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It is a common and popular belief that there are different types of training for men and women. Women should do only aerobics or cardio and men should lift weights. And if women lift weights they will get bulky muscles and will start looking like a man. Let us examine a few facts and see if this approach has any scientific base or is it just one of the endless number of myths surrounding health and fitness.
First of all let us understand the importance of muscle in the human body and the mechanism of muscle growth. The muscles, bones and connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) are together called the musculoskeletal system. This system is what gives shape to the human body, enables movement and provides protection to the vital internal organs. As we age, the musculoskeletal system starts to grow weaker. The only way to keep this system healthy and strong is to train the muscles against resistance or weight. Since muscles are metabolically active tissues, they require more energy from the body to be maintained – meaning more calories being burnt even at rest. That is why loss of activity makes the body reckon muscles as disposable and muscle loss starts to take place. Muscles are the “USE IT OR LOSE IT” entity in our bodies. As we lose muscle, we grow weaker. As the support system of the whole skeletal system weakens, the skeletal system becomes prone to degenerative conditions. Injuries to the whole system are much easier to occur with a weak musculature. Besides this, muscle being metabolically active is one of the most significant factors of maintaining a high Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which is crucial for maintenance of Ideal Body Composition or low fat percentage in the body. BMR is the rate at which the body uses energy or burns calories at rest. And Ideal Body Composition is the ratio of lean body mass (fat free mass) to adipose tissue (body fat) in the human body. Building and maintaining muscle is the true anti ageing secret.
The musculoskeletal system in men and women are the same. We have the same bones and the same muscles and they have the same functions. The difference between the male and female bodies is hormonal. The male hormone ‘Testosterone’ is very high in males whereas females have the hormone ‘Estrogen’ in high levels. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone and is responsible for the significant growth in muscles in terms both size and strength. Because of this drastically low level of testosterone in the body, women cannot build big bulky muscles, even if they wanted to. It is to be understood that the huge muscular looking female bodybuilders that we see in magazines and TV are athletes of the specific sport called Professional Competitive Bodybuilding. They have very specific goals for their sport and for that they undergo hormonal therapies. Weight training CANNOT build those so called ‘manly’ muscles. It is just not possible. These women use pharmacological aids and it is entirely their individual choice to look the way they look. And for rest of the women out there, as long as your hormonal balance is right and you don’t undergo any hormonal therapy, you cannot build those manly muscles.
It is of utmost importance to strengthen the muscles to retain youth, stay lean and avoid metabolic and degenerative disorders. This goes for both women and men. Training the musculoskeletal system against resistance is the best type of training for strength, muscle gain, stronger bones, etc. Weights turn out to be the most effective and optimal tools for performing resistance training. A weight training regime with enough recovery time between workouts combined with a sound nutrition plan and proper rest will ensure muscle strengthening and growth. The exercise regime does not change for a woman. The physiological response of the body towards training and nutrition is the same irrespective of the gender. However, whatever growth in size and strength that is achievable is immensely beneficial and required. There is no better way to strengthen the muscles than weight training workouts performed in the correct way.
In fact, in a lot of ways weight training is actually more important to women than men. Let me tell you how, and explain why women should and must lift, just like men. We have already seen the immense benefits and irreplaceable importance of muscle for a healthy and fit life. Because of low levels of testosterone, maintenance and muscle growth is all the more difficult for women. Loss of muscle means lower BMR leading to more fat gain. Loss of muscle makes the skeletal system more susceptible to degenerative conditions like osteoporosis which is very common in menopausal women. Weight training provides the benefits of staying lean and strong, along with combating age-related degeneration. Also, a strong musculoskeletal system ensures easier pregnancy. It’s no secret that it is always better to be in good shape before conceiving. And it is found that women who are in good shape before pregnancy find it easier to get back to their earlier shape after childbirth.
Nothing could be farther away from the fact that if women lift weights they will become bulky or manly. It is a downright baseless concept with no scientific evidence.
Retention of muscle and keeping body fat in check is a sure shot anti-ageing pill for men and women alike. Weight training is the best tool for keeping yourself fit, strong and forever young. So, all the beautiful ladies out there, stop doing those endless cardio sessions and side bends. Start lifting weights and perform functional movements like Squats, Deadlifts, Rows and Presses. You’ll be amazed to see what your body can do and become.