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Ask the trainer: 10 Reasons women need weights

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Why women need to lift weights

Are you one of those women who slaves on the elliptical for hours each week and refuses to near the weight room at the gym? If you’re of the mind that weights are for meatheads and will turn you into a mini-Schwarzenegger, we’ve got news for you. Weight lifting will give you the body of your dreams. Illinois-based fitness expert Angie Miller, founder of AngieMillerFitness.com, answers the most pressing questions women have about lifting weights.
Angie Miller
ask a trainer

Why women need to lift weights

Are you one of those women who slaves on the elliptical for hours each week and refuses to near the weight room at the gym? If you're of the mind that weights are for meatheads and will turn you into a mini-Schwarzenegger, we've got news for you. Weight lifting will give you the body of your dreams. Illinois-based fitness expert Angie Miller, founder of AngieMillerFitness.com, answers the most pressing questions women have about lifting weights.

Meet the expert:

Angie Miller is a personal trainer and fitness instructor certified through NASM, AFAA, and ACE. She is also a Kettlebell Concepts, Mad Dogg Athletics Spinning, YogaFit, and EFI Sports Medicine Gravity Group Instructor who teaches classes in Elgin and Huntley, Illinois. Miller is also the creator of the highly acclaimed exercise DVD's "Core & Strength Fusion," "Kettlebell Bootcamp," and her recent release, "Angie Miller's Crave Results. She is an ACE and AFAA Continuing Education Provider, AFAA Certification Specialist, BOSU Master Trainer, Kettlebell Concepts Senior Instructor, and workshop provider at professional conventions worldwide.

Q&A with fitness expert Angie Miller

SheKnows: Isn't cardio better than weight lifting when it comes to burning fat?

Angie Miller: If you think that your running shoes, kickboxing shorts, or cycle cleats are the only answer to your fat burning dreams, think again. I frequently remind my clients that cardio isn't the only way to burn fat. Strength training can increase the amount of muscle in your body, which in turn will decrease your body fat percentage, and improve your overall body composition. Furthermore, because muscle tissue is metabolically active, even at rest, strength training will help you efficiently burn fat continuously throughout the day. Strength training also has a positive effect on your resting metabolic rate, which is the minimum number of calories your body needs to support basic physiological functions such as breathing and circulating blood, and it increases your lean body mass. Bottom line, cardio isn't the only way to burn fat.

SheKnows: What is the link between weight lifting and bone health for women?

Angie Miller: One of the benefits of strength training is that it reduces our risk for osteoporosis, a condition which causes our bones to become weak or brittle and often leads to fractures, mainly of the hip, spine, and wrist. Breaking bones is serious stuff. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 10 million Americans are estimated to have osteoporosis; 34 million more have low bone mass, and 24 percent of hip fracture patients' age of 50 and over die in the year following their fracture. Often thought of as an older person's disease, osteoporosis can strike at any age, and it's never too late or too early to take measures to keep your bones healthy and strong. Strength training exercises are one of the key methods of prevention against osteoporosis. According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, weight training in young women helped develop greater bone mass; in postmenopausal women it helped slow down bone loss and delay fracture risk; and in elderly women it helped to prevent falls due to improved strength and balance. Research supports that strength training will benefit your bones no matter when you start, but you'll reap the most rewards if you start when you're young and continue throughout your life.

SheKnows: Seriously, won't lifting weights give women bulky muscles?

Angie Miller: Being a huge advocate for women and strength training, this is one misconception I'm eager to dispel. Strength training, while it shapes your body, defines your muscles, and gives you a lean physique, does not turn you into a woman of herculean proportions. If you're afraid of getting bulky simply by participating in a regular strength training program, you can put your fears to rest. The reason is that women do not produce as much testosterone as men, and testosterone is one of main hormones responsible for causing muscle hypertrophy/ larger muscles. That being said, women, like men, don't all respond to weight training the same way either. The answer lies in our DNA. We are genetically predisposed to respond to exercise in a particular way. Genetics determine what type of muscle fibers we have, where they are distributed, where we store body fat, and our body type. The key is to understand your body, and its unique response to strength training. You can then set realistic goals and appreciate the results you are looking for.

SheKnows: Doesn't muscle turn to fat once a person stops lifting weights?

Angie Miller: A common misconception of weight training is that if a person stops, their muscle will turn to fat. The good news is that this isn't possible. Muscle and fat are two totally different types of tissue and one cannot turn into the other. What happens is a combination of factors. Often when women stop lifting weights or doing resistance training, they fall off the bandwagon completely, in other words they stop working out all together. When this happens, bad habits set in and usually a poor diet follows. Before long they lose muscle mass, (use it or lose it), their metabolism slows down, and naturally fat starts to accumulate. Due to timing, this may give the impression that what was formerly muscle turned to fat, but essentially, if you stop exercising, stop lifting, and stop watching your diet, your chisel will turn to chub.

SheKnows: Isn't lifting weights hard to learn?

Angie Miller: Many cardio activities, from your favorite dance class to your kickboxing class have punches, kicks, and blocks of choreography you need to learn. But with strength training, there's little to no learning curve. While technique and form are critical, and proper execution of movement is imperative to remain injury free, you don't have to remember patterns of choreography while trying to manipulate your feet, move your arms, and stay on top of the beat. With so many strength training classes offered at your local gym, exercise DVD's that focus on weight training, and fitness shows on TV, isn't it time to give your running shoes a rest and pick up a set of weights?

SheKnows: Cardio shreds calories, why should women spend time lifting weights?

Angie Miller: A study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who do an hour-long weight-training workout can burn an average of 100 more calories in the 24 hours afterward compared to if they hadn't lifted weights. If you strength train three times a week, that's an extra 300 calories a week and 15, 600 calories per year! According to the American Council on Exercise, "Most women will experience a 20-40 percent increase in muscle strength after several months of resistance training." And don't be afraid to lift heavier weights. Often women who incorporate resistance training into their workout regime opt for lighter weights and higher reps. This type of workout certainly has its place for functional movements that make us stronger for everyday activity, but studies show that women who lift heavier weight with less repetition can burn more energy and experience a greater metabolic boost after exercise. Weight training, like cardio, is not a one size fits all, nor do you have to train the same way each time. Consider alternating sessions of heavier weights, less repetitions, and slower movements; with sessions that use lighter weights, higher repetitions, and move at a faster pace, for optimal results.

SheKnows: Shouldn't women be afraid of getting hurt lifting weights?

Angie Miller: Among its many other merits, strength training is actually a great means of injury prevention. Strength training doesn't just strengthen our muscles; it strengthens the connective tissue as well, such as the tendons and ligaments. This helps hold our body in proper alignment and protect our bones and joints during impact and movement while lifting weights and doing other activities.

SheKnows: Can weight lifting help get rid of our jiggly bits?

Angie Miller: Talk to anyone who has lost a considerable amount of weight and they'll tell you that once they drop the weight there's still work to be done. Now they have to tone the muscles that were formerly hiding underneath the layer of fat. Maybe you don't have a lot of weight to lose, but if you don't like to wave goodbye because you're afraid of the extra jiggle under your forearm, or you refuse to wear short sleeves even when it's 90 degrees outside, it might be time to pick up a set of weights, a resistance band, or some other strength training device. When you do more cardio, you may see the numbers go down on the scale, but that doesn't mean your weight will be distributed and proportioned in a way that shows off all your hard work. Doing cardio without strength, or vice versa, isn't going to give you the results you deserve. A healthy combination of both will get your arms summer ready and sexy strong.

SheKnows: Does weight lifting improve posture?

Angie Miller: Our society of modern conveniences and a fast paced lifestyle is not conducive to good posture. We hunch over computers, carry heavy handbags that strain our neck and burden our shoulders, and talk on cell phones propped in the crook of our neck so we can hold a conversation while completing other tasks. But with strength training we discover muscles we didn't know we had, our body awareness heightens, our posture improves, and we carry ourselves better. Inevitably, we become more confident. After all, knowledge is power, and the more you understand your body, the more confident you feel about what it can do. Your body is your investment and the return is almost guaranteed. Give it love and attention, and it will make you feel stronger, sexier, and fitter than you have even been.

SheKnows: Is it true that women who do strength-training don't actually lose weight and can even gain weight?

Angie Miller: Now that you're convinced of all the merits of strength training, it's time to dust off the dumbbells and put the scale away. If you use your scale to gauge your success against the battle of the bulge, you may find yourself disappointed. It's true that muscle weighs more than fat. So you may not drop weight as fast, but chances are you'll no longer have to lie down on the bed to get your jeans to zip. Also, muscle is denser than fat, therefore the same amount of weight fits into less space. In other words, you may not get lighter, at least not initially, but you will get leaner.

The bottom line for weight lifting: We know that complementing our cardio workouts with strength training will help us see results like we have never seen before. We become leaner, stronger, more aware of our bodies, and more confident. Soon we discover that a well rounded workout routine, like a well rounded lifestyle, is the key to long term health, wellness, and satisfaction.

For more health and fitness tips, be sure to visit Shape.com.

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