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Why Women Fear Strength Training
Even though it is 2014, and many of the gender stereotypes surrounding women being active have been broken, unfortunately many women still tend to have an ambiguous relationship with pure strength training. As a (partially reformed) endurance junkie, I speak from experience!
Pretty much daily one of my clients tells me that “I want to strength train and tone up, but I don’t want to get too strong, or too bulky.”
Don’t be afraid to strength train! Strength exercises, and the muscles that come with them, are a good thing! Also, it is almost impossible for women to “get big” unless they really try – it is just not in our genetics. Unless an individual is predisposed to gain muscle, bulking up takes dedication, and a concentrated effort to consume enough calories. You need to eat enough food to build muscle. Most women are too concerned with dieting and low calorie foods to ever eat enough to gain significant muscle.
Plus, in general, to create a hypertrophic (muscle bulk) response you need to do four plus sets of an exercise with an appropriately heavy weight for six to 12 repetitions. Most women don’t lift within that range, and when they do, they don’t use an appropriately heavy weight to result in hypertrophy. If you do 10 reps of an exercise with a weight ,you can actually do 20 reps (as many woman do) and hypertrophy will not occur.
Now, although the above response is absolutely technically correct, it doesn’t question why everyone is worrying about bulking up in the first place. There is a problem that so many women (myself included – although I am working on it) have such a fear of gaining muscle. What is wrong with being strong and having muscles? Strength is good! Strength will help you have better posture, protect your back, walk with confidence, perform every day activities with ease, improve bone strength and improve your athletic achievements. For me, strong legs allow me to attack hills while running and biking with ease, and a strong upper body helps me pull myself through the water with power and precision.
I resisted fully embracing strength training for a long time. Note, when I say “strength training” I am not talking about core work. Most females I know (including myself), love a good core session. By “strength training,” I mean exercises like squats, lunges, dead-lifts, push-ups etc. I still love a good run, and I could still drastically improve my strength, but I no longer prioritize my cardiovascular training above all else. I am proud to admit that I now enjoy my strength sessions (which include flipping tires and strength exercises like dead-lifts), as much as most of my runs. For an endurance junkie like myself, that is big.
The main take-away is that working out is not just about how you look, it is about how you feel and your quality of life. Regardless of how you aesthetically react to exercise, moving will make you feel better. Stop worrying about societal norms of how much muscle females and endurance athletes “should” posess. Re-frame the concept of a muscular body – don’t think of muscles as “excess bulk,” frame muscles as strong and beautiful. Remember, all bodies will respond to exercise in different ways!
Enjoy being active – appreciate that you can move! Don’t work out to look a certain way – workout to feel a certain way!
Kathleen Trotter, MS (Exercise Science), BA (Honours) is an ironman competitor, personal trainer and writer. She is passionate about fitness and health and trains a wide variety of clients ranging from the avid athlete to individuals living with osteoporosis, Parkinson’s and scoliosi. For more great articles and fitness tips visit: www.kathleentrotter.com and join Kathleen’s newsletter.
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