Ladies, how many times have you walked into a gym without ever picking up one single weight? I bet the answer is more than once, and I’ll even wager some of you have made it to the gym without picking up a weight at all! So why are some of us so hesitant to lift?
In my opinion, the problem is twofold: firstly, many women aren’t familiar with the gym and weight training and therefore aren’t sure where to start. Secondly, there is lingering misinformation out there telling women that the best way to lose weight is through cardiovascular exercise. For women unsure where to start, a personal trainer can offer education and support to get you well on your way to effective, safe training. As for the cardio versus weights debate, I’d like to dig a little deeper and uncover the many reasons why weight training has been historically underestimated among women, and just why it is worth including in your fitness regimen.
The old adage is that cardio burns more calories than weight lifting and is therefore king when it comes to weight loss. But this doesn’t account for the bigger picture: every time you move your body and a muscle contracts, it expends energy. From chewing gum to performing a squat, every time we move muscular contraction is involved. Over the course of a day, those contractions add up and contribute to caloric burn. Obviously, if you are making a concerted effort in the gym to force those muscles to contract, you’re adding to your overall calorie expenditure. Even more beneficial is the resistance those muscles face when challenged to move weight – be it a dumbbell, barbell, or even your body. Placing the added stress of weight to the muscle contraction spurs those muscles to become stronger, enhancing your overall lean muscle mass. The motion itself burns calories, and the muscle it builds will help your body to continue to burn more calories when your workout is done.
But you don’t want more muscle, right? Wrong! More lean muscle = more muscle contractions = more calories burned. This equation works even when the body is at rest, too. Your body requires fuel (read: calories) to maintain everyday functions like breathing, food digestion, and cell repair (to name just a few). But you’re afraid that all that added muscle will make you bulky, right?
Wrong! In order to add muscle to your frame you need to have a caloric surplus, meaning the calories you take in must be greater than those you expend each day. Women between the ages of 31 and 50 require anywhere from 1,800 to 2,200 calories each day, and 200 – 400 more if they are active. These calories, on average, are roughly equivalent to those required for the aforementioned everyday functions of the body. This is why, when you add exercise to the equation, you create a caloric deficit and lose weight. If a woman was going to get “big” or “bulky” by weight training, she would have to go out of her way to eat above and beyond her daily caloric needs: something she definitely wouldn’t be doing while on a weight loss plan!
Hopefully this information will assuage your fears if you’re considering taking up a resistance based training program. And even if you’re not currently thinking about it, consider that there are added benefits above and beyond calorie burn and increased strength. Studies show that those who lift weights experience better sleep, improved energy levels, improved heart health, and improved bone density (which fends off osteoporosis). Weight training also contributes to lower stress levels: research shows that those who lift frequently tend to have fewer adverse effects in stressful situations. For older adults, studies show that moderate intensity resistance training improves memory and cognitive function. With so many benefits, there’s no reason not to pick up those weights. Get lifting, ladies!