If you have been on a steady diet and slogging at the gym for weeks but still haven’t reached your ideal size then chances are that you are missing out on weight-training, a relatively less popular but extremely rewarding form of exercise for men and women alike. Don’t get worried if the term ‘weight-training’ is giving you mental images of the bulky and muscular female wrestlers from television — we are here to put all such misconceptions to rest and give you a deeper understanding of weight-training and the countless benefits it can have on one’s body.
Read on to see how this form of exercise can literally change your life!
What is weight-training?
According to Samina Adam Umer, registered dietician and a certified fitness instructor at her private gym Curves, weight-training is essentially when one works their muscles against the force of gravity. This form of exercise can involve lifting dumbbells to add intensity, using resistance bands to build physical endurance and tubing and ankle weights to challenge the body. In Umer’s gym, weight-training comprises three Ss: strength, stamina and suppleness. Strength is gained through the weights, stamina via cardio (aerobic) exercises and suppleness from yoga and stretching which helps ease the muscles down. Umer’s 16 years in the fitness industry have taught her one thing: “If you want to have overall fitness, you must do all three!”
Why do women fear weight-training?
Despite having been introduced in Pakistan in the late 90s, most women have preconceived notions regarding weight-training that keep them off it and if they do decide to give it a try, it is for the wrong reasons such as removing fat or spot reduction. The shrouded idea Pakistani women have of weight-training deprives them from its many health benefits with the main fear being that women who do weights put on large volumes of muscle mass, as seen on female body-builders and athletes. This however, is far from reality as a woman’s genetic and hormonal makeup simply does not allow for that to happen. “We must remember that female body-builders put in extensive hours and years into becoming that way whilst also consuming proteins, medication and hormone therapy necessary for such a physique,” says Umer. “They don’t do it on a ‘once or twice a week’ basis like our clients do.”
A number of women also avoid heavy exercise for fear of a bad relapse, i.e. they will rapidly regain their flab if they stop weight-training. While relapse is indeed a possibility, Umer explains that, “As with any other form of exercise — be it swimming or walking or even golf — if you discontinue it, your body goes into regression and starts going back to its original state.” Naturally, as time reduces muscle mass and one returns to their post-workout eating habits without burning the calories off, fat starts to accumulate but this holds true for any form of exercise and not just weight-training. Hence, it is important to maintain one’s fitness regime even after the desired size has been achieved.
Who does weight-training?
Umer quotes the example of current Hollywood starlets Jennifer Lopez, Eva Mendes, Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston for anyone who wishes to cite the effects weight-training as on a woman’s body. These celebrities, along with their Bollywood counterparts Anushka Sharma, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone are known to include strength-training in their workouts. Their strong and shapely physiques lend credence to the fact that weight-training has nothing but positive effects.
But weight-training is not just for celebrities! Sabeen Zubair has been doing weight-training once a week as part of her overall fitness agenda for 15 years and enjoys it greatly. She initially started off wrong and the crash diets and long hours of aerobics she resorted to did result in weight-loss but left her physique loose and flabby with weak muscles. “Weight-training helped make my body taut and more proportionate,” says Zubair. “I look and feel young and healthy now. Whenever people try to guess my age, they often assume it to be 10 years younger than it actually is!” she adds, grinning.
Why should women do weight-training?
According to Umer, weight-loss and a toned physique are only just the basic benefits of weight-training. “It goes way beyond that and offers many other vital health benefits as well,” she says. For example, after the age of 20, a woman’s body starts to degenerate gradually and due to this breakdown, the muscle mass in the body is reduced. Through weight-training, one can delay the process of aging, boost bone and muscle strength and improve joint mobility, all the while maintaining a sleek and toned body. Umer goes on to explain that, “When you add this highly beneficial fitness regime to your workout, you also increase your resting metabolic rate which in return, helps you burn calories and lose weight faster!”
Dr Saira Zahid, who has been working with weights for over 13 years, shares her experience, saying that she has never had any problems with the workout in all this time. In fact, Zahid adds to the pros of weight-training, suggesting that it can even help prevent bone problems like Osteoarthritis, Osteopenia, Osteoporosis as well has diabetes, heart diseases and back pain! “Even physiotherapy, a widely used treatment for bones and joint rejuvenation uses many moves of weight-training,” she says. “This should make one understand its significance.”
Some warnings for weight-training.
Whether it is celebrities, experts or regular women who choose weight-training, all will agree that this is one form of exercise which should never be tried at home or without sufficient experience or proper guidance. If you are taking a group class, ensure that the instructor is competent and that the group isn’t too large. Shakila Faizi Hasan of The Yoga Lounge and one of Pakistan’s senior yoga and fitness gurus advises that before joining any gym class, one should have a detailed meeting with the instructor. “He or she should look the part of an instructor. If the teacher is too thin or too fat and does not appear fit then it is unlikely that they will be able to help you,” explains Hasan. “Try to gauge how much the instructor knows and understands the human body, how much they can help you and how motivating they are. You have to see the person the instructor is too — if they are helpful and understanding, you are in good hands.”
Hasan also warns against choosing an overcrowded class as the more the people, the lesser the individual attention you will receive. As suggested earlier, weight-training should not be done unsupervised lest you injure yourself. “For ages, women have shunned weight-training saying it is not meant for women as it can physically hurt them,” says Hasan. “But in reality, weight-training or any other fitness regime can be undertaken by women provided that it is done with efficient supervision and guidance!”
Adding weight-training to your fitness plan will ensure you remain stronger and look better for a longer period of time and as Hasan puts it, “It is about functional fitness, toning and learning to carry one’s own weight. When you have toned muscles, you will have more efficient movement, more coordination and grace. You will float through life instead of tumbling through it.”
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, September 8th, 2013.