Resistance training for women – Switch it up!

Resistance training has a range of health benefits that can positively impact your body composition as well as your mental health. These benefits have been researched and reported on extensively yet, a majority of women do not participate in resistance exercise, choosing to focus on cardiovascular based exercise instead. In this post we will explore some of the reasons why woman ignore resistance training as part of their exercise regime as well as suggest ways to overcome them to give you the best opportunity to have a well rounded training routine .

It makes me “bulky” or “big”: This is a common misconception regarding resistance-based exercise for women. Lets start with the testosterone question. Women have significantly less testosterone than men. This hormone is crucial to building muscle and as such, building muscle mass/size to the same level as men is very difficult. Most women have around 40kg of muscle tissue, while most men have around 60-70kg of muscle tissue.

Where some of the confusion begins to creep in is knowing the difference between increasing muscle strength vs increasing muscle size (hypertrophy). Women can become stronger without increasing muscle size. This is due to neural stimulation as opposed to muscle growth ie: motor neuron activation as opposed to an increase in muscle size.
Each of the latter require different training approaches depending on your resistance-training goals. The simple difference between the two is training volume. Building muscle size requires more total training volume than building muscle strength. So, remembering the first point about testosterone, even if you are looking to increase size of your muscles through increasing the volume of your training, you still won’t be looking like Popeye any time soon.

Let’s look at a specific example:

Strength Training                                                 Volume (hypertrophy) Training
3 sets                                                                             4 sets
3-5 repetitions                                                            10-12 repetitions
2-3 exercises per muscle group                               3-4 exercises per muscle group
Duration: 3 weeks                                                      Duration: 8-10 weeks

Long term adaptations to resistance training will eventually see an increase in lean mass but again, not to the extent found in men.

Incorporating resistance-based training into your exercise regime can help with a range of factors.

• It can help performance, assisting you to reach new levels in your cardiovascular based training.
• It can help reduce your risk of injury, with improvements in the strength of the joints directly decreasing your risk of injury.
• It can help improve your health, with the literature supporting the best way to improve your health through exercise is by engaging in both cardiovascular and resistance training.
• Resistance based training can also help your posture and reduce lower back pain, a very common condition in many women that can be directly managed through a comprehensive exercise program.
• Resistance based exercise is also closely related with improving your bone mineral density and reducing your chance of osteoporosis, with as many as one in three women aged over 50 at risk. Increasing bone density by 10% before the age of 35 yrs can prolong osteoporosis for 13 years.
• Reductions in body fat are very common in resistance training. While not as big as the gains in men, women engaging in resistance-based training will benefit from increases in lean mass. Increasing your lean mass increases your metabolic rate which means your body will burn more body fat at rest then before.

Resistance training is a fantastic modality that too many women ignore on their fitness journeys. By adding resistance training into your exercise regime alongside your cardiovascular training, you will be getting the benefits of both.

Timothy Hanson AEP ESSA
Exercise Physiologist

Call 02 8188 9730