Friday, July 18, 2008

Afraid of Bulking Up? Want Long, Lean Muscles?

I came across this myth again the other day. You see it a lot on some of the fitness forums. It's related to the "low weight, high reps to tone" B.S. that too many women still believe.

So, I was channel surfing recently and saw part of an infomercial for some fitness product. The hawker was touting the idea that its use would give you the long, lean muscles that women want (as opposed, of course, to the Hulk-style bulk you'd get from picking up anything heavier than a 5 lb. dumbbell).

Where's an eye rolling smilie when you need one?

It makes no sense. Many women lug around purses that weigh 10 lbs.; moms carry 20-25 lb. kids without a second thought. Yet these same women panic at the thought of using 10 pound dumbbells. How many moms do you know who busted out of their blouses from all the muscle they built from lifting their children?

Anyway, Here's a great blog post I just ran across.

The Myth of "Longer and Leaner"
by Geralyn Coopersmith, MA, CSCS

Fit and Female blog

Have you ever heard someone tell you they know of a workout that makes you "longer and leaner"? Did you believe them? If so, I have some prime real estate in Florida that you might be interested in. Yeah, sure there's a few gators scrambling around amidst the reeds...and a bit of a stench, but its really not that bad once you get used to it.

Seriously though, the truth is exercise can make bodies "leaner", but it can't make them"longer". "Lean" means that you have proportionately more muscle tissue and less fat tissue. That is certainly a realistic goal to have with any consistent workout routine. But "length" is another matter all together. Muscle length is a function of your limb length. Folks with longer bones (such as the femur in the leg and the humerus in the arm) have longer muscles strung across them to make them move properly.

No matter what you may read on the cover of a magazine -- no exercise program will make you "longer"...although there was that medieval torture "the rack"...hmmm...maybe they were on to something... could be the next Thigh Master...but I digress. The truth is if you are an adult then your limb length is set. So unless your limbs happen to be made of salt water taffy -- they won't get LONGER from exercise.

I am particularly sensitive to this subject because I think a lot of exercise professionals deliberately distort the science to get people to sign on to a particular program. Let me say here that I am a big fan of both yoga and Pilates. Moreover, I think they each have their own significant contributions to make as part of a well-rounded fitness program. But I think that many times women gravitate towards these types of workouts (in lieu of weight training) because they are afraid of developing "big, bulky muscles" from weight training. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When many women think of "lifting weights" they call to mind mental images of enormous female body builders who make Lou Ferrigno look like Gwyneth Paltrow. But these women are not the norm -- not even in gyms. Look around you. It is very unusual for a woman's body to look that way. Women bodybuilders are doing this as a full-time job, doing far more volume and intensity then "normal" women would working out 3 times per week for an hour. These women are trying to look that way for a certain look needed for competition in their "sport" -- and they train for hours and hours every day. And sadly, many of them use anabolic steroids on top of that to achieve the results they're after. Because it's still hard for a woman to develop "big, bulky muscles" -- even when want to!!

Women simply lack the testosterone levels that men have that allow them to experience significant "hypertrophy" or an increase in muscle size. Study after study has shown that women experience significant increases in strength (similar in relative terms to that of men) without significant increases in muscle size. And weight training has benefits beyond creating "lean" sexy muscles.

* It promotes bone strength and can reduce the chance of developing osteoporosis
* It strengthens joints and connective tissues It helps prepare the body for the physical challenges of everyday life
* It increases metabolism helping the body burn more calories per day
* It can improve posture and correct imbalances
* It increases self-esteem and self-confidence

If you think you might be ready to start a weight training program, I strongly suggest that you get some guidance from a Certified Personal Trainer. There is a lot to know in getting started and developing a safe and effective plan. Just a few sessions in the beginning will set you up so that you use your time wisely, efficiently and get the results you want.

Geralyn Coopersmith, MA, CSCS is an exercise physiologist, certified personal trainer and the creator of The Best Me Ever, a comprehensive weight loss and wellness system just for women.

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