I’m going to go out on a limb here but after 12 years in this industry I’m pretty sure it is a pet peeve of EVERY personal trainer to hear:
“But I don’t want to bulk up!”
I have been strength training since I was 18 years old. In the gym 6 days per week, lots of heavy lifting… and I don’t think anyone would classify me as “bulky” or “heavy”. If 12 years of daily lifting doesn’t bulk a woman up, you can rest assured that strength training a few days per week will never have a negative effect on your appearance!
You can’t “turn fat into muscle”; they’re two totally different types of tissue. But you can build some muscle, burn off some fat and end up smaller and leaner in the end. Here’s a good visual for you:
Listen, if I could make you huge and bulky overnight I wouldn’t need to work for a living anymore. Male and female body builders and strength athletes would flock to my door. Women just do not add muscle quite that easily. And there are certain methods which work very well for certain types of results. Keep in mind that results do not happen overnight (sorry, fellow generation-Xers) and you can always, and should always, modify your program as you evaluate your results and how you are feeling.
So who does flock to my door? Women just like you. While I’d like to say the average woman is motivated by a charity half-marathon or even just the desire to not die, I must admit that most women I meet are mostly motivated by their appearance and the way their appearance makes them feel. I could veer off in another direction totally now and go into a tirade on women’s self esteem and body image but let it suffice to say:
Look good, feel good.
1. Strength training boosts the metabolism – during activity and at rest. In other words, it allows you to eat more! Robert Wolfe, PhD, wrote in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that “every 10-kilogram difference in lean mass translates to a difference in energy expenditure of 100 calories per day, assuming a constant rate of protein turnover.” At rest, you’ll burn about an extra 100 calories per day for every additional 10 kg of muscle. That’s even while sleeping! During exercise, even more. So go ahead and eat some Easter chocolate – you’ve got muscle! The caveat? You’ve got to have adequate protein. That bagel and cream cheese breakfast and pasta for dinner are not going to cut it if you want to be muscular and lean.
2. Strength training prevents and treats diabetes and insulin resistance. If you are a type-2 diabetic, if type-2 diabetes runs in your family, or if you exhibit other risk factors for type-2 diabetes such as high blood sugar, overweight, or high blood pressure and other metabolic disease symptoms, you need to start strength training. Muscles that are being worked regularly offer storage for carbohydrates you consume (so does your muffintop, but I’m guessing you’d rather not store that morning bowl of cereal there…). Several studies have shown “the positive impact of strength training on whole-body insulin resistance”, which means your body is more sensitive to and efficient with carbohydrates. Don’t want to live in a world without carbs and start your day self-administering insulin needles? Where are those dumbbells?
3. Strength training shrinks your waist. Cardiovascular exercise alone cannot consolidate, tone and tighten the body the way resistance training can. If you want to avoid the dreaded “skinnyfat” syndrome and have not just a smaller weight, but a smaller waist, better shape, smoother and tighter limbs and a toned appearance you have got to strength train! Progressively challenging strength training decreases not just the subcutaneous fat under the skin (that’s the “inch” or six you can “pinch”) but also the visceral fat that fills your abdominal cavity and surrounds your organs – even without a weight loss diet! Challenging strength training that uses the core to stabilize and generate power (think push ups, jump squats and sprints) also tightens the abdominal muscles and makes the torso appear sleeker. Here are 10 of my top tips for flat abs, and you can be sure they include strength training.
Are we starting to see a pattern here? Don’t feel good/look good? Strength train! OK, moving on…
4. Strength training prevents the “middle age spread.” There is no need to get bigger just because you’re getting older, but it seems to be a fact many of us are resigned to. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that “American women aged 25–44 [years] typically gain 0.5–1 kg yearly”; between 25-45 that’s an additional 20-40 pounds of weight. Before even hitting menopause! Don’t spend your 40s and 50s scrambling to undo the sins of the younger you! In the same study, overweight/obese participants who did strength training just twice/week for 2 years decreased their body fat by an average of almost 4%. The control group, who was advised to do only aerobic exercise, lost just an average of 0.14% total body fat. The truth is, your metabolism only shrinks slightly as you age. It is the lack of activity and tendency to overeat as we get older which truly accounts for our larger bodies. Just ask this guy, Dave Draper, 63 —->
5. Strength training prevents osteoporosis. Lately I’ve watched my own younger sister battle with tiny fractures in the vertebrae of her spine (ouch) and – let me tell you – bone density is not just an older woman’s concern. In addition to a well-rounded diet, weight bearing exercises like jogging and walking, as well as strength training, will literally strengthen and build density in the bones. Bone density and osteoporosis may not be on your radar now but that first stress fracture, or that mysterious inch of height you seem to have lost in your 40s… or worse, the hunched posture that begins in your 50s… will have you wishing you had listened to me…
…and just freaking did some strength training, yo.