Strength-Training for Women: An Interesting Myth

Most of the classic myths pertaining to strength training for females are slowly waning.  These myths include, “Strength-training will make women bulky,” and “Women should strength-train with lighter weights and do more repetitions to become toned.”  Decades of research have combated, albeit not completely eradicated, these myths.

Intensity Defined

The scientific literature clearly delineates that “intensity” is the primary stimulus for our bodies to change and improve as a result of engagement in a resistance exercise program.  Intensity is most important controllable factor (uncontrollable factors include percentage of fast twitch or slow twitch muscles fibers, muscle belly length, tendon length, and muscle insertion) in an individual’s response to an exercise program.  It appears that the other variables of an exercise program, although important, are simply not as meaningful as the intensity with which we exercise.  This leads us to an important (and often ignored) question: What is intensity?  Intensity can be defined as a percentage of our momentary ability to perform an exercise.  Stated other wise, it has nothing to do with the amount of weight we lift, it has everything to do with our effort.  Lifting a relatively heavy weight for 6 reps or a relatively light weight for 20 reps are both deemed “intense” so long as it is utterly impossible to lift a 7th rep or a 21st rep.  When looking to produce better results, faster results, or to break through a plateau, the first place to turn your attention to should be your training intensity.  Most well intended trainees err in almost the opposite direction.  They add more exercises, add more sets, and/or increase the number of weekly workouts.  All of these are steps in the wrong direction.

Our Favorite Area of Research

One of the most important discoveries in the field of exercise over the last 10-15 years is that resistance training is far more beneficial for our health and the prevention of chronic disease than we ever would have imagined. Traditionally, we assumed resistance training outcomes centered around increases in muscle strength, muscle size, improved athletic ability, and increased bone mineral density. We relegated health improvements to aerobic exercise. A considerable body of research has shifted our understanding and all but deconstructed this false dichotomy that resistance training is for strength and aerobic exercise is for "health." But why is strength training so beneficial for our health? Emerging science tells us that the answer is, in short, "myokines." Myokines are proteins that are created when our muscles contract. These myokines influence the "crosstalk" between different organs in an autocrine, endocrine, or paracrine fashion. Through these channels, it appears that myokines may have a profound positive effect on metabolic disorders, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and a number of cardiovascular disease risk factors. 20 years ago we knew that resistance training made you stronger. 10 years ago we realized that it makes you healthier. We now are starting to understand that myokines are the probable physiological mechanism for the myriad of health benefits we see from resistance training (benefits that most exercisers, researchers, and health care professionals are still unaware of). The next time someone asks you why you strength-train, your answer should be, "To produce myokines, Bro."

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