PURPOSE: To explain the importance of strength training for a youth FEMALE athlete and debunk myths that still exist about women getting ‘bulky’ if they lift weights.
POINTS OF EMPHASIS:
Strength training can and will prevent injury for female athletes.
How the perception of the female athletes is seen both in society and within themselves.
How a good coach can create confidence and a sense of empowerment.
by Cassie Reilly-Boccia
Hello Research Geniuses!
What an eventful winter season we have had so far at Athletes Warehouse. Various athletes from different age groups, sports, and locations have flooded through the doors in an attempt to better themselves for their upcoming seasons. Having been an athlete my entire life, it has been especially gratifying to see the number of girls that train with us on a daily basis. It seems that in society today, the general consensus has been that the weight room is not a place for females and historically has been dominated by males. Except for recently. For various reasons (Crossfit, “Strong is the new sexy” campaign, female sports being televised more and more, etc.) it is more common to see women training and working out to be strong opposed to dieting to be ‘skinny.’
Now, in the strength and conditioning industry, the topic of ‘Will women get bulky if they lift?’ has been exhausted. However, I feel that this topic has not been effectively translated to our youth just yet. As our company slogan states, we are constantly pursuing new ways to redefine the youth training industry. Our goal is to continuously educated our athletes and our community as to why we do the things we do.
The Importance of Strength Training for Females
There are several physiological reasons why a young female should strength train. Female athletes who regularly participate in sport and physical activity (specifically load bearing exercises) can show an increase in bone mineral density. This increase in density will likely lead to a reduced risk of bone fractures in sport or later in life (1). Another positive benefit associated with resistance training is the enhancement of ligament strength and load capabilities. With such an abundant amount of youth females suffering ACL injuries, this alone might be the most impactful benefit (2). In addition to the development of ligamentous strength, researchers have found that the poor development of a female athletes hips and hamstrings can lead to increased occurrences of valgus knee actions (3,4). Many researchers have pointed to valgus knee action as the more prominent mechanism which can lead to ACL tears.
What is surprising to most people is that this increase in strength is not necessarily due to muscular strength but neuromuscular strength.
Instead of the body building more muscle, the central nervous system will recruit muscle fibers at a more accurate and likely faster rate, thus increasing efficiency and overall strength. A female athlete will decrease her risk of injury just by increasing her movement pattern competency and learning the proper way in which her body should be positioned when jumping, landing, cutting, accelerating, decelerating, etc (5).
Aside from the physiological benefits of strength training, females possess a huge advantage by gaining a psychological prowess.
Being a strong female athlete will EMPOWER you as a person.
In lieu of the Always, ‘Like a Girl’ campaign being aired during the super bowl, I’ve attached the commercial. There is so much to learn from this one ad about anyone who is in a position to influence a young female athlete. As a coach, teacher, mentor, etc, never forget that you could be THE NUMBER ONE biggest influence in that youth’s life. This is not a burden but however an extraordinary privilege and responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. It is something that we at AW take tremendous pride in.
Can I not lift as much weight? I don’t want to get bulky…
*Insert cliche comment about if I had a dollar for every time I got asked this* There are a number of reason why many people believe lifting weights will make a female appear ‘bulky.’ One of which is the comparison to guys or the ultra jacked females they may see in magazines and on television competing in body building or strong woman competitions. Among of the many hormonal differences between males and females, testosterone is one of the greater limiting factors preventing women from developing large muscle mass. One of the biggest difference between males and females is testosterone. Males possess 15-20 times the amount of testosterone than females do.
Therefore, due to the lack of testosterone, when women strength train with resistance training they will increase their STRENGTH not their SIZE.
Proof this comes from various studies. One study in particular looked at 24 different women over a 20 week heavy resistance training program. Twice a week these women trained lower body exercises and saw significant increases in lean muscle mass and significant decreases in body fat percentage. With these changes, the females saw zero change in thigh girth (6). Remember, muscle weighs more than fat, so people who can simultaneously lose five pounds of fat and gain five pounds of muscle will weigh the exact same but will look, perform, and feel significantly different.
Having a higher muscle mass percentage will actually boost your metabolism at rest. So, although you might not burn as many calories in your lifting session as you maybe would a cardio session, you will continue to burn calories throughout the rest of your day after your strength training workout. Any time females begin to see muscles on their body it is usually due to a decrease in body fat rather than an increase in muscle size.
Understand that weight gain does not necessarily mean muscle growth. At Athletes Warehouse, our primary client is the youth athlete. Most of these athletes are in the middle of puberty and are not fully developed in their maturation levels. Due to this, many athletes both male and female will see increases in overall growth: height, weight, and strength due to natural developmental causes and not solely due to strength training done at our facility. It is also pertinent for our athletes to understand that their daily diet is most likely a bigger factor in an increase or decrease in weight than lifting alone.
So, remember girls, lifting heavy weights will not make you huge and bulky. Lifting heavy weights will make you strong, decrease your risk of injury, empower you as an athlete, and overall help make you a more confident, reassured and powerful woman!
Nichols, D.L., Sanborn, C.F., Essery, E.V. “Bone density and young athletic women.” (2007). Sports Medicine. Volume 37, Issue 11, pp 1001-1014
Zatsiorky, V., Kraemer, W. (2006). ‘Science and Practice of Strength Training – 2nd Edition.’
Hollman, J. H., J. M. Hohl, J. L. Kraft, J. D. Strauss, and K. J. Traver. 2013. “Modulation of Frontal-Plane Knee Kinematics by Hip-Extensor Strength and Gluteus Maximus Recruitment during a Jump-Landing Task in Healthy Women.” Journal of Sport Rehabilitation 22 (3): 184-190.
Wild, C. Y., J. R. Steele, and B. J. Munro. 2013. “Insufficient Hamstring Strength Compromises Landing Technique in Adolescent Girls.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 45 (3): 497- 505.
Parsons, J.L. “Assessing and modifying neuromuscular risk factors for anterior cruciate ligament injury in female athletes.” (2014). Thesis. University of Manitoba. Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Staron, R.S., Malicky, E.S., Leonardi, M.J., Falkel, F.C., Hagerman, F.C., & Dudley, G.A. 1990. “Muscle hypertrophy and fast fiber type conversions in heavy resistance-trained women.’ European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology.
being a female athlete is exciting.As a female athlete you can do female athlete stuff that only you can do.
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