First, let’s debunk a myth: A moderate amount of strength training (an hour a week or so) will not make you muscle-bound. Female bodybuilders take steroids, other performance enhancement substances, have uncommonly receptive genetics and spend a dozen hours or more each week pumping iron.
It’s not likely you’re going to do that by accident. And besides, if you don’t like how your body is changing in response to strength training, you can always back off on frequency, load, volume (sets and reps) or all of the above.
Why should all women strength train?
Let me make that personal by telling you why the three most important women in my life do.
My eight year-old daughter climbs just about everything she can wrap her fingers around. Like her mom, she’s very petite but also very determined, and incredibly strong. She plays on the play structure at school and at the parks during her brothers soccer practices and games and she’s done gymnastics off and on for years. She also grabs the little dumbbells and the pulley machines when she and her brother join me at the studio while I’m working out or cleaning up. She does all this because her little body calls to her to use it like this – to experience life at its fullest, to run, jump, climb, push, pull, fall down and get dirty. She scrapes her knees on a pretty regular basis and the tears dry up as fast as they come. I don’t worry about her being delicate or fragile.
My mom (74) does a simple three-exercise compound routine I showed her that emphasizes bodyweight and balance. No weights for her - she uses a rope-pull device I made for her that attaches to the top hinge of any doorway and allows her to do deep squats without putting her knees at risk. That strengthens her legs and her gluteus (bottom). She also uses a band (basically, surgical tubing with handles at either end) to strengthen her upper back, her biceps and the back of her shoulders. And finally, she does push-ups against her kitchen counter to strengthen her chest, triceps and the front of her shoulders. The ranges and positions in each of the three exercises also help her with her core stability and coordination.
Last, my girl and business partner does just about every form of strength training you can imagine. She’s a terror at the studio and does things across all the modes of fitness (cardio, strength and core) that most well-conditioned men cannot do. She’s using perfect form for a biceps curl in the photo above.
I can’t tell you how happy I am that they all work to keep their muscles strong and vital. And in their own individual ways, they all do it for the same reason I do. Not to look a certain way, but to live a certain way.
Better, fuller, easier. The discomfort of strength training and the resulting life-enhancing benefits couldn’t have a more perfect relationship. For less than 1% of the time you are alive, you can make your life immeasurably better and more enjoyable.
Doesn’t that sound like a great deal?
And for women there's one other very important side-effect: It's the singularly most effective preventive measure against the development of osteopenia and osteporosis. Yes, even more important than those calcium supplements.
Dan is a nationally certified personal fitness trainer and former continuing education faculty member of the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. He is the owner and head trainer at Tri Valley Trainer in Pleasanton, which provides personal training, small group fitness and nutrition guidance. He can be reached at Dan@TriValleyTrainer.com