Dec 2, 2012

Muscles and Misconceptions

By Daniel Guzman, BS, CSCS

Recently I have had some of my female clients bring up a big misconception in the fitness industry. "If I do strength training, I will get huge muscles. I don't want to look like a female bodybuilder." Sadly, this perception of strength training keeps many women out of the gym and stuck on the treadmill! However, the truth may surprise you and hopefully change your perspective.

When it comes to testosterone, men are more hormonal than women. This is why we were fearfully and wonderfully designed differently. Even with heavy weight lifting, adequate protein requirements, proper recovery, etc; women will not bulk like a female bodybuilder. It simply will not occur and usually will be aided by some sort of steroid supplement. (This is not to take anything away from bodybuilders who are incredibly disciplined and reach amazing levels of strength).

Secondly, some women will not lift heavy weights in fear of bulking up, so they lift really tiny weights for a lot of reps. FACT: Muscle hypertrophy has a physiological response to high volume and when your repetitions are high (6-12), then your volume is high. (Volume-load = sets x repetitons x load lifted). For example, if you bench press 100 lbs, 5 times, for 3 sets, your volume-load = 1500. So even if the female human body could bulk up rapidly (which it cannot), you wouldn't want to isolate your muscles and lift in a high rep range anyways. The thought process behind this is to raise your heart rate and increase your metabolic rate.

Learning to safely and properly lift heavy weight can be very beneficial. There is a myogenic response our muscles experience in which the body recruits (or builds) more contractile proteins from heavy weight lifting. This will increase your metabolic burn and decrease your body fat, which will get you to that "toned" body composition. Of course with all heavy weight lifting, you should only perform a movement that you can maintain proper technique and form throughout the entire lift.

According to the Nutrition Business Journal, in 2011 dietary supplement sales reached $30 billion. Why do men spend thousands of dollars a year on supplements? Because they have a hard enough time trying to get bigger muscles and achieve a "bulkier" physique themselves! If changing your muscular appearance was that easy, then more people would do it. Men have an advantage to be able to support larger muscle frames and yet they still have trouble reaching their goals.

Women can achieve a firmer, more toned, and overall stronger body from weight lifting. Plus, strength training will increase a female's resistance to injury. Women will not lose flexibility or mobility because strength training can increase the two (which is a topic for another time). The NSCA's Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, by Baechle and Earle,  have shown that women can increase strength at the same rate as men if not faster. Wow!

Strength training will not bulk up or rapidly grow a woman's muscles in a natural setting. With educated programming backed by science women can successfully get stronger and reach their body composition goals in a safe manner. Even more, when women do lift weights, it is beneficial to lift heavy weights and not only for the compositional changes they will experience, but also to increase one's resistance to injuries. Deadlifts and barbell squats are appropriate lifts, with good coaching and justified reasoning for the client. It all comes back to specific training for each client. Simply put, Lift heavy for strong muscles.

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