When strength training is done in a balanced way, it can provide incredible health benefits.
But often, weight training is thought to be reserved for men who want to get big and bulky.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Using weights powerfully stimulates the body to release hormones, growth factors and endorphins that build muscle, burn fat, and slow the aging process. Add to that improved immune and cognitive function, focus, and a general sense of well-being, and strength training starts to look like a magic health elixir.
Today we interview our friend and expert trainer Tanner Martty, founder of the 34° North gym in Santa Monica, about strength training. He shows us why strength training may be even more important for women than men.
So let’s flip our conventional viewpoint and let Tanner explain.
Why muscle is important for women
Clean: Is weight lifting and strength training necessary for women?
Tanner: I think strength training like the 30-Minute Program I outlined before is even more important for women because they tend to suffer from conditions like osteoporosis and hormone imbalances.
Women also have less testosterone to start with. Testosterone is important because it helps to build and maintain muscle mass and bone density. Now I'm not suggesting that women need to have a massive amount of testosterone. But strength training helps to increase levels of testosterone which improves lean muscle and reduces fat.
Clean: Why is our level of muscle so important?
Tanner: Muscle mass is important for immune function and for up-regulating our metabolism. This happens because muscle tissue is live tissue and it eats up a lot of energy. So the more muscle tissue you have, the faster your metabolism is, particularly your fat metabolism, so you burn more fat.
Clean: Can you give us an example of how this works in women?
Tanner: Sure. Let’s say you have two women who are 5' 5" and weigh 125 pounds. If one of those women has 12 percent body fat and the other has 20 percent body fat, the woman with 12 percent body fat will have more muscle mass.
This is very important because she will burn more calories than the woman with 20 percent body fat, doing anything she does throughout the day.
Muscle is live tissue and it will eat up far more calories than fat. If those two women are sitting down at their computer, the woman with more muscle mass is burning more calories.
Since this is happening all the time for the woman with more muscle, the benefits are like interest, they compound and grow exponentially.
Clean: Does more muscle improve our workouts?
Tanner: Yes! That’s right. Again, if the woman with 12 percent body fat does a 30 minute workout, she is going to burn exponentially more calories than the woman who has 20 percent body fat.
This means that the woman with more muscle mass relative to body fat could do much less exercise than the other woman and still have better results.
Women and Muscles
Clean: You’ve made it clear why having muscle is important for health particularly for women, but we’ve spoken to many women who don’t want to use weights because they don’t want to look big and bulky.
Tanner: This is a very important point and one that I want your readers to really pay attention to.
Building muscle mass doesn’t necessarily mean that you will look bulky. You can still look very feminine. We have a lot of women at the gym that are very feminine, but they put on good, dense, muscle mass and register all the health benefits.
You don’t want to miss out on the massive wellness benefits of strength training because you fear you will look big. The opposite is true. It will help you burn fat and look lean.
Women and Cardio
Clean: Instead of weight training, women tend to do more cardio workouts believing that they are best for losing weight. What are your thoughts about the need for lots of cardio?
Tanner: Well first, we do not want to lose muscle ever. Got that? Again, when I talk about strength training for women, I'm not talking about building big, puffy muscle. I’m talking about building more lean muscle and losing fat.
Yes, I do see lots of women doing tons of cardio which can be good for weight loss. Cardio workouts burn some fat. But here’s the problem. Some of those weight loss efforts are unfortunately also wasting away muscle tissue that we are trying to hold onto.
So going back to the example that we had with our two women. The woman with lower body fat has an exponentially faster metabolism. So her efforts to lose more fat or to maintain her weight are so much easier than the woman who has 20 percent body fat.
That’s really important to note. The more fit you get, the leaner you get, the more muscle mass you have, the easier it is to keep it and the easier it is to progress. And this occurs better and more quickly with strength training.
Clean: So what does that mean if a woman wants to really kick up the fat burning?
Tanner: Rather than sticking with lots of cardio, think of it this way. Strength training should be the foundation of your workout so we can up-regulate your metabolism.
For example, if you have only 30 minutes to move, what should you do? It should be strength training because you will up-regulate your entire system. And over time, as you build more muscle, you know then that the calories you're burning are exponentially higher. You’ll also have more testosterone, growth factors and endorphins and you’ll balance out your stress hormones and lower your insulin levels.
Then if you have more time to move, do some cardio or conditioning work. But the conditioning work should never be the priority. The priority should be the strength work.
Clean Team Women on Strength Training
We asked two of our team members of different ages to share their experience about adding weight training into their workouts.
Debbie, Community Support Leader, Age 56:
“Weight training has been really integral for me to stave off the aging process. I find that if I don't lift weights for a day or two I really miss it! Keeping on muscle mass not only helps you feel good but you look good too. Free weights especially do so much for my core strength and balance which are more and more important as you get older. This is a lifelong habit that I intend to keep!
“When a woman asks me what she needs to do to stay fit, weight training is my number one suggestion. Not tiny pink weights, but heavier stuff that really makes you work. I love to see people change the shape of their bodies without losing an ounce of weight. It’s so great to fit into smaller clothing and gain energy and strength at the same time.
"It's key for women to keep their muscle mass up and to focus on building strength, not losing weight (which can mean you are losing muscle mass). I love weight training so I keep weights at home and try to challenge myself with new personal records as often as I can.”
Farrell, Wellness Coach, Age 30:
“Some of the benefits that I’ve noticed since I started strength training is that I have become leaner, stronger, and capable of higher endurance exercises. I also have more energy, a more balanced relationship with food, better posture and more confidence.
“I would certainly recommend incorporating strength training to any woman who is interested. I have tried strength training in the past on my own and with a trainer. I’ve found it’s really important to have a couple of sessions with a trainer so you can work on your form and feel empowered to do the routines on your own. I feel much stronger and capable in my body and I know that this has been from the strength training I added into my life a year ago.”