If there is one type of exercise that is most riddled with misinformation, doubt and fear, it is definitely “Strength Training”. The primary concern that women have when it comes to Weight Training is that they will get bulky and big. You will either hear them say “I don’t want to look like a body builder” or “Deadlifts? No, No. That’s a man’s exercise” or “I just want to tone up, you see”. At most of the gyms, men dominate the weights section with all the free dumbbells, barbells and machines while you will see women on treadmills, in group aerobic classes or even worse, tucked away in a corner with a few sets of pink 5 pound weights.
So, we got in touch with Munmun Ganeriwal, Nutritionist & Fitness Consultant and as per her, it is impossible for any woman to look like a body builder (unless she is using exogenous testosterone/steroids) as women don't have the testosterone (male hormone) to get big muscles. Even if they lifted heavy weights, they cannot end up looking like Arnold!
Unfortunately, this irrational fear holds a lot of women back from improving their body composition. Structured strength program offers exercises to get you stronger and bring out the definition in your body, without adding any bulk.
She further explains that the exercises that women most commonly do to bring out definition or to “tone” their muscles don't actually work. They do hundreds and hundreds of repetitions, spend hours and hours on the treadmill or elliptical trainer and wonder why their bodies don't change. So it's time to give strength training some serious thought.
Secondly, strength training is not about building big biceps. It’s about being stronger, not just physically but mentally and emotionally too. It’s about being more confident in who you are. It’s about not having to worry or look for help when you need to put your bag in the overhead compartment on an airplane. It’s about knowing you can lift your baby off the floor without being anxious about throwing your back out. It’s about being able to carry the groceries or shopping bags without having to make endless trips to your car. It’s about being empowered to live independently for 30, 40 or 50 more years. Most importantly, getting stronger is about removing limitations. The stronger you are; the more you CAN do and the fewer things you CAN’T.
And lastly, let us not forget that we live in a country of “Nirbhaya”, a country that makes headlines of rape, domestic violence and abuse in newspapers almost every day. Women need to realize that “Strong is beautiful” is the need of the hour, not only to feel confident about her physical security but also to be able to speak up and stand for her own self when ever and where ever required.
What science says...
We all know how important cardiovascular (or cardio) exercise is, how it's great for our heart, cholesterol, and blood pressure. And whether you choose to walk, cycle, or swim, you know that it will help you burn calories and lead to fat loss. But that's only half the equation. Cardio workouts are important. But if your exercise routine consists only of this, then you could be missing out on the big benefits of strength training. Strength exercises help improve your fitness level in ways that aerobics (or cardio) just can’t deliver. For a balanced fitness program, strength training is essential. Studies suggest that strength training has some serious scientific weight to it, and imparts unique benefits:
Weight loss: If you are looking out to lose weight, then it is crucial for you to incorporate strength training into your routine. Numerous studies have demonstrated conclusively that strength training not only makes you look trimmer and shapelier but also burns fat much more effectively than any other exercise does. Aerobic activity (like cardio, walk, swim etc.) burns fat while you’re exercising, but anaerobic activity (like strength training) burns fat in the minutes, hours and days following exercise, as your body recovers from your workout. Studies reveal that strength exercise burns more calories (or fat) for as long as 24 to 48 hours post workout!
Enhanced fertility: Consistent strength training boosts sex drive, improves the egg quality, blood circulation & oxygenation to the ovaries and assists in better implantation of the foetus, hence increasing your chances of getting pregnant naturally.
Hormonal balance: Strength training is the medicine for all hormonal disorders be it Diabetes, PCOD/PCOS or Thyroid. One part of it is that strength training improves how the body uses insulin and allows glucose to get around the body better. More and more research has shown to link resistance training with improved insulin sensitivity. Muscle is metabolically active tissue, and it uses glucose, or blood sugar, for energy. During a session of resistance training, your muscles are rapidly using glucose, and this energy consumption continues even after you have finished exercising. Hence, for any woman struggling with diabetes, PCOD, thyroid—strength training is among the most-effective medicine, with zero side effects.
The other part is that with consistent strength training, your newly insulin-sensitive metabolism will burn fat more efficiently. The accelerated fat loss in turn helps in reducing the risk for all metabolic & hormonal imbalance conditions.
Pregnancy & post pregnancy
Pregnancy: Due to its blood sugar regulating effects, strength training during pregnancy reduces the chances of developing gestational diabetes and hypertension. It strengthens your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments so that you are able to carry the extra weight without straining your hip and spine.
Post pregnancy: Spending hours on sit-ups are not the best way to tighten up your abs. Strength training along with a sensible diet will help you lose the post pregnancy flab, tone and tighten not only your abdominals, but the whole body.
Anti ageing & menopause
As you age, there is a decrease in your bone tissue (bone resorption) over time. When you’re younger, new bone tissue generates and bone resorption is balanced. But later in life, this balance gets disturbed. Bone tissue losses accelerate and outpace the creation of new bone. This acceleration is especially striking among women who have reached menopause. After menopause women lose estrogen, a hormone that protects bones. This loss of bone density makes women more prone to osteoporosis and leads to weakness and postural problems among many older women.
Resistance training prevents all those bone losses and postural deficits. It stimulates the development of bone osteoblasts: cells that build bones back up (a process known as bone remodelling). Therefore, it is by far the best way to maintain and enhance total-body bone strength, increase bone density, cut your risk of injury, help ease arthritis pain, improve balance, reduce the likelihood of falls and prevent osteoporosis.
I will end with one of my favourite quote from writer, Rikki Rogers - “Strength doesn't come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn't”
All the best, ladies!