Firstly, is there any difference in protocol in the strength training exercises for women versus the strength training for men?
Secondly, does there even need to be an article specifically for women?
The answer is both yes and no.
Let me explain:
Yes because many women avoid strength training due to misinformation. This article will address these myths.
No because there is very little difference at all and women should be strength training in the most part, exactly the same as men.
Women actually have the most to gain from strength training as they are generally weaker overall so even a little bit of strength training makes a huge difference. If you are a female triathlete, you are in luck as most of your competitors will avoid strength training, so even if you can do 30 minutes twice a week, you will quickly and dramatically improve far beyond them.
If you have not done strength training before, you will notice a huge improvement very quickly in your sports ability but also a lot of day to day tasks will also become noticeably easier in your daily life. If you absolutely cant face the gym, try something like TRX training that you can do at home or in the park. Here are a few ideas on how you can use the TRX for strength exercises.
Let’s first deal with why strength training exercises for women is so important:
1) Recruit more muscle fibres
According to Henneman’s size principle, muscle fibers are recruited sequentially based on need. That is, the lower the demand, the fewer fibers required and the greater the demand, the more fibers required. Low-demand efforts recruit the smaller, lower threshold, slower-to-fatigue motor units. When more effort is required, the larger, higher threshold, faster-to-fatigue motor units are called upon. Strength training exercises teaches our body to recruit more muscle fibres. When you require extra power to blast up that hill or sprint to the finish line, those muscle fibers will be trained and ready. You will notice you fatigue much less.
2) Burn More Fat
The more muscle mass you have, the more fat you will burn at rest as you have more “active” tissue. Strength training burns loads more fat than chronic cardio workouts. If you want to lose fat, do more full body movement strength exercises like squats, deadlifts, push ups (on your toes), lat pulldowns and leg press.
3) Anti aging and prevent cognitive decline
Research has found that intensive exercise prevents the shortening of telomeres — the DNA that bookends chromosomes and protects the ends from damage — much like the cap on the end of a shoelace.
The shortening of telomeres limits cells to a fixed number of divisions and can be regarded as a “biological clock.” Gradual shortening of telomeres through cell divisions leads to aging on the cellular level. When the telomeres become critically short, the cell dies- and with this, we age.
4) Strength training exercises prevent injuries
If you suffer knee pain running, back pain cycling or shoulder pain whilst swimming, these injuries will be completely cured from correct strength training
Now let’s banish the common myths about strength training for women
It will make me big and bulky
This is biologically impossible. Yes you will tone up abut women just do not have enough testosterone to bulk up-even if they wanted to! The huge women bodybuilders have to take supplements to get that huge (legal and illegal).
If you train correctly, you may tone up a little for the first 2-3 months but you will not get bulky. You will continue to get stronger through improved neural pathways, not by getting bigger.
I won’t lift anything over 1kg
The mistake I see women do is staying with the cute pink 1kg dumb bells forever.
This is NOT strength training!
Sure if you are very weak, you may need to start there- no problem but continue to progress as you improve.
Do not make the mistake of doing more chronic cardio.
If you can lift the weight 30 times in a row- this is NOT strength training.
Aim for the weight that you can only just lift 5-6 times and not one more rep
OK- I want in: Any tips on how to do strength training?
Step 1 Make sure your technique is good
If you have never done any strength training, it is a good idea to grab a few sessions of personal training just to learn the basic movements, check you are doing it right and become familiar with the machines.
Step 2 Start slow
Do not rush it. Start slow, be consistent and listen to your body. Aim to go to gym 2-3 times a week.
Step 3 Train major functional triathlon specific muscle groups
Unless you are training for a body building competition, there is no need to do single muscle groups.
Instead do functional exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, overhead squats and chin ups. These are specific for triathlon.
Check out this video from a triathlete who demos some good triathlon specific exercises to do.
Whilst I agree with 90% of what she shows here in this video. my advice (from treating tons of sports injuries in my clinic) is to NOT do:
- Leg extensions – bad exercise for knees
- Shoulder lateral raises – not a functional exercise and not great for shoulders
- I do not think you should train as slow as she does these movements. I do not think it is dangerous- I just do not think it is necessary. I would not suggest you train fast but just at a normal functional speed.
Excellent strength exercises for women triathletes that you should include in your program
1) Heavy squat
3) Lat Pull down
4) Shoulder external rotation on the cable machine. An awesome exercise and will help your swimming performance and prevent swimmers shoulder. Do use a very light weight for this as your rotator cuff is a small muscle.
5) Chest press. It is best to lie on your back and use dumb bells rather than the machine for this exercise)
6) Seated row. Excellent exercise
7) Leg press (one legged). Totally awesome! I agree 100% with doing one legged exercises.
8) The one exercise I would add is lunges. These are essential for anyone who runs and cycles. Massive bang for buck. These are a tough exercise and quite hard to do well but very important to prevent injury and help you get loads faster!
Note in the video above, she does point out that since she started strength training, she has had no injuries and has been on the podium in every race.
I totally believe her. Strength training is a massive advantage. Make sure you include it in your program.
By the way, here is how to do a lunge:
This video does not show her using weights but start with body weight only for 2-3 days then start holding dumb bells when you are ready. (Remember do not do 20 reps like she says. YOU are strength training- stick to 8-10 reps. When that is easy, increase the weight)
So get started with these exercise immediately. If you are already strength training, make sure you include these exercises in your program. Make sure you increase the weight as you are able to. You do not have to do the same routine each time. So vary it up. 30 minute session is enough. Add alternatives like chin ups, press ups, core work, TRX and different squat positions to change the routine from time to time.
I hope this was helpful and that you agree strength training exercises for women is vitally important. Even if one day you retire from triathlon, keep up your strength training. It will keep you in amazing shape for life :)
Comment below and let me know your thoughts
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