Fitness Corner: Building muscle like a woman
By Shawn McClendon
Let’s talk about a major mean by which women can impact their own personal health and well-being — building muscle. By engaging specifically in strength training — weightlifting, calisthenics and other weight-bearing exercises — you can take your body and your overall health to the next level.
The unfortunate truth is that many women miss out on the unique benefits of strength training because of how it has been portrayed. Let’s talk about that. Women have traditionally shied away from strength training for two reasons.
First, the very act of lifting weight has been seen as a “masculine” thing. It conjures up misleading mental images of grunting, grimacing and bellowing gym bros lifting gargantuan amounts of weight, which is not always the most appealing imagery.
Second, there is the longstanding myth that lifting weights automatically makes you bulky. I have heard many concerns from women who are worried that they’ll become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger if they begin lifting weights.
However, these could not be further from the truth. While many guys thoroughly enjoy slinging around weights as a hobby, such a view of strength training is myopic and hardly conveys the truth of the versatility and benefits of strength training. You can lift big weights, small weights or even just your body weight, depending on your goals. You can train for muscle strength, power, endurance or growth.
In short, strength training is a form of exercise easily adaptable to your personal needs and preferences.
Also, you can quickly put any fears of Mr. Olympia-level muscle bulking to rest. Due in part to hormonal differences between men and women — namely testosterone levels — it is difficult for women to gain as much muscle through strength training at the same rate as men.
In contrast, muscle building through strength training for women has a great sculpting effect, meaning that it helps you shape your physique. This leads to a much more well-rounded physique than if you were simply doing cardio for your workouts.
Strength training helps you hold on to the precious, valuable muscle tissue that you already have. This is very important because of age-related muscle loss that we all experience, better known as sarcopenia.
As the saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” This is definitely true when it comes to muscle. However, strength training helps you slow, halt or even reverse the effects of sarcopenia.
Muscle tissue is also very important for a variety of health reasons, including improved metabolism, an enhanced immune system and improved insulin sensitivity, which means a lower risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
Strength training for women is not just important for building and preserving muscle. It is also important for preserving another important type of lean body mass — bone. Women are at a higher risk for osteopenia, which is age-related bone loss, and osteoporosis, a condition that leads to an even faster rate of bone loss. Both conditions can lead to bones that fracture much more easily, which can be lethal at older ages. However, weight-bearing exercises are great for increasing bone density and preventing bone loss-related fractures.
If you haven’t done so already, don’t be afraid to embrace strength training. It keeps you strong, enhances your physique and preserves valuable muscle and bone tissue. And it’s not just for the guys. If you are someone who happens to own a set of muscles, you should be engaging in strength training.
Shawn McClendon is an ACE-certified personal trainer and owner of Back to Basics Health and Wholeness LLC, an organization dedicated to empowering people to take control of their health and avoid lifestyle disease. He hosts the health and wellness blog YourHealthAtTheCrossroads.com, conducts online fitness programs and has authored several health/fitness books.