Thursday, October 14, 2010

Strength training and the Female Athlete and Non-athlete

The commonly held myth that I constantly encounter when training women is that they do not want to lift heavy weights for fear of gaining bulk.  This is NOT accurate for a number of reasons; however it is one of the hardest hurdles that I often encounter with our female athletes and clients at Titan. 

First of all women are not men.  I know it sounds crazy but women see male and female bodybuilders and think that they will look like that if they begin a weightlifting regimen.  Second, men have much greater levels of testosterone, the primary hormone necessary for building large muscle mass.  Secondly the hours of lifting necessary to build that type of muscle is enormous.  Even if you are a Man!  Women typically have 1/7th the level of testosterone than men.  The women that are seen all bulked up in magazines will in many cases be supplementing the level of testosterone in their body to achieve this bulk.   So, all you women out there try to remember that gaining bulk is a full time job for men and is even more difficult for women to do because of the lower levels of testosterone.

Once we have established that our female athletes are biomechanically sound and functionally capable (see last post) we want to establish a good foundation of strength.  We utilize multi-joint lifts for all the major muscle groups. The mistake that many women make is to lift too light at 10-20 repetitions thinking that this will keep them small.  In fact these number of repetitions produce hypertrophy (increase in size) of the muscle.  This type of training comes from a body building mentality.

The weight necessary to establish strength in an athlete is typically an amount of weight that is difficult enough so that only 8 or less repetitions can be executed with flawless form.  We have our female athletes perform as low as 3 repetition sets that produce a neuromuscular response in strength and do not increase the size of the muscle.  In other words more of the muscle that is already there is recruited in order to accommodate the heavier load.   This is also the protocol we use for any athlete where power to weight is of great importance.  You cannot believe how many endurance athletes are also afraid of bulking up by lifting and subsequently lift light with larger number of repetitions. 

The first reaction of most women and heavy lifting is they will get big.  They have been fed a body of knowledge from trainers who do not know what they are doing and continue to have women do the old 3 sets of 10 or more routine.  In the past I have even encountered female trainers who are hesitant to lift heavy and reluctant to have their clients do the same for fear of getting bulky. 

It is amazing once we do start lifting heavy with women and they actually get toned and lean as a result of the heavy lifting.  Not only does it promotes lean body mass they have much greater functional capabilities and a wonderful sense of empowerment.   In addition the metabolic increase as a result of heavy weightlifting is wonderful in obtaining optimum body composition. 

So all you females out there that wonder about why you have not been seeing the change in you bodies that you would like should take a page out of how Titan trains women athletes as your first step to that toned, lean,  and athletic body.

Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail!


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