Should Women Weight Train?
The topic of Should Women Weight Train always opens up a can of worms with me because it spawns one of the most frustrating comments I hear: “I don’t want to end up looking like a female bodybuilder”.
*Sigh* where do I begin?
First, it’s an insult to the commitment and sheer hard work of every female bodybuilder. It’s like saying ‘I don’t want to learn how to play the guitar because I might end up being as good as Jimmy Hendrix!’ For heavens sake ladies, don’t ever take singing lessons, before you know it you’ll be the next Catherine Jenkins!
Look, it’s hard enough for men to build muscle; if a skinny guy came to me asking to help him pack on 10 pounds of lean muscle, he’s going to have to work damn hard…and then harder. So, the question should women weight train is far more relevant as far as looking like a bodybuilder is concerned.
Women body builders – like their male counterparts – take themselves to that awe inspiring place of pain where few people are prepared or even dare to go. They possess unbelievable self-discipline. If you don’t appreciate their physiques, you have to admire their determination. For them, working out is not a day-to-day chore, it’s their profession and that professionalism is equal in the kitchen. I doubt many women would relish a breakfast of 10 scrambled egg whites and a cup of oats made with water… Remember, they are training to compete and have their art down to a science. You’d be seriously mistaken in thinking your own personal training program is going to equal that.
WHY Should Women Weight Train?
For those women out there who are afraid of building muscle there’s something you need to understand. Muscle defines us, it makes us look strong and sexy, and it also helps us keep the weight off. Yes, that’s right, muscle helps us maintain healthy body fat levels.
For some reason though, its something that I’ve always had trouble convincing women of. Most think all they need to do is put on a pair of running shoes and run. Some go for the ‘in’ workouts like Zumba, and others go the more holistic route choosing Yoga.
Well, you can run, Zumba or Yoga as much as you like, but you won’t get that chiseled bikini body you’ve been dreaming of, making the answer to the question should women weight traina resounding yes. But lets take a closer look at some of the popular alternatives.
Running has its benefits. It will increase your stamina, and with correct technique, strengthen bones and burn fat, but what if that’s all you do, day in, day out?
Well, let me put it this way, when I was at college a girl in my class used to run in the mornings, at lunchtime, then in the evening. However, she was still convinced she was fat, flapping her ‘bingo wings’ in disgust. In actual fact she was far from it, she was more like a deflated balloon. Her ‘bingo wings’ were just loose flesh. She had practically no muscle to tone her arms, a flat boney ass, and no shape. Should women weight train? In her case, definitely, as well as eat more – all of which fell on deaf ears.
Look, any kind of exercise is good, even taking the dog out for a walk, but the hype behind Zumba and all the other ‘next big things’ really annoys me.
Thanks to ‘celebrities’ like Michelle Obama – who also does it- everyone’s jumping on the Zumba bandwagon. Infomercials in America now show these instructors with a studio full of women, all with the most amazing bodies you’ve seen. By the way these women are moving its obvious they are trained, professional dancers who have been doing it for hours a day, years on end. Selling it as a fitness package that will quickly get you in shape is misleading, but then again, that’s marketing and hype for you. I think that answers the question of should women weight train perfectly. No matter how well you eat its just not the most efficient way of sculpting your body, if at all.
I find it very difficult to knock Yoga because it’s fantastic. It’s been described as the fountain of youth. Hardly surprising considering the list of ailments it can help you with including your breathing, concentration and stress levels, core strength, fitness and flexibility. I would recommend everyone to do it as part of their fitness regime.
However, if it’s a beach body you desire…take two overweight twins, send one to endless Yoga classes and the other to a gym under the instruction of a good personal trainer, three months on I’ll be in no doubt as to which twin would have the most impressive physique.
Why Should Women Weight Train? The pro’s (without cons!)
Well, as I said, muscle defines us. When women say they want to ‘tone up’ what do you think it is that gives you that tone? Muscle! What gives you that rock hard, perfectly shaped butt you can bounce a coin off? Muscle! What gives you the all round sexy shape, definition and confidence you crave? MUSCLE! So what should you be doing as part of your exercise regime? BUILDING muscle! Make sense?
To shape and firm your muscles you need to stress them with weight or ‘resistance’. But here’s the key: it’s not necessarily how heavy the weight actually is…it’s the torque when using it, or time you subject the muscle to under tension. You don’t need to lift ridiculous tonnage – highlighting another objection I came across when answering the question should women weight train. Use less weight and slow the movement down…’time under tension’.
I’ll give you an example. Try this: if possible, do 2-3 push-ups (if you can’t, do kneeling push-ups), shouldn’t be too difficult. Now do it again BUT THIS TIME after you ‘push up’ take 4 or 5 seconds to come back down again, rather than just dropping and THEN push up again. It’s a lot harder right? That’s exactly what I’m talking about…time under tension.
Now, having said all of that, yes ladies, your muscles will grow, but believe me nowhere near the size or girth of a female bodybuilder. We’re talking far smaller increments, but enough to give you that sexy shape, tone and definition. Add to that all the ugly body fat you’ll torch in the process and you have the perfect one-two knockout punch. So in future if anyone asks you should women weight train? You’ll know how to set the record straight…
Bring back butter... and cheese, red meat and whole milk! How our low-fat obsession may harm our health, says nutritionist
By ZOE HARCOMBE
- I love butter. Smothered on vegetables or, best of all, melted over a juicy sirloin steak.
And I eat masses of red meat – lamb chops or my favourite, pork belly.
Sometimes we’ll put a piece in the oven at lunchtime, and slow cook it to make the crackling really crunchy by evening.
Spread the word: Butter is a nutritional goldmine says our expert
My only two rules are that the meat has to be good quality and that all the fat is left on.
As a food expert, I spend my working life imploring the public to eat a nutritious diet – so I know these may sound like odd admissions.
What I am suggesting flies in the face of everything you have heard about healthy eating.
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But I firmly believe that we all need to eat more fat – including the much-demonised saturated fat. I’m not talking about junk foods but fresh meats and dairy.
There should be a shift back to butter, full-fat milk and red meat – all often labelled high sat-fat foods – as they are nutritional gold mines.
Fat helps you absorb vitamins
All food containing fat contains all three types of it: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. You cannot separate them. So a food naturally high in saturated fat will also contain the other two.
In simple terms, fats are chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached. We eat fat, it is digested and enters the bloodstream where it transports the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K round the body.
This is partly why I find the idea of removing fat from natural food ludicrous. Take full-fat milk – this contains all four fat-soluble vitamins. If you take out the fat, you remove the delivery system.
I believe our misguided choice of man-made, low-fat versions of natural products – cheese, yoghurts, spreads rather than butter, and the like – is one of the reasons we are low in Vitamin A.
Delicious: The two key rules about meat is that it has to be good quality and that all the fat is left on
According to the most recent Family Food Survey from 2010, the average person’s daily intake of a type of Vitamin A, retinol – vital for the health of the skin, hair, eyes and the immune system, is little over half of what is recommended.
The same survey also shows that we are consuming just two-thirds of our Vitamin E requirement – essential for immune health. Many of these fatty foods also contain vital calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron.
Fat also supplies energy – eating a nice piece of bacon, fat and all, will keep you feeling fuller for longer than the supposedly slow-burning carbs in porridge.
Fat also has a key role in creating the outer layer of all our cells. So put butter on your vegetables – spinach, carrots and kale may contain Vitamin A in the form of betacarotene, but without fat to help it digest, it won’t necessarily be properly absorbed.
The mystery of diet regulations
The Department of Health bases its daily dietary recommendations – for men and women that’s no more than 30g and 20g of saturated fat respectively and about 95g and 70g of total fat – on a report by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA).
This 1984 booklet’s sub-section on fat intake claimed that comparisons between countries had shown those with lower national fat intakes had lower rates of death from heart disease.
This was based on the findings of the Seven Countries Study, published in 1970. It has been criticised for looking only at nations that proved the theory – including the USA, Finland, Japan and former Yugoslavia.
France, Austria and Switzerland were left out, and many argued that was because their fat intakes were high but heart disease deaths were lower than America.
The COMA report admits: ‘There has been no controlled clinical trial of the effect of decreasing dietary intake of saturated fatty acids on the incidence of coronary heart disease.’
Nor is there likely to ever be – it is extremely difficult to measure the effect on the body of fat eaten in isolation, without any other environmental factors or previous health history. It seems bizarre that we are following rules based on such shaky evidence.
Eating fat won't make you fat
In my opinion, there shouldn’t be any limit for fat consumption. But won’t we get fat? Not at all. There is little evidence that eating fat makes you put on weight.
A 1956 study gave patients alternating diets of high fat and high carbohydrate. On a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet based on carbohydrates, they all gained weight and on a 2,600-calories-a-day diet based on fat, they all lost weight.
The body absorbs the fat it needs and excretes the excess. I’m not saying don’t eat carbs – glucose is needed to supply the brain with energy.
But we don’t need to eat bread, which causes blood sugar levels to rise and leads to weight gain unless a person is very active soon after.
Junk: Good quality fat is a nutritional goldmine - but junk food lacks vital vitamins and minerals
And low-fat food can contain a ridiculous amounts of added sugars. A 2006 Which report looked at 275 different types of cereals from a range of retailers and manufacturers.
More than three-quarters of the cereals had high levels of sugar, which will make you put on weight.
Back in the Seventies, we consumed more than 50g of saturated fat a day. Now we eat about half that, consuming half the eggs, and one-fifth of the butter and whole milk.
Yet as our fat consumption dropped, a strange thing happened and it defies our dietary assumptions.
By 1999 obesity levels had risen from 2.7 per cent in both sexes to 22.6 per cent in men and 25.8 per cent in women. We are the biggest we have ever been, and yet we have never consumed less fat.
Choose real foods not junk
What nobody should do is rush out and stock up on ice cream and cake. Pure cream is about 35 per cent fat while Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough Ice Cream contains 15g of fat per 100g.
But the sugar content of the former is almost zero, while the latter has a whopping 25g of sugar per 100g.
Any fat left in the ice cream is probably the most nutritious part. It is the carbohydrates and sugar in junk foods that are to blame for massive weight gain.
Red meat has been linked to colon cancer. But these studies didn’t eliminate people with unhealthy lifestyles or high junk-food intake, so no real direct causal link between meat and cancer has been proven.
As a nutrition expert, people come to me complaining of bloating, digestive problems, lack of energy and weight problems.
I tell them to stop eating processed foods and stop basing their diet on starches – bread, potatoes and rice are poor sources of vitamins – and to eat only what I call real foods: meat, fish, dairy and vegetables.
More often than not, they lose weight and feel better. My message is clear: it’s time to return to the old ways and stop treating fat like our worst enemy.