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How To Conduct A Female Weight Training Program

For Fitness Trainers and Female Athletes


By Ivan Nikolov

copyright © 2008 Ivan Nikolov

Different weight training programs are constantly being published in every fitness magazine these days. They are all created to emphasize certain goals, certain body parts, innovative ideas, etc.

However, most of them miss to address one important issue. Precisely they don't teach you how to conduct a female training program. They don't explain also the specifics of the physiology of female athletes.

My goal in this article is to try to help the many fitness trainers, who work with female clients, as well as the female athletes themselves in defining the specifics of weight training for women.

Below I am going to explain:

∑ The specifics in the physiology of female athletes
∑ Why strength training is appropriate for women
∑ What are the specific training methods for female athletes
∑ How a weight training program for female athletes should look like.

Specifics in the physiology of female athletes

1. Increased body fat accumulation

Women are genetically disadvantaged compared to men as it comes to body fat accumulation. The main reason for that is the female sex hormone estrogen.

Both genders produce estrogen but in men this hormone is much less than in women. Due to the fat accumulating properties of estrogen women are prone to store more fat. Also due to the specific fat receptor distribution women tend to store fat mainly in the lower body.

2. Low testosterone production

Another physiological difference of great importance is the fact that women produce very little of the male sex hormone - testosterone.

Testosterone is an anabolic hormone, which means it promotes muscle mass gain. Why is this important? Itís important because muscle mass is the primary tissue that uses fat for fuel.

Remember this: The level of muscle mass development is very closely related to the metabolic rate - more muscle mass means more calories burned during the day.

Also as opposed to estrogen testosterone is known to suppress body fat accumulation.

3. Physiological changes caused by the menstrual cycle

Another factor personal trainers and female athletes should be aware of is the fact that women experience hormonal fluctuations due to their menstrual cycle.

The effects can be fatigue, abdominal cramps, nausea, bloating, irritability, and depression. All of these can negatively affect a female athleteís workout by not allowing for weight training with the necessary intensity.

4. Body-altering effects of pregnancy

During pregnancy women experience major biological alterations, which lead to significant metabolic changes. During this period the body produces large amounts of the hormone progesterone. One of the main properties of this hormone is increased appetite, which is the main reason for the increased weight gain.

Another characteristic of that period is the impaired thyroid function, which means slowed metabolism.

These two effects of pregnancy usually continue to exhibit their properties even postpartum, which makes it difficult for some women to get back in shape.

Why strength training is appropriate for women

One least reason why women should train with weights is weight training increases lean muscle mass. I already explained above why this is essential - lean muscle mass elevates the metabolic rate.

Every pound of lean muscle mass gained means up to 30 more calories a day burned. This number might not look significant but over the course of a year it translates into more that 3 pounds of fat burned.

Why women should NOT avoid strength training

Women athletes should not be intimidated by strength training. The belief is that strength training will make them look less feminine. This is a common misconception.

Let me explain why this is not true. Reason: women don't produce the quantities of anabolic hormones, necessary for excessive muscle growth. As a matter of fact even most men don't.

In order for a female athlete to develop noticeable muscle mass, she would have to resort to pharmaceuticals that will dramatically increase her anabolic hormone levels. Without them a female athlete, using weights, would mostly tone up her body by eventually gaining some muscle mass and losing body fat.

Another important reason that affects postmenstrual women: the bone density in that period starts to decrease rapidly. The effect is frail bones, which subsequently leads to bone fractures. Numerous studies have shown that moderate weight training counteracts the loss of bone mass. It can even reverse the process. That alone is of great importance.

Specific training methods for female athletes

Before getting into the training methods, there are a few things a fitness trainer should determine for his female client or the very female athlete herself should be clear about:

What is the goal? Is it to lose body fat, to gain lean muscle mass or just to maintain.

In my personal opinion a lady, involved in weight lifting should aim at changing the composition of her body. Fact is women have higher fat tissue levels and lower lean muscle mass levels. The main objective should be decrease in fat tissue and increase in lean muscle mass.

Another interesting fact is fat takes more space then muscle for the same quantity and weight. That means for equal fat loss and muscle gain a female athlete will inevitably look slimmer although maintaining the same body weight.

If the female athlete is overweight the training routine should be geared toward significant fat loss, moderate muscle gain and decrease in the total body weight.

If the athlete has normal body weight then the main objective would be loss of fat tissue and gain of lean muscle mass, while maintaining the same body weight.


How a weight training program for female athletes should look like

According to the goal, a personal trainer should advice a female client to train with weights between two and four times a week. For women I personally suggest full body workouts also known as circuit workouts. The number of sets should be two to three for each muscle group. The weights and reps will all depend on the goal.

If the main goal is more muscle mass, then my personal recommendation is 3 sets x 8 - 15 reps.

If the goal is only slight muscle development, then I recommend 1-2 sets x 5-6 reps with heavier weights.

Female athletes should focus more on basic movements when building their training routine. Good choices include: step-ups, lunges, stiff-leg dead lifts, standing biceps curls, overhead presses, various abdominal exercises.

Here is an example of a circuit weight training routine for female athletes:

Crunches 3 x 15 - 25
Step-ups 2 x 10 - 15
Incline dumbbell presses 2 x 5 - 6
Pull-ups (Cable pull-down) 2 x 5 - 6
Standing overhead dumbbell presses 2 x 5 - 6
Standing alternate dumbbell curls 2 x 5 - 6
Triceps cable press down 2 x 5 - 6

A quick note: the levels of fat loss and subsequently the changes in body composition will mainly depend on the proper diet and cardio exercise routine. Proper training goes hand in hand with proper diet and cardio exercise. I am not going to focus on these two important factors as this is out of the scope of this article.

Summary

If you are a fitness trainer or a female athlete, consider the following before you start building a training regimen:

1. Take in consideration all the important physiological factors that might affect the way you build the training routine.
2. Be clear about what the main goal is
3. How many times a week a female athlete should workout, based on her goal, availability and experience with weight training
4. What type of exercises should be included in her routine, based on her current physical condition as well as on her previous experience with lifting weights
5. What is the most appropriate rep range, according to the goal and desired results

ABOUT THE AUTOR

Ivan Nikolov, an accomplished natural bodybuilder shares a wealth of information on Natural Bodybuilding and Sports Nutrition on his website www.IvanNikolov.com. Start using his comprehensive Free Nutrition Software today!

IMPORTANT - Publication/Reprint Terms

Permission to reprint this article is granted if the article is reproduced in its entirety, without editing, including the bio information. Your must also include the hyperlinks to http://www.ivannikolov.com when using this article in newsletters or online.



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