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How Women Build Muscle

03.07.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

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Becky Johnson, Certified Personal Trainer (ACE); IBNFC Certified Nutrition Coach

There are more myths and misconceptions about strength training than any other area of fitness. While research continues to uncover more and more reasons why working out with weights is good for you, many women continue to avoid resistance training for fear of developing muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger. You’ve heard “Women can’t build muscle like men. They don’t have enough testosterone." This is, in fact, only partly true.

Many women, believing they wouldn’t build muscle, hit the gym with a vengeance and then wondered why, after several weeks of resistance training, their clothes didn’t fit and they had gained muscle weight.

The truth is - not everyone responds to training in quite the same way. While testosterone plays an important role in muscle development, the answer to why some men and women increase in muscle size and others don’t lies in our DNA.

We are predisposed to respond to exercise in a particular way, mostly due to our genetics. Genetics determines what types of muscle fibers we have and where they are distributed. It also determines our ratio of testosterone to estrogen and where we store fat. Genetics also dictate what body type we have.

Body Type?

All women fall under one of three body type classifications, or a combination of types. Mesomorphs tend to be muscular, endomorphs are more rounded and voluptuous and ectomorphs are slim or linear in shape. Mesomorphs respond to strength training by building muscle mass much faster than their ectomorph friends, even though they may be following identical training routines.

Endomorphs generally need to lose body fat in order to see a change in size or shape as a result of strength training. Ectomorphs are less likely to build muscle mass but become stronger as a result of resistance training.

Building Just Your Heart Muscle

One of the fundamental principles of strength training is that if you overload a muscle, you will increase its size. With aerobic training, the overload is typically your body weight. Activities such as step training or stair climbing result in changes in the size and shape of the muscles of the lower body. Increasing the height of the step or adding power movements increases the overload.

For those of you concerned with building muscle, it would be better to reduce the step height or lower the impact of the movements. While this may reduce the aerobic value of the workout, it will also decrease the amount of overload on the muscles, making it less likely that you will build more muscle.

Training By The Rules

When it comes to strength training, the old rule still applies: To get stronger, work with heavier weights and perform fewer repetitions. To promote endurance, use lighter weights and perform more repetitions.

It’s encouraging to note that just like men, most women will experience a 20 to 40% increase in muscle strength after several months of resistance training. Understanding your body type and how you might respond to exercise can help you set realistic goals. Focus on how good exerciser makes you feel rather than how you would like to look. Accepting our bodies for what they are is a great way to get rid of the guilt or pressure we often feel to look a certain way.

Next week I’ll focus on a strength training program just for women.

Stay Fit and Healthy,
Becky

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