Why Women Shouldn’t Lift Weights?
If you were to visit the free weights area of 10 of the UK’s leading health clubs, how many women do you think you will see ‘pumping iron’? Allow us to retort – probably none! What scientific evidence is there to support these ‘avoidance behaviours’ and should women really be performing strength training?
Muscular Strength is achieved when the exerciser performs 6-12 repetitions at a load of 70-85% of their one repetition maximum (the most weight they can lift one-time). In order to achieve an effective muscular strength workout, the exerciser would need to achieve momentary muscle failure on their final repetition and would be physically unable to perform another repetition. It is perhaps worth noting at this point that the following information pertains to only strength training and does not result from muscular endurance activities commonly undertaken by most women. With this definition in mind, let us explore why women should absolutely, without doubt, unequivocally refrain from strength training?
1. Strength training significantly increases lean body weight which in-turn enhances the rate at which energy is burned (metabolic rate). An increased metabolic rate accelerates the speed at which adipose tissue (stored body fat) and other nutrients are burned – thus resulting in a healthier cardiovascular system and greater levels of muscle tone and definition. Not only does this increased metabolic activity result in greater calorie expenditure during exercise, the body also burns considerably more calories during other daily activities, even whilst resting.
2. Levels of the male sex hormone ‘testosterone’ are around ten times lower in women than in men. Because testosterone is an ‘anabolic’ hormone that makes men considerably more muscular, masculine and stronger than women, the female strength trainer would be physiologically unable to achieve anywhere near the levels of muscularity and masculinity reached by their male counterparts. Women can therefore reap all of the benefits of muscular strength training without becoming increasingly muscular.
3. Strength training increases the stability of connective tissues, particularly those of the ligaments and tendons. Because these connective tissues provide the body’s joints with increased stability and strength, there would almost certainly be a reduction in the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and the onset of degenerative joint conditions like rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
4. Strength training increases the deposit of calcium into the skeleton and ultimately increases the density of the loaded bones. This increased strength reduces the risk of the ‘brittle and porous bone’ condition known as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes around 200, 000 fractures each year in the UK with around 80% of these fractures occurring in women.
5. Age-related atrophy (loss of skeletal muscle tissue), sometimes called sarcopenia, commences at around the age of 30 and results in a significant decrease in the size of the muscle fibres. This reduction in muscle size results in a corresponding decline in muscular strength; because women have lower levels of ‘absolute’ muscular strength than men this condition manifests itself much earlier in the life of females than males. Daily activities like carrying shopping, moving furniture or other physically demanding tasks become more arduous as a result of this atrophy. Regular participation in muscular strength training can dramatically reduce this aging process and as such allow the female strength trainer to lead a more active and independent lifestyle for much longer.
At this point you are probably thinking that the information above advocates women’s participation in strength training – well not necessarily. What woman in her right mind would want to increase her metabolic rate, reduce her body fat, be more functionally independent in later life, achieve better muscle shape and definition, improve her posture, have stronger joints, reduce her chance of osteoporosis and arthritis and reduce her risk of other musculoskeletal injuries?
If you are a Fitness Instructor or Personal Trainer it is imperative to ensure that the information and advice you dispense to your clients is scientifically correct and accurate. Additionally if you teach Exercise to Music or Aerobics classes, light weights and lots of repetitions (muscular endurance) might not be the best route to helping your clients to realise their health and fitness aspirations.