Women: Lifting will help you slim down, not bulk up

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There is a stigma surrounding strength training.

Especially for women.

The minute I mention lifting weights as an accompaniment to cardiovascular exercise as a necessity for weight loss, I can almost see the images of “manly women” running across their brains.

Due to the extreme female bodybuilders, a lot of folks have developed a huge misconception of the effects of lifting weights.

Women who want to lose weight can see results from cardiovascular exercise, so they begin to think that lifting weights is a waste of time. They believe cardio must be more important than weight lifting. Or they don’t have enough time to do both, so they concentrate only on cardio.

They then become cardio junkies.

Yes, that’s the term for people who only complete cardiovascular exercise and now are addicted to the endorphins associated with it.

If you want to change your body you have to lift weights.

It is extremely difficult for women to “bulk up.” They don’t have enough testosterone to develop large bulging muscles. Not to shed a negative light on bodybuilders, but the “buff” women you see are on several supplements, including mass amounts of testosterone and muscle-enhancing formulas.

According to Women’s Health Magazine, “Though cardio burns more calories than strength training during those 30 sweaty minutes, pumping iron slashes more overall.

A study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found women who completed an hourlong strength-training workout burned an average of 100 more calories in the 24 hours afterward than they did when they hadn’t lifted weights. At three sessions a week, that’s 15,600 calories a year, or about four and a half pounds of fat — without having to move a muscle.”

Another benefit of strength training for those of us who like to eat is that building muscle increases our basal metabolic rate, which is how many calories we burn just by living and breathing. Muscle may burn the extra cheese we put on our sandwich. Or when the dark chocolate is calling from the cabinet, we can go ahead and answer guilt-free.

“Muscle accounts for about a third of the average woman’s weight, so it has a profound effect on her metabolism,” says Kenneth Walsh, director of Boston University School of Medicine’s Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute. “Specifically, that effect is to burn extra calories, because muscle, unlike fat, is metabolically active. Meaning that muscle burns even when we aren’t ‘using’ them.”

Women are more prone to osteoporosis. Strength training is a great way to decrease the risk, or even improve bone density.

Here are some facts regarding osteoporosis from the National Osteoporosis Association:

Of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, about eight million or 80 percent are women.

Approximately one in two women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis.

A woman’s risk of breaking a hip is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.

Teens and young adults have an opportunity to prevent osteoporosis in their futures by adding two to three days a week of strength training.

According to the American Council on Exercise, general lifting guidelines are as follows:

Strength train on two or more days with exercises that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

Talk to your health care provider before you begin strength training.

For some beginners, the supervision and camaraderie found in a group fitness class is an ideal combination.

If you would rather work on your own, consider scheduling a few sessions with a certified personal trainer.

For assistance in your start to strength training, come into the YMCA for information and opportunities to begin your wellness program.

Alyssa Latham is a part of the wellness staff at the YMCA.

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