Do you really need a personal trainer or someone to help push your limits in the gym? While many gym-goers train by themselves, new research says it may be wise to get some help. A study published in the July edition of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined whether the self-selected intensity (or weight) by older women during strength training achieved the recommended intensity to improve muscle fitness.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults perform strength training at least two days per week. This should include 8–10 exercises involving the major muscle groups at moderate intensity (5–6 on a scale of 0–10, equivalent to 50–69 percent of one repetition at the maximum weight you can lift, known as 1RM).
The researchers found out that the healthy older women selected approximately 42 percent of their 1RM, a weight that is not enough for strength improvement. They concluded that, “Our findings indicated that older women self-selected an exercise intensity during resistance training below the recommendation for improvements on muscle fitness in healthy older adults.”
Similar results have been found in young women as well. The study, “Self-Selected resistance training in healthy women: The influence of a personal trainer” looked at how much weight young women could lift, and then how much weight they chose to lift while working out. “The critical finding was that the majority of healthy women tested in health clubs self-selected resistance training intensities that were considered relatively low.”
Strength training has become a popular for adults of all ages and abilities. In addition to increasing muscular strength, endurance, and power, consistent time training can enhance bone mineral density and help reduce body fat. However, if the weight or intensity is not heavy enough there is no reason for the body to change.
The study found two potential reasons for the lack of weight selected by the women. The first was the fear of “bulking up.” Many women express that they are afraid of “bulking up” through strength training, however, many men have a hard time adding muscle and they have 10 to 30 times more testosterone than most women. Testosterone is a powerful hormone, which among other things tells the body to build muscle. Women have testosterone, just much less than men.
What about the female bodybuilders that are very muscular? Isn’t that from weight lifting? No, any female that looks like that is using replacement hormones, like testosterone. Engaging in a properly designed strength-training program will not make you look anything like that.
The bigger deal, however, is strength training, especially at higher intensities, promotes something called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Referred to as the “afterburn,” it increases your metabolism and allows the body to burn additional calories up to 72 hours after strength training. This is a great way to burn fat.
The second problem was, as the authors found, “Many of the women were surprised by how much weight they were able to lift during the lower-body 1RM tests. Most of these women did not previously train at a relative intensity close to their 1RM. Thus, the strength tests were educational in the sense that these women discovered they possessed more lower-body strength than they previously thought.”
The take home message is that everybody should strength train for health reasons alone, looking good at the beach is also a great plus. But if the weight is not enough during strength training the benefits of increase bone mass, reducing body fat and getting stronger for sports will come slow at best. And finally don’t be afraid to add some weight to the bar, you may be surprised by how strong you already are.
Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS, FMS is a personal trainer and strength coach who trains at Sierra Athletic Club and in the homes of clients in the greater Lake Tahoe area. Crouse specializes in performance enhancement and injury prevention. Visit www.KCstrength.com for more information.