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In the middle of the bicep track during Body Pump recently, I had a thought. I was smiling out at thirty women pumping iron to rock music at six in the morning, and I wondered whether people in their lives—people they encounter outside the gym—know about their secret Body Pump life. Do the people they work with know how good they are at push-ups? Do their children know how they endure five minutes of squats, working their legs until they shake under the weight of the bar? It probably seems like a strange thing to wonder about. But imagine the super hero who wears regular street clothes, walking around completely unnoticed until something requires that super-human strength be revealed to everyone’s awe and amazement!
You laugh, yet I see this in the women who take my Body Pump class. I see how hard they work, how they wake up so early it’s still dark outside, and how they sweat through lunges and chest presses. They grit their teeth and heave 25-pound bars over their heads. They are tough—and determined each week to do more dips or hold a longer plank.
I doubt they show off their hard-earned muscles, but those toned triceps and defined deltoids are there – hiding under sweaters and business suits as these gals go about the rest of their days with energy gained from a challenging morning workout. When strength is needed, they’ll be ready. I wish I could give them each a cape and some shiny silver boots!
My friend Nikki recently purchased the Healthworks Groupon (24 day passes for $24) – What a great deal by the way! She lives close to me in Somerville and knows I enjoy a good class at Healthworks so Tuesday morning we got together for the 6:15 a.m. Body Defined class.
Let me just say this class reminded me of a few muscles that I have been neglecting, especially now as I reflect on/feel it the day after. Our instructor, Tavia, who was subbing in for Kathryn L., was great! She kept us motivated throughout the class but more importantly, she helped work some body parts I have ignored. In addition to lunges and push-ups on the Bosu, hammer curls and a chest press with a glute bridge, there was one move that I’m really feeling today. While we were doing the exercise, I felt that it was a good challenge but the actual idea behind the exercise was quite simple. First, step up onto your Bosu ball, then with one leg at a time kneel down on to the ball. When you are on both knees, you try to step back up on the ball.
As easy as it sounds to kneel and step up, the Bosu really changed up the exercise. Working everything from my hips and core to my ankles and quads, this move was a total body workout. I thought this was especially good and timely because of the balance and core exercise you get. With the impending snowstorm it will be good to work on balance and stability, so try a few of these “step and kneel” exercises to make sure you’re ready for the icy driveways and sidewalks to come. Your abs and back will be happy (if not a bit sore) .
One of the great things about a Healthworks membership is the variety of exercises you can do on any given day. You can dance, run, bounce or ride yourself to a better body.
Because of these options, I’ve really been trying to do more than my usual run on the treadmill and strength training routine. In addition, I’ve been adding yoga workouts to my regimen and playing team sports such as basketball and volleyball once a week.
I find that doing different activities helps work different parts of my body. When I run on the treadmill I build endurance in my legs for longer runs. In basketball, I sprint shorter distances. For volleyball, I jump and tend to squat a lot more and I give my arms a work out. In yoga, the movements are slower and have less impact but I focus on building my core. The best part is that over the last 3 months as a member, I have noticed a difference in my ability to hold poses and jump higher from the training I have done at Healthworks but I also think I am going to do my body a favor by keeping it moving by playing sports and mixing up my workout.
What sort of activities do you like to throw into your workout regimen?
As a student, my life gets even more hectic than usual around exam time. It always works out in the end, but there’s always a little bit of panic during exams. This week, I worked like a dog. Literally, if I wasn’t actually at work, I was working at home to finish all my papers, projects, and take-home exams. If ever there was a time I needed stress relief, it would be during exams!
Here’s where what I like to call the stress-a-dox comes in. I know that I would feel such relief if I went to work out, it always makes me feel better, more focused, and strong. But when I have such a time crunch working against me, I feel even more stress about the idea of putting my work down for even a little while. It’s like, the more work I have, the more stressed I get, and the more I get done… the more stressed I get – that is, until it’s all done.
This week, all I wanted to do was work out. And I know that people always say that you can carve out one hour, put your work down, and just go to the gym. I didn’t feel like I could do that this week; I went to bed at 1 or so every night, and woke up at 6 in order to squeeze more writing and reading into my schedule. By Friday afternoon, my brain and eyes had had enough of staring at my computer, so I finally made it to one of my favorite classes: Body Defined. And really, after an hour of strength training, I actually felt much better. If only I were better at managing my time, I would be less stressed during the week.
What do you do to deal with life’s stresses?
Last week I took advantage of my introductory personal training sessions, and met with Jakki L, who was amazing. I hadn’t been interested in personal training before, but she helped point out that my normal fitness routine was lacking in strength training, and walked me through a great routine. Free weights, push ups, bosu exercises…I’m totally sore and also in love with the workout that she gave me – it makes me feel like I’m really utilizing all of the equipment Healthworks offers, and getting the most out of the time that I spend there. Whereas before I would hop on the treadmill for a half hour, do some stretching, and a few abs exercises, and then get out – now I’m spending two days a week running on the treadmill for 20 minutes, and following it up with a full body workout. I feel like I’m emphasizing quality over quantity of time that I spend at the gym, and I think it’s starting to show. On top of this, I have a renewed appreciation for the fact that this is a women’s only gym. I feel like I would be way too intimidated to “pump iron” in the presence of dudes, who typically tend to rule the weights area at other gyms. I was excited to find out that there are half-hour personal training sessions available, which I will be signing up for…these sessions are within my price range, and perfect for fitting a maximized workout into a maximized schedule.
Do you use a trainer?
Healthworks is excited to announce the introduction of Les Mills’ popular BODYPUMP fitness classes. Body Pump, one of the most recognized group fitness formats in the world, is the original barbell class that strengthens your entire body. The non-impact, high-intensity workout targets all major muscle groups including the legs, chest, back, triceps, biceps, shoulders, and abdominals. During a typical 60-minute class, you will use a step platform, a bar, and a selection of weights. All Les Mills programs are set to great, upbeat music, and motivating instructors will guide you through the resistance training.
The benefits of taking Body Pump extend beyond an ordinary workout. Burn up to 600 calories per class while toning your muscles. Participating in resistance bearing exercise like Body Pump improves your strength and your bone density to prevent osteoporosis. The workout not only gives you visible results in a few weeks, but also the satisfaction of achievement.
Over 5 million people take Les Mills classes around the world. We are one of the only clubs in the area to feature Les Mills’ Body Pump classes.We are launching the Body Pump format to our Brookline, Chestnut Hill, and Salem clubs starting this Saturday, March 28. Both members and non-members are welcome. Be sure to bring comfortable workout clothes, gym shoes, water, towel, and a positive attitude!
Launch Parties for Body Pump are being held on the following dates:
- Brookline: Saturday, March 28th 8am and 10am
- Chestnut Hill: Tuesday, March 31st 10:30am and 5:30pm
- Salem: Saturday, April 4th at 9am and Monday, April 6th at 10am
Click here for more information about Body Pump at Healthworks:
Each person has their own fitness goals. Some of us want to run faster, some of us just want to feel a little less pain while working out. Healthworks’ Functional Movement Screening (FMS) helps you achieve almost anything—get the most out of your fitness routines and feel better, outside and in! With the Functional Movement Screening, you can:
- Run your first race
- Improve sport performance
- Prevent injuries
- Improve your posture
- Decrease muscle and joint pain
- Gain better stability and balance
First, a certified personal trainer determines your level of mobility and stability, finding your weaknesses and imbalances. From this evaluation, a corrective exercise plan is developed for your specific needs, and you can follow it with or without a trainer’s help. You will complete the simple functional exercises four times a week for five weeks, then receive a second evaluation to make sure you’re correcting those problem areas.
So what do you get out of it? Efficiency in your exercise, better functional and athletic performance, and lower risk of injury! Check out the special March package deal available now! And for pricing and details, check out the Healthworks website!
“If we encourage muscle these days, why are too many muscles manly? We were all born with muscles. They don’t belong exclusively on men, any more than skin belongs exclusively on women. Isn’t it possible for femininity and physical power to coexist? Isn’t it possible that the more we embrace our bodies, the more womanly we become? Embrace your body. And find out.”
Nike Ad in Sports Illustrated for Women, Summer 1999
Women have been participating in strength training regularly since the 1950’s. Yet the common view that lifting weights is a masculine endeavor, resulting in a more “manly” physique persists. Why? Societal views of gender roles and women’s fear of bulking up as a result of strength training have resulted in misguided approaches to the goal of achieving muscle tone and definition. Consequently, females have shied away from strength training and are therefore missing the opportunity to fully explore their physical strength.
Absolute strength differences between men and women can be best explained by physiology: hormones, body type, body size, and body composition (fat and fat-free mass). In relative terms, the strength gap between women and men is less obvious. It is well documented that as women gain strength and power, there is minimal increase in muscle size. Therefore, women should be encouraged to engage in regular strength training. A well-designed periodized program will result in increasing lean body mass, reducing body fat, increasing resting metabolic rate, maintaining bone and joint health, improving balance and coordination, increasing muscle tone and definition, and improving self-confidence.
Societal Views of Gender Roles
Our culture continues to promote primarily two ideals of beauty. The first ideal, perpetuated by the fashion industry, is a body built for clothes, creating an image as how women would like to see themselves. Clothes continue to get smaller and smaller, promoting a small, fragile, and very thin feminine physique. The second ideal is a body built for sex, a vision of women as men would like to see them. This ideal touts fleshy curves and robust breasts, best illustrated by models for Victoria’s Secret, where women possess improbable proportions. It is no wonder women are insecure about their femininity and the cultures’ view of them. What qualifies for beauty in our culture is confusing.
As women overcome these traditional gender-roles, we see an enormous growth in the level of participation in sports and exercise, helping to define a new ideal: A body built for performance. Muscles add physical substance and give women permission to take up space, thus empowering them with a new found strength. This is not a body relegated to the ranks of female athletes only, but for all women pursuing activities to promote an injury-free, healthy lifestyle.
In the trenches of the weight room, females are more anxious and overwhelmed than males, mainly due to lack of opportunity and exposure. Women can also be intimidated by the minuscule weights being used when starting a strength program. Often times, the psychological obstacles can be overcome through proper education, information, patience, and encouragement. Studies continue to show how femininity and strength can coexist. It has been reported that when women engage in strength training they have increased self-confidence, self-esteem, and a healthier relationship with their body (1, 2).
The average woman has 1/10th the level of testosterone of men, a hormone responsible for influencing strength and size gains (4). At puberty, testosterone levels increase for boys, promoting muscle development and bone growth, while estrogen influences fat storage around the thighs, hips, and breasts for girls. The larger deposition of adipose tissue also contributes to the lack of visual muscular definition in women. For a small percentage of women, a higher testosterone level will result in greater potential for strength development as well as a concomitant increase in muscle size. But generally speaking, the fear of bulking up is not warranted because of the lower levels of testosterone.
Body height and structure, muscle fiber size, genetics, nutrition, and program design also play key roles in the training response. Men’s bigger frame size supports more lean body mass and wider shoulders allow greater leverage. The differences in body composition, men’s greater amount of muscle mass and women’s higher percentage of body fat, accounts for much of the disparity in strength between the genders.
Absolute vs. Relative Strength
Women can possess between 50-60% the strength of men in the upper body and 70-85% the strength in the lower body (2, 4). Research indicates that the strength-to-lean-body-mass ratio is a more meaningful measure of strength between the sexes. Based on relative strength differences, women are about equal to men in strength, suggesting that muscle is muscle, with no gender differences. Hence, women benefit from strength training as much as men and should engage regularly to reap the rewards of a well planned out periodized program-one that manipulates volume and intensity over a specific time to enhance muscle tone, strength and power.
Benefits of Strength Training
• Increased fat-free mass and decreased percentage of body fat.
• Increased joint integrity and stability thus reducing chance of injury.
• Enhanced bone health through loading of the axial skeleton.
• Higher resting metabolic rate because of increase in muscle mass.
• Improved balance and coordination.
• Increased muscle tone and strength.
• Increased self-confidence and self-esteem.
• Improved quality of life.
Although gender roles still powerfully shape our views and perceptions, physical strength is no longer solely a male domain. Women are continuing to redefine what constitutes beauty in our culture. A strong, lean, muscular body through participation in strength training is a valued and desired outcome. Such participation helps to debunk the misconceptions, fostering a greater appreciation of strength for the present and future generations of females.
“Women and Strength Training Part II: Reshaping Your Body’s Physique through Program Design” will be discussed in an upcoming newsletter. Program variables such as load, intensity of effort, volume, frequency, exercises, and rest periods need to be considered when wanting to achieve muscular tone and definition.
1. Ebben, William P, Jensen, Randall L: Strength Training for Women: Debunking Myths That Block Opportunity, The Physician and Sportsmedicine; Vol 26(5):1998.
2. National Strength and Conditioning Association: Roundtable: Strength training and conditioning for the female athlete. NSCA Journal; Vol 7(3):10-29, 1985.
3. National Strength and Conditioning Association: Position Paper: Strength Training for Female Athletes. NSCA, Colorado Springs, 1990.
4. National Strength and Conditioning Association: Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. NSCA; 151-162, 1994.
Jane M. Taylor