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Should women do weight training?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-07-2017 Sohini Sen

How many times have you heard that women shouldn’t lift weights? Women sometimes fear that training with dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, etc., will make them look masculine and bulky. Or that they may face a greater chance of injury than men. But more and more women are including weights in their fitness routine. Are they putting themselves at risk? Or can weight training actually help?

“As a trainer, I have been asked this question many times. A lot of women are sceptical about lifting weights. Women do not have the hormones to bulk up like bodybuilders,” says Swetha Devraj, vascular radiologist and part-time coach at Namma Crossfit, Bengaluru.

Bulk up

To bulk up, you require the testosterone hormone. On an average, however, women have 15-20% less concentration of testosterone than men. “Our genetic make-up will not let us bulk up. Men use testosterone to repair and build bigger muscles. Women can’t grow new muscle tissue to the same degree, since we have lower levels of testosterone and higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone,” says Devraj.

Then there is the belief that once you begin weights, you must continue, or you will become flabby. Jashan Vishwanath, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, says, “You might lose the definition if you stop lifting weights, but if you were lifting average weights and continue to do some form of exercise, you will not become flabby.”

Burn calories

When you exercise, the body burns calories. While resting too, the body expends energy to maintain its essential functions—pumping blood, fighting infection, storing energy, etc. A 2015 study published in the American journal Research Quarterly For Exercise And Sport found that weight training and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) had a higher rate of post-exercise oxygen consumption. This means that while cardio burns more calories during the exercise routine, overall calorie burn in a day is higher when it comes to resistance training or HIIT. 

Strengthen the bones

Many women also fear injury while lifting weights. This risk, however, has more to do with technique than with weights, says Dr Vishwanath.

“If you are lifting weights in normal limits (according to your strength and capacity), it will decrease your chances of osteoporosis. However, overloading it may lead to injury,” he explains. 

Urmi Kothari, a fitness expert, owner of the Kinetic Living Fitness and Wellness Boutique in Mumbai and a qualified trainer for Nike, explains, further: “When you build muscles, your body adapts by increasing the density of bones and strength of the tendons. Thereby, the strength (stability in this case) of the joint on which the muscles insert increases. With balanced training, the mobility of the joint must also be kept in optimum condition. However, this adaptation takes longer in the case of tendons and joints and if the person lifts too heavy a weight too soon, injuries can occur.” 

Urmi Kothari recommends starting with body- weight training and then moving to dumbbells exercises like plank rows. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.

Start small

Injuries can happen in any workout. Technique, form (static and dynamic) and fitness levels (current and exercise history) must be kept in mind. Compromised posture leads to poor form and technique and if this is not addressed before starting weights, then it could end up reinforcing the wrong movement patterns. 

“A beginner should start with body-weight training. Test it out under a professional. Can you squat, lunge, hold a plank for 30 seconds, and balance yourself on one leg? If not, work on these first. If you can, then you might want to train these skills a bit more before progressing to weights,” adds Kothari. She suggests adding a jump with the squat or a push-up with the rotation plank to work on the skills.

Kothari also suggests chalking out a six-week plan when you start body-weight training. Then you can re-evaluate where you stand and realign your goals for the weeks that follow.

Warm-ups and cool-downs

One of the biggest mistakes people—not just beginners—make is to start weights or workouts without warming up properly. A good warm-up routine should increase your core temperature, mobilize joints, warm up the muscles and prepare your central nervous system. 

“Only using the treadmill for 10 minutes is not a good enough warm-up before resistance training. Even for body weights, warm up the muscles you are likely to use. So, before doing pull-ups, start warming up your rotator cuff muscles, core, abs and back. Similarly, before squats, activate your glutes, erector spinae, adductor and abductor muscles,” says Kothari.

Nutrition

Workouts can only be a small part of any fitness programme. Eating a good amount of proteins has huge benefits for the body—it helps you lose weight, increase muscle mass, build strength. Increase your intake of fibre too, with green vegetables.

“The recommended daily intake for proteins is around 46g for women and around 56g for men. However, it varies based on the physical activities they do. There used to be a problem in our Indian vegetarian diet, where protein sources were limited, the biggest of them being pulses or cottage cheese (paneer), which were then cooked in a way that the nutrients were killed by the time food was served,” points out Ankita Gupta Sehgal, dietitian and founder of Nutrition Matters, which provides nutrition and diet consultancy. Sehgal recommends adding more lentils, fish, chicken breast and good sources of fat like peanuts and almonds to the daily diet.

Metabolism plays a key role, says Sehgal. “For those of you who have a sluggish metabolic rate, a slight change in your lifestyle can do wonders. It is seen that regular exercise builds up the basal metabolic rate. Walking and running can prove to be beneficial but there is nothing like strength training. As one loses fat and builds up lean muscles, metabolism gets a significant boost,” she adds.

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What you should eat if you are lifting weights

Include protein in the form of eggs and oats

Dietician Ankita Gupta Sehgal from Nutrition Matters helps you make a list of things which can help you get your required level of nutrition. Sehgal suggests eating proteins such as eggs, almonds, chicken breasts, oats, cottage cheese, broccoli, tuna, peanuts and lentils. And if you want to take protein shakes post your workout or as a meal replacement, here is a simple recipe for it.

PROTEIN POWER CRUNCH

•3/4 cups of low fat milk

•1/4 cup of Granola or Almonds

•1 banana

•1 scoop whey protein or soy powder

•2-3 ice cubes

Blend them all together and you’ll have a crunchy meal replacement protein filled shake to have instead of your lunch. This would give you 7g of fibre and 32g of protein.

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