Guest blog by Nick Finney,
Resistance and Weight Training for Women
Have you been thinking about taking up resistance/weight training? Or are you frustrated with your progress and confused with some of the theory behind it? It’s important to dispel some myths and remember some truths when you start your resistance regime.
Myths and Truths
The first myth is that weights of any kind will ultimately leave you struggling to fit through doorways! This goes hand in hand with the idea that the way to use weights to get trim, improve ‘tone’ and lose body fat is a light weight for lots of reps. Meaning a heavy weight for less reps will only pack on unwanted beef. This is not true and women simply do not have the testosterone to pack on muscle.
There is a lot of evidence to show the opposite on the heavy weight misconception and that is that an effective way to keep body weight in check is actually to challenge yourself on the amount of weight you lift.
When we lift heavy weights there is a neural adaptation which essentially is the brain’s response to improve co-ordination and the speed and strength of the muscles’ contractions. This, especially in women, can happen with little to no effect on muscular size. And if the unimaginable happens and you put on some well-earned muscle, be at ease for you will be in a new calorie burning zone of an increase in resting metabolism.
Fat Spot Reduction
Despite a plethora of unfounded magazine articles telling you to ‘train triceps to torch arm fat’, it is impossible to spot reduce fat. That is to say because an exercise burns in a certain area, you will not lose fat in this area more so than any other due to said exercise.
Ironically the simple exercises that ‘burn’ often only utilise one joint at a time. This means it activates less muscles than compound movements (which pivot through more than one joint) and therefore burn less calories. So don’t always be fooled by the burn.
For example anyone who has trained their legs at a gym will know that leg extensions burn in the front of the thighs a lot (quads), yet don’t burn as many calories as squats or lunges which work through the hip as well as the knee (therefore quads, hamstrings, glutes). This sensation leads queues of women waiting for the ‘burning’ machines while all the best bodies are off doing squats and lunges! So my top tip here is: if there is a queue for it, you are most likely better off without it!!! (Steer clear of abductor and adductor machines).
So, we now know we cannot spot reduce fat. The human body is an effective machine at both storing fat and storing it in the most efficient areas. If we imagine the body fears it is destined to be abandoned in the desert, so it attempts to create and hold onto fat stores just in case we are in a situation where we have no food for an extended period.
There are also optimum locations on the body to carry said fat stores. Imagine if the pockets of fat we had were stationed on our wrists and ankles. This would require a lot of energy to cart around as the extremities swing as we move. The solution? They are stored close to the centre of gravity thus requiring the least effort to haul around during daily life. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t make sense to store your fat in ways that end up being hard work and…erm….burn fat.
The result is obviously a penchant to hold fat around the stomach, bum and thighs. There is a slight variation dictated by hormones which sees men prioritise stomach, and women thighs, hips and bum.
So what does this all mean? It means that no matter how many crunches or bum and leg exercises you focus on, these are the stubborn areas. So don’t be discouraged that even though your arms look better, your bum seems to want to hold onto fat. You are not doing anything wrong and there is no magical solution, other than consistency.
Ever heard people say they have a two pack but not a six pack? This simply is as the body sheds fat where the top two abs are. The leaner you get the further the reduction works its way downwards revealing closer to a four pack and then a six pack.
How Much Weight?
People often message me on Twitter asking what weight they should be lifting, or starting on. Remember that everyone is different and even in two healthy women of the same age, they could have completely different abilities on an exercise.
The solution is simple; don’t worry what anyone else is doing, or says they are doing. Start with a very light weight that you can complete 12 plus repetitions with solid form and you can always go heavier after that.
Starting light will get some blood flowing into the muscle and synovial fluid (the body’s oil) released into the joints and set you up for progression set by set. As you increase the weight you can reduce the repetitions.
A sample starting rep range and load for a reasonably strong female in this format might look something like this:
Dumbbell chest press
Set 1: 3kg x 14 reps
Set 2: 4kg x 10 reps
Set 3: 5kg x 10 reps
Set 4: 6kg x 8 reps
If you have read this far, hopefully I have convinced you a resistance/weight training regimen is a great way forwards to stay trim. So how do you start? Let’s keep it simple and remember to hit the body evenly.
If you carry out an exercise for your back, also do one for the chest. If you target triceps, follow with biceps and so on. Those with access to a gym can follow the principles discussed with ease. Those without can get a simple pair or two of cheap Dumbbells and get started.
Simple home exercises requiring only a pair of dumb-bells for example:
3x 8-15 on each of the following
Chest press or press ups
Bent over row
Triceps extensions or chair dips
General benefits include:
-reduced risk of back pain and arthritis
-reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease
-improved body composition
There’s no doubt the optimal choice is to get assistance from a professional. This doesn’t have to be a long term arrangement; you can agree on help from a trainer to get you started and make sure your form is safe and away you go. If this is simply not an option, the internet provides a great tool to search for good exercise technique. Be careful who you take advice from but common sense usually guides you well!
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