If you're a woman who exercises, the fear of "bulking up" may have crossed your mind once or twice. Many women find themselves afraid to put on muscle so they shy away from lifting heavy weights or avoid strength training altogether. Regardless of what your fitness goals are, muscle can help you get there. In fact, by the time you finish reading this article, I guarantee that you'll actually want to put on muscle! Here are the many reasons why:
The most obvious outcome of building muscle is increased strength. It not only makes daily tasks like carrying groceries and lifting heavy objects easier, but it also helps to gain power, increase stamina and prevent injury to the joints during cardiovascular exercise like running, power walking or bike riding. You'll also improve balance and agility.
To increase strength, focus on lifting heavier weights with fewer repetitions. For endurance, use lighter weights with more repetitions. Start out slowly and increase weight and intensity as you gain more strength and stamina. You'll know to increase weight when you can easily do all of the repetitions of a specific movement. For example, if you are aiming for 10 reps and you easily got 10 and could've done 15 or more, it's time to increase the resistance. The right weight will leave your muscles feeling fatigued and the last few reps will be difficult. Working with a personal trainer can help you stay consistent and challenged while ensuring you have the right form to maintain safety and avoid injury.
Rev up metabolism
The best way to boost metabolism is to build muscle. Metabolism, the process by which your body creates energy from food, slows at a rate of two to three percent every decade after the age of 20. If you want to make your metabolism more efficient, you'll need to increase your muscle mass.
A woman's resting metabolic rate — the amount of calories she burns when she's doing nothing — is determined by how much lean muscle she has. A pound of muscle burns roughly six calories each day compared to a pound of fat, which burns only a fraction of that amount at about two calories per day. Those with more muscle mass burn more calories at rest, meaning when they aren't exercising – and even during sleep.
Working the muscles stimulates the fast-twitch muscle fibers, which use fatty acids as fuel. So if your goal is to lose weight, you should focus on building muscle as a means to lose fat. Additionally, lean muscle can also help control blood sugar, important for weight maintenance and long-term disease prevention.
Many women fear bulking up or looking masculine, but that's scientifically impossible. Men can naturally build more muscle than women because of their testosterone levels. But even men with bulky muscles have to work extremely hard at it because it's not how the body naturally responds to exercise. However, different body types respond to exercise at varying degrees making it easier for some women to build muscle faster than others. Women who look bulky may be carrying around an extra layer of fat on top of their muscles. If you do not lose the layer of fat that covers your muscles and you keep gaining muscle, you will add more size.
Looking lean actually requires lifting weights in addition to proper nutrition. Because muscle weighs more than fat and is denser, it's entirely possible that in the process of building muscle and losing fat, the scale won't budge. It's more important to judge progress based on how you feel and the way your clothes fit. Not only does having more muscle help you feel more confident, it also improves your posture and can help diminish the appearance of cellulite.
Build strong bones, slow the aging process and prevent osteoporosis
By the time a woman hits the age of 30, she's reached peak bone mass. After this time, bone loss sets in at a rate of three to five percent per decade. Likewise, after age 40, women also tend to lose muscle mass, which is often replaced with fat due to the metabolism slow-down that happens around this time.
Just like muscle, bone is living tissue, and it responds well to exercise. Both weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise not only strengthen the muscles and maintain weight, but also help build bone mass, strengthen the joints and connective tissues and reduce bone deterioration. All of this helps reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
Brian Maher is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a Philadelphia-based studio offering 1-on-1 personal training, physical therapy, and nutrition counseling. Philly Personal Training is the only personal training studio or gym in Philadelphia that requires its personal trainers to possess a college degree in an exercise-related field, as opposed to a basic certification.