The ratio of men to women in a yoga studio is vastly different to the free weights area of your typical commercial gym. I could easily count on one hand the number of men that take part in yoga classes in the studio next to my work.
I’ve trained myself in many of the big gyms in Bangkok and you still see less women lifting weights than men. You may think that this a reflection on what each gender requires to reach their fitness and body shape goals. It is in fact quite the contrary. I believe that this is a result of cultural expectations and misconceptions about strength training. A lot more women are weight training now compared to before – but still more women should start to include it into their exercise regimes.
The type of training you do should be structured according to your goal, as opposed to it being gender specific. A man and a woman with the exact same goal should train in almost the same way other than small nuances. Men naturally have higher levels of testosterone than women so they generally have more potential for muscle gain. This is one reason why women generally are unable to become as muscular as men. In extreme cases, women resort to injecting testosterone in order to build more muscle than they naturally are capable of doing. That is why a lot of female bodybuilders begin to develop masculine characteristics.
Women do naturally have higher levels of oestrogen than men. This allows them to recover faster from training and to fatigue less than men. Therefore, it is normally better for women to have shorter rest periods during their sessions when compared to men. These are just minor differences that should not affect the overall programming of your training.
The general advice I would give for fat loss and ‘toning’ would be to strength train at least three times a week, be strict with your diet, and to do a slowly progressive amount of cardio. I would give the same advice regardless of gender. If you’re looking to sculpt your body as much as possible, strength training should be a staple in your training routine.
Activities such as yoga and pilates have numerous benefits, but they will not have the same effect as strength training. Think of anything to do with barbells, dumbbells, and free weights when you talk about this form of exercise. Strength training will help you lose those inches off your waist – providing that you control your food intake.
Throughout the year I go through periods of wanting to gain muscle mass followed by a fat loss phase. This is just a personal preference and I would not recommend this to everyone. My weight training always stays consistent – the only difference is that I will start to add in cardio and eat less once I enter the fat loss phase. When you gain muscle your metabolism improves and you become more efficient at burning calories from the food you consume.
That’s not to say that you will become big and ‘bulky’ from lifting weights. To gain weight you need to be eating more than your body needs. So whether or not you’re strength training, you will end up becoming heavier if you eat too much. Strength training combined with overeating will result in some of the weight gain being muscle. It’s important to look at all the variables and adjust your training and diet accordingly.
It’s not just body composition that strength training is beneficial for. The positive effects on your posture, bone health, and disease prevention cannot be understated. You might be surprised by how helpful lifting weights can be towards getting rid of lower back pain. Vanity is what initially got me into this fitness lifestyle. However, it’s the importance I place on my overall health that will keep me training well into my senior years.
As you can probably tell by now, I’m a strong advocator of strength training for both men and women. More women are realising how important it is to include weight training to their lifestyles. Around 50% of my clients are women and I focus on strength training with all of them. There are still some incorrect myths out there about women and strength training.
I feel this is preventing more of them from joining this positive trend. You won’t start looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger the moment you pick up a barbell. It’s not that easy to gain a massive amount of muscle even if you wanted to. My strongest female clients are generally the ones with the leanest physiques. Even if your goal was different to fat loss and you wanted to gain weight or improve athletic performance, then strength training will also enhance that. One of the main things that need to be adjusted is your nutrition to coincide with your goal. Eat more to gain weight and/or improve output, or eat less to get leaner for your summertime bikini body.
If you rely too heavily on cardio to get into shape, you start to burn through muscle mass and begin to look super skinny. Think of a marathon runner that does hours of cardio every week compared to a fitness model on the front of Women’s Health magazine. Many women aspire to look like the cover model rather than becoming too scrawny, unless their primary focus is endurance events. Having said that, even top-level marathon runners do a bit of strength training to help their race performance. Fitness models are a prime example of women that rely on weight training to give them that strong, aesthetic, healthy look.
If you find that they’re too muscular for your preferences, you can easily dial it down a notch by eating less and adjusting your cardio. The periodisation of your training and diet will determine whether or not you look like a fitness chick or an underwear model. Even Victoria’s Secret’s models have videos of themselves doing strength training so it really caters to everyone.
There’s more to improving your body shape than simply dropping the number on the scales. Strength training can significantly help both men and women to achieving their fitness goals for 2018. Start now and reap the all the benefits of lifting those weights!
Rishi is a strength coach and takes a holistic approach to training and body transformations. He holds a Sports Science BSc from Brunel University (UK) and has also competed in Men’s Physique and Strongman competitions. He believes that training should be, progressive, enjoyable and goal oriented. [email protected]