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Many women might be surprised to know that strength training can be just as beneficial to them as it can be to men.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, only one in every five women include strength training in their weekly workout routines, a disconcerting figure that could be making it more difficult for women to maintain a healthy weight and protect themselves against potentially debilitating conditions such as osteoporosis.
So why are so many women avoiding the weights in favor of the cardiovascular machines? Though the answer to that question remains a mystery, it’s fair to speculate that many women are hesitant to lift weights out of a fear that they will bulk up and appear muscular. Such a fear is largely unfounded, as the Women’s Heart Foundation notes that the average woman’s estrogen levels are so high that it’s difficult for her to become overly muscular. In fact, women who lift weights tend to benefit without adding the bulk by building muscle that is firm and tone, a look that’s both healthy and vastly different from that developed by men who strength train.
In addition to producing toned muscles, strength training can help women to control their weight, as strength training reduces body fat and burns calories more efficiently. Muscle built during strength training also reduces a woman’s risk of injury by improving her balance and coordination.
Strength training also benefits a woman’s bones. As women age, their bone density decreases thanks to hormonal changes. That decrease in bone density puts women at risk of injury should they fall and also increases their risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become brittle and fragile due to a loss of tissue. But strength training slows that deterioration, helping bones maintain their strength longer.
While strength training pays numerous dividends for women, that’s only the case if training is done correctly. The following are a few tips for women about to begin a strength training regimen.
• Don’t go it alone. Beginners, both male and female, should always enlist some help when starting a strength training regimen. Many fitness centers offer one or two free personal training sessions to new members, and women should take advantage of such offers to learn how to use certain machines and the proper form for the various strength training exercises they intend to include in their routines. If a facility does not offer the sessions free, consider hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions until you are comfortable with each exercise and confident your form is correct. Proper form prevents injury and promotes long-term health.
• Keep it simple. Part of the difficulty with beginning a strength training regimen rests with the abundance of advice out there, whether “out there” is in your own gym or online. But simplicity is good when beginning a strength training regimen. Learn some basic exercises for each muscle group at first. Once you are comfortable with these basic exercises, and it might take several months to feel comfortable, you can then look to master additional exercises and create a more specialized strength training routine. Speak with a professional trainer at your gym to develop a good beginner’s routine and then expand on that routine later.
• Don’t abandon cardiovascular exercise. Strength training should not be introduced at the expense of cardiovascular exercise. An adequate exercise regimen includes both strength training and cardiovascular exercise, which improves heart health (remember, the heart is a muscle, too), helps to boost metabolism and improves recovery time, among other benefits. As you grow more accustomed to your workout routine, increase the intensity of your cardiovascular workout and not the volume.
• Don’t be discouraged. It’s easy to feel discouraged when beginning a strength training regimen, as results don’t come overnight, leaving some to question if they will ever get stronger and reap the rewards of their efforts. Significant cosmetic results such as finely toned muscles and considerable weight loss won’t be immediate, but if you stick to your routine, you will likely begin to notice your energy levels are improving and you feel better, and those kinds of results often come sooner rather than later. Use such encouraging developments as motivation if necessary and always keep in mind that strength training will pay off in the long run.
Many women avoid strength training out of fear that will develop large muscles that compromise their femininity. But such fears are unfounded, and strength training is a great way for women to get in shape and foster long-term health.