Women, who want to start their fitness journey by joining a fitness centre are sometimes confused if they should lift weights or not. The concern is, some think that they will get muscular and start to look manly. But, is that true? The answer is both yes and no.
To answer the above question, we need to know how muscle grows:
Conventionally, to look manly is to look muscular. To look muscular, one needs to build Type-2 muscle fibres. Resistance training with heavy weight stimulates muscle motor units which in turn activates more muscle fibres. Heavy weight training results in the development of Type-2 muscle fibres. So, one needs to do an intense workout with weights to develop Type 2 muscle fibres and also follow a strict diet.
Now, what is an intense workout to build muscles? It is nothing but the weight training that involves 80%-100% of your max rep weights along with periodisation, and the frequency of training should be 5 days a week. Periodisation can vary from a three-month cycle to one-year cycle.
So, what is Periodisation? Let’s say, the one rep max of a person is 100kgs for a particular exercise, then that person will generally start from 40 kgs (This can vary from person to person). Over a period of time, the weights used in the exercise would be equal to the one rep max, that is when the one rep max for that particular exercise which results in the growth of Type-2 muscle fibres.
Sounds too technical? Let me break it down:
To keep it simple, if the intense weight training and strict diet are followed for years (2-3 years, changes from one individual to another) is when one can become muscular be it be a man or a woman.
Manjunath Shivaram, ACE certified Personal Trainer and sports scientist who is performing investigation on portable sports technology that measures physiological performance metrics and training load from Spain. He confirmed the above points and also said that, ‘Given a condition where a man and a woman are doing the same workout and diet, the man is going to develop muscles sooner than the woman because of higher testosterone levels. Testosterone helps in protein synthesis and results in muscle growth. So, that does not mean that a woman cannot become muscular? Absolutely not, she certainly can. Bu, it takes a lot more effort. She has to do weight training with 80%-100% of her max rep weights and follow a strict diet that fits her body and goals to get muscular. As per my experience, it takes about 2-3 years of intense training and diet to build muscles for a woman.’
So that gives us a clarity that women too can get muscular. Now, let’s consider a case study.
Divya S, who has been working out for over a decade. She restrains herself from weight training and strictly sticks with either Yoga, Zumba, and Aerobics or general cardio workouts. When questioned Manjunath about Divya’s workout pattern. He said, ‘Weight training is not mandatory, but if muscle building or sooner weight / fat loss is the goal then weight training is required.’
Now, there is further clarity that weight training is required for quick results, when fat loss is the goal. Now comes the catch. What if one’s goal is to only lose fat quickly and not to get muscular.
When asked about the same to Manjunath Shivaram, he said, ‘It is recommended that the candidate starts with yoga and aerobic exercise and slowly include weight training in her workout schedule to burn the fat quicker. In this process, the muscle development, if any, will only be of Type-1 muscle fibres (slow twitch fibres) and not Type-2 (fast twitch). Type-1 muscle fibres will not make anyone look muscular. The reason for the growth of Type-1 muscle fibres but not Type-2 is Type 1 muscle fibres have a very low activation threshold. It gets activated when a person starts to move but explosive movements or resistance training with heavy weights build Type 2 fibres. Diet and training as explained above would help to increase the amount of Type-2 muscle fibres which is the reason for muscularity. Once the candidate achieves the results, then weight training can be stopped and the candidate can continue with aerobic activity or non-weight training workouts.’
Hence, the conclusion is weight training is required for quick fat loss. But, if continued for more than 2 or 3 years with intense strength training and diet is when a woman would get muscular.