Strength Training In Women

By Sonia Saini | Therapydia Mid-City

 

Do you even lift? This phrase has gained popularity over time as a joke but in the Physical Therapy world we take it seriously. As we get older, we experience age related loss in our muscle mass and strength known as a condition called sarcopenia. Additionally, our bone density changes which may result in osteoporosis and this can increase the risk of fractures. Some of these changes start to occur as early as the late 20s and early 30s and a steady decline begins in the fifth decade of life. Women are more susceptible to these conditions due to hormonal changes that occur in their bodies. 

In fact, much of the research shows that the amount of fractures in women annually is greater than the incidence breast cancer, stroke, and cardiac disease combined. Yet, many women will not participate in strength training for a variety of reasons. The number one misconception is that participating in that form of exercise will result in “bulking up”. Time and time again this myth has been debunked. The reality is the amount of estrogen women have in their bodies makes it harder for them to increase muscle size to the degree they think they will. 

So, what is Strength Training?

Simply put strength training is “any exercise that involves working against resistance to develop strength and endurance of muscle groups”. There is a strong association between muscle activity and bone size so the action of using resistance to contract the muscles to help put healthy stress on the bones they attach to is important. And, the earlier women start lifting the better to help set a solid foundation of muscle mass and bone density for themselves.

Why is it SO important and especially in women? 

First, it reduces the risk of osteoporosis by increasing bone mineral density. Increased bone mineral density helps to make bones stronger and more resilient. This is important for women as they age and especially enter menopause where they are at higher risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis. Most women that are less than 50 years old have normal bone mass density but by the age of 80 about 70% are osteoporotic. The great things is that after about 4 months of consistent training positive changes can occur in the protein and mineral composition of bone. Stronger bones mean more stability in the body and less occurrence of accidents that can lead to fracture! 

Second, strength training decreases the risk of overall injury. Resistance helps make muscle tissue and tendons more resilient to handle the stress and forces sustained during physical activities. If an injury does occur those that have stronger tissues are able to heal at a faster rate. Many women are also at risk of falls as they get older due to issues with their balance because muscle gets infiltrated with fat resulting in an overall weakened quality of tissue and stability. Stronger muscles and bones mean better reflexes and ability to recover from near falls and slips. 

Third, it allows for weight management and a lean body composition which can help to reduce the risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Many women will do cardio for hours to “lose fat”. The fat in our bodies is very good at being stubborn and staying put because it takes virtually little to no energy to maintain its presence. Muscle on the other hand requires more energy to be preserved resulting in burning more calories while at rest and the effects can last up to 48 hours after a strength workout. That is why strength training is key to increase the ratio of muscle mass to fat. Strength workouts should not replace cardio workouts and vice versa. Both are important and play a vital role in overall health and well-being. 

Additionally, the effects of strength training on self-esteem and boosting confidence are so valuable. Participating in strength training is an empowering form of exercise and gives women a sense of control over their bodies. It allows them to be self-sufficient and not rely on anyone. There are many studies that have shown that strength training has a positive relationship in depression and overall quality of life. SO, not only does it help our bodies, but it also nourishes our brains. 

How do I start strength training? 

At Therapydia we can help you guide you in the right direction and help create a program for you that is safe. If you have not done much strength training on your own, we recommend starting with bodyweight exercises first. Gravity itself is a load just like external weights that can help. Learn the movements and make sure you understand proper form before adding additional weight. The use of resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells are all tools that can be used to add load. Other forms of exercise such as running, dancing, jumping activities, and walking on an incline are also ways to load the bones. The key is to mix it up and find the form of exercise you love to do because that will allow you to stick with it. If you’re not sure where to start, we are here to help you reach your goals! So, when asked, “Do you even lift?” we hope the answer is YES.

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