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Weight lifting for all

By Prudence Wade (PA)

There’s still a pretty clear gender divide at the gym. Men tend to stick to the weights section and grunt as loudly as possible, while the majority of women avoid weights at all costs and opt for the running machines instead.

Of course, this isn’t to say that no women lift weights, but there is definitely an imbalance. Why? Maybe women are less sure about how to use them, or are scared of looking too muscly. But lifting weights will not magically turn you into the Incredible Hulk.

Here’s why this trend should change, and why more women should give pumping iron a go.

1. It’ll strengthen your muscles

UK-based exercise physiologist Dr Irv Rubenstein explains: “For muscles to grow stronger, all you need to do is make them work harder than they are accustomed to working. This is called the ‘overload principle’.”

It’s as simple as that: If you start lifting weights, you will get stronger. But following this principle, if you start lifting weights, you can’t just stay at the same level forever – to continue building up your muscles, you need to steadily increase your weights or reps.

Gaining muscle will help tone your body (if you accompany weight training with a healthy diet), and generally, make you feel even more fabulous. Promise.

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2. Don’t worry, you won’t become super muscly
One of the main things deterring women from lifting weights is the idea that as soon as you start pumping iron, you’ll become as ripped as Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Rubenstein explains: “Women can get stronger but can’t, usually, get as large as men – simply because testosterone levels are lower.”

Of course, women can develop a muscly physique, it’s just harder to achieve than it is for men. “Females generally have more body fat – breast and hip tissue attest to this – so their ability to pack on as much muscle as a male would require losing a lot of fat mass,” says Rubenstein.

“The male, on the other hand, could simply add muscle mass, and with a little bit of fat loss could appear, and be, stronger than a female of comparable size and structure.”

This means women would have to lose a whole lot of body fat, or be genetically inclined towards having extra testosterone, to become as bulky as most men.

Rubenstein says: “With proper diet this is not impossible, but this is at the extremes of training and genetic potential; most females cannot add enough muscle mass, and generally will not diet to such extremes to create the sculpted, larger-muscled figures we see in elite athletes and lifters.”

At this point it’s worth noting that, as with any form of exercise, you need to pay close attention to diet if you want to see changes in your body – whether it’s toning up or losing weight.

3. It keeps your heart healthy

The American Heart Association recommends strength training twice a week for overall heart health.

Dr Timothy Miller, a sports medicine physician at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Centre, told US News: “Strength training often gets overlooked for its importance in improving cardiovascular health, but it can be a valuable addition in reducing the risk of heart disease.”

Lifting weights can lower your blood pressure, something which has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease.

4. It helps you burn more calories throughout the day

Health and fitness website Livestrong notes: “Although this type of exercise doesn’t burn many calories, it keeps your muscles and bones strong and can increase your metabolism.”

A lot of women opt for cardio-based workouts with the aim of burning the most calories possible. However, what you might not know is that even though a weights session might not burn as many calories as running on the treadmill, it’ll help burn more in the long term.

This all comes down to your metabolism: the amount of energy you burn in a day. Rubenstein says: “Muscle mass adds daily calorie burn to the overall metabolic rate.” This means when you lift weights and increase your muscle mass, your metabolism speeds up and burns more calories throughout the day.

It should be noted that the overall effect of this is smaller for women than men, but it’s still definitely something to take into consideration.

5. It builds your confidence

Sure, there are lot of incredible health and fitness reasons to start doing some strength training, but there’s also a psychological aspect to consider too.

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