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Women and weights

June 03, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

Resistance is an important element in women's fitness.

Not resisting exercise, mind you, but resisting the weight of your own body or that of plates or dumbbells to build strength.

[cont. from lifestyle]

Weight training decreases body fat and increases lean body mass, which increases the rate at which you burn calories while at rest, says Douglas Lentz, director of fitness and wellness at Results Therapy & Fitness in Chambersburg, Pa.

"It gives us a bigger furnace," says Carolyn Thomas, instructor of women's weight lifting at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Body fat is not remarkably affected by weight training unless women spend eight to 10 hours a day in the gym, says Dr. Mat McIntosh, director of Wellness and Rehabilitation Center at Hagerstown Community College. However, improved muscle tone can reduce girth, he says.

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In addition to helping women maintain or lose weight, building strength also helps protect bones during the postmenopausal years when estrogen reduction speeds up the bone-loss process, says Rosanna Iosso, owner of Curves for Women in Hagerstown, Martinsburg and Charles Town, W.Va., and Winchester, Va. It can help prevent osteoporosis, which can lead to a curved spine, vertebrate fractures and pain.

Iosso says resistance training also improves overall quality of life because it gives women energy to enjoy activities with their families and can increase their lifespan. It also can make them feel and look better.

"When they feel like they look better, their confidence goes through the roof," says Amanda Broy, manager of Curves for Women in Hagerstown. "Their entire attitude you can see change."

A feminine endeavor

In general, women have about two-thirds the lower body strength of men and one-third the upper body strength, McIntosh says.

Yet the average woman can see strength gains at the same rate, if not faster, than men, Lentz says.

Most women need not fear getting too bulky from resistance workouts because they don't have the testosterone to get as massive as men, Lentz says.

The small percentage of women whose genetics may cause them to get muscular easily can do exercises that will keep them fit but not make them any bigger, Lentz says.

What's to gain?

Just like a car needs maintenance to run smoothly, so does your body. Unlike a car, however, you can't just buy another body if it gives out.

"You only have one body," Iosso says.

Lentz is an advocate of circuit training, a series of exercises performed with limited rest in between. Resistance can be provided by your own body weight, dumbbells, rubber bands or machines as you do movements that work many joints at once and keep the heart rate elevated. Circuit training also is beneficial for those who are short on time, he says.

Weight training increases muscular endurance and functional flexibility, which makes everyday twisting, bending and lifting easier and less tiring, Lentz says.

Strengthening the lower back and abdominal muscles can prevent lower-back problems, Lentz says. Those who train with weights also will find it easier to climb and descend stairs and will sleep better and longer.

Some other benefits of building strength are improved intellectual sharpness as a result of more oxygen flow to the brain and better moods due to endorphins, he says.

"It's a wonderful feeling to be stronger," Thomas says.

She says weight training also gives some people confidence to try other athletic pursuits.

Taking the time

For general health, American College of Sports Medicine recommends working the major muscle groups with resistance at least two days a week, Thomas says. Those muscle groups include biceps, triceps, upper back and shoulders, lower back, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and abdominals, Thomas says. The organization says one set of 10 repetitions of an exercise for each group is the minimum amount needed, she says.

Lentz says benefits can be felt with 30-minute workouts, two to three times a week.

Curves says its "Quickfit Workout" packs 90 minutes worth of exercise into 30 minutes. At 30-second intervals, aerobic activity such as jumping jacks, stepping or jogging is interspersed with work on hydraulic machines, on which their own weight provides resistance.

Lentz says those who say they don't have time to exercise better make time to be sick later.

You're never too old

"It is absolutely never too late to start," Thomas says.

Studies have shown that increasing strength and endurance drastically reduces instances of falls in older women, Thomas says.

Children as young as 6 can use their own weight for resistance by doing pushups, pullups and situps, Thomas says.

Children as young as 8 can start weight training with close supervision, Lentz says.

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