It's time for another encouragement for women who shy away from muscle building. I've been doing strength (resistance) training for the past 3 years of my 4-year fitness journey and the real results came only after picking up that pair of dumbbells. In this article, I'll refer to several studies that support muscle building for women. Hopefully next time when you'll book your gym class, it will be a strength training session!
Why Women Needs Muscle?
Just to clarify, what I mean by "building muscle" is deliberately doing strength training. I do not mean when body-builders eat boiled chicken for months just to dry out the body by cutting out all other nutritions apart from protein. Because the truth is, when you cut out carbs and fats, your body cannot properly function (1).
According to the Better Health Channel, muscle helps to fight osteoporosis (1). But, I know what you're thinking - I don't have such a problem Yet.
Still, it's no secret that stuff you do with your health today may affect your health later in your life.
Research by the National Osteoporosis Foundation showed that women are more likely to get weaker bones than men due to thinner bone structure and hormone reduction when we reach 50 years and over.
What's the solution? - Growing muscle!
Another research on "Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health" by EnM showed that resistance training is the most recommended strategy to preserve our bones (2).
In other words, our muscles protect our bones and organs. And for a person like me, who has gone through an injury-recovery phase, I can easily relate to this point.
Personally, to add something from my own experience, I can say that strength training helps me to feel stronger and reduce stress & negativity. I think it because we force ourselves through pain and get the rewarded satisfaction afterwards. It's almost like becoming addicted to face that discomfort and win. That's called progress, ladies!
Resistance training is the most recommended strategy to preserve our bones.
And to give you an example from the real world - 6 years ago my dear aunt fell on the ground during one of those slippery winter seasons. Without exaggerating,
bones of her arm smashed and she had a 4-year recovery journey in front of her.
She's 50+ years old and living proof that our bones do get more fragile over time. And she's not even unhealthy or anything. In fact, she regularly goes out for walks and takes in a balanced diet. But accidents happen - people fall and she did too.
Why Women Avoid Muscle Building?
According to the American Council on Exercise, one of the most common reasons why women shy away from strength training is the fear of looking like men (4).
The ACE suggests that in the muscle-building process our DNA and testosterone levels play a major part in the speed and size of our muscles. Yet, women have 20% less testosterone (or the male hormone) than men (4). This means, women cannot experience the same muscle growth as men.
In other words, for ladies who are afraid of looking like a hulk, know that you cannot look like a guy simply because you have less testosterone which means you'll build muscles at a much slower pace than men will.
What's the Best Way to Build Muscle?
According to ACE, to stimulate muscles to grow we should lift heavier (5). Overload means bigger muscle. ACE notes that lighter and more frequent repetitions build your endurance while fewer and heavier reps build the muscle (6).
Women shy away from strength training is the fear of looking like men.
What this means for us women is getting away from the comfortable-weight dumbbells and lifting heavier.
Here are some practical suggestions for building muscle:
Do strength training at least 3 times a week while allowing your body to recover with light cardio once a week;
Aim for a graduate overload by lifting heavier over time;
Add a mindful diet to your muscle growth journey (Click here for a valuable link to look deeper into nutrition that supports muscle growth).
How Long does it take to See Muscle?
As reported by US News, the speed of our muscle growth depends on our neuromuscular system (6). This is basically the process of our muscles and nervous system working together to allow the movement in our bodies (7).
Beginners might see some change within 8-weeks' time while more experienced strength builders can see results in 3 to 4 weeks' time. This is because our neuromuscular system is adapting to a new lifestyle (8).
In other words, if you're new to fitness, your body needs time to adjust to the "discomfort" (meant in a good way). The more you get a hang of strength building, the better and faster results. Over time, you'll catch the feeling of contracting the muscle and becoming more efficient (for me it helps to look at the muscle too).
Tips for Growing Muscle for Beginners
Speaking from experience, I've noticed that having a gym-buddy that checks your form helps tremendously.
Also, a big mistake that I've seen in the gyms are women lifting too heavy the very first time. To avoid this mistake, start with weights that you can lift at least 10 times. Then work your way up from there.
As mentioned before, to grow muscle, you must do repetitions via pushing yourself. At the same time, the form and technique should not hurt. If your form is affected, drop the weights and get the basics right.
The speed of our muscle growth depends on our neuromuscular system.
A good rule-of-thumb is lifting lighter for the first 10-12 times. Then, slowly increasing weights and doing 8 reps instead. Finally, adding the last weight and doing 6 reps (this example is taken out of my own rehabilitation journey).
As for the exercises, the best moves are the ones that train larger muscle groups like your glutes. Try exercises like squats, deadlifts, overhead press, and other compound moves. JeFit has a great exercise database where you can read up on each move and see how to execute correctly.
I guess what I aimed with this article is to encourage all women to shift the mindset from "Now" to more long-term. Taking care of our health is our number one priority so let's take care of it today to not regret it in a few years. Remember that a smile is the prettiest thing you can wear!
As I write passionately about workout apps, it would not be right not to advise on fitness apps that are best for building muscle. I would recommend either Sweat or FitPlan. Both workout apps have great muscle building and strength training plans available for women.
Additionally Nike Training Club is one of my favorite workout apps that has great strength and conditioning workouts dedicated to make you stronger so check it out too!
Finally, don't forget to join Our Facebook Community and get helpful insights of the newest workout apps in fitness.
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