with stimuli that you are presented with.
Now that we have discussed the breakdown of building muscle, let’s look at the myriad of positive effects that can benefit a woman with a more muscular frame (whether from performing resistance training, lifting weights or doing body weight strengthening exercises.) By sharing this knowledge, I hope to encourage female clients to start a resistance training program.
1. Muscle Cells, Little Fat Burning Furnaces
Muscle is the engine that turns the food you eat into energy. Muscle burns fats. Every muscle cell in your body is a dynamic little fat burning furnace! Having muscle on your frame increases your basal metabolic rate and burns more calories throughout the day. Therefore, in the long run if you have more muscle on your frame you will actually be leaner and most likely smaller due to lower levels of body fat. Take a look at the surface area of a five pounds of fat compared to five pounds of lean muscle. The muscle sample is significantly smaller. This is why women who have muscle on their frames are heavier than women who don’t, yet they may appear to be the same size. The lean muscle gained from doing resistance training also keeps your body tight and firm. I am sure that most clients would prefer to have toned thighs, a strong flat stomach and sculpted arms as opposed to a body that is not toned, even if the scales displayed a heavier number. It is important to educate clients that weighing less on the scale doesn’t necessarily equate to health. Muscle weighs significantly more than fat so using a set of scales to monitor progress may not be the best idea.
2. Resistance training makes you stronger
Carry out daily tasks in life with ease!
The more physical stress you put on the body the more it adapts to deal with that stress. Over time, those push-ups that were challenging seem easy, and those dumbbells that felt heavy initially now feel light. More importantly, those stairs that burned out your legs while carrying the shopping bags are now a breeze. Being able to perform more challenging exercises in the gym is great but if you can transfer that over to your daily life, then things just get so much easier! For example, putting my 4-year-old in the front of the shopping cart is as easy for me as doing a clean and press, essentially. My arms are straight above my head while my daughter giggles above me before I lower her into the seat. This necessary task may not be so simple for other women. In fact, I don’t know how other women without the upper body strength manage to get their children into the cart seats in the first place! Performing simple but essential movements, such as squats paired with shoulder presses, will make new mother’s lives so much easier when dealing day-to-day with their babies.
Ensure a strong frame and good posture to prevent injuries
Another benefit of increased strength is the ability to execute exercises in the gym as well as daily tasks with correct posture and a strong frame so as to avoid injury. For example, having a strong core is essential to perform an exercise such as the push-up in which the abdominals are activated to support the spine and maintain that straight shape. In the same way that strong legs and glutes are necessary to perform a deep squat in order to pick up a heavy box from the floor. If not, then there is an inclination to use the lower back and strain those muscles. Clients should perform resistance to build a strong frame to maintain good posture and prevent injury.
Help protect you from harm
Let’s face it . . . We live in a bit of a scary world and unfortunately there may be a time in a woman’s life where she needs to protect herself from violence. No amount of strength training alone can defend from an attacker (specific techniques and lots of training are required in order to be able to execute on instinct,) however being stronger will definitely help to certain degree. This is a very important factor and therefore a good motivator to get clients started on strength training program.
3. Resistance training slows down the aging process
Maintain activity, strength and mobility
Loss of muscle is one of the main factors of aging. When you are at the height of your youth, whether you are male or female, you are at a stage in your life where you are carrying the most amount of muscle. If you maintain the levels of muscle as you age, then you will mitigate the effects of aging. Age related loss of muscle contributes to less strength, increased frailty and a higher risk of injury. Less strength also leads to a decrease in mobility which is why the aging find it harder to move around (and exercise less.) By performing resistance training and maintaining muscular strength and connective tissue strength clients can stay active, mobile, strong and injury free—all wonderful attributes to feeling youthful.
Keep your skin youthful looking, smooth and tight
Full muscles keep your skin tight and youthful looking. Think of a balloon. The more you blow up a balloon, the larger the surface area and the tighter it is. Your skin works in a similar way, whereby loss of surface area from decreased muscle mass makes your skin saggy and wrinkly. Those muscles will create nice firm curves which will keep your skin smooth and tight.
If you are a trainer and have clients who are on the fence about resistance training, youthful skin may be a pretty easy way to get them motivated to start.
Maintain body fat levels as you age
Finally, loss of muscle lowers your metabolism as discussed previously. Age-related loss of muscle is one huge factor for an increase in body fat due to a depressed metabolism. The fewer little fat burning furnaces on your body (aka, muscles cells), the more fat you will accumulate as you age.
Clients need to know that by maintaining—or even better—gaining a little muscle on their frames, they will be keeping their body fat levels consistent as they age. This is really important for postmenopausal women who tend to gain weight around the middle due to the drop in estrogen levels, which can consequently affect other areas of their health.
Increases bone density
There are a few factors that lead to decreased bone density, namely a poor diet or being significantly underweight or exceptionally lean like some athletes, such as gymnasts. However, the main factor for loss of bone density is aging. Postmenopausal women are particularly susceptible since estrogen is an important agent in bone health. That’s why when grandma falls over, she is more likely to break her hip and it is all a downward spiral from there. Broken hips are the number one factor for a loss of independence in the elderly, so it makes sense that strengthening bones should be a priority. Younger women, who will eventually become postmenopausal women need to start their resistance training now. Research has shown that resistance training increases bone density and therefore can offset age-related loss.
4. Resistance training and its effect on mental health
Exercise in general is imperative for your overall well-being. We often focus on the beneficial physical effects that exercise has on our body, but what about the beneficial effects that exercise has on our mental health and state of mind?
When you exercise or perform resistance training, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins reduce your perception of pain by interacting with the receptors in your brain. Endorphins are also known as the “feel good chemicals” that can trigger a positive and perhaps euphoric feeling. These feelings that follow after a workout can be carried through to have a more positive outlook on life. How many times have you felt tired and lethargic and unmotivated and then once you drag yourself to the gym and work out you feel energized and on top of the world? However, studies are showing that working out does more than just lift your mood. It has also been shown to diminish the feeling of depression.
Encourage your clients to try a few resistance training sessions and ask them to monitor their moods and how they are feeling after the workouts.
Getting out of your office and into the gym or outside for a body-weight workout will already change your state of mind, however the endorphins released from exercising will lower your levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Increased cortisol from prolonged stress leads to depression, weight gain and high blood pressure. So here is another really important reason to squeeze in a workout. Overall lowered stress levels will decrease cortisol output and mitigate all the negative effects that accompany it.
If you are working out and lifting weights you are going to be looking and feeling better which will boost your self-esteem. It is thought that women’s testosterone levels increase when performing resistance training over a period of time. Additionally, being in a competitive environment and being in a male-dominated environment enhances testosterone levels in women which promotes confidence and makes them feel, generally, good.
The mere fact that resistance training challenges your body definitely contributes to a better night’s sleep. Your body does most of it’s repairing at night, so training should bring on the nice deep sleep that it needs to allow your body to restore, repair and build. It is important not to work out right before bed, since the body needs time to wind down and relax from the heightened stimuli and the energizing effects of endorphins.
Encourage clients to have a workout at least three hours before bed to ensure that when it is time to hit the sack, they go straight to sleep.
The chemicals released from performing resistance training, such as testosterone, human growth hormone and endorphins all contribute to an increase in overall mental well-being. There is not much information about the effect of testosterone and sleep in women, however studies have shown a correlation between elevated testosterone and better quality sleep in men. As men age and their testosterone levels decline so does the quality of their sleep. Increased testosterone could also possibly aid in the sleep quality of women.
Additionally, lowered levels of anxiety and stress from resistance training could play a factor in increased sleep consolidation and sleep quality.
5. Resistance training decreases the risk of heart disease
Heart disease has become more prevalent among women and much of it is due to poor diet and lack of exercise. However, I believe the main culprit is chronic stress. When you are under chronic stress your body has a slow leak of cortisol into your system which can increase insulin resistance and elevate blood pressure. All exercise is good for your heart. Resistance training, although primarily anaerobic, helps to increase blood flow to the limbs and has been shown to widen the arteries which is great for getting more oxygenated blood to the working muscles and increasing overall circulation. Resistance training has also been shown to decrease blood pressure which is one of the main precursors to heart disease.
6. Resistance training increases libido
Even though women have significantly lower levels of testosterone, resistance training performed consistently over time has been shown to slightly increase testosterone levels as well as human growth hormone levels. Testosterone plays a major role in sex drive, not just for men, but for women as well. It helps with desire, sensitivity to touch and orgasms. If only women knew that throwing a few dumbbells around would assist in an increased libido and some more fun between the sheets, then women would be hitting the gyms every day! This could be a very easy way to encourage women to start resistance training.
There are many benefits to a woman’s physical and mental well-being from performing resistance training. Gaining some muscle (a wonderful side effect of lifting weights) helps to increase muscular and connective tissue strength, lowers body fat levels and increases mobility. Resistance training also slows down the effects of aging, reduces stress and decreases the risk of heart disease. Finally, performing resistance training, whether it be by lifting weights or performing body-weight exercises such as squats, pull-ups or push-ups, also contributes to a more positive state of mind, lowers depression and increases sex drive.
Let’s work together to quash this stigma about weight training. Feminine strength is all about being strong on the inside as well as being strong on the outside. Trainers and professionals everywhere should be spreading the news about the myriad of benefits that resistance training has to offer so that all women are keeping healthy, happy, safe and strong.
Sophia McDermott Drysdale focuses on sharing her knowledge about health, fitness, training and BJJ with a spin on pregnancy. She strives to inspire and empower women and encourage them to follow their dreams through her training, competing, group classes and seminars. She is based in Las Vegas, where she teaches women’s classes and self-defense classes.
The first Australian female to receive a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Sophia is a 4 x State, National, Pan Pacific and Pan American Champion, as well as a 2 x No Gi World Champion and a World Champion. Sophia has more than 15 years’ experience as a gymnastics coach, Jiu Jitsu teacher and personal trainer and has worked with young an old, beginner and elite, and every different body type and fitness level imaginable. Click to learn more about Sophia’s work.
Related content from OTP:
- 1.The Mystery of Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy, By Richard Joshua Hernandez, B.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/hypertrophy.html
- What Makes Muscles Grow? By ISSA, March 30, 2015. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/issa7.htm
- Age Power, Leslie Kenton, Published in 2002
- Can Weight Lifting Increase Bone Denisty? February 19, 2016, http://www.builtlean.com/2013/12/11/weight-lifting-bone-density/
- WebMD, Exercise and Depression: http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression
- 5.Effects of heavy-resistance training on hormonal response patterns in younger vs. older men: Journal of Applied Physiology Published 1 September 1999 http://jap.physiology.org/content/87/3/982.short
- 6.The Association of Testosterone Levels with Overall Sleep Quality, Sleep Architecture, and Sleep-Disordered Breathing – See more at: http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2007-2622#sthash.1UW4H7Zq.dpuf http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2007-2622
- Weight Training Has Unique Heart Benefits, By Janet Eppping, November 11, 2010 http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/207417.php
- Breaking the Myth, Female Heavy Weight lifting, by Rosie Chee, April 7 2015,: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/myth-of-women-lifting-heavy2.htm
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