Look around you the next time you’re in a gym. You’ll notice the cardio section has a decent sex ratio, but the area around the weights is a veritable sausage fest. There’s a reason women tend to avoid strength training and it’s not all down to a fear of sitting in a puddle of man sweat. The trepidation is based in the notion that weights bulk you up.
Let’s tackle this fear first. As a woman, you can’t give yourself shirt-sleeve-ripping biceps even if you wanted to, no matter how heavy you lift or how often you train. “Women do not have the hormones to attain that level of muscularity. So unless you’re taking male hormones it can’t happen,” explains celebrity fitness trainer and author Yasmin Karachiwala. Men and women can have similar workout routines, but results will still be drastically different.
Deanne Panday, fitness expert and author, breaks down what your goals should be as a beginner. Stage one: Build endurance. Two: Increase muscle mass. And finally, get stronger. You need muscle, no matter what your fitness goal: losing weight, dropping inches, improving stamina or just ageing with all your joints intact.
So the next time you’re faced with that kettlebell, no more excuses — it’s time to pull your weight. Here are a few reasons why:
Your metabolism will catch fire
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could burn calories while you’re lounging in your PJs, thumbing through your Instagram feed? It’s possible if you strength train. Karachiwala agrees, “When you work on your muscles your body keeps burning calories for many hours afterwards.” The more muscle you have, the more energy your body expends and the higher your resting metabolic rate. According to the American National Strength and Conditioning Association, the more lean body fat you have, the quicker your body metabolises calories. This is because muscle tissue is far more active than fat — it burns almost three times more calories. So even if you’re stuck at your desk for 10 hours a day, no problem.
Your bones will love you
Women may lose 10 per cent of their muscle between the ages of 30 and 50 and it will most likely be replaced by fat. According to Mayo Clinic, the American medical research group, strength training counteracts muscle loss caused by ageing. Karachiwala explains that when you develop all muscles equally, they are better able to support your body. Stronger muscles also keep joints in place, besides fighting age-related bone loss.
You'll drop a size or two
Even if the weighing scale may not say so (a kilo is a kilo, whether it’s fat or muscle). The difference is that muscle is not as dense as fat, which is why it occupies less space. So even if you weigh the same, you’ll fit into smaller sizes.
You'll be more flexible
Panday says one of the most common questions she’s asked when it comes to weights, is how much is too much. “The maximum amount of weight you can lift with good form is what’s right for you. It increases as you grow stronger,” she explains. Stiffness normally sets in when you’re unable to finish the full range of movement during a workout. In that case, use a lighter weight so your body is able to complete the movement fully. When this happens, flexibility increases.
You'll be the energizer bunny
Stronger muscles amount to better performance in other activities as well. Having a stronger core, arms and legs will ensure your body supports you better during cardio. As a result, you’ll burn more calories doing the same amount of cardio.
You'll discover new curves
Cardio makes you lose both fat and muscle, which means you run the risk of losing your curves as well. Weight training, on the other hand, sculpts and defines your curves. Actor and model Mandira Bedi, who’s a shining example of why strong is the new skinny, says, “Cardio is a great way to lose weight, but to really tone up I always combine it with strength training.” If it isn’t obvious already, weight training also fights the effects of gravity.
You'll be okay even if you stop
A break from your exercise routine is inevitable, but the good news is when you do restart your routine you won’t be back at square one. “Muscles have memory, so even if you lose muscle when you go off your routine, it’s not impossible to regain what you’ve lost,” explains Karachiwala.
You'll live longer
When you’re lifting weights, your body metabolises fats and glucose for fuel, which reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as prevents the hardening of arteries. Make strength training a priority as the years go by and you’ll be less likely to develop fat around the waist, high cholesterol and blood pressure, all of which can lead to heart disease.
Fuel the burn
These diet tweaks will amp up your regular weight-training routine
Load up before
Oats, almond milk, nuts or a banana are great pre-workout energy boosters. But make sure you eat at least 30 minutes before so there’s enough time for digestion.
Time it right
It’s important to eat half an hour after you work out too. This helps in muscle recovery and will also stop you from bingeing later.
Pack in the protein
Egg, fish and chicken are great sources of protein. A fresh fruit protein smoothie is also a great post-workout snack. Vegetarians have plenty of options: tofu, paneer, sprouts, Greek yoghurt, quinoa, nuts, beans, lentils or even a vegan protein shake powder.