By Missy Corrigan
More and more women are adding weight training to their exercise program as a way to improve their overall health and fitness. From head to toe, men and women have the same 650 muscles that need to be trained and conditioned. We all move the same way and recruit the same muscles during daily movements. Although men have much more testosterone that enhances muscle size and strength, the ability to strength train is no different for a man or a woman.
Men and women tend to have different muscular fiber type compositions making women less prone to exercise-induced fatigue. A woman's hormone fluctuation plays a huge role in strength training. Research shows that because of a peak in estrogen during the first 14 days of a woman's menstrual cycle - with most women having a 28-day cycle - energy, mood and strength is at its highest, meaning it is the best time for women to really push themselves.
During the next 14 days, women experience extreme hormonal changes that increase hunger, cravings and influence sudden mood changes. It is during this time that women should strive to continue their exercise routine, but the hormone changes decrease the desire to exert energy through exercise.
The skeletal muscles of men are larger and have a greater proportion of fast-muscle fibers supporting quick, explosive activities like sprinting and weightlifting. Women have a greater amount of slow-muscle fiber making them more resistant to muscle fatigue. Of course, the fatigue does depend on various factors like activity, speed, and intensity and contraction type.
Regardless of your gender, in order to experience muscle growth, the muscles need to be pushed beyond their comfort zone and allowed enough time to recover and repair. However, a woman's higher level of estrogen yields a faster recovery time than men. Estrogen influences muscle contractions and has regenerative properties influencing post-exercise muscle damage.
Starting anything new can be overwhelming and intimidating. Weight training in particular requires knowledge of proper form and execution of movement. To help build a strong foundation and reduce risk of injury, look for strength training development classes or hire a personal trainer. As with any new program, start slow, pay attention to your body's changes and be consistent.
The author is an executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA.
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