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Why women should do resistance training


20 years ago, I was one of the only girls in the gym weights room with a bunch of bulky guys. I ventured out of the safety of a step class and into the lion's den. Whilst things have improved a lot since then, I keep hearing female clients saying they find weights intimidating, so it has become my #1 mission as a PT to change that.


Simply put, resistance training is any exercise where you use some form of resistance, ranging from bodyweight to barbells. If you feel like to lack confidence in using weights, let me convince you why it's a good thing to do and I can teach you how!


Regardless of age, resistance training improves muscle mass, helps with weight loss and has a host of health benefits you can read more about here: 5 benefits of resistance training


Strength training after 40

If you are in your forties, chances are you are in or approaching peri-menopause, the 2-10 year lead-up to menopause. Declining oestrogen during this time accelerates age-related loss of muscle mass and bone density, issues that can be significantly slowed down when doing regular strength training. Resistance training is proven* to improve bone density and reduce systemic inflammation, both of which increases risk of developing osteoporosis, obesity and other lifestyle illnesses. You should aim to do strength training 2-3 times/week.


The combination of a slowing metabolism and fluctuating hormones can be blamed on mid-life weight gain, so both nutrition and exercise become even more important in balancing hormones, maintaining a healthy weight and minimising peri-menopause symptoms. With a higher muscle mass and lower fat mass, your resting metabolism (BMR) is higher than in the vice-versa scenario, meaning you burn more calories at rest. Learn more about BMR here. It's important to look at exercise and nutrition as two sides of the same coin, particularly if your diet hasn't been adjusted for a slowing metabolism and you feel like your fitness efforts are not paying off.


Oestrogen and injury

Lower levels of oestrogen means lower levels of collagen, and it's not just skin and hair that takes the brunt when collagen declines; collagenous tissues such as tendons, joints and ligaments are also affected. Couple that with increased inflammation (as oestrogen helps reduce inflammation) and you have the perfect storm for osteoarthiritis and joint issues. When supportive structures become more stiff, it increases risk of injury in tendons, ligaments and the joints they support. Strength training not only helps with bone density, but also increases production of human growth hormone, which in turn triggers collagen synthesis, promoting healing and keeping connective tissues healthy.


Strength training in pregnancy

Contrary to what our mothers were told, lifting weights in pregnancy is 100% safe and highly recommended. Unless there are serious contraindications outlined by your doctor, you should incorporate resistance training in your pregnancy exercise programme. It helps lower low back and pelvic pain, it promotes a healthy pregnancy and prepares you for labour and life with a newborn. Whilst it's expected and normal to put on weight in pregnancy, excessive weight gain isn't advised, and staying active in pregnancy helps limit unhealthy weight gain. Exercise is also a great way of protecting your mental health, as hormonal changes and a big life adjustment ahead can trigger anxiety in expectant mums. Work with a pre/postnatally trained PT to ensure your training programme is adjusted for the growing belly and modified for potential pregnancy-related aches and pains.


Strength training throughout your cycle

It's not just pregnancy and peri/menopause that influences your strength training programme, hormonal fluctuations throughout your cycle impacts your muscle mass, strength and performance with each phase in the menstrual cycle. This topic warrants a more in-depth post coming soon. Meanwhile, be mindful and listen to your body to ensure sufficient warm-ups and rest. Whilst you may not feel up for it at times, exercise does help with fatigue, PMS symptoms and cramps - just go easy on yourself.



Further reading:

Muscle tissue changes with aging: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804956

Strength training can burn fat too, myth-busting study finds: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/09/210922121905.htm

*Kerr, D., Ackland, T., Maslen, B., Morton, A., & Prince, R. (2001). Resistance training over 2 years increases bone mass in calcium-replete postmenopausal women. Journal of Bone Mineral Research , 175-181.

Exercise beyond menopause - Do's and don'ts: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296386/

Growth hormone stimulates the collagen synthesis in human tendon and skeletal muscle: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2821728/

Evaluation of the efficacy of an exercise program for pregnant women with low back and pelvic pain: a prospective randomized controlled trial: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25823561/

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