Tag: strength training

Women and Strength Training

I want to address the topic of strength training and women in this article and hopefully clear up a few misconceptions. Over the last few years, I have had several women ask me about how they should best approach resistance training and they are about always surprised when I recommend they train with the exact same exercises as a man would do, the only difference being the amount of weight used as a starting point.

Women who regularly train with weights can improve their health, develop a healthier self esteem with a higher degree of self confidence, reduce their risk of degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis and they can enhance their athletic capabilities. In the past, some women have questioned the value of strength training and have even avoided it because of social stigmas, and or the fear of getting too big.

You might even believe that training with a barbell is too hard for a woman to attempt.

Current evidence clearly displays that women are perfectly capable of tolerating and adapting to the stresses of strength training, and the benefits of doing so are quite substantial. An excellent example of how strength training benefits women, even those who are older, is our very own Brenda Sue whom I have been training via online videos for the last year and a half. Brenda Sue asked me for weight training advice and I took her on as a trainee. Despite being a 62 year old female, I began her on the same training program I would any young man, only at a lighter starting weight. Her strength gains have been remarkable to say the least, and it is incredible how much it has improved every other area of her life through being stronger physically and mentally. These qualities bring on a higher sense of self confidence which simply makes the tasks we face every day seem much easier. Brenda Sue has learned that if she can rise back up from a heavy squat, then she can tackle anything else that comes her way.

Sex differences, body size and composition.

Obviously because of differences in strength between men and women, some approaches to strength training might need to vary by a small degree. That being said, there are many men who are weaker than many women when they begin strength training too so this is not as large an issue as some might believe.

Before puberty, there are essentially no differences in height, weight and body size between boys and girls. As the children begin going through puberty, the differences between boys and girls becomes more evident primarily because of hormonal changes. During puberty the production of estrogen in girls increases fat deposition and the development of breasts. Whereas testosterone in boys increases bone formation and protein synthesis. Though estrogen also stimulates bone growth, boys have a longer growth period, and thereby adult men tend to achieve greater stature than women. On average, women tend to have more body fat and less muscle than men. Women also tend to weigh less than men, yet require a higher amount of body fat for good health than a man requires. Anthropometric measurements of adults indicate that men have broader shoulders relative to their hips and women tend to have broader hips relative to their waists and shoulders. The broader shoulders of men can support more muscle tissue and can also provide a mechanical advantage for muscles acting at the shoulder. Yet, again I still maintain there not be weight training programs that have to be different solely because of the differences in the sexes as our anatomies and physiology is not that different. We might have a difference in our build, yet we have the exact same muscle groups, our cardiovascular systems are also the same. Women prove every day they are just as capable of performing the same physical tasks as men. In a world where my fellow men feel they need to prove their manliness, I will tell you straight up that I would rather work with a woman who can physically pull their load than with a weak man who cannot. This was true both when I was in the military and during my period as a maximum security correctional officer.

Strength and power output.

When comparing training induced changes in muscular strength between men and women, it is important to distinguish between absolute and relative measures. In terms of absolute strength, women generally have about two thirds the strength of men. The absolute lower body strength of women is generally closer to male values, as compared to the absolute values for upper body strength. Gender related differences in body composition. anthropometric characteristics, and fat free mass distribution can partly explain these differences.

When compared on a relative basis, gender related differences in muscular strength are greatly reduced. Because the average man and woman differ considerably in body size, it is useful to compare gender differences in strength relative to body weight, fat free mass and muscle cross sectional area. When expressed relative to body weight, the lower body strength of women is similar to that of men, while their upper body strength is still somewhat less. If comparisons are made to fat free mass, differences in strength between men and women tend to disappear. It is interesting that but there is data that suggests that eccentric strength may be more similar between men and women than concentric strength when compared to relative fat free mass.

When strength is expressed relative to muscle cross sectional area, no significant difference exits between genders, which indicates that muscle quality is not gender specific. Granted that the muscle fibers in men and women are also similar in fiber type distribution and histochemical characteristics, never the less men tend to have larger muscle fiber cross sectional area than women. Notwithstanding the importance of these observations, we need to remember that there is a wide range of strength abilities and that in some cases differences between two women may in fact be greater than the difference between a man and woman.

In terms of absolute strength, women are generally weaker than men because of their lower quantity of muscle. When compared relative to muscle cross sectional area, no differences in strength exists between genders, which indicates that muscle quality is not gender specific.

Strength training for women.

Despite gender related differences, men and women respond to resistance training in similar ways from pre-training baselines. Although the magnitude of change in selected variables may differ to some degree, the overall value of resistance exercise for women extends far beyond an increase muscular strength and includes favorable changes in other important measures of health and fitness.

Being as the physiological characteristics of muscle between the genders are the same, there is no sensible reason why weight training programs for women need to be any different from that of men. In fact, because the muscle groups involved are the same for men and women, resistance programs should be designed to improve the performance of the muscles involved regardless of gender. It is a misconception that weight training programs for women should be any different from those of men. It is also a misconception that women lose flexibility and become bulky from weight training. The only difference required between weight training programs for men and women is generally the amount of weight used for a given lift.

Ladies next time you balk at the idea of strength training, consider female Olympic athletes such as gymnasts who are able to perform 40 pull ups and competitive female weight lifters who can lift over two times their body weight. These outstanding female athletes display what is possible through strength training. For another excellent example of what is possible when a woman commits herself to “Life under the Iron”, take a good hard look at our own Brenda Sue for inspiration. This little lady is 62 years old, weighs about 135 pounds, and can deadlift 190 pounds, and will soon surpass 200. Brenda Sue has become strong without becoming bulky, her health and level of fitness are that of a twenty something, her self esteem and confidence levels are at an all time high.

I will place this topic on our new forum where you can comment or ask either of us questions. I am positive Brenda Sue will share some of her fitness secrets with you there. Lets get the forum up and rolling!

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Life Hack of The Iron

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I have learned many things from strength training. Today, with guidance from my Trainer, I have learned the greatest Truth of the Iron. “When we fix our lifts, we learn how to fix our lives.” (David Yochim)

“You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.” (David Yochim)
When I first began heavy weight lifting I was at the physically weakest point of my life. I didn’t know this until I picked up a barbell and could only squat 35 pounds. If I’ve ever been any more embarrassed, I don’t remember it. I don’t usually get embarrassed. What is, is. But, when I squatted with 35 pounds and struggled to stand up, I could have just gone through the floor to escape facing the truth of my physical condition. I daresay that was not a deep squat either. Although I squatted as deeply as I thought I could at the time, now I know that it was nowhere close to proper depth. I have discovered that not hitting depth puts an incredible strain on me because I don’t activate my glutes and hamstrings properly to stand. I was making what was already hard, harder with improper form. We do the same thing in other parts of our lives. We make things harder than they have to be by doing them the wrong way or just allowing ourselves to do less than our best. If we give every nuance of every lift our undivided attention to detail, we will do much better. The same thing applies to other aspects of our lives. I have an extremely difficult, high-stress job. The better I focus, the easier the job is. If I allow myself to lose focus while doing a menial task at home, that task becomes difficult. I have learned this from the Iron. Since my weights are heavier now, focus is not only mandatory for the lift, it’s mandatory for safety. This applies to a road trip. Don’t lose focus on the interstate at 80 mph. It could end badly.

Proper Preparation

Last night, although I was front squatting a weight that I had not squatted before, I was not pleased with my lift. I wanted to get more reps. As I analyzed what might have been wrong, I thought about my preparation. Last week when I was pleased with this lift, I had gone out of my way prepping. My calories were perfect and I ate them early enough that they were pulsing through my system when I needed them, I had an excellent pre-workout, I had the most adrenaline pumping music in existence blasting in my dungeon. Last night, I struggled through a mandatory continuing education course, stuffed the remaining calories for the day in my mouth at the last minute, skipped the pre-workout and started lifting without music. There was so much wrong with this picture for me because I know what I need to have a good session. I didn’t do it. I was not pleased with the results. How often do we do this in other areas of our lives? I got bit by a rattlesnake in 2016 due to stupidity. I know exactly what I did wrong. We do things like this all the time with that still, small voice screaming instructions in our ears. The Iron will not yield to me unless I approach it prepared. Everything works this way.

Analysis

Even as I lumbered up the stairs to my bedroom, I began to analyze my lift. Without analysis there is no learning. I combed each moment of my approach, my breathing, my focus. It was in this moment that I began to see the discrepancies between this week’s squat and last week’s squat. Unless we examine ourselves, we will never improve. I was not happy with that lift. I wanted more. Even though lifting is a lifestyle, not an ever increasing exhibition of strength and ego, I still wanted more. I knew that I was off and when I began to analyze my day, a cascade of differences in this week and last week flooded my brain. How often do we encounter difficulty and disappointment in other areas and we just chalk it up as a lesson learned when nothing was actually learned because we did not analyze our behavior? Self examination is necessary for growth and mastery of every area of our lives. I have learned a very practical application of this through the Iron. Unless I analyze my behavior with it, there will be no progress. I must correct myself as I go. Most of the time when we stall out in life it’s because we do not correct ourselves. We’re too busy correcting other people. Regardless of what I do to that Iron, it’s me that must yield and adapt. Only then will my relationship to the Iron be all that I want it to be. This applies to every relationship. Analyze your behavior, adjust, adapt.

Wisdom

I was one of the ones who thought that weight lifting was just picking up heavy stuff and putting it down. That’s because I had never lifted heavy. I had lifted but not heavy. There are so many benefits to exerting my muscles to their limits, pushing as hard as I can, refusing to quit and doing it with proper form. This is true work. I have learned that I can endure and accomplish more than I would have ever believed. The key here is proper form. Do it the right way. I cannot make progress in the number of pounds that I lift over my lifetime, unless I do it the right way. If I do not learn and practice proper form, sooner or later I will fail and most likely get seriously injured. This is true of life. We can haphazardly go about our lives if we want to because it seems easier at the time but we will never accomplish all that we are capable of unless we do it the right way. The right way maximizes our efforts, that’s why it’s the right way. The heavier the weights, the greater the risk and the greater the benefits. This is also true in other areas. Hard jobs with a lot of responsibility and power and influence over other people’s lives are high risk for the employee and the people affected by their performance. The benefits of those jobs are immense for all concerned when they are done right. Great relationships with intelligent, articulate, creative people are wonderful when treated with mutual respect. Everything has to be done with proper form.

Those Days

And then there are those days… You know… Those days when you prepare and analyze and do it right and apply everything you know and the Iron still won’t cooperate. The people won’t cooperate. The Universe won’t cooperate… Those are the days that my Trainer sums up like this. “It’s heavy.” (David Yochim) Sometimes stuff is just hard. Don’t quit. It’s a lifestyle.

Active Rest, Days Off Are Important

Contradictory Term?

The term “Active Rest” sounds contradictory but it simply means that you don’t do your hard workout. You rest from that and stay moderately active. When we work out really hard, it’s more work than fun but on Active Rest days, we can do fun things just to keep moving and get in a little light cardio. I am a lifter so on my Active Rest days I hike, walk or find an outdoor activity that is physical by nature. I recently took a day to go on a zipline adventure. It was great. I had tons of fun that was a workout but still much less intense than my weight lifting sessions. In these times, our bodies can build muscle.

Band-Aid

When we work out hard, we actually tear muscle fibers and cause inflammation in those muscles. On active rest days our bodies repair this damage by sending specialized cells to the area that form a “bandage” to repair the injured area. These cells remain as new muscle. Without these days “off”, our muscles will never have a chance to build because we are constantly tearing it down with hard workouts.

Experiment

Sometimes when we get all gung-ho about working out, we may think that we don’t want to take those off days. When I first began to lift heavy I went through a short lived phase of not wanting to take rest days. My Trainer gave me just enough rope to hang myself. He said, “Try it.” He had already told me what I should do and he’s not one to be ignored. It has always been understood that I would do as he advises because he wants me to make maximum progress without injury. Rest days are critical to both. Without rest, I would never develop my maximum potential and would greatly increase my risk of injury. Sure enough, my progress halted and I began to regress. The Overhead Press was the first to suffer but very shortly, my Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press were following suit. When I acknowledged this to my Trainer, I pretty much got a “I told you so.” That whole experiment lasted about three weeks. It was a disaster. I’ve always been zealous for progress in my numbers and in my appearance. This was not the way to achieve either. He told me that he gave me enough rope to hang myself so that I would learn and to listen to him. Lesson learned. Now I so look forward to my off days. I find fun things that I really want to do and go for it. My progress is steady. I began my program with a 135 pound standard barbell set in February of 2018. In March of this year, 2019, I bought a 300 pound Olympic set and a power rack. I’m closing in on a 200 pound deadlift. I’m not there yet, but it’s coming. That will be about 1 1/2 times my body weight. After that, who knows? I do know that this would never have happened without rest days. At 62, I’m proud.

Mental Benefits

No matter how dedicated we are to our fitness program, if we are working really hard, there is a part of our brain that sees our workout as just that, work. Guess what? All work and no play really does make Jack a dull boy. I refer to this old saying frequently because you may not have read the other articles where I mention it and it summarizes burnout. Heavy lifting is the best thing that ever happened to me for so many reasons. It has changed much more than my body. It has taught me that I can do anything. If I can stand up from a heavy Squat, I can certainly pull myself up that incline at the end of the Burma bridge on the zipline course. If I can break that heavy deadlift off the floor, I can certainly take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ from anyone who wants to dish it out. At the bottom of a heavy squat, I have to get in touch with my Super Hero and just rise, Baby, rise. I love it. It makes me a bonafide Badass, but let me tell you, it’s work. There are days that facing that barbell seems like anything except pleasure. That’s why I need days off. I can escape the hard work of dedication to a hard thing and be a child again. I can play. Days off from our workouts are as necessary as days off from work. You’ll go slap crazy without them and most likely quit. Take your rest days. Don’t even try to work out hard every day. I’ve already done that. It won’t work. Take your rest days and enjoy without guilting yourself all day. Stress relief is a part of the process and guilting yourself will hinder you.

Enriched

Working out is supposed to enrich our lives. I’ve noticed that some people seem to adhere to the “No pain, No gain.” ideology in everything like it’s a curse to enjoy life. Please. That’s just illogical. Why in this world would you say that you’re trying to have a better life and yet think that you have to miserable all the time? Without off days we will be sore and achy all the time because our bodies can never repair the self-inflicted damage that is necessary to building muscle. We will grow weary with our well-doing and seriously desire to quit at some point. Our minds will never have any time to reset with creative play. Work out and work out hard, as long as your doctor approves, but take those active rest days and benefit in body and mind. Enjoy exploring your playful, childlike side again with active adventures and days of curious joy as you rediscover the relish of playful activity. Remember what you enjoyed as a child and pursue it on these days or do things that you’ve always wanted to do and never thought that you had the time. Make time. Your health depends on it. I always wanted to be a ballerina…Anybody got a pink tutu?

Bulky from Weights?

This is a recurring topic where women express concern in regards to getting all swole and bulky from lifting weights. Let’s see if I can put some of these concerns to rest for you as I am a strong proponent of women getting into strength training. There are many benefits for you to gain by strength training such as the obvious with a more toned body, but more importantly you will gain not only physical strength, you will get stronger mentally, you will become more confident in your abilities with all of lifes endeavors.

Another important aspect is resistance training how it is good for increasing the strength of your bones. Ladies, chances are pretty good that if you live long enough, you may become afflicted with osteoporosis. Strength training with a proper diet will help to prevent this or at least mitigate the severity. The human skeletal system reaches peak bone mass by the age of 30 years old. Even though our bodies have quit growing in stature, our bones are still building in mass. After we turn 30, whether we are male or female, it is imperative that we protect our skeletal system by strengthening it through resistance training and ensuring we consume sufficient quantities of Vitamin D and calcium. When there is low amounts of calcium in our blood, hormones and Vitamin D call on the inner trabecular bone matter which is akin to a lacy network of calcium crystals that are almost sponge like in appearance, to release calcium into the blood for use in the rest of the body. Over time, this lacy network becomes less dense and fragile as calcium is depleted. Since our bone mass is at peak level at 30 years old, think of this like money in an account where you need to protect the account and not make any withdrawals unless you absolutely have to.

Next, as a female of any age or physical condition, your body does not produce testosterone which will promote building huge mucle mass. If you bulk from lifting it will never be accidental and will definitely be on purpose through a tremendous amount of work and muscle building supplements of either legal or illegal types, such as steroids. Truth be told, most men do not bulk up easy with lean muscle mass either. Most men who get bulked fairly rapidly actually are carrying more body fat than they might realize or want to admit.

Everyone, male or female has a genetic potential, or rather a limit of how much lean muscle mass they can naturally put onto their bodies by 100% natural means. That potential is all in the size of your bone structure. The bigger your structure, the more muscle you can pack on through, again, very hard work. For instance an accurate way to calculate your maximum biceps size, excluding fat is through a simple measurement. Measure your wrist and then add 10 inches to that measurement. Male or female, this will give you a pretty accurate expectation of how big you can grow your biceps through lean muscle growth. You measure at your wrist because that is the part of your body where you have the least muscle and fat to indicate your bone structure. If your biceps gets bigger than this potential, it is either because of body fat which we hope you are losing, or drugs.

If you do not want to bulk, you also need to know the variable aspects of different lifting methods. Light weight, high reps as opposed to heavier weights low repetitions. Ladies, if you are concerned about bulking, the last thing you want to do is to lift with light weight and high reps even though this is likely to be your first instinct to try. In the short term you might like the toned look you are getting, especially while cutting body fat. But, in the long term, light weight high reps will give you some of the bulk you may not desire. This is because when you do those high repetitions you are promoting sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which does gets you all “swole”. High rep sets pump your muscles full of blood which causes microscopic tears of the muscle tissue. This action causes your muscles to retain sarcoplasmic fluid which results in bulk over time. The good thing, if this is not desirable, the swole will disappear with the dissipation of the sarcoplasmic fluid. Remember too, it takes on average 4 to 5 years of serious weight training to reach your genetic potential, if even then. It will not happen over night. You never know, but during that time you might decide you like being more muscular.

My personal choice in weight training is power lifting where I use higher weights and less reps in order to achieve maximum strength over aesthetics. With this style of lifting you can get huge as I did. I was 250 lbs at my heaviest and strongest. I only stand 5′ 7″. But, the thing is, I was intentionally eating 6000 calories a day to fuel my lifting, and I was also carrying too much body fat despite the amount of training I was doing each day. I was lifting competitively and ate like a horse to fuel my workouts. The other reason I ate a ton of food to drive maximum strength is because I was a Correctional Officer in a pretty hard core prison. Which is really not a environment for small weak people. The inmates will eat you up if you appear weak. Now that I am no longer in that environment, I have taken off 70 pounds and still lift pretty heavy weights for my body weight and age. I still do heavy weights at low reps and in no way am I any way bulky.

Ladies, if you want to strength train, I highly recommend you do compound lifts where you work multiple muscle groups with each lift and begin at light weights, lighter than you feel necessary, in order to master the movements and form. There is no call to be intimidated by barbell training and I assure you, you are not going to look like a male bodybuilder.