Benefits of Strength Training for Women

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By Amber Rogers (Go Kaleo)

I started strength training 4 years ago because my doctor told me that it can help improve function for people with osteoarthritis of the knee. At 36, I’d recently dislocated my kneecap, which exacerbated the arthritis I’d already developed from carrying around 80 extra pounds for 25 years. I was dealing with chronic pain, stiffness and reduced mobility and couldn’t even climb a flight of stairs like a normal healthy adult. I was desperate, so even though I’d hated exercise all my life I decided to give it a shot.

My results far exceeded my expectations. Over the next few years my knee mobility improved and my pain started to subside, my strength and functionality returned, and I started seeing health improvements in areas I’d never considered could be connected to fitness. I lost 80 pounds and have maintained that loss for over three years, all my symptoms of metabolic syndrome and PCOS resolved, and my depression and anxiety went away. Poof! All better. I became so fascinated with the far reaching effects strength training was having on my health and well being that I began researching the subject in earnest. For me, this has never been about aesthetics, which is the reason most people seek out the weight room at their gym. The health benefits of strength training are what got me involved and what keep me engaged. I’m going to discuss a few of them here.

Strength Training can reduce your body fat, even if you don’t lose weight. Strength training builds muscle, and if you increase your muscle mass while maintaining your weight, your body fat will drop proportionally. We’re all familiar with the aesthetic result of reduced body fat, but there are significant objective health benefits as well! Excess body fat produces estrogen1 and may contribute to estrogen dominance symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, infertility, depression, and, some say, metabolic dysfunction and even cancer. Body fat also produces proinflammatory cytokines and hormones that drive chronic inflammation.2 More on the risks of chronic inflammation in a moment.

Strength training can mitigate the pain and dysfunction of arthritis. Both Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis have been shown to respond favorably to strength training protocols. Just 8 weeks of strength training can produce significant improvements in pain, function, walking time and muscle torque.3 Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis can experience similar, significant improvements in pain, strength and fatigue.4

Strength training can increase your bone mineral density and slow or prevent osteoporosis. As we age, our bones can begin to demineralize and weaken. Hip fracture is a leading indirect cause of death in older women, and weakened bones are far more likely to fracture in a fall. Strength training, by stressing the bones, can significantly slow or even prevent the process of bone deterioration and it’s subsequent risks.5, 6

Strength training can increase your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). Your RMR is the amount of energy your body expends at rest. Strength training, by increasing your muscle mass (which burns more energy at rest than fat mass does), raises your metabolic rate. One small study done on older adults showed a 15% increase in RMR after only 12 weeks of strength training.7, 8 A 15% increase in energy expenditure can translate to 300 calories a day for an average adult woman. The effect on younger adults would presumably be even greater, as younger people build muscle faster due to higher levels of human growth hormone.9  The immediate benefit of all this is pretty obvious (you get to eat more food to maintain your weight. More food: YAY!), but the more significant benefit is that by eating more food, you provide your body with more nutrition. More protein, more micronutrients, more of all the things your body needs to stay healthy and strong. Food is good! More food is better! As Matt Stone would say, Eat The Food!

Strength training can increase your insulin sensitivity.10, 11, 12, 13 Exercise in any form has been shown again and again to improve insulin sensitivity by altering the cells’ ability to respond to insulin and to metabolize glucose, but strength training, in addition to the benefits of the actual physical activity it provides, also works by increasing the body’s total fat free mass, thereby bolstering the body’s glycogen storage ‘tank’.14 In other words, more muscle gives your body more space to put glycogen, so it doesn’t end up running amok in your bloodstream.

Strength training can reduce chronic low-grade inflammation. Inflammation has been associated with increased risk of a whole host of diseases from heart disease to diabetes to cancer. Strength training can favorably impact levels of C-reactive protein and adiponectin, two biomarkers of inflammation.15 This effect is most likely due to a decrease in body fat levels.

Strength training also has numerous Quality of Life benefits that shouldn’t be dismissed…

Strength training is a potent pain killer. One study showed a significant increase in subjects’ pain threshold after a session of resistance exercises16, and the ability of strength training to reduce chronic neck and shoulder pain has been well documented.17, 18

Strength training, like all forms of exercise, can relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.19, 20 This is likely due to a combination of factors: increased ease of accomplishing activities of daily living, less pain, increased self-efficacy and confidence, improved body image, and better hormonal function leading to improved health.

Strength training can slow cognitive decline.21 This is likely due to improved glucose control and insulin sensitivity22 (you’ve probably heard Alzheimers’ Disease referred to as Type 3 Diabetes due to the suggested link between metabolic dysfunction and cognitive decline).

Strength training teaches you how your body works mechanically. Understanding how your body moves and how to utilize the power of momentum to do work translates to a real world ability to accomplish day-to-day tasks with greater ease and efficacy. For instance: squatting in the gym taught me how to climb stairs without pain, a skill I share with my senior clients who struggle with arthritis.

Strength training makes you look hot. Or at the very least, it gives you a perkier butt. This will make your partner very happy.

I know not everyone is enthusiastic about strength training, and some of my women clients are downright resistant to it in the beginning. It doesn’t take much time in the weight room, however, to reap some serious benefits. Just two sessions a week, consisting of just a few compound exercises, can lead to major improvements in functionality, health, and quality of life. You’ll get stronger, age slower, and be able to eat more. Win, win, win!

180DegreeHealth articles on Strength Training:

Body By Science

Eccentric Training

Max Contraction

How I Built 15 Pounds of Muscle

1. Estrogen production and action. Nelson LR, Bulun SE. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2001 Sep;45(3 Suppl):S116-24. Review.

2. Wisse, Brent E. “The inflammatory syndrome: the role of adipose tissue cytokines in metabolic disorders linked to obesity.” Journal of the American Society of Nephrology 15.11 (2004): 2792-2800.

3. Jan, Mei-Hwa, et al. “Investigation of clinical effects of high-and low-resistance training for patients with knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial.” Physical Therapy 88.4 (2008): 427-436.

4. Rall, Laura C., et al. “The effect of progressive resistance training in rheumatoid arthritis. Increased strength without changes in energy balance or body composition.” Arthritis & Rheumatism 39.3 (2005): 415-426.

5. Kerr, D., Ackland, T., Maslen, B., Morton, A. and Prince, R. (2001), Resistance Training over 2 Years Increases Bone Mass in Calcium-Replete Postmenopausal Women. J Bone Miner Res, 16: 175–181. doi: 10.1359/jbmr.2001.16.1.175

6. Lohman, T., Going, S., Hall, M., Ritenbaugh, C., Bare, L., Hill, A., Houtkooper, L., Aickin, M., Boyden, T. and Pamenter, R. (1995), Effects of resistance training on regional and total bone mineral density in premenopausal women: A randomized prospective study. J Bone Miner Res, 10: 1015–1024. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.5650100705

7. Campbell, Wayne W., et al. “Increased energy requirements and changes in body composition with resistance training in older adults.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 60.2 (1994): 167-175.

8. Byrne, H. K., and J. H. Wilmore. “The effects of a 20-week exercise training program on resting metabolic rate in previously sedentary, moderately obese women.” International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism 11.1 (2001): 15.

9. Craig, B. W., R. Brown, and J. Everhart. “Effects of progressive resistance training on growth hormone and testosterone levels in young and elderly subjects.” Mechanisms of ageing and development 49.2 (1989): 159-169.

10. Ryan, Alice S., et al. “Resistive training increases insulin action in postmenopausal women.” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 51.5 (1996): M199.

11. Misra, Anoop, et al. “Effect of supervised progressive resistance-exercise training protocol on insulin sensitivity, glycemia, lipids, and body composition in Asian Indians with type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes Care 31.7 (2008): 1282-1287.

12. Castaneda C, Layne JE, Munoz-Orians L, Gordon PL, Walsmith J, Foldvari M, Roubenoff R, Tucker KL, Nelson ME. A randomized controlled trial of resistance exercise training to improve glycemic control in older adults with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2002; 25: 2335–2341.

13. Dunstan DW, Daly RM, Owen N, Jolley D, De Courten M, Shaw J, Zimmet P. High-intensity resistance training improves glycemic control in older patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2002; 25: 1729–1736.

14. Poehlman, Eric T., et al. “Effects of resistance training and endurance training on insulin sensitivity in nonobese, young women: a controlled randomized trial.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 85.7 (2000): 2463-2468.

15. Olson, T. P., et al. “Changes in inflammatory biomarkers following one-year of moderate resistance training in overweight women.” International journal of obesity 31.6 (2007): 996-1003.

16. Koltyn, K. F., and R. W. Arbogast. “Perception of pain after resistance exercise.” British journal of sports medicine 32.1 (1998): 20-24.

17. Ylinen, Jari, et al. “Active neck muscle training in the treatment of chronic neck pain in women.” JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association 289.19 (2003): 2509-2516.

18. Andersen, Lars L., et al. “Effect of two contrasting types of physical exercise on chronic neck muscle pain.” Arthritis Care & Research 59.1 (2008): 84-91.

19. Singh, Nalin A., et al. “A randomized controlled trial of high versus low intensity weight training versus general practitioner care for clinical depression in older adults.” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 60.6 (2005): 768-776.

20. Singh, Nalin A., Karen M. Clements, and Maria A. Fiatarone. “A randomized controlled trial of progressive resistance training in depressed elders.” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 52.1 (1997): M27.

21. Peig-Chiello, Pasqualina, et al. “The effects of resistance training on well-being and memory in elderly volunteers.” Age and ageing 27.4 (1998): 469-475.

22. Liu-Ambrose, Teresa, and Meghan G. Donaldson. “Exercise and cognition in older adults: is there a role for resistance training programmes?.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 43.1 (2009): 25-27.

109 Comments

  1. First! Finally! Still can’t convert the salad eating cardio bunnies though!

    Reply
    • Hey now, I’ve converted PLENTY of salad eating cardio bunnies!! :D

      Reply
      • How the Hell did I miss this awesomeness ?! Love you and your magnificent muscles Amber! Go Kaleo!!!

        Reply
  2. A post I’m SO glad to read! Thank you so much Amber!! Your transformation is truly incredible and is the inspiration I really needed!! You said you lost 80 lbs in 4 years by weight lifting? Would you mind sharing if you added anything else to achieve that weight loss?

    What was your diet like? I know it’s important to eat the food, but I struggle at times with how much I should be eating. I gained 50 lbs in 7 months eating a ton of food to restore my health (it did a pretty good job though – metabolism and health is good) but left me with a body I don’t recognize and don’t feel well in. I have pain in my shins and knees and hips when I never had any pain anywhere when at my normal weight. It’s a lot more difficult to get around, I’m no longer agile, I used to feel like a feline or something haha.

    Would you have a few tips for someone who needs to lose maybe 40 lbs to be in a comfortable place? Right now I try to strength train once a week, do some intervals on a bike twice a week and add in some zumba cuz I just love dancing. I notice much better muscles, but the fat did not seem to shift much yet. I love love love this article, all throughout my youth I would do lots of muscular type activities and reaped the benefits. I had a good, fast body and the health of a horse! Thanks so much again for this!

    Reply
    • I talk a lot on my blog about my diet, what has worked for me, etc. For weight loss, you need a calorie deficit, but the reason so many people struggle with this concept is that they assume that that deficit needs to be huge, and end up going on crazy starvation diets that destroy their health and make them fatter and sicker than when they started. I, essentially, ate the amount of food that would support my activity level and a healthy weight. That worked out to around 3000 calories a day, and my body gradually worked itself down to the weight my calorie intake supported (it actually took about 18 months for the weight to come off). It was a far cry from the 1200 calorie diets most people assume you need to adhere to for weight loss. I didn’t restrict carbs or fat, or take supplements, or do any weird food combining, or eliminate food groups, or starve myself. I just ate the proper amount of food to support my activity and a healthy weight. More vegetables and less crap. The only macronutrient I really pay attention to is protein, I make sure I get enough every day, otherwise I eat what I like and what makes me feel good.
      Hope that helps, I have a ton more on my blog about what I tried along the way. :)

      Reply
      • Thank you so much! Yes I browsed it and found some good articles of yours! This is the only internet page I follow so it was nice to read something about women and exercise :). I appreciate you taking the time to answer me! I know deep down food is really important, but I get restriction thoughts droop in sometimes and I find myself needed a tiny bit of reassurance. You are right that the benefits of exercise are felt within weeks. I feel so much better already!

        Reply
      • Getting enough protein and eating more veggies.. That
        Is what we runned from.

        Reply
        • Yeah, a lot of the dogmas out there have their followers eating nothing BUT protein and vegetables, and feeling shame and guilt when they want something other than that. It’s so destructive, to body and mind. I was fortunate that I never fell completely into the extreme-restriction trap (someone once referred to it as a ‘mental maze’ and I think that’s really apt), although I certainly toed the line for a while. I think going to the opposite end of the spectrum for a while (a la Matt Stone) is VERY helpful in restoring mental balance. That balance is what allows for a healthy relationship with food to flourish. Dietary dogma must go. Eat!

          Reply
  3. Great pics, there. I am impressed by your dedication and drive!
    Any tips for strength training regimens that would get a severely morbidly obese person ready to do Body By Science? I am finally at the point where I can say that metabolically I am recovering, with normal body temps and warm fuzzies and all that. I am not far from 400 pounds, so I have to work my way into any program slowly, if you catch my drift. But I want to do it right and not hurt myself or worse, do it ineffectively. Rrarfing was the first step in my metabolic recovery but it’s time to move on! I gained 120 + pounds RRARFing .I had lost 100 lbs low carbing and starving so I am unsurprised by the gain and certainly not complaining; it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I feel a lot healthier and have much better control over blood sugar, etc.
    Trouble is now I am so large that walking across the room can be challenging. I have started going for small walks with the dogs and moving more, but really want to do strength training. Matt recommended BBS to me but it is too much for my very low level of strength. I was drained so badly the times I attempted it that it took me weeks to recover, so I need to work my way up there.

    Reply
    • I also had the same problem of being incredibly drained with Power of 10. I’m still not convinced it is right for me, but I really can’t go to the gym more than twice/wk.

      Reply
    • Michelle, I’m not a trainer and Amber is, so she may have more awesome advice for you. My two cents is to realize what a badass you already are. I weigh about 160, so you’re essentially me walking around carrying a 240-pound pack. A short walk with a 240-pound pack would kick my ass too.

      Realize that everything you do is strength work. Short walks, wall pushups, and when you can manage it, a few stairs will do a tremendous amount to build your muscle mass. A pedometer might help you to keep challenging yourself and move just a tiny bit more every day.

      Amber’s blog has really good posts as well, you might want to click on over there.

      Reply
      • Sonia hit the nail on the head. Just moving more would be great benefit. Start by taking a daily walk. Maybe buy some light resistance bands to some resistance training.

        Reply
      • Thanks for the reply! A pedometer is a good idea as it won’t let me delude myself into thinking that I am moving more than I am. My adult son dug me up a pretty awesome set of weights and machines on Craigslist and set them up in my living room, so i am ready to do something besides use them as a clothes hanger :)
        The dogs are really motivating as well, as they are big high energy dogs that need walking. They also belong to my son but he has loaned them out to me to help me get started :)

        Reply
        • What weights and machines did you get? I’m sure it would be easy to construct a basic program simple enough for a newbie to follow and see steady strength increases with the equipment you have.

          Reply
          • He got me an Impex WM 1505 Competitor home gym with scads of weights, a Gold’s Gym xr 6.1 bench, and weights, barbells, a 30 lb and a 50 lb kettlebell, and assorted dumbells, all from Craigslist and barely used. Can you tell he wants me to do something? Heh.

          • Whoa! You are SET lady!!!

          • I know! What a great son! And he did it on a shoestring budget, and paid for all of it himself!

      • I think that Americans are playing awfully fast and loose with the term “badass” these days.

        Reply
    • Sonia’s advice is spot on. I can’t really add anything to it, walking and wall pushups are exactly where I would recommend you start!

      Reply
      • Your talk of energy imbalance in the article really has me thinking. I had never looked at it like that before. Thanks for the reply!

        Reply
        • Hello Michelle, you’re an inspiration! Glad you have some buddies to get you started! It’s such a joy to be around dogs as they are always grateful for the time they get with you. Glad that you feel better and things are on track, sending you my support!

          Reply
    • Hey Michelle, the nice thing about doing any form of strength training is the weights start at 0. BBS cant possible be too much because you set the level of resistance with the amount of weight. It will naturally be difficult but that is the point without difficulty there is no adaptation. If you were to lay in bed for the rest of your life and lift only a piece of paper nothing will happen but if you add a sheet of paper every day eventually you will bee quite strong. You might want to avoid a full body workout and just try one exercise for starters and give yourself a few days to recover. Resistance is resistance, wether it is weights or wall push ups. Just be persistent.

      Reply
      • Chief:
        Thank you for the feedback. I appreciate you helping me to get my head screwed on straight about how this works :)

        Lucie: thank you for your kind words. I was hesitant to post as being a “supersized” person I get a lot of crap from the general public whenever I go out AS IF I never think or want to do something about my size. Because I low carbed and starved and abused my body for 12 years it has taken me over 2 years just to stabilize! Matt got me well over half my way there by both getting me metabolically much more fit as well as reminding me to deal with the stress in my life. Boy, did the dealing with stress part really help. Our family is still in a stressful situation housing and income-wise but how I am choosing to handle the situation is vastly different. I regularly experience joy and fun now, in spite of what is happening and that is a blessing in itself. Adding being toasty warm all of the time to the mix really improves life :)

        Reply
        • Michelle, thanks for sharing a little chunk of your story. The prejudice of the general public is terrible, it’s really something we need to work on as human beings. I hope that you can surround yourself with people who support and believe in you. I agree with you that stress is a major factor. We have no idea how it directly impacts our bodies, but I am sure the less we can get by with, the better. So glad to hear that your perspective has changed. I had a time where I was so anxious and had thoughts of being always judges, not able to express myself and affirm my needs. Consequently, the people around me stepped back. I often felt that some people would cross the line with regards to respect. Since I worked on that and now am much more willing to say what I feel, affirm my needs, and voice if I am unhappy with something, people are back in my life and the ones who crossed the line now rarely do so. Perspective is a great tool and it has helped me a lot. Keep doing what you do Michelle! I wish you all the best!

          Reply
  4. This is all great info but didn’t you have a blog post awhile back about going too far — over exercising and going too low carb — and the ill effects it had? I see you include some pictures from that blog post about when you were dangerously unhealthy and weak even though you looked strong. I appreciate this post and promoting strength training but I think you should not include pictures from a time when you went overboard as it creates an unrealistic and unhealthy image for other women. I know lots of health blogs do this and I’m not sure why.

    If I am wrong about this though – I apologize! I haven’t searched for your blog post (I believe it was via CheeseSlave) but am going from my memory. I would appreciate some thoughts too though on overdoing it. Thanks.

    Reply
    • None of the pictures in this post are from that experiment.

      Reply
    • This is the post you’re thinking of, as you can see, none of the pictures in my timeline are from that time-frame. I’m at a healthy body fat percentage in every picture up there. :)
      http://gokaleo.com/?p=431

      Reply
  5. Oh ok sorry about that. I think it might be helpful to link to that post though for some perspective about it all. It’s inspirational to see your journey and I think adding even a paragraph about how it can go too far – even in your own personal experience – is helpful. Just for the rest of us to see that there were ups and downs etc.

    Reply
    • PS, it was the diet that was destructive, not the strength training.

      Reply
  6. Awesome – thanks for the link and openness in your writing!

    Reply
    • Absolutely, and the initial confusion is understandable, there’s some people out there making up crazy rumors about me! I recently heard that I eat 4000 calories a day and my primary source of protein is soy. News to me! I appreciate when people take the time to ask me if what they heard is accurate. So thank you!! :)

      Reply
  7. Good for you! How long did it take to see improvements in body comp with the 2-day per week thing? I was following Power of 10 and it says two weeks but I certainly saw no difference in two weeks or 6 weeks and then my gym changed ownership so that I couldn’t use the one by work anymore, so I had to cut down to 1 day per week. And now with the holidays I haven’t been for several weeks and I feel discouraged. I want to re-start my routine in January, it just is so disappointing to see NO results. The pic of your butt is good motivation though :)

    Reply
    • you need to get a longer time frame in your mind or you will get discouraged. Think in months, or years instead of weeks. Do it because it makes you feel better and stronger, and if your body eventually changes form that is an added bonus.

      Reply
      • That’s a good way to see things, Dani. Wanting instant results can lead you down the wrong path.

        Reply
    • Dani is right! Reframe: aesthetic changes happen on a scale of months, even years. The health benefits are evident much sooner though! You will feel changes within weeks, if you’re paying attention. :)
      I talk about it more here:
      http://gokaleo.com/?p=415

      Reply
      • To be honest, the health benefits you mention in the article I notice more with aerobic exercise. If I am going to do strength training, especially when it leaves me feeling wiped out instead of more energized (the way a half hour of kickboxing does, for instance) then I want to see some body comp changes. I’m not expecting “instant” results. But then it does seem like the proponents of BBS and Power of 10 are pretty much promising that.

        Reply
        • I’m not a fan of BBS, and I’m not familiar with Power of 10 so I really can’t speak for those programs. I know Matt feels differently than I do about BBS, and it’s his blog, so I’ll defer to him here. :)
          Ultimately, the MOST important consideration in regards to exercise is that you ENJOY what you do. If cardio is where it’s at for you, keep doing it. Enjoyment is what will keep you engaged long term, not optimization.
          If you do want to add some very basic lifting to your routine, 3 exercises per workout is all you need. Squat, bench press and deadlift are all you really need, and a simple 3 sets of 8, twice a week, is completely adequate for building muscle and gaining strength.

          Reply
          • Seriously, i dont understand why anyone follows routines or does exercises they hate. Unless you are training for something specific then just do want makes you happy.

            Usually i will just pick a single exercise and go at it for a half hour. Power cleans and strict overhead press are the majority of my workouts.

          • I do that a lot these days too, Zach!

          • I think every form of training has its pros on cons. Body By Science just happens to be extremely simple, noob friendly, time efficient, and what I think is very safe for someone who has recently overcome some serious metabolic issues to do because of the extremely low volume. It is also really good for strength development, as are most programs with really low volume. That doesn’t mean it lacks drawbacks or is a complete form of physical activity. Far from it. But it’s accessible, especially to the typical 180 blog reader (women over 50).

          • I’m currently doing some partials and static holds with supramaximal weight and finding it to be by far the most effective thing I’ve ever done in terms of strength increase.

          • Agreed, it’s simplicity is it’s primary selling point. :)

          • I didn’t find Power of 10 to be noob friendly when I put it into practice, because I had a lot of trouble telling if I was doing too much or too little. I would do the suggested exercises to muscle failure (and feel fine while I was doing it) and then be totally wiped out for days. So the next time I would lighten the weights and really work on slowing down the reps and I wouldn’t even feel it the next day. It was frustrating and confusing to me. I did see increases in strength very quickly but that did not translate into body comp changes. One of my problems is that I have fat arms and big boobs. If I put on muscle in my chest or arms without losing some fat too then I seriously cannot fit into any shirts.

          • This is where the value of having a coach / mentor comes in. Program design depends 100% on the individual and the details can get very granular.

            Generalities generally suck, but I’m going to throw a few out…

            Training to muscular failure is NOT a good idea for *most* people who want to get stronger and more fit. Going to muscular failure is best reserved for experienced lifters who want to maximize the amount of fluid in their muscles, aka the “swole bodybuilder look”

            In general, most people should stop a set when your ability to perform the exercise with proper tempo and form starts to diminish. So if you are on rep #7 and it is noticeably slower than rep #4 was, stop the set, rest for a minute or two, and go again when your body is ready.

            The idea here is to stay within your limits, not to push to your limits and beyond. This leaves enough recuperative energy in your system to recover and be stronger the next workout.

            If you’re starting to wonder if you did too much, you probably did. Just be more aware of your body’s feedback, and when it starts to tell you “this is getting TOO HARD” then take a rest.

          • Thank you very much for that input. I will stop worrying about reaching muscle failure. I do so wish I could have a coach but I can barely afford the gym payment and with 2 little kids and living out in the boonies my schedule is erratic :(

          • What kind of “failure” are you talking about? There is “absolute failure” which means the muscle is no longer able to contract, and there is “relative failure” which simply means you cannot complete another rep in any given set.

            I agree that people should avoid going to absolute failure; it is extremely taxing on the CNS and generally counterproductive if ones goal is to become fitter (another ambiguous term), stronger (ditto: ambiguous) and build muscle.

            However, relative failure is most definitely congruent with becoming fitter, getting stronger, and building muscle. Of course, depending on the overall program design and application, either strength or hypertrophy can end up being relatively more emphasized compared to the other. When I overcame my ill-informed bias against failure and my lily-livered fear of “overtraining” I started to make real gains in the gym. Both in terms of strength AND hypertrophy. Thank you, Scott Abel!

            This brings me to my final, and most important point, a point that I have learned from Scott Abel: Program design and application is far more important than silly dogmas regarding going to failure or not. As he often states, the program has to fit the individuals work capacity and level of development. In short, as long as the program is informed by such considerations, training to failure does not have to be a yes/no, for/against issue.

            P.S. Training to failure has more function than being just for “experienced lifters” who “want to maximize the fluid in their muscles.” Properly applied, training to failure can work for anybody who wants to increase their neuro-muscular control and increased protein synthesis relative to muscle protein breakdown. (By the way, that increased “fluid in the muscle” you mentioned is one of things that can lead to increased protein synthesis, although that is not the only reason training to failure leads to higher protein synthesis).

          • Coach Abel rules.

          • I understand where you’re coming from, I do. And as I said, generalizations generally suck.

            But back to generalizing…most women don’t want sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, and are happier with myofibrillar hypertrophy for aesthetics.

            So for someone like Tierny, not going go momentary failure and staying in a work-zone where her body isn’t reaching its upper limits will serve her well for quite a while.

            Realistically, it’s only a matter of 2-4 reps difference between stopping “within your limits” to “pushing the limit.” So instead of a given weight for 3 sets of 10, she could do 4 sets of 9,8,7,6, still ending up with 30 reps but being able to recover better from those 30 reps due to lower density and less relative intensity. It’s small changes like this that can make exercise more accessible for people working on getting in shape.

            Later, when she is more fit, she can look at adding some “momentary failure” sets to her training as finishers if she wants.

      • It looks like you do a lot of running too then?

        Reply
        • No, I did a couple 5k’s over the last few years, but I don’t run much. I don’t do much cardio at all, actually.

          Reply
          • ok. (I’m always amazed at how anyone can do a 5k with no training?) So your current physique is just from lifting 2x/wk?

            I remember I used to love strength training, way back when, although it was always running that melted the fat off. I just can’t run anymore. I think the whole BBS-type approach did not work for me and I need to go back to something more traditional. I will check out your blog more, thanks!

          • No, I lift 3-4 days a week and also do short, high intensity bodyweight workouts a couple times a week, sometimes on the same days I lift. I work out 5 days a week (for 15-45 minutes a pop) and take 2 complete rest days a week.
            Twice a week is the amount most credible science indicates is the minimum to see health and body comp improvements. :)

  8. Thanks for the link! Do you have a post on what you eat? You mentioned that you eat real food, so do you eat kind of like this site’s advice which is eat when and what you feel like, trying to focus on nutritious whole foods without thinking of calories and amounts?

    Reply
    • My nutrition ‘philosophy’ is very much in line with Matt’s. I do pay attention to calories, not obsessively, but I am aware of how much I’m eating. Not as a means to restrict though, I do it to ensure I’m getting *enough*. It takes a lot of fuel to run a healthy, active adult body, and undereating is the surest way to wreck your metabolism I can think of. Even worse than overeating, IMO. I make sure I’m getting enough protein, and then just eat what I like. Usually that’s pretty healthy stuff, but I eat ice cream and other treats pretty liberally as well.

      Reply
      • I love this! Thank you so much for answering my 2 posts! :) Dropping some weight without hurting my now healthy metabolism is what I really want to achieve. I sometimes forget that I have to make sure to fuel up, as sometimes the more I exercise, the more a voice tells me to stop eating snacks or some crap like that and I’m pretty sure I end up under-eating and in turn have low energy. I need to constantly battle that voice and that’s why I like the reassurance, it helps shut it up. Thanks for keeping me on the right path!

        Reply
      • I Think it’s really a shame that you were being harassed and called fat…….seriously! I think those people really got bodydismorphic disorders,which is something I sometimes suspect to be found a lot within the Paleo community.
        Would it be ok,if I could mail you with some questions?

        Reply
  9. Thank you so much for this article. This is awesome stuff and could help me with some of my hormone imbalances. I’m interested in losing some fat to get that estrogen dominance thing gone. :)

    I got a gym membership a few months ago, and got a free training session. The trainer had me lift light weights many times to fatigue and I was sore for weeks afterward! He also didn’t believe me when I told I eat 2500-3000 calories a day (he wanted me to start eating very low calorie) and said that HE eats that much per day, but eats in 100 calorie increments. He also told me some BS that a healthy metabolism means you have cold hands and feet because “the core of the body is keeping all the warmth to itself”.

    After I recovered from the workout, I lost motivation to go back and we got kind of busy in the home. I’m going to start up again, lifting weights. Am I able to do all the strength training exercises you mention in one workout? The wonky trainer I talked to said I had to work different muscle sets 3 times a week (doing legs, core and arms separately) and that if I was only lifting for every muscle group once or twice a week in the same workout, that it wouldn’t help to get stronger. I trust you more than I trust him. ;)

    Thank you so much for this article…very awesome! I’ll share this on Facebook.

    Reply
    • Your trainer sounds like he comes from the bodybuilding/physique school of thought, which is all well and good if body building and physique competitions is what you’re interested in. Most of us aren’t. IMO, strength training (and eating!) should be about *improving* the quality of your life, not making it more complicated! Who wants to eat in 100 calorie increments? That sounds dreadful!

      The exercises I referenced work multiple muscle groups in multiple ranges of motion, so you’re covering all your bases with just a few exercises. They WILL make you stronger, not just because you’re challenging the muscles themselves, but because you’re forcing your body to work as a unit, which will improve your coordination and stability, allowing you to ‘do more work’ in real life. You can start with just the three basics, then later after you’ve built some strength you can add more variety…if you want. They are called basics for a reason: they work. They can absolutely be the foundation of your routine indefinitely.

      Reply
      • Thank you Amber! I’ll get started right away! :)

        Yes, I’m not a good candidate for competition body building at all (he should have known that) and eating in 100 calorie increments would freak me out, I’m sure.

        Reply
    • - He also told me some BS that a healthy metabolism means you have cold hands and feet because “the core of the body is keeping all the warmth to itself”. –

      needed a good laugh !

      Reply
      • I was astonished when he said that. I know better. ;)

        Reply
  10. Go Kaleo, just checked out your blog, really like it!

    I saw that post on the Wooo or whatever his name is and others attacking you for your appearance. What a bunch of bitches, seriously. Im a guy that actually thinks that women look great with muscles, and you look awesome! I think its so weird that people see a girl with some abs or a little arm definition and immediately say she looks like a man.

    Heres another awesome chick that looks great.
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7FPjXGHUF40

    And everyone should do themselves a favor and google Gracyanne barbosa. :drooool:

    Reply
    • Gracyanne barbosa, in her less abtastic extremes, very beautiful. I might just have to find her. Our children would be monsters kicking spartans into bottomless pits.

      Reply
    • Thanks Zach. Yeah, that whole woo episode was so crazy.

      Agreed, Jenny Labaw is pretty amazing. Had never hears of Gracyanne Barbosa but I googled her and daaaaang. :P

      Reply
  11. A great piece Amber – your sensible approach is needed so much in this crazy interweb world.

    Reply
    • Thanks Chris! Back atcha. I’ve been loving your contributions to the blogosphere lately. :)

      Reply
  12. Amber, this article is awesome and perfect timing! I’ve even wanting to start some strength training, but I’m pretty muscular already…what would you tell someone who just wants to lean out and not add too much muscle? I naturally have plenty haha!

    Reply
    • If you don’t want to gain muscle, it’s pretty simple, just don’t eat at a calorie surplus. :) Your body won’t be able to build any appreciable mass without extra calories, it takes fuel to create new mass, and if your body is using all the fuel you consume to support your life processes and fuel your activity, there won’t be any left to build muscle with. Be careful not to UNDEReat though, that just creates a different set of problems!

      Reply
      • I’m recovering from an ED so I’m trying to stay away from calorie counting. Thank you for the response though!

        Reply
  13. Hi Amber,
    It was such a delight to open Matt’s blog and see you here. How cool. I know you started with eating a bit of Animal protein, then you seem to have transitioned to more of a vegan diet. Are you still doing mostly vegan?

    Reply
    • I hate labeling myself, Isa! I’m not vegan, no. :) I took down my food logs because too many people were interpreting them as some kind of guide or prescription, when my intention in posting them was just to share what *I* eat because so many people have asked. I’m not in the business of telling other people what to eat and didn’t like the direction the logs were going in that regard. Hope you understand!

      Reply
  14. You look marvelous Amber! Thanks for the great article.

    Reply
  15. I’ve been doing a Les Mills bodypump class at my gym. Do you know about it? Do you think it’s a good one?

    Reply
    • Body Pump is pretty cool! It’s main drawback is that there’s only so far you can go with the equipment they provide, but it’s fun, and well organized, and gives you a decent starting point for learning form. If you enjoy it keep doing it!

      Reply
  16. Thanks! I’ll keep at it for now. I need the social pressure or I quit too quickly just doing things on my own. I was SO sore my first class for like a whole week (so many squats!). But the rest of the classes I’ve gone to haven’t hurt as bad afterward.
    Do you mean you can only go so far meaning how much weight you can put on the bars? If so, I have a long way to go before I get to the maximum!

    Reply
  17. jsears
    How much will power should you exert during Strength training? The muscles gain strength faster than ligaments and tendons. While waiting for a level of resistance to become easy would make for very slow stength gains an all out effort to increase the level of resistance rapidly could injure the tendons and ligaments. I think the body responds to aggressive training with plateaus. A plateau is when you can’t gain strength for several months or years. Plateau may give tendons and ligaments a chance to gain enough strength.
    I am thinking of taking up weightlifting again. I want to be strong across many angles. So I will do many exercise doing just one set of 12 to 15 repitions for each exercise or 18 to 23 repitions for short movement exercise like heel raises. I know I won’t achieve peak strengh with this routine. Has anybody tried this routine.

    Reply
  18. You look fantastic! At times, it’s difficult to read health blogs. The information, for the most part, applies to people who don’t have thyroid disease. For me, exercise makes me exhausted, which makes it hard to want to exercise. It’s almost like my body is begging me not to use the little energy it has on exercise. I am eating more in order to get my metabolism to function at as high of a level as possible, but this means gaining weight. I’m hoping that the weight will come back off, but I’m not sure if it will, but I also know that I don’t want to go back to eating 1200 calories a day either. It’s just hard when I read advice and know that I likely won’t get the results I hope for following the advice.

    Reply
    • Does anybody have any tips or knowledge about what a hashi’s person is supposed to do to get out of the energy pit and get in shape?

      Reply
      • Sorry for the delay, Emma. I’m not qualified to answer your health/medical questions unfortunately. I’d recommend working with a medical professional on this one (look for one who takes a more holistic approach). As far as exercise, what about simple walking? 15-20 minutes a day?

        Reply
        • Thanks. Walking is my main source of exercise; it doesn’t exhaust me. I was just hoping that someone…anyone might have some sort of answer for low energy thyroid sufferers. I would like to get the benefits of exercise, but don’t want to create more problems for myself. It just feels like there are road blocks at every turn, which makes keeping my weight normal such a huge chore.

          Sorry. I’m just having a little pity party for myself, I guess. I wish the advice for the average person would apply to me as well. It would make things a lot easier. :) I do have hope though. My energy has been up since I’ve been ETF and keeping my salt/fluid in check. I will increase my exercise and hope for the best.

          Reply
          • I think there are a lot of misconceptions about strength training having to be very draining or grueling somehow. It can be the most grueling of all exercise forms in one format, and much easier and less taxing than going on a walk in other forms. I personally do much better with the LESS grueling forms of strength training in terms of sleep, metabolism, sex drive, pain levels, and surprisingly – strength increase. So I wouldn’t be feeling too desperate, you just have to work within your own limitations, as do we all.

          • Yes, that’s what I’ve always been told. If you don’t push yourself, you won’t get results, etc. When I’ve tried to do that, it wipes me out. I don’t get that “refreshing” workout that people talk about, where they feel good after a workout. My husband suggested last night that I at least begin with the balance ball (the half ball) to get my core strengthened, and showed me a few exercises I can do on it that isn’t taxing. I’ll begin with that.

            What type of exercises do you recommend that will build strength without being taxing?

          • Do low reps with really heavy stuff. The more repetitions you do, and the more time you are under tension, the more taxing it is (and the worse it is for developing limit strength). To build lots of strength specifically, there’s no need to ever even get winded. Or particularly sore. I hope to write about this in more detail in the future. And you do have to “push yourself.” But pushing yourself can be 5 seconds of exertion, or it can be 2 minutes. 2 minutes of “pushing yourself” is a lot more demanding and draining than 5 seconds. Try doing a weight workout with 8 exercises, 2 sets each, 20 reps each exercise with a light weight (grueling). Then try doing 8 exercises, 2 sets each, 3 reps each exercise with a much MUCH heavier weight (easy, not very taxing at all). Workout 2 builds a lot more absolute strength than the first example.

          • Thank you so much for the reply! I’ll give it a try.

  19. Dr. Wong has been all about this for decades now… Ori from the warrior diet has a pretty good strength training regimen.. involving static holds placed at the right time.

    Reply
    • Yep, the basics are called basics for a reason, they work.

      Reply
  20. jsears

    A 70s exercise book has an idea that could change the idea that becoming thin makes you healthier. The exercise book was reccomending exercises based on body type. The exercise book has two thin people categories. One category was Scrawny. The Scrawny are probably producing too much of the protein destroying adrenal hormones and too little of active T-4 thyroid hormone. As a Scrawny I had cold hands and feet, also low blood pressure. I believe the Scrawnies have below average health. The exercise book reccomended only gentle exercises for the Scrawnies. The other Thin person category was Wiry. I believe Wiry people
    are high metabolism people with excellent health. The Wiry people are healthy enough to make all thin people look healthy. I suspect when fat people become super lean they become scrawny rather than wiry. I enjoy the theory that fat people are less healthy because they are more likely to diet aggressively.

    Reply
  21. Do you have any opinions of the Slow Burn home strength training routine? I checked the book out of the library and did the workout once last week. I’m looking to change my body composition. Have done very little exercise over the last 6 years other than real life which includes the care and feeding of a husband and 4 children, gardening, occasional walks and hikes. I’ve maintained a pretty healthy weight over that time but my body composition has changed over these last years and I’m bigger although not much heavier. I’ve been shedding food guilt these last two months and trying to de-stress. So this is the next step for me…to get my body moving and change my shape a bit, while eating the food. Don’t have the time for going to the gym, so that’s why I looked at Slow Burn.

    My experience last week:

    I did the whole routine as directed, meaning I did all the exercises to “failure” which to them means that you cannot do the exercise in good form anymore. I started with the lower end of the suggested weight range. Felt really tired afterwards and very wobbly. The next day I was sore all over and definitely felt like I was in recovery mode, not so wobbly, and felt generally OK. The sorness was less on the second day afterwards, and I was fully recovered by the third day. Does this sound normal and sustainable for a while if I keep increasing the weight as I get stronger?

    Reply
    • I usually recommend Slow Burn to those who are unfamiliar to strength training, don’t have any equipment, and don’t have the ability or desire to join a gym. The main thing is that it is progress oriented. If you get substantially stronger, you will look substantially stronger. There’s not an exact parallel between strength and body composition, but it is tough to get stronger without adding some toned muscle to your frame and vice versa.

      At first you may be able to do Slow Burn once every 3-4 days, but as you get stronger you will need additional rest time between workouts, and/or may need to split the workout into 2 separate workouts instead of trying to do all of them in one. Let strength increase dictate the frequency of your workouts. If you aren’t stronger than your last workout (more weight or more time under tension), then you probably need more time off, not less. You may only be able to do one workout every 2 weeks 6 months from now, and be more than twice as strong as you are now.

      Other physical activity for flexibility, overall fitness, and mobility is good too.

      Reply
      • Thanks, Matt. So I guess I’m a little confused by the lack of an exact parallel between strength and body composition. I’ve been reading over at Go Kaleo, and she seems to indicate that if you build muscle, you’ll be losing fat if you keep your calorie intake around the right ballpark for you and your activity level. Doing weight training and having a small calorie deficit or having a neutral energy balance will result in getting smaller or keeping muscles longer and leaner looking (what many women want), whereas eating a small calorie surplus will mean visibly building muscle. She seems to say that if you eat to maintain your weight but build muscle through training, it means that you’ll be taking off fat from other places. That sounds lovely to me, almost too good to be true. :-) Are you saying this isn’t exactly the case or that this might be an oversimplification?

        I know you’re not big into counting calories, and I have no intention of becoming a calorie counter myself. Never have been, even when I was “dieting”, and don’t want to be, ever, but I would like to know generally how much I’m consuming so that I can get my body composition to go in the right direction. It’s so hard to tell at the moment. I FEEL generally stronger. But I still seem to be gaining some fat from just eating to appetite (not too much…probably 6 pounds)

        Any tools out there for me to get a general ballpark of how many calories I’m actually eating? I make most of my food from scratch and often tweak the recipes to make them more “dense” (throw in some butter, heavy cream, use whole milk instead of lowfat….)

        Thanks for the advice on the Slow Burn workout. It’s interesting that you can actually do the routine more often at first and less often later. I intend to throw in a walk here and there and other stuff I enjoy.

        I’d better stop talking and actually go and do the workout. It’s been 5 days and I’m ready to go.

        Reply
        • I meant more that increasing strength doesn’t necessarily lead to bigger muscles. What Kaleo says is true in that adding strength training will generally make you look better even if your weight stays the same. It improves body composition, and most do lose some fat from doing some progressive strength training even if they make no other changes whatsoever.

          Reply
          • Thanks for the clarification. Okay, that’s cool. I’m not necessarily going for the bigger muscle look. :-) Just a leaner look.

          • Almost all women, and a large percentage of men as well, can do all the strength training they want and won’t get much bigger muscles from doing it. Don’t let steroid-laced models in magazines fool you into thinking that you’ll become bulky from getting stronger.

          • This. I know I’m ‘bulkier’ than a lot of women want to be, and I remind them that I’ve been doing this for 4 years, and with the specific intent to build muscle. I eat a lot, I keep track of my protein, and I do the kind of conditioning that promotes muscle growth. In other words, I don’t look like this by accident, and it’s not strength training specifically that got me to where I am.

    • Matt already answered so I’ll just add, if you like it and it’s working, keep doing it! :)

      Reply
  22. Great article! Just have a question: does Pilates count as strength training?
    Thank you :)

    Reply
    • It’s not weight bearing (for the most part) so you’re not going to get all the bone and joint benefits from it, but it’s a great complement to more traditional strength training!

      Reply
  23. I enjoyed reading this post and was inspired to start a strength training routine. However, I went to Amber’s website and ordered the Go Kaleo Basic Lifting Routine and I am sorry I did that. It is simply a 3 page PDF document. Really not even 2 1/2 pages. Definite ripoff.

    Reply
    • Hi Alice, I’ll post here what I posted in reply to your post on my blog:

      “Indeed Alice, as I said in the description, it is a simple 6 workout program. Workouts do not need to be long and complicated to be effective.”

      I’d be happy to add more words to it if you feel that the length and complexity are really the measure of a workout program’s value. I stand by the workout itself though, it is solid.

      Reply
  24. Funny, when I was lifting I had constant knee and rotator injuries injuries, and I got fat. It really stimulated my hunger way past whatever metabolic increase my muscle was giving me.

    In fact there are entire messages boards (iron garm, power and bulk) which are pretty much entirely inhabited by middle aged fat men who lift weights and complain of injury.

    Maybe it’s different for women.

    Reply
  25. A freind of mine sent me a wonderful blog post from this site which was all about retaining sanity in exercie and nutrition. The post was about loving yourself at any weight. After years of perfectionistic torture it reslly spoke to me. Now I see a post here that is all about a specific exer ise routine, an author that shows half naked pictures of herself. And confesess to counting calories. How does this post fit here? It is a confusing mixed message to say the least.

    Reply
    • mikayla,
      To attempt to answer your question, “How does this post fit here?” I will suggest that Matt’s blog is chock full of unconventional advice, well-researched studies, and relief from the debilitating diet prison so many women find themselves in. GoKaleo’s post is extremely relevant to this website because she is very diverse in her exercise, has tried many approaches to her own journey to health and fitness, and is very unconventional herself. Her pictures are intended to inspire but also to suggest that this is a process that takes time. She is very poignant about both inward AND outward changes needing to take place; and is able to love herself at any weight, if you are familiar with her history. This is what worked for her.

      Both Matt and Amber support self-acceptance, exercise, caloric tracking in moderation when it helps toward a specific goal, and NOT being a perfectionist about your individual results in your pursuit of health.

      I hope you took the time to actually read what she had to say and didn’t get hung up gawking at her pictures. Train, train hard if you can, and fuel yourself well. The benefits are incredible. Take care.

      Reply
    • Mikayla, I recently posted about my pictures, what I wrote may address some of your concerns. I count calories to make sure I’m getting enough, not to restrict. I eat more food than most men I know. I have an active life and need to fuel myself properly, hence, I pay attention so I don’t short change myself.

      I certainly don’t consider myself perfect or even ‘traditionally’ beautiful, I share pictures of myself to encourage other women to accept their bodies as they are, whether they meet society’s strict standards, or like me, ‘fall short’ in several areas. My pictures are symbolic of my self acceptance.

      As for your concerns about a ‘specific exercise routine’, I really don’t know what to say. I haven’t actually advocated any specific exercise routine here, other than squats. Do what you enjoy, that is the most important. thing. Strength trainign can benefit you in several ways, so if you’re able to find a resistance trianign routine you enjoy, go for it!

      Reply
  26. What’s the best routine if you just have some various weighted dumbbells? Meaning what is the best weight bearing exercises/routing if you don’t wan’t to join the gym or buy a lot of special equipment. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Rhonda, there are a million workouts out there on the internet. The best one is one you find manageable and enjoyable. There isn’t really one definitive ‘best’ one, as eveveryone’s goals are different.

      Reply

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