of Strength Training for Women
by Barbara Bradley -
The Commercial Appeal MemphisDr. Jane
Berry, 50, recently went on a dinosaur bone hunting expedition in Wyoming,
where she spent days "banging rocks" and toting them in buckets. After that,
she went home and took down a tree in her yard with a chainsaw.
Not bad for a woman with an unusual joint
disorder who once spent two years unable to bend her elbow.
Berry, a physician in general practice,
recently began a fitness program that includes weightlifting three times a
week. She says it's giving her new strength that is changing her life.
Nationally, increasing numbers of women have
come to see pumping iron as more than just a way to trim flabby arms.
In 2001 women accounted for 45 percent of
all those who train with free weights, up from 30 percent in 1987, according to
American Sports Data Inc., a leading consumer research company for the sporting
goods and fitness industries. Strength training for everybody jumped 12 percent
from 1998 to 2001.
"You can be thin with aerobics and flexible
with stretching," said Neal Cordell, a personal trainer and an instructor of
fitness and wellness at Southwest Tennessee Community College. "But it's weight
training that builds muscle, and muscle that keeps the bones aligned and
prevents injuries and breakdowns. I don't think you can be physically fit
without all three."
"Maintaining muscle mass is one of the
biggest controls you have over the aging process," said Pam Green, fitness
manager at Wimbleton Sportsplex.
High-quality strength work gives us strength
to do daily tasks, helps make it possible to do aerobic exercise for
cardiovascular health and helps control weight, because people with more muscle
have a higher metabolic rate, she said.
According to American Sports Data, the
fastest-growing exercise programs balance cardiovascular exercise, flexibility
and strength components.
Such a three-pronged workout is offered by
Greg Liebermann, owner of Greg's Gym in Midtown and personal trainer for Berry
and other clients, the majority of whom are women.
Liebermann offers a six-week program that
requires stretching at home or the gym six times a week for 7 to 9 minutes;
cardiovascular work (walking, biking, swimming) five or six times a week for 30
or 45 minutes (you work up to this time); and weight training three times a
week for 45 minutes in his gym.
The first six weeks, clients lift mostly on
Nautilus equipment. Dumbbells and barbells are incorporated as the client
"At first people are intimidated by all this
apparatus," said Liebermann. "It looks like the Spanish Inquisition ... But
they get results right away. And usually after two weeks, I have to slow them
The shock of the change is most noticeable
in older women, he said. Soon running for a bus or picking up laundry becomes
no big deal. "They're astounded. They feel powerful."
Weight training gets a lot of press as a way
to combat osteoporosis, a common problem for women and, to a lesser extent, for
men. But men and women both have much more to gain.
According to Liebermann, weight training, in
addition to building and toning muscles and increasing strength, helps people
maintain lean body mass, helps develop coordination and balance to prevent
injuries, helps prevent strokes, lowers cholesterol, fights depression and
enhances sexual ability.
"I think I'm getting strong," Berry said.
"You should see the muscle in my arm. I didn't know I had it. It looks good."
Berry has trained for four months. One of
her motivations for beginning was the pain she had from a disease that leaves
her joints so limber she can easily pull them out of place.
She hasn't had an incident since she began
training, she said. Her arm feels better than it has in years and there have
been a few other changes.
"Three weeks after I got into it, I couldn't
wear my pants. I was shocked," she said. There wasn't so much a change in
weight as a change in shape. "My beeper was pulling my pants down."
Liebermann said Berry's weight training
consists of one set each of 16 weight-bearing exercises. A set for her means 15
repetitions in exercises for the lower body and 10 in exercises for the upper
She does about 85 percent of her weight
training on Nautilus machines, and the rest using dumbbells that can be held
with one hand as well as heavier, larger barbells.
For example, her shoulder routine typically
consist of one set each of:
Lateral raises, moving arms straight
out from the sides, lifting 45 pounds on a machine.
Shoulder presses, pushing 50 pounds
of weight straight up over her head on a machine.
Front raises, lifting 10-pound
dumbbells laterally in front of her while standing.
A young woman training for bodybuilding
competition or an older woman trying to build bone are common sights among the
male weightlifters in gyms today.
But like a lot of women who've begun
weightlifting, Lauren Holloway is neither.
Holloway, a 30-year-old trial lawyer, was an
athlete in college. But as she got more involved in her career, she felt she
wasn't as strong as she used to be, even though she was doing aerobics. She
started getting aches and pains.
After about four months of working with
Liebermann, she reports a more toned appearance, reduced body fat, greater
strength and energy and a benefit less tangible but just as important to her:
"It's a confidence-builder," she said. "When
you go before a jury, you have to exude confidence. In a male-dominated field,
that's difficult and stressful for women. Being physically fit is an
What's the best way to begin using weights?
Almost everyone uses both free weights and
machines, Cordell said. But for a beginner who has an instructor, he recommends
higher repetitions with lighter free weights.
They provide more range of motion and more
variety in how they can be used, and the balancing they require helps work out
secondary muscles "a big plus you don't get with machines," he said.
(Some advantages with machines are that they
are safer and easier for beginners who aren't getting instruction, resistance
can be changed quickly and easily, and there are some exercises difficult to do
any other way.)
After six weeks, you should "wake up" the
muscles by changing the program to heavier weights and fewer repetitions, he
said. If you get an injury, drop back to the first program to let the muscles
recover, he said.
Muscles need to rest, he said. So, for
example, you might do weights only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On the
off-days, you could make your aerobic exercises more strenuous.
He stressed there's no one right way to do
this type of exercise program or any other.
"The whole concept of strength training is
based on progressive overload," said Green. She recommends choosing a weight
that allows you to do two or three sets of about 12 repetitions.
"If you don't have a safe overload, and
you're not feeling the work, you don't get the changes," she said. "When you
finish, you should be very glad it's over."
She advises combining abdominal exercises
with weightlifting because abs are worked by traditional calisthenics, but a
weight routine may have nothing for them.
"Abs are the core of power for the body. You
need them for all the other stuff that's going on," she said.
Many people get personal instruction now,
she said. But if you want to do it yourself, she recommends reading Body for
Life, a 12-week diet and exercise program by Bill Phillips. Green said this
popular book offers good basic strength exercises that don't require any more
equipment than dumbbells with adjustable weights and a bench.