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Is Resistance Training the best form of training for women to lose body fat, being fitter and more healthy?

"I don't want to do weights because I don't want to be big and bulky," is a quote every personal trainer and coach will have heard at some point from a female. My response is usually; if it was that easy, I would look like THIS

But at least they are thinking of how different types exercise affects them.

Most PTs will hopefully tell you that you're not going to be big and bulky be doing resistance training and adding weights. Which is true. 

A lot of women that have come to me over the years want to be healthier, more 'toned' and fitter. But is it actually just as beneficial, if not more so, to use weights over just cardio based exercises? 

There are a ton of memes similar to this online. And while it is true that women will not be more bulky with weight training, is it as effective as cardio for losing body fat, being fitter and more healthy?

There are a ton of memes similar to this online. And while it is true that women will not be more bulky with weight training, is it as effective as cardio for losing body fat, being fitter and more healthy?

There is no one right way to approach fitness. When I first started with Booty Camp 4 years ago (legit, just had a holy crap moment because that time has flown by… *double checks maths*... DAMN!), a lot of the classes I did concentrated on higher intermittent cardio based exercises with little to no weights involved. It wasn't exactly an aerobics class. We did a lot of exercises such as squats and lunges but we never really added too much resistance to those moves.  

And this theory of exercising got some great results. Combined with the adequate nutrition program of course. However, over time my attitude to that type of training slowly changed. I introduced more kettlebells and a lot more resistance based exercises into the program. One of the main reasons at the time for doing this is that I didn’t want to be doing the same thing over again. I always try and keep adding changes to the program but it didn’t really hit me how much I have changed the program until last Monday when the ladies were talking about the workouts in relation to our old Challenge Day. They didn’t exactly get that nostalgic feeling.

We use to do a Burpees Challenge once a month. This would consist of 40 seconds of Burpees along with 20 seconds rest. For 8 rounds. Yes, 8 minutes! I almost felt bad doing the challenge… almost. But we would record the amount of burpees every month and those numbers would rise every month. We had ladies hit up to 130 burpees in 8 minutes! That’s averaging around 16 burpees every 40 seconds with only a 20 second rest. If you think that’s not incredible, I dare you to try it! It really hit me how far some of them came when we would combine the Booty Camp classes with the mixed Insanity group on a Saturday morning in the park. The ladies that were with me for months were vastly out performing they guys on the burpees. So much so, I can specifically remember them talking about it at the end of one of the sessions when we had an impromptu burpee challenge. 

Probably what you were thinking when reading the last paragraph. Burpee Monster? I've been called worse. 

Probably what you were thinking when reading the last paragraph. Burpee Monster? I've been called worse. 

I originally felt the burpee challenge was more of a resistance based exercise but the length of time it took to do the challenge, I feel it became more of a cardio challenge for the ladies as the minutes progressed. A very tough cardio challenge but less resistance based due to fatigue setting in. 

Over time, the Burpees Challenge fizzled out (note the word ‘challenge’, never getting rid of burpees!). And this was mainly for two reasons. One. Due to how tough it was, and that I would have it on the last Wednesday of the month, numbers for the class would drop that day. Regardless of how beneficial a workout is, if I lose a large portion of my class for one session and it’s something that people dread doing, it’s not an workout I want to coach. Exercise is suppose to be somewhat enjoyable, not torture. As fantastic as the amount of burpees the ladies were doing were, over time they began to plateau. There’s only so many burpees you can fit into 40 seconds, regardless of your fitness levels. And when you go through those 8 minutes of hell to only see your numbers increase by one or two, it can be disheartening. And very disheartening when some people had only started a few weeks prior to it while others had done the challenge for months. 

An example of one of our earlier challenge days that we would put up on our private group page to set the goal for the following month. Push Ups was a tabata against the wall over 4 minutes incase you were wondering how they were getting 100 push ups! 

An example of one of our earlier challenge days that we would put up on our private group page to set the goal for the following month. Push Ups was a tabata against the wall over 4 minutes incase you were wondering how they were getting 100 push ups! 

So the burpee challenge, was soon a distance memory for Booty Camp (until that cruel day I bring it back for a once off…)

Why did my philosophy change over time?

Well, I like to think that I am constantly learning in the fitness industry. And it was last year, during one of my own 30 day challenges when two of my housemates joined me. One of the girls that did the challenge with me, asked me to help her out with her workout program. For the first week or two, she was doing mainly cardio and wasn’t too happy with her progress. So, naturally, I showed her how to squat. She’d never squatted with a weight before and was very unsure about it. But, under ‘slight’ duress, she began squatting with resistance. We continued to increase the resistance each week, along with other resistance based exercises and her transformation was incredible. She went from barely training at all to being the one walking me up at 7am in the mornings to go hit the gym. She felt the results. And if the resistance was working for her, why could it not work for my classes?

I was already using light kettlebells at this stage. I slowly introduced heavier kettlebells into the circuits, using them for goblet squats. Slowly increasing the size of the kettlebells over time with the ladies that had been there with me longer. I started adding equipment such as battle ropes and encouraging full press up positions more, I think our classes are a lot more varied now. We still have the high intensity classes, with the boxing classes being a favourite but we also have heavier resistance based classes incorporated into our programming as well as power exercises like sprints and broad jumps. 

So, what does the science say on heavy resistance exercises for women? More beneficial? Less? 

A study done by the Journal of American Dietetic Association concluded that moderate-intensity resistance training alone has been proven to increase strength as well as reduce body fat in women without restricting food take . And a study from the Research Quarterly. American Alliance For Health, Physical Education And Recreation states "that high resistance weight training can enhance feminine body composition without concomitant masculinizing effects or marked changes in body weight." 

Concomitant? I always get the feeling when reading research papers that the authors go out of their way to make it complicated. They're like Joey in Friends using a thesaurus to write a letter!  

So at least research, as well as your typical weight lifting internet meme, suggests that you're not going to turn into the female Arnold Schwarzenegger any time soon by using weights.

Another plus for women incorporating more resistance training into their workouts is that they have a higher aerobic energy expenditure performing these exercises than men. So as well as working on their muscle “tone” (a completely different blog topic for another day!), women are also working on their fitness and aerobic capacity by incorporating more resistance based training. 

So we can conclude that resistance training is definitely a good thing for women. But is it more effective than aerobics based training?

A study which directly contrasts aerobics based exercises along with strength training circuits found that when it came to body image variables, the women who worked on strength based exercises “experienced the greatest improvement, specifically in overall appearance evaluation, health/fitness evalautuon, health/fitness influence, and reduced negative affect.”

In conclusion, the research shows that adding resistance based exercises for women has huge positives while cardio exercises also have their place. You can still get results with cardio based training only, along with a good nutrition plan. But you're much more likely to benefit from adding resistance training into your workout. So while it’s nice to go for long walks/jogs etc. get a few squats with resistance in as well. Combine your high intensity cardio with resistance training. Vary your workout to include the exercises that you like to do. High intensity cardio like running and boxing. Your favourite resistance exercises. And if there's some you don't like, remember, there are a lot of alternatives! But try have fun with your workouts as well as getting the health benefits.

In terms of whether to do resistance training or cardio first, check out one of my older blogs on the topic HERE!

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