By Sally Collins LPN (Retired)
You don’t have to worry about looking like a man, because you don’t have nearly the same level of testosterone that men do. As a woman, you build your muscles in a completely different way than men do. I’ve heard women say they won’t work out with weights because they don’t want to look like a man. No matter how much you work out you cannot look like a man. You are not hardwired to bulk up the way men do.
No matter your fitness level, and no matter how old you are, you will benefit greatly by participating in a strength training program. Where can you find a strength training program? There are lots of fitness clubs for women; Curves is a very popular fitness club just for women. If you are a bit shy about being seen by the opposite sex, Curves would be ideal.
There is no difference in the way a woman works out and the way a man works out for strength training. You don’t have to go to a women’s only health club. If you like working out in a co-ed environment, you should do it. Wherever you workout isn’t important, but what is important is that you work out somewhere. Studies show that women who strength train regularly are less likely to develop osteoporosis. As a form of therapy, women with osteoporosis can benefit from strength training if they are careful. Women with medical/physical issues should consult a professional, such as their physician and/or a physical trainer before engaging in strength training. A professional can guide you and set limitations on weight training and physical activity, if indicated.
Why is strength training good for women at risk for osteoporosis, or those with the disorder? Strength training is good for you whether you have osteoporosis or not, because exercise of this sort puts stress on your bones. As a result of strength training you begin to gain bone mass. You lose bone mass when you aren’t active. According to the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University strength training can increase bone density at any age. No matter what condition your bones are in you can build bone with strength training.
How do you build bone with strength training? When you put stress on your bones you stimulate the osteocytes within the bones to grow and form new bone tissue. Your bones are alive. You might think of bones as just calcium, but your bones are living tissue. According to the study at Tufts University women between the ages of 50 and 70 worked out twice a week for a year. There were 2 groups in the study. The other group of women did not do any strength training. Their bone densities were taken before the training began, and then their bone densities were repeated after one year of strength training.
For years prior to this study it was believed that women over 30 years of age did not benefit from strength training exercise. The study proved this believe to be false; the study showed that the women that were active strength training for a year gained 1% more bone mass, and the women who did not strength train lost 2.5% of their bone mass. Not only did these women who strength trained gain bone mass, but they also gained muscle strength and definition. These women were leaner than the women who did not exercise.
Do you have to go to a gym or to a fitness club? No. You can work out anywhere. If you have a Boflex or some other basic equipment in your home you can work out with that. In fact, you don’t even have to have any equipment if you don’t want to. You can use your own body weight to strength train. How? There are so many ways to use your own body as a weight.
Here is a sampling of some of the strength training exercises you can do without any equipment:
Push ups – If you are just starting out you can do push ups while on your knees until you get stronger.
Squats – Start with your feet apart and squat down and hold for a count of 5 and then rise back up.
Butt lifts – Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you. Spread your feet so they are shoulder width apart. Try to lift your butt off the floor.
There are many other ways you can use your body weight to exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that you do 8 to 10 strength training exercise twice to three times per week for both genders. When you work out, allow your muscles time to rest and recuperate. If you are under 50 years of age you should do 8 to 12 reps of each exercise you do. If you are over 50 you should do more reps, but at a lower intensity. You might consider doing 10 to 15 reps per exercise. If you are under or over 50, and you have arthritis, hypertension, or you have had a previous injury, a less intense workout is recommended.
It is so much easier to prevent disease than to treat it. Regular strength training 2 to 3 times per week can prevent many diseases and conditions, including osteoporosis. Regular exercise, as a part of a healthy lifestyle, will help keep you healthy and your bones strong. Women, no matter how old or young you are, making strength training part of your lifestyle will help you to not only look better, but to feel better. It’s never too late to start living a healthy lifestyle.