By Ladonna Spivey
Whenever I meet with a new client for the first time, we talk about their health history, their present state of diet and exercise, and their goals for the future. As we begin to work on creating an exercise plan, one of the things I consider is the amount of equipment a person already has at home. I cannot count the number of times the reply from women has been, “Yes, I have weights. I have some two and three-pounders.” My reply is usually along the lines of, “Ok. So you DON’T have weights…”
Sometime in the eighties women’s bodybuilding became popular. Images of women with necks the size of paint cans and bulging, basketball biceps filled the media. Veins popping, they would flex their “ginormous” pecks and, with low, gravely, man/women voices say proudly, “I am feminine. Muscles are sexy!”
Most women — an impressionable teenager such as myself included — ran for the hills.
The fear of becoming “bulky” or “looking like a man” in general caused women to spurn weightlifting in the same way they would a snake… sitting next to a rat.. on a pile of dirty dishes and ugly shoes.. Women packed Jazzercise and variations of aerobic classes in droves. Somehow the science — high repetitions using low weights increases muscle endurance — became distorted. Women began to believe that they could tone their bodies with thirty minutes of Jane Fonda and a two pound weight. The movement which had already begun was solidified. Men lifted weights. Women starved themselves and danced.
Now don’t get me wrong. Aerobic exercise is important in keeping your heart healthy, as well as losing and/or maintaining your current weight; However aerobic exercise is most effective in conjunction with resistance training. Likewise, lifting weights helps shape the lean, toned bodies most women want.
Let’s dispel some myths.
1. “Weight lifting will make me bulky and masculine”. Without the aid of steroids, which — despite the public denials — is still heavily present in the body building world, women don’t naturally have enough testosterone to achieve Incredible Hulk proportions. There are some people, male and female alike, who naturally build muscle faster than others. However even those people can’t accidentally lift too much weight and look like a body builder. Body builders live a strict diet and exercise regime. I know of one body builder who spends two to three hours a day at the gym. Everyday. She works out for an hour before work, then goes back to the gym for an hour or two after work. During competitions, she drinks protein shakes and eats skinned poultry, a lot of egg whites, vegies, and some whole grains. A handful of olives and/or a tablespoon of nut butter encompass her fat content for the day. When she’s not competing her diet is less stringent, but not a whole lot different. This is someone who is definitely more muscular than most women, and when flexing for photos she looks bigger. But when you see her in person she is about 5’7″ and probably a size four or six. She has won body building championships and has been featured in most body building magazines. She is successful in the sport. However with all that single-minded dedication — which the average person is not likely to emulate – she isn’t huge.
2. If you stop weight training your muscles will turn into fat. That would be like your fingernails turning into hair. Muscle and fat are two completely different types of tissue. Often, when people stop weight training, they lose the benefits of the increased metabolism that comes with more muscle tissue. At rest muscle burns more calories than fat so as you lose muscle, your metabolic rate decreases. Additionally, if a person starts eating an unhealthy diet or consuming more calories than they burn when they stop weight training, they gain fat. Muscle decreases, fat increases. But one cannot change to the other.
3. Women should only lift light weights. Muscles respond to resistance. If you are not giving them enough resistance they won’t respond. As your muscles get used to a certain weight, you have to increase it to see toning results. This is true for men and women. And muscles aren’t the only things that respond to weight. Likewise, bones react to increased weight loads by becoming denser. As we age, if we don’t continue to put stress on our bones they become brittle leading to fractures, osteoporosis and broken hips.
Women should not fear weight training. It’s part of a triad of good health that includes resistance training, aerobic exercise and healthy eating. If you are new to weight training, make sure you get good guidance — which can be from a personal trainer or from doing your own research — to ensure that you are using proper form and are not lifting too much too fast. Then get out there and build some muscle. If you are going to the gym or working out anyway, you might as well go all out and get the results you want.
See you in the gym! And remember, no matter your shape, size, age or ability, you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
LaDonna Spivey is an ACE- certified personal trainer. She is the founder of Kingdom Fitness Gulf Coast, a Christian fitness business that encourages clients to strive for peak mental, physical and spiritual health . Visit her at www.getkingdomfit.com or on Facebook www.facebook.org/getkingdomfit.