I recently did the third talk in a series discussing the importance of strength training for women. Once again, this is a broad topic and there are many individual variables and needs that need to be addressed when putting a program together, but below is a general overview of the considerations.
There are no differences in muscle adaptation and function between men and women. The thought that women and men need to do different exercises is not accurate. Depending on the goal for exercise, the programs may be very similar. Since women produce less testosterone than men they do not gain as much muscle mass, but some women get bigger than others, just like some men get bigger than others. If you feel you are getting ‘too bulky’ limit the number of sets and do not work to muscular failure.
A larger percentage of women than men are also hypermobile, or very flexibile. This means that their joints have increased movement. While there are benefits to this in terms of flexibility, there are potential detriments like loss of stability and some hyperactive muscles overworking to provide that stability. Doing some strengthening exercises to help the muscles surrounding joints get stronger will naturally improve their stability. Improving the global muscle strength allows those hyperactive muscles to relax which can alleviate pain and tension.
Determining the exercises, set and repetition range is based on individual goals. For strength gains: perform repetitions between 6 and 15. For endurance: perform 15+. For Power: perform 1-5 at a high speed or with a max load. For weight loss: alternate lifting days with interval cardio days or circuit training. Intervals and circuits build muscle due to the intensity of the exercise and raise the metabolism throughout the day. Doing 45 min on a machine is less optimal than doing a total body lift, intervals or circuit training for weight loss or body composition. These long, slow cardio days are good for recovery after hard exercise, heart health and training for endurance events.
Strength training and weight bearing exercise slows the loss of bone with age. Peak bone mass is achieved in the 20’s and gets lower afterwards. Strength training improves posture, strength and bone density (but cannot restore what is lost (to a large degree). Strength training also improves posture and core strength which decreases the humped back look some people develop as they age. Strength and balance training can also reduce the risk of falls.
Women are a greater risk for sustaining certain injuries with activity (think ACL). Performing exercises that train the body how to move appropriately helps to decrease this risk. Strength training alone does not reduce risk, but getting stronger while using proper form can. If you are on a sports team and know the common injuries related to that sport, you can put an exercise plan in place to address that risk.
Sample whole body strength day done 2-3x/wk for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions
Stability ball curl
Sample interval workout done 2x/wk
5 min warm up. All out sprint for 30 seconds with 60 second recovery for 5 sets. 5 min cool down. Can be done using bodyweight exercises, sprints or cardio machines.
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*This site is for educational purposes only, it is not meant to diagnose, treat or replace medical advice. Before starting an exercise program always make sure that you are healthy and able to do so safely.*