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TO PUMP OR NOT TO PUMP? The Do’s & Don’ts of Women Weight Lifting

By Dr. Mimi Zimwald, MD

My daughter who is 18 years old, when asked if she’d like to join me in the gym to lift weights, remarked: “I don’t want to have big muscles like you, momma!” She, among many other women whom I’ve encountered, is under the misbelief that pumping iron will make them grow big muscles and look like men. Since females don’t have high testosterone levels naturally, they will only be able to attain a certain amount of muscle mass and strength with lifting weights. In other words, women will still maintain their feminine physique (even if they pump iron), unless they regularly take supplements such as anabolic steroids and/or growth hormones among other substances that are not regulated by the FDA (food and drug administration). I began lifting weights during college to gain upper body strength to enhance my net game in tennis, and then continued working out daily since then. Having competed in different bodybuilding/powerlifting/fitness shows for the past couple of decades, I’ve witnessed both the good AND bad side of weight lifting. I always train extremely hard, yet I am still able to look like a woman despite lifting weights over twice my bodyweight…

One of the benefits of “pumping iron” is building both lean muscle and bone mass, the latter helps to offset the effects of osteoporosis (thinning bones) later in life. Secondly, if one lifts weights in a fashion that allows very little time in between sets/exercises, then this will have a positive effect on the cardiorespiratory system (improving heart and lung function). Furthermore, the metabolic rate stays high up to 12 hours after exercising, thus you will continue to burn calories even long after the workout. On the same principle, once body composition changes to more lean muscle by lifting weights, then metabolism will also speed up to help burn fat more efficiently. The other side effect of resistance training, of course, is enhancing one’s physique aesthetically (“look good”). Finally, other than the beneficial physical/physiological effects, weight lifting will also elevate one’s mood by increasing endorphin levels (the “feel good” chemicals) in the body i.e. affecting one’s psychological outlook as well.

Once you’re ready to go grab some weights and start pumping iron, remember a few simple rules. Before you begin, there are some precautions I must warn you about. First of all, get a medical clearance from your physician to make sure your body can withstand this type of exertion physically. Secondly, seek out a qualified certified personal trainer (check out their credentials first), to ensure that you’re lifting weights with proper technique under their guidance. Otherwise, you may end up hurting yourself and “pulling” a muscle or incur an injury, which will end your workout program very quickly. Better yet, get a buddy to train with you. That way, you’ll have built in accountability, plus you can cheer each other on while you’re training. You will be pretty sore at first, especially since your body is not used to the physical exertion. But don’t give up too soon, though. Stick it out for at least a month, then eventually your body will miss the “burn”, and your mind will make you feel “guilty” if you miss a workout. If you’re worried about money, you don’t have to join a gym to do resistance training. Once you learn the correct way to lift weights, then you can just purchase some light dumbbells or elastic/rubber bands/tubing to workout at home, especially if “lack of time” is an issue. You can also workout while you travel as well. I actually teach bodyweight exercises, abdominal crunches, push-ups, dips, lunges and squats in a group exercise class. These exercises strengthen the entire body including arms, legs, AND core, the latter is essential to support your back from injury, plus helps you with activities of daily living.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get pumping. Not only it’ll make you feel better, it will help you to look toned/“buffed”. Make weightlifting part of your daily routine, change your life for the better and you’ll be on the road to enhanced health and wellness!


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