This week we will discuss the benefits of lifting weights, the hormonal effects, the mechanical benefits and the differences between men and women when it comes to lifting. Hopefully by the end of the week you will have a little bit more of an understanding of the different ways to lift weights to achieve the outcome we want.
I refer to lifting weights in this article but resistance training could be performed using body weight, suspension training, powerbags, or other options.
Firstly, whenever we speak about weight loss or optimising body fat for health understand that there are advocates for diet and advocates for training. It is my position and the ethos of Adfitness that both are equally crucial to a successful outcome and optimal health. Our goal is to make the body healthy and functional for the desired outcome through training, support this development with the correct nutrition and then run it with the best fuel possible for the given performance. Understand that you can run a bodybuilding programme on a calorie deficit and lose weight and you could run a half marathon prep programme with a calorie excess and gain weight. It is about the overall picture.
Right then, lifting weights. There are a few common issues when it comes to lifting weights. Number one, people are chronically unaware of the benefits of lifting weights for weight loss. People associate weight loss with cardio and weight gain with weights and when you start to understand how the body works you will see how wrong this is.
Secondly, women are afraid of lifting weights for fear of becoming too bulky and we often hear the same from athletes, male or female, especially those in weight classified sports.
Firstly let me just say that it is my opinion that lifting weights is phenomenally beneficial for men and women. Too many people are put off because they have false preconceptions or have lifted in the wrong way and that is a real shame.
For health, we want to optimise our hormonal profile. This means that we keep testosterone and growth hormone high. This will ensure that our body is constantly renewing and repairing itself. As it is renewing and repairing it will keep the flow of nutrients moving constantly, this is what we refer to as our nutrient turnover. If our nutrient turnover is rapid and efficient, we will naturally keep our body fat lower, as long as we balance our intake of calories. Becoming physically stronger increases the amount of energy you burn at complete or comparative rest. This means that your body is burning fuel even outside of training. Referring back to the insulin sensitivity article, this is the continual emptying of the cell that we desire.
Keeping testosterone and growth hormone high will also help keep cortisol in balance and keep oestrogen low. Cortisol is the stress hormone and its job is to harvest chemically stored energy in the body and turn it into fuel for use. This could be muscle tissue, body fat, glucose (circulating sugars in the blood) or glycogen (stored sugars in tissue). Cortisol can be stimulated by physical activity but also by mental stress and depression. If testosterone and growth hormone are high, and we have an adequate intake of protein; then muscle mass will be protected and cortisol will harvest glycogen, glucose and body fat. Key point to highlight here when we do cardio we produce lots of cortisol to fuel the work but if we don't offset this with correct and adequate strength training we reduce muscle tissue, growth hormone, testosterone and all these wonderful tools that we could have used for burning body fat and maintaining health. If you combine the two you have a fantastic mechanism for fat loss and health. More strength also means you can produce more work in your cardio session and burn more calories, before and after the session and at rest. So we lose weight faster anyway!
Oestrogen is the female hormone (but exists in men too) and high levels can contribute to an increase in body fat storage around the hips and stomach. This occurs in women but can also occur in men if the ratio between testosterone and oestrogen becomes too low. There are times when oestrogen will be high in women (menstruation and pregnancy) but our goal is too keep testosterone at our natural optimum (don't panic it will never be too high, we will discuss this in a moment) - whether we have weight, physique or performance targets or just for optimal health. For men we just want to keep testosterone as high as possible and oestrogen low. Again this is before we even think about training for strength or size. In the 21st century testosterone is typically lower in adult men than any at any other time, this is largely due to diet and a decrease in physical activity.
High growth hormone, high testosterone, low cortisol and low oestrogen makes you feel great physically and mentally, and gives you a great platform to start your training. This is why all my athletes do some form of strength training whether they are younger or older, competitive athletes or comparatively inactive.
Remember, this is not about becoming brutally strong or growing muscle, this about achieving optimal hormonal status in the first place. It's about optimal health, simple as that.
So what we need to understand next are the basic physiological differences between men and women when it comes to lifting weights.
Firstly, it is very difficult for women to grow muscle as well as men. One of the key hormones for growing muscle is testosterone. Men produce 6-8mg of testosterone per day whereas a woman will produce only 0.5mg per day. This means that it is much more difficult for a woman to grow large amounts of muscle mass. That initial muscle growth that men or women see when they first start lifting weights is an increase in glucose uptake and glycogen storage in the muscle. This is a temporary increase, and can be removed if necessary by exhausting the glycogen stores, usually by cardio or weight lifting at a higher work rate. There are female lifters who wish to grow large amounts of muscle mass and we will discuss how they can optimise their lifting in the next email.
The keys to optimising testosterone and growth hormone are lifting with intensity (it is physically challenging), getting adequate rest and recovery and eating adequate protein and fat (to ensure the repair and renewal of tissue).
Lifting weights and resistance training is a vital part of our arsenal for health and performance.
Part two tomorrow where we discuss how we control our types of lifting.