Women and Weights

Features Health - June 30th, 2000

by Jeff Liebengood

In ancient Greece, God’s most beautiful and special cre­ation, women, weren’t even allowed to observe, let alone com­pete in, the sacred Olympics. Punishment was a trip off the nearest cliff! Times have changed and today women add tremendous excitement to sports. But, whether training for sport or just to get fit, female training protocols are different.

Forget Stairmasters, ma­chines, isolation exercises and aerobics; they aren’t your best bet. Women have specific con­cerns requiring specific mea­sures. And the key to it is understanding them.

Gender differences in strength, aerobic capacity and endurance performances begin manifesting themselves after pu­berty. Hormonal changes flour­ish. Girls develop more estrogen and boys testosterone. Women show an increase in bodyfat while boys increase muscle mass.

Many females mistakenly believe that weight training will make them bulky, altering their femininity. This forces many to opt instead, for countless hours on the Stairmaster or treadmill with intermittent weight train­ing of high reps/light weight on the machines to create their dream body. This won’t deliver. I’m not saying aerobic condi­tioning to burn some fat doesn’t work. I am saying aerobics and machines will not create the optimum program to meet your goal.

Eat right!

Hormonal re­sponses and nutri­tional habits are linked. I see women starting (and stopping) diet after diet. Stop! I have written how to reduce fat levels effectively by lowering carbohy­drate intake (cut out bread, pasta, potatoes, ramen, udon, etc.), these insulin surging foods that wreak havoc on your hormonal system. I taught you about timing of con­sumption too. (Many of you wrote in after following my ad­vice raving about how the fat came off. Great work! The mini­mal weight loss was 8 lbs. And the most was 22 lbs. in eight weeks.)

Because of PMS, hormones and your health, your nutri­tional habits should remain of extreme importance. Modify your diet. Reduce fast, instant and fried foods. Lower carbs. Increase your daily complete protein (.8 – 1.0 grams per pound of body weight per day). Increase daily vitamin and min­eral intake, especially calcium and iron. Protein increase is important as it’s a building block in neurotransmitter and hormone development.

Diets don’t work! Most di­ets will increase the number of lipogenic enzymes (fat storing) and decrease the lipolytic en­zymes (fat burning). Diets in­crease fat cell size, decrease lean body mass and reduce basal metabolic rate! Bottom line…don’t diet! For more information, read a GREAT book by Debra Waterhouse, M.P.H., R.D., called Outsmarting the Female Fat Cell.

Training

The first pre-requisite of any program is correct posture. Oth­erwise, weights will only accel­erate musculoskeletal dysfunc­tion. Next consider your func­tional stability and capacity, strength levels and goals when choosing your exercises.

The most effective programs for females incorporate multi-joint exercises, cross-training, conditioning and coordination drills and stabilization and bal­ance exercises. These programs really burn fat, work and shape muscles, get the nervous system working harder, develop bal­ance, coordination, agility, im­prove postural muscles and joint stabilizers and get the brain more involved and more intimately communicating with the body. This is the real stuff you need to greatly improve you.

Every female I train works with Swiss balls, medicine balls, Bodyblades, runs conditioning drills, free weights and completes multi-joint exercises. She hops, jumps (controlled), throws, bal­ances and stabilizes against forces while exercising. Af­ter connective tissues are conditioned for it (demonstrates func­tional stability with joint stabilization), I incorporate some Type IIB fiber training (sets lasting up to 12 sec­onds or 1-5 reps) for more strength, stability, power and quickness. We never do leg extensions, work in machines, squat on Smith machines (this races you towards knee injury as it removes the hamstring from the equation and exerts excess anterior sheer force on the anterior cruciate liga­ment of the knee) or concentrate on isolation exercises.

You don’t need aerobic classes (unless you enjoy them) or to spend more than 30 – 40 minutes three to four times a week doing cardiovascular work. And it should always be done after the weight work.

Pay attention to PMS. I have charts to keep track of each fe­male client’s menstrual cycle and adjust their programs ac­cordingly as menstruation can cause physical and emotional issues and hormonal fluxuations. Any one of these can lead to an injury and PMS is not the time to push to nor­mal workout parameters. If symptoms are too bad, we can­cel the workout.

In Sum

Machine training and Stairmasters aren’t going to achieve the results you want. Stairmasters won’t shape your butt. Unless your thighs go par­allel to the floor, or you explode in jumps, your butt is going to be relatively uninvolved. Machines only emphasize the prime mover muscles . developing excess strength relative to the stabilizers. This imbalance and instabil­ity isn’t healthy. In machines the nervous system and all other musculature can basically fall asleep. They have no real respon­sibilities. Make your whole body work on every exercise.

Don’t go exercise crazy. You only need 5-8 exercises per work­out. The right exercises with the correct volumes and intensities will give you what you seek! The correct program overview is:

  • corrective stretching (the tight muscles only)
  • weight / strength workout (60-75 minutes)
  • aerobic work (if incorpo­rated) (30-40 minutes)

I hope this helps. Proper weight work won’t get you big­ger, just tighter, in better shape, stronger, more stable, leaner, provide a more active nervous system and more confidence.

Your exercise, dietary habits and lifestyle determine if you want to make the changes that you can. Meticulous training and nutrition can alter the ex­tent of some of those genetic guidelines and performance standards. I regularly hear com­plaints about flabby hips, thighs, bellies, arms, not enough power, strength, sore lower back, etc. Hey, you weren’t born that way; you chose to be the way you are through your daily habits. So you can certainly choose to change. The weights are calling you. Debunk the myth and go hit ’em. The only thing stopping you is – you!