When most of us think of getting fit, the first thing we think of is that we will be losing weight and burning body fat. But in fact, unless you are obese, these may be the last things you need to think about. Sure, losing that last 5 kilos is always a bonus and generally the hardest weight to shift, and as every woman (and man) knows we always feel a little better when we are less rounded or ‘bloated’. But do we think about what else we gain when we embark on a new training regime or lift those weights to fatigue in class? We should!
Muscular strength and endurance, along with cardiovascular and aerobic improvement, body composition (percentage of body fat to muscle) and metabolic changes should be high on your list of goals to achieve through training. Strength training is essential to achieve the above.
This article is about the importance of being involved in Resistance/Strength Training, especially for women, and not essentially about weight loss.
Many women are literally afraid to lift weights, but the National Strength and Conditioning Association provides these stand points on Training for Women, and if followed, will help you stay healthy, strong and slim for your lifetime. Of course most of these points relate to men too, so you blokes out there – read on!
- Proper strength and conditioning exercise programs may increase athletic performance, improve physiological function (day to day activities) and reduce the risk of injury as we age and are beneficial to both males and females.
- Females can hypertrophy (increase muscle size) through resistance training, relatively the same as men, but not absolutely the same. Females have the same muscle fibre types as men, but they are smaller in their cross-sectional area, hence their smaller size gains.
- Females will not ‘bulk up’ like a male due to their limited levels of testosterone. It is simply not possible to look like a female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger by participation in a weight training program. Unless of course you specifically want that result, which is a whole other topic.
- Resistance Training that utilises multi-joint (eg legs, back and chest) and structural exercises (eg a squat and then shoulder press) is recommended to induce sufficient stresses on the skeletal system and to enhance calcium storage in the bone to ward off osteoarthritis and increase or maintain bone density.
- Bone mineral density begins to decrease between 30-40 years of age. Females lose approx. 8% and males 3% of their skeletal mass every decade and are more susceptible to bone density loss the 3-4 years prior to menopause. As we are never really sure when menopause will hit, it pays to start early and keep going! People who participate in activities that are more non-weight bearing, such as swimming, tend not to have as great a bone density as those who do more weight-bearing exercise. Programs that target the major muscles and joints of the body have a potentially greater impact on maintaining and restoring bone density, than single discipline exercise activities such as walking.
- People who have participated in exercise activities over their lifespan, particularly in the first 30 years of life, are in the best position for making the greatest gains in bone density, than those who discover exercise later in life. However, whilst gains can be made, there is every chance that bone density will return back to pre-exercise levels if the program ceases. More reason to keep moving!
- Resistance Training has demonstrated favourable changes in body composition with minimal changes in body weight. In other words, body fat loss and an increase in lean muscle mass. The more lean muscle you have, the better your metabolism.
- The more lean muscle mass you build through resistance training, the higher the ‘resting energy expenditure’ (REE). Most of the calories you burn during the day is not when you exercise, but when you rest. Your heart, lungs, digestive system and most importantly, your brain, work 24/7 and require a constant energy supply. As a result, about 70% of your metabolic demands come from REE. If you are moderately active, you burn an additional 20% of calories during ‘activity energy expenditure’ (AEE). The last 10% comes from simple digestion and breakdown of food and metabolism otherwise known as ‘diet induced thermogenesis’ (DIT).
- Obviously if you want to lose weight and keep it off and start burning more calories while you rest, you have to exercise. Exercise burns extra calories and helps shift unhealthy stubborn fat, and helps you to preserve and build lean muscles that will keep your metabolism high. Muscle tissue is the powerhouse of resting metabolic rate.
- Eating and Energy – if you have enough energy through all food groups, and complex carbohydrates, you can exercise at a higher intensity for longer. Which in turn will burn up more calories just through exercise (past that 20%) and you will boost your metabolism, improve your digestion, and have positive changes on your hormones. So whilst dieting can make you lose weight in the short term, the best way to maintain weight is through sensible eating and exercising, and you will ward off the inevitable loss of lean muscle tissue that is related to aging. If you cease to exercise you will see drastic drop in your endurance, strength, power and ultimately additional muscle mass. All of this reflects on your REE – the calories you burn at rest and results in a slower metabolism.
But wait…there’s more………
- Strength training is essential for injury prevention and increased performance. Through strength work you can tend to the weaker supportive muscles that can get neglected such as the gluteus medius, rotator cuff, hip stabilisers, abdominal and lower back region.
- Strength doesn’t necessarily have to equate to muscle mass and huge bulging biceps – it can simply refer to your increased ability to recruit extra muscle fibres in times of need, such as when you are running up a steep hill.
- Strength also ensures your joints, ligaments, soft tissue and bones are strong and sturdy enough to withstand repetitive pounding, in running and most sports.
- Power and Speed also comes from Strength Training. Plyometrics and explosive exercises such as box jumps, squat jumps, lunge jumps etc result in a greater muscle fibre recruitment, which in turn gives you more muscle fibres available for the explosive exercise you are performing. Eg a sprint finish up a hill!
In a nut shell, don’t always rely on cardio exercises such as running to improve your body and performance. If want to change your body, you will have to change your lifestyle and approach to training. Move more and get your heart rate up, and eat better quality food, but make sure you include resistance training in your fitness regime at least twice a week. You should then reduce your body fat, increase your lean muscle mass, lose centimetres, increase your metabolism, prevent injury and improve your performance results.