At Fernwood we know that one of the best forms of exercise that women can do is resistance training. We don’t fuss around and call it by other names – because we know that strong women are typically leaner and healthier. Yet there are also misconceptions about using weights that discourage women from training optimally in this section of the gym.
Dr Bill Kraemer sat down to talk to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) (based in the United States) about the common myths and misconceptions about women and resistance training.
Dr Kraemer is a Professor in the Human Performance Laboratory in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. He’s a former president of the NSCA and also the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
The biggest myth about strength training
Kraemer says that the biggest myth with regards to women and strength training is from the concept of the “fear of getting big”. Because of this fear, women tend to not optimise their training to improve muscle mass and bone density. He says this fear has no physiological basis, but ties into the messages and miscues we get from the media and other external evaluators about what a women is ‘supposed’ to look like.
Kraemer: Women need to lift heavier weights
Dr Kraemer also tells us that many women that do strength training are often using weight that is too light to have any of the benefits that strength training can provide. Even though lifting heavy weight doesn’t need to be done all the time, he says there needs to be a period of time where you do activate all your tissue with heavy loads of at least 85 per cent and sometimes for the effect on bone, over 90 to 95 per cent. Unless you lift this sort of heavy weight, you can’t activate all the muscle tissue and optimise bone health, which is especially important for adolescent women, he says.
Heavier weights means more fat loss
Much of a woman’s fat is stored just under the skin, and this is generally the first place that is will come off when a woman starts to do resistance training, he says. This decreases body fat percentage making the muscle more visible, which gives the appearance of better muscle definition. Regardless if the muscle has changed in size of not, many women feel that their muscles look bigger, which ties back into the “fear of getting big”, he says.
Dr Kraemer also notes that as women age they lose muscle tissue mass. If women don’t weight train, he says, then they can actually lose so much muscle mass that they can’t function.
Three things Dr Kraemer wants you to know about resistance training:
- You are not going to get big if you train with heavy weight.
- How you perceive yourself when getting more muscle definition is different to how others perceive you. And it’s all positive.
- You don’t actually have the hormonal profile to get massive (so refer to point 1).
So don’t be afraid to ask your personal trainer how you can make sure you’re optimising your weight training. Lifting heavier weights will improve your muscle and bone health, help to prevent injuries, make you more functional in your daily life, and help you get the lean and healthy look that many are after.