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Women and Weights
Women used to avoid weight training. It was not considered ladylike to pump iron, and many women worried that they would become too muscular. But times have changed.
First, women realize that they simply won't develop the kind of huge muscles they wanted to avoid – unless they really, really work hard specifically to develop those kinds of muscles. Developing large muscles requires testosterone, and most women don't have enough to create bulging biceps and calves.
Instead, weight training helps women lose weight and trim down. It also helps them tone their muscles into firm arms, abs and thighs. It helps strengthen the heart and circulatory system. And many women find that developing muscles makes them feel better about themselves, more confident and self-sufficient.
Weight training also helps everyone retain more of their bone mass as they age. Weight training is one of the principal weapons in the battle against osteoporosis, or loss of bone density, which can cause frailty and fractures as well as the dreaded "dowager’s hump."
If you are a woman, you are at much greater risk to develop osteoporosis, partly because men develop more strength – and more bone mass-- before they reach age 40, according to the North American Spine Society. Half of all women will have an osteoporosis-related fracture at some time in their life, compared with only one in eight men.
The risk accelerates for women after menopause. You can lose up to 3 percent of your bone mass each year for the first several years after menopause. Hormone replacement therapy can help reduce this loss, but it may cause other problems.
You can help protect your bones by building more bone mass. The National Osteoporosis Foundation notes that bone, like muscle, is living tissue. And, like muscle, it gets stronger and more dense in response to exercise.
Of course you should consult with your doctor before you begin any exercise program, But experts agree that a combination of weight-bearing exercise and resistance training is best for promoting bone density.
Any weight-bearing exercise – such as walking, tennis, jogging, dancing – helps you build bone mass. These exercises require your legs and feet to bear your weight as you work against gravity. Swimming and biking are not weight-bearing exercises, although they have other benefits.
Weight-lifting, or resistance training, also helps
build bone density, and it may keep you from losing bone density as you age. Resistance training can be done using free weights, resistance bands or weight machines such as those you find at a gym or health club.
You can lift weights at home, using resistance bands – big rubber bands that you pull against – or free weights like dumbbells. You can even lift canned goods. Or you can join a gym or club and use the equipment there.
You may want to sign up for a class, find a workout buddy or even hire a personal trainer. You can ask your doctor for exercises, or you can check the Internet. The important thing is to get started, to establish an exercise routine and then to keep it up.
It is better to start with small amounts of weight and work your way up; you should not feel pain, although you will feel resistance and you will be tired after your workout. It is better to use lighter weights and do more repetitions; a common mistake is to try to lift too much, which can cause you to injure yourself and have to stop training.
Most experts advise against working the same group of muscles two days in a row. You need to give your body time to recover to minimize the risk of injury. A workout should take at least 30 minutes, and be sure to warm up your muscles before you lift and cool down afterwards.