Training and Fitness
Unique to the Female Body...
BREATHING - THE BASICS
While the breathing tactics of exercise may seem self-explanatory or irrelevant, the inhalation and exhalation you practice while strengthening are actually the quintessential elements in both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Not only does breathing in and out allow the proper transport of oxygen to the necessary muscle tissues, but the presence and practice of correct breathing movement ensures ample excretion of toxic carbon dioxide from the body. Breathing in itself is important to guarantee that an oxygen deficit does not occur, causing premature fatigue and possible loss of consciousness. So what is “the right way” of breathing during strengthening and conditioning exercises? It is essential to both musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary endurance that the muscle lengthening occurs in concurrence with the inhalation (breath in) and that the exhalation (breath out) occurs at the same time as muscle contraction. Ever wondered why tennis players let out a shout at the very moment they swing their arm forward to smack the ball? In addition to ensuring proper oxygen delivery and carbon dioxide removal, correct breathing timing also allows for an increased length of muscle contraction. This translates into greater range of motion and increased power. Taking a deep breath before contracting muscles engages the core stabilizing muscles and therefore provides ultimate resistance for strengthening. (2)
WEIGHT TRAINING - NOT JUST FOR BODY BUILDERS!
Contrary to popular belief, weight training is not just for those seeking to build biceps with a circumference larger than the human head! The truth is that weight training, resistance training or “lifting,” are all phrases referring to the practice of applying a selected resistance to train, invigorate and strengthen a certain muscle or muscle group. As an added bonus, weight training helps to increase bone strength and density, but also incorporates into a healthy, regular diet and exercise program, can help speed up your metabolism and is a major fat burner! Specifically for women who are especially susceptible to osteoporosis and decreased bone density, strength training is an essential practice to help slow and prevent the aging process. So what is the advantage of weight training over the cardio machine? For starters, cardio machines, while imperative to heart health and any weight loss regiment, are a calorie burners only for the duration in which you are using the machine. In other words, once you step off that elliptical machine and your heart rate slows, the calorie-burning process also slows to its resting metabolic rate. Lifting weights on the other hand, (though they do not necessarily leave you with that out-of-breath workout exhaustion) raises the heart rate to a level and fatigues muscles to the anaerobic extent at which essential fat burning begins and continues throughout the day, even after you finish! A standard weight-training program would ideally start with an average of 12-15 repetitions for each major muscle group, for 2-3 sets, performed at least 2 times a week with a day of rest in between workouts. Once you feel more comfortable with the weight training routine, you may want to increase weight training routine frequency to 3-4 times a week. (2)
CHOOSING THE RIGHT WEIGHTS - THIS IS NOT OLYMPIC POWERLIFTING
In order to select the appropriate weights for building and strengthening muscles as well as providing a challenge for the body, start with a lower weight and if you are able to do up to 15 reps without feeling fatigued, chances are you could use more resistance. For larger muscle groups, increase weights by 5 lbs until you feel tired by the twelfth rep, and then continue to increase that weight by about 5 lbs every other week. For smaller muscle groups (like the triceps, deltoids, biceps etc.) it is appropriate to increase resistance in 3 lb increments. (2)
CARDIOVASCULAR/ENDURANCE TRAINING - THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Studies after studies have reiterated that not only does daily aerobic activity and cardiovascular training play a major role in increasing weight loss, but it also helps you feel good while being active in addition to providing lifelong heart-healthy benefits. Simply pu t- the more you challenge your heart to work to pump blood that delivers oxygen throughout your body, the stronger the heart muscles become and the less likely they are to weaken. The same goes for your veins and arteries: the more active you are, the likelihood that your arteries will harden is drastically decreased. As an added bonus, by incorporating at least 20 minutes of vigorous activity into your daily routine, you decrease your risk of depression and anxiety. Exercise can also improve sleep habits if performed during the daytime. For women especially, increasing cardiovascular activity during the menstrual cycle can actually relieve, not worsen uncomfortable symptoms such as cramping or bloating by increasing blood flow to those working muscles. While the minimum amount of daily exercise needed is 20-30 minutes 3-5 times a week, as our population drastically increases its overall level of inactivity, most physicians and trainers would recommend 35-50 minutes 5-6 times a week, with one day a week dedicated to 60 minutes of high intensity “breaking a sweat” exercise. (1, 2)
EXERCISE ADAPTATION - TRICK YOUR BODY FOR LASTING RESULTS
One of the most important rules to remember about any kind of athletic training routine is that the body is incredibly efficient, and can adapt quickly to any exercise routine- women’s bodies especially. Any change (whether a change in resistance, type of activity, duration, or variation of intensity) is going to produce faster and greater, more visible results as you continue to reshape your body. If you perform the same activity every day, say if you use the elliptical machine for 45 minutes every day on level 9 resistance, your body will not only adapt making the exercise routine easier for you to complete, but also, even despite the fact that you still might be breaking a sweat, your body may not be burning the same amount of calories as it did at the onset of the routine when the body was thrown off-guard and put up to a challenge. (1)
(1) Powers, S.K., & Howley, E.T. Exercise Physiology: theory and application to fitness and performance, 6th Ed., McGraw-Hill, New York, New York, 2007.
(2) Thorne, Gerald. Embelton, Phil. Oxygen’s : “Total Women’s Fitness: Releasing the Inner You”. Muscle Magazine International, Mississauga, ON, Canada © 2002 Robert Kennedy.
(3) Wardlaw, Gordon M. Smith, Anne M. Contemporary Nutrition 6th Ed. McGraw Hill Companies Inc. New York, NY. © 2007 McGraw Hill.
Written by Lindsey Avery, Exercise Science major, Skidmore College