Woman at the gym – or the iron traps. Part I

Many women worry when even thinking about resistance training, and starting such workouts for them is “improbable”. This happens mostly because of common beliefs. Unfortunately, many websites with “professional” articles written by “trainers” or “specialists” contain infromation, which is out-of-date or misleading. Another worry derives from the contact with men – as there are special zones or even clubs for women only.

You should definitely read:

Weight training for women.

Trap no.1: “wrong training plan”

Many “training plans dedicated for women” contains such exercises, like “wide squats with raising medicine ball” or “seated cable row”. In one of the training plans dedicated to an intermediate lady (!) I found only isolated exercises – out of 7 exercises, 4 were done on the machines. It was a plan prepared by a “specialist” published on a prestigous portal. Unfortunately, this set did not contain any exercise, which would be appropriate for that woman. Another set was not better – it even contained such peculiar exercises, like “standing bent-over two-arm dumbbell triceps extension” - which is one of the least efficient exercises for triceps.

How should a good strength plan look?

  • as few machines as possible (leverages, gears, facilitation), as much free weigths as possible (barbell, dumbbell),

  • as few isolated exercises as possible (e.g. preacher curl), as much complex exercises as possible (e.g. barbell rows),

  • load, which will let you do 6-10 repetitions,

  • no aerobic training before or after strength training.

In practice, FBW (full body workout) may look like this:

  1. Barbell squats, front or back, full range of motion 3-5 sets x 6-10 reps (front part of thighs, glutes, hamstrings, adductor muscle)

  2. Barbell lunge, 2-3 sets x 6-10 reps (front part of thighs, glutes, hamstrings)

  3. Deadlift on straight legs, 2-3 sets x 8-10 reps (glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae, adductor muscle, multiple back muscles)

  4. Pull-ups, 3-5 sets x 5-10 reps (if you are too weak for that – do only the negative part of the movement, or use an expander, bench or a partner's help), do not use the machine (latissimus dorsi, deltoid, brachioradialis, teres major, teres minor and many other back muscles)

  5. Inclined dumbbell press, 3 sets x 8-10 reps (chest, shoulders, triceps)

  6. Bent-over barbell rows, 3-5 sets x 8-10 reps (trapezius, rhomboid muscle, latissimus dorsi, teres major, teres minor and many other back muscles)

  7. EZ barbell curl standing, 3 x 8-10 reps (biceps, brachioradialis, deltoid)

  8. Dips // cable triceps extension // French press, 3 x 8-10 reps (triceps)

What's the advantage of free-weight workout over the machines?

  • it causes strong hormonal impulse (e.g. growth hormone, testosterone), on the machines the effect is slight or negligible,

  • it strongly burns fatty tissue (increased metabolism for many hours after workout – influences the EPOC and REE – described in the further part of this article),

  • you don't need extra time for extended abs, back, forearms or shoulders workout – these parts asist in many exercises (e.g. large work of abs during deadlift or squats),

  • you save time,

  • you build much greater strength,

  • you increase the strength of grip,

  • you improve the body composition significantly (increase of LBM – lean body mass).

Trap no.2: "cardio, cardio, cardio"

You should jog on treadmills or ride exercise bikes like a hamster in a cage for months. What for? Because:

  • "only cardio workout (low intensity) burns fat",

  • you should stay within "the fat burning zone" (65-75% of HR max).

Unfortunately. "Cardio" mainly burns... the interstitial fat. The truth is – that only 30% of energy comes from the subcutaneous fat. The remaining part is muscle glycogen, glucose in blood or intramuscular fat (IMTG) and lipoproteins in plasma. After fisnishing the workout, the influence of "cardio" on metabolism is insignificant. More intensive training (e.g. intervals) burn much more calories, as well as a lot of fat – even tens of hours after finishing the session, comparing to aerobic exercises!

The fat burning zone is another myth created by the fitness industry. After high-intensity interval training in the zone of 90-100% of maximal heart rate – you also burn fat – but after finishing the work.

"Cardio" training (slow, moderate running, walking, slow swimming, slow and moderate cycling) does not build muscles. The scientists understood its reason not so long ago. The expression of genes, especially PGC-1 alpha (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha), influences the structure of muscle tissue. PGC-1alpha (ά) was identified as a regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis, angiogenesis, anti-oxidative protection and inflammation protein [2].

In the study from the year 2015 [1, 2] men:

  • did high-intensity exercises (resistance training, 10 sets x 10 reps of leg press on the 70% of max load, breaks between sets lasted 2 minutes – between set 5 and 6 – 10 minutes)

  • or did low and moderate-intensity exercises (cardio, 50 minutes of walking on a treadmill with the load of 16.5kg in a rucksack).

Both kinds of training influenced the production of the isoforms of PGC-1 alpha (exon 1b) and PGC-1 alpha (exon 1b'), but only aerobic exercises influenced the production of the isoform (exon 1a). What does it mean? Aerobic workout activated the genes responsible for the growth of new blood vessels and increased endurance. Strength exercises caused the growth of new blood vessels, but they also influenced the gene, which is responsible for the growth of the muscle tissue volume [1, 2]. It was also stated that the VEGF-A (vascular endothelial growth factor A) trippled its amount after aerobic training and doubled after resistant training. What's interesting, after strength training, the result appeared 180 minutes after finishing the workout, and only 30 minutes after finishing the aerobic one. Resistant training decreased the level of myostatin – a known factor, which blocks the growth of muscle mass – by 2.5 times (!), while the aerobic training had no influence on myostatin.

Cardio does not build muscles, you have to do strength training to achieve that!

But why do I need muscles? I am a woman!

Only the fact of building muscle mass improves metabolism and shape. Fat has no influence on metabolism (apart from brown fat, of which there's not enough), it's the muscles, which "burn" fat. If you spend most of your time on aerobic sessions – it's a terrible choice!

In one of the studies published in 2009 [3] it was proven that resistance training may burn fat very efficiently!

40 men with the average BMI of 29 were working out for one hour doing basic strength exercises, such as:

  • bench press (chest, shoulders, triceps),

  • leg extension seating (front of thigh),

  • seated press (shoulders, triceps),

  • leg curl (hamstrings),

  • cable lat pulldown (back),

  • leg press (quadriceps),

  • arm curl (biceps),

  • arm extension (triceps),

  • crunches (abs),

  • hyperextensions (erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings).

The men did 3 sets of each exercise.

They were divided into the following groups:

  • the load of 45-50%, break between sets – 2 minutes (low intensity),

  • the load of 60-65%, break between sets – 4 minutes (moderate intensity),

  • the load of 80-85%, break between sets – 6 minutes (high intensity),

  • control group, no movement.

Between the sets there was the analysis of breath with the VmaxST machine – the amount of exhaled carbon dioxide was measured:

  • the high intensity group: 221.6 +/- 8.8 kcal,

  • the low intensity group: 295.6 +/- 10.7 kcal,

  • the moderate intensity group: 281.6 +/- 9.8kcal.

Paradoxically, the low intensity group (with 2-minute breaks between sets) used the biggest amount of calories during training. Why did it happen? The breaks of 6 minutes (and longer) are good for a professional powerlifters, who use the load of 350-450 kg in deadlift or squat. Majority of people who exercise should not rest for longer than 2-3 minutes (large muscle groups) and 45-90 seconds (small muscle groups). Despite such conspicuous error in the choice of time – strength training with larger load did great when it comes to the reduction of fatty tissue by its influence on metabolism (REE) – the body burns energy from the fatty tissue during doing nothing. It is a well-known phenomenon for the interval sessions.

The influence on metabolism (REE – resting energy expenditure) seems to be the most interesting:

  • 12h after workout the highest result was observed in the high-intensity group,

  • REE was at the starting level 48h after finishing the workout in the low and moderate-intensity groups (even after 24h the result was negligible),

  • the high-intensity group was "on high" even 72h after finishing the resistance training and it kept on burning more fatty tissue!

In his further study, Trapp (2008) [5], did a 15-week experiment among a group of 45 young women (BMI 23.2 +/- 2.0) at the age of 20.2 +/- 2.0. The training included 3 sessions a week lasting 20 minutes each. The high-intensity workout consisted of 8 seconds of speed and 12 seconds of rest (slower ride) for 20 minutes. Another group of ladies performed an aerobic workout for 40 minutes. The high-intensity group lost 2.5kg of fat, whereas, there were no changes in the aerobic group.

Conclusion? Instead of doing excessive amount of aerobic exercises, start doing squats, deadlift, lunges, power lifts or pull-ups – it will bring much better reduction results. Use cardio workout as a complement – you just need 2-3 sessions lasting 20-30 minutes each. With time, switch to the intervals – it's a much better solution.

Woman at the gym – or the iron traps – Part II

Those, who are more interested in this subject, may read the following article: HIIT for the loss of fat!

Sources: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151020094829.htm 2. “PGC-1 isoforms and their target genes are expressed differently in human skeletal muscle following resistance and endurance exercise”. Mika Silvennoinen, Juha P. Ahtiainen, Juha J. Hulmi, Satu Pekkala, Ritva S. Taipale, Bradley C. Nindl, Tanja Laine, Keijo Häkkinen, Harri Selänne, Heikki Kyröläinen, Heikki Kainulainen. Physiological Reports, 2015; 3 (10): e12563 DOI: http://physreports.physiology.org/content/3/10/e12563 3. “Intensity of Resistance Exercise Determines Adipokine and Resting Energy Expenditure Responses in Overweight Elderly Individuals” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2782969/ 4. http://potreningu.pl/kobieta/artykuly/1677/hiit-dla-utraty-tluszczu 5. “The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18197184