First and foremost, studies have been shown that if a girl does not participate in sport by the time she is 10, then there is only a 10% chance that she will participate when she is 25!! Over the past twenty years all of the top female athletes have used strength training regimens to increase their athletic performance. The benefits from resistance training in woman are just as it is in males, with exception to high hypertrophy and strength gains. Gender differences do exist between males and females when looking at the relationship of type I and type II muscle fiber size. It has been shown that in almost 75% of untrained women their type I(slow twitch) muscle fibers were larger than their type II(fast twitch) fibers.
Women have good potential for increases in upper body strength and therefore should use more sets, heavier resistance, and a greater variety of training angles. The training should not differ from that of males except for the weight used. It is still important for females to train at higher volumes, and higher intensity to stimulate proper muscle fibers and stimulate high threshold motor units to aid in power development. Workouts such as the famous “curves” circuit are not extremely effective because each exercise only utilizes the concentric portion of the lift(the push or pull of the exercise). One would have to perform twice the number of repetitions to get the benefit of the same exercise using free weights or machines that work both the concentric and eccentric(downward portion of the exercise). Multiple set training has been proven superior to the single set circuit training that is promoted by many companies. The average strength of women is approximately 60% that of total male strength given appropriate size relationship. It is shown that woman have the potential for generating 25-55% of the upper body strength as a male, but interestingly up to 75% in lower body strength. Dramatic increases in bone mineral density have been seen when training young women, which can result in healthier bones at an older age. One training consideration that should be remembered for women is that their risk of ACL knee injuries is increased. This increase is due to a host of factors including increased Q-angles, hormone variations such as relaxin, femoral notch and also training/coaching styles.
Weight training during pregnancy is perfectly safe, effective and acceptable as long as the proper precautions are followed. Exercises such as squats are good, but one must remember not to bend their knees past 90%. By slowing the tempo of the lifts you can increase workout intensity without increasing weight. Leg presses are also a good workout during the first trimester of pregnancy, but should not be used after that. They are a good exercise to keep the lower abdominals tight, protecting the back. The hip abductions machines are also very good for strengthening your hips. Strengthening your hips during pregnancy can help avoid posture changes. To work your abdominals you should no longer do regular sit-ups, but rather focus on your lower abdominals using exercises such as sitting on a physio ball and doing kegel exercises.
Women involved in sports or physical training do need to be aware of menstrual cycle disturbances. It seems that instances of food cravings, bloating and mood changes decrease in physically active compared to sedentary women. However, things such as inadequate calorie intake which can frequently be seen in highly active individuals can increase the risk of menstrual cycle abnormalities.
THINGS TO REMEMBER...
- Woman WILL NOT get heavy or bulky due to resistance training! This is a myth. Studies show that the limb circumference is unchanged in most women that undergo resistance training. The fat will burn away and muscular hypertrophy will occur, making the limb look more defined. There are obviously instances that limb circumference will decrease or slightly increase in instances of obesity or very thin women or one's with eating disorders.
- Women should not differ their training from men. There are no studies that show women to be more susceptible to training injuries than men. Proper exercise and technique should be learned before engaging in any new exercise as both with men and women. It is very important for woman athletes that their training closely mimics their sport biomechanics.
- Women should not avoid high-intensity or high-load training. It is thought by many that women should avoid heavy lifting or more strenuous activities and exercises. Women are able to train at higher intensities than many have thought and these higher intensities will result in adaptations to bone, ligament, cartilage, muscle and tendons.