Q: I started working out with my husband one month ago. We both work out five or six days a week and include both 30 to 45 minutes of cardio and 20 to 30 minutes of weight training during each session. A co-worker advised me not to work out that often, claiming that women should work out less. Is this true?
A: It used to be thought that women were the weaker sex. How they trained was dramatically different than men—mostly due to misconceptions about “female” issues. Some people feared that the pounding from running might over-stress the female organs, or that exercising with weights might be harmful. Mostly, women were encouraged to take it easy.
Outdated ideas !!
These unfounded beliefs stemmed from an era when any exercise science research that was done used mostly male subjects. Now, research has shown that women can train just as hard as men. So, the idea that certain exercises are better for female bodies and that women should exercise differently is simply outdated. Tellingly, none of evidence-based position statements, such as those issued by the American College of Sports Medicine or the Department of Health and Human Services offering exercise guidelines, suggest that women should focus on, or avoid, any specific type of training or exercise.
There are some gender differences that can’t be ignored, however.
Women produce different levels of hormones, including less testosterone, and this affects aspects of physical performance, including the amount of muscle mass and, therefore, strength, they have.
Overall, men tend to be stronger because they tend to have more muscle mass.
Of course, this is a generalization, and when a man and woman of equal size and body composition are matched, they exhibit nearly the same levels of strength, especially when comparing fit (vs. sedentary) men and women.
While men can generally lift heavier weights, that does not mean that women should avoid heavy weights—even though many women do.
The best weightlifters are new moms. They start off with an 8-pound-ish baby (plus baby accessories). As the weeks and months go on, they participate in a progressive weight-training program—lifting a heavier and heavier baby, along with the baby-related stuff she has to carry, push in a stroller, or load and unload in cars. A mom may be hauling around 20 to 40 pounds daily after a year or so.
Yes, many women in the gym stick to the same five- or eight-pound dumbbells for years. If you are doing weight training daily, you may be challenging yourself the way new moms do—which is a good thing. But… even if you’re on the right track, you will get passed up if you’re not moving 🙂 Keep progressing!
Make sure that both you and your husband are not working out the same muscle groups on consecutive days. Muscles that are pushed to fatigue from weightlifting need a day or more rest between sessions. So make sure that the weight movements you do on Monday target different areas than the moves you do on Tuesday. Cardio, on the other hand, you can—and should—do every day.
Also keep in mind that women are at higher risk of the loss of bone mass that can lead to osteoporosis. So not only can it be argued that women should lift heavier weights to stay stronger, but they should do so because strenuous resistance training stimulates bone cells. And bone cells respond to high-impact exercise, as well.
Women should also include some jumping and/or running into their weekly regimens. (Of course, anyone with an injury should design what they do carefully to avoid over-stressing a weakness, and all people should gradually work up to harder or heavier workouts.)
As far as frequency of exercise, all humans are meant to move every single day. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that you should work out less frequently than a male. The hardest thing about exercising is DOING IT. So, if working out with your husband is helping you stick to the program, you’re on the right track.
Make today better than yesterday and PLAN AHEAD FOR TOMORROW !
Martica Heaner, Ph.D., M.A., M.Ed., is a Manhattan-based exercise physiologist and nutritionist, and an award-winning fitness instructor and health writer. She has a Ph.D. in behavioral nutrition and physical activity from Columbia University, and is also a NASM-certified personal trainer.