Women and weights

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In days gone by resistance training and lifting weights was for most, an everyday essential occurrence, especially for women  – think scrubbing floors, scrubbing washing, washing windows and dishes, digging gardens, washing enormous piles of heavy linen and lifting cast iron pots.  Fast forward to the 21st century and all that some women lift is a cell phone, and even those have got lighter.

It is now blatantly obvious and scientifically proven that with an environment rich in modern labour-saving devices and machines, our bodies are actually mal-adapting; physical inactivity is cited as an actual cause of chronic disease by the US Centres of Disease Control.

Physical inactivity increases the relative risk of heart disease by 45 percent, stroke by 60 percent, hypertension by 30 percent, and osteoporosis by a whopping 59 percent. Craziness.

Women in particular seem to constantly be searching for the most effective way to get sustainably lean and toned. The huge irony being that although old world society had no problem with a woman lifting huge piles of linen and firewood, somehow lifting weights, even in sport, was not necessarily viewed as essential. How wrong that has become.

It is a fact that the more lean muscle tissue a person has, the more calories they burn at rest. So if you train to build more lean muscle tissue, your body needs more fuel just to keep itself going, which at its most basic level, would appear great news for foodies.

The myth that a woman will build Arnold-like muscles by lifting heavy weights is well debunked, as the distinct lack of testosterone in comparison with a man’s, biologically prohibits this outcome.

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The school of thought through much of the eighties and nineties that low, slow cardio was the king of weight loss also appears to be waning with mounting evidence in favour of high intensity interval circuit training.

Although cardiovascular fitness is a key component of all-round health, so too is functional muscular strength and mobility.  Additionally, a study in a Melbourne hospital working with obese patients proved that prescribed short intervals of resistance training actually created a better fat-burning effect than traditional ‘cardio’ while also resulting in less impact on joints.

Another myth that upon ceasing regular resistance training muscle mass will turn to fat, is like saying if you leave an apple too long it will turn into an orange. They are two wholly different tissues and cell structures making this biologically impossible. What can happen in reality is that lean and taut muscle atrophies (shrinks) and adipose tissue (fat cells) enlarge changing the body’s overall composition and aesthetic.

Another massive benefit of resistance training to women is the effect of weight-bearing activities on bone density.  The Medicine and Science in Sport & Exercise publication reported that “over the past 10 years, nearly two dozen cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have shown a direct and positive relationship between the effects of resistance training and bone density”. If muscles are trained to deal with a progressively increased load, the bones that they are attached to are somewhat forced to strengthen. Resistance training has been shown even to reverse osteoporosis to a degree in some of the most elderly subjects.

Another benefit of weight training is becoming more relevant as lifestyle-related Type II diabetes rises at an alarming rate; lean muscle tissue contains more insulin receptors, increasing the ability of the body to uptake glucose into muscle tissue. The Exercise is Medicine programme that is promoted throughout North America, strongly advocates resistance training as a tool to manage Type II diabetes and along with nutritional strategies, this non-medicated intervention is proving sustainable and highly successful.

Of course undeniably in sport, strength training forms the backbone of any training regime and is essential to high performance.  As with most things in life, if you look at what the leaders in any field are doing that makes them successful you can find something to emulate, albeit likely to a lesser degree, to achieve the desired personal result.  So in emulating the health, fitness, shape and functional strength of a female athlete, then it’s a certainty that weight training must play a part.  And make no mistake, this means lifting the big stuff that ends in failure, not a baked bean can or a 1kg dumbbell. And certainly not just a cell phone.

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