Women Put on the Weight!
Why is it that many women would rather head to an aerobics class than the weight bench? Fear of looking out of place? Of the dreaded muscle bulk? Not enough time for both cardio and resistance training? Whatever the reason, the addition of resistance training in the form of free weights, weight machines, or resistance bands can offer variety to an existing workout routine and potentially help you overcome that last weight-loss plateau.
Our muscles take care of us and resistance training offers a method for taking care of them in return. Muscles hold our posture, support our joints, and, of course, help us look good in a tank top. Cardiovascular exercise on its own can improve overall health as well as help you shed pounds, but its main focus is on one muscle in particular—your heart.1 Definition and tone of other bodily musculature can be realized through resistance training. A 2001 study by the American College of Sports Medicine found that women in a test group incorporating resistance training with aerobic exercise had significantly increased strength, power, and overall morphological musculature change over the test group of women performing only aerobic exercise.2
Women tend to shy away from heavier weight training exercises, potentially from a concern for significant muscle hypertrophy, but the truth is heavy weight training exercises are generally the best exercises for toning. The body’s level of testosterone is one major factor in its ability to considerably increase muscle size; therefore, women should not “fear the bulk” when considering resistance training.3
Resistance training is only part of keeping our muscles in peak performance, the other is nutrition. Muscle needs fuel to rebuild and repair in the form of protein.4 As with any fitness program, if the number of calories put into the body is consistently above what is being burned by the body a person may see limited results. However, extreme dieting may also hinder the effects of resistance training. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle tissue; while a diet heavy on vegetables may be low calorie, low fat, and in general good for weight loss, it may not be the best fuel for newly developing triceps.
No matter your strength level and ability, free weights (i.e. dumbbells) are easily accommodated at home or in a fitness center. Simply add weight with practice and progress. An added bonus for free weights is that there is no adjustment of machines to match an individual height/weight at the gym—just grab the weight and go. Most weight machines are not made with the 5’0” women in mind and are an expensive and space consuming addition to a home gym. Resistance bands are another option, especially for those on the go. Consisting of not much more than rubber tubing and a handle they are extremely lightweight, inexpensive, and portable.
When shopping for at home fitness equipment, why do the smallest dumbbells have to be pink? Do not buy into this marketing method that implies a 3 pound dumbbell is pink is the right choice for a woman while the 15 pound black one is not. Fitness equipment should be purchased based on overall fitness level, not by gender. Beginners should absolutely use a smaller dumbbell or lower level of resistance band as a starter weight but they should not consider it an end goal. Think about the household items someone might lift on a daily basis—milk jugs, bags of potatoes, toddlers—these items are much heavier than a 2 to 3 pound hand weight. Our muscles can handle the load!
Once the goal is made to incorporate weight into a fitness routine, the key to an effective workout is to be aware of muscle fatigue. If the muscle is only slightly fatigued at the end of a set of repetitions (8 to 12 would be considered a normal set), the weight should be increased. If 4 to 5 repetitions are difficult, the weight may be too heavy. As the body becomes stronger, the amount of weight used in a given exercise can gradually increase. Remember that the larger the muscle group, the larger weight it will be able to handle.
Exercise routine pressed for time? Try swapping an all-cardio routine for one that incorporates a resistance training sessions a few times a week. Variations between muscle groups can give time for recovery, allow for a smooth transition between sets, and be an effective use of time. Focus should be placed on major muscle groups such as the chest (pectorals), back, shoulders, arms (biceps and triceps), legs (quadriceps, hamstrings), gluteals, and inner and outer thighs. Splitting the focus of upper and lower body to separate workout days can also help ease a tight schedule.
In general, resistance training is not a quick fix for weight control. However, just give it time. By Six to eight weeks of a cardio/resistance combination program should yield results in terms of muscle definition and tone as well as increased endurance and strength. Because overall lean muscle burns calories, an increased level of lean muscle in the human body equates to a higher calorie burn even when lounging and watching television. As an added benefit, lean muscle continues to burn calories even after a workout has concluded.5
Just as humans in general find comfort in a routine, so do muscle groups. As muscles get used to a certain routine they don’t have to work as hard to get the job done, thereby burning fewer calories.6 Avoid this by altering the order of exercises, adding a bit more weight, or seeking out new exercises to work the muscle group. Many people may look for someone to tell them specifically what the right weight to use or the number of repetitions to perform, but the key is to work the muscle hard enough that it becomes fatigued. After the workout, it can rebuild and repair to improve overall lean body mass.
Whether hitting the gym in an established routine or just starting a workout program—remember to put on the weight! It just may help to lose it in the long run.
Becky Bonefas, MT (ASCP), CMA (AAMA)
Becky Bonefas holds an Associate of Science in Medical Assisting from Kaplan University, a Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology from the University of Iowa, and double Master of Arts in Management and Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. She is a Certified Medical Assistant and member of the American Association of Medical Assistants, a credentialed Medical Technologist through the American Society of Clinical Pathology, and a Certified Nursing Assistant in the state of Iowa.