Jeanne Blomberg used to be all about cardio. But since she first picked up a pair of dumbbells last year, the local fitness enthusiast has a new favorite workout.
“Weights used to be very intimidating, but now I do weights more than cardio,” she said. “I’m not afraid of them anymore.”
Blomberg, 48, loves the sense of power her new strength-training routine gives her. While the workouts provide a plethora of physical health benefits, she loves the mood boost, too.
“It makes me feel powerful,” she said. “Yea, definitely. I think it gives you kind of a sense of confidence,” said Heather Berhorst, her training partner.
The mother-daughter pair meet weekly with health and fitness specialist Luke Lamb at the Firley YMCA. They started lifting with a summer weight challenge, then stuck with the routine after the program ended.
“He kind of exposed us to it,” Blomberg said.
Sweaty and ambitious, Blomberg and Berhorst seem like naturals in the weight room. But when you scan the room, observing their fellow lifters, you might notice something different about them: their gender. Casual observation of the free-weight area suggests male lifters outnumber women about 5-to-1. Lamb would like to change that ratio. The personal trainer considers the benefits of strength training just as strong for women as for men, if not more so.
“I think every adult should be lifting weights,” he said. “It’s empowering to everyone, especially women who have only been doing cardio. It’s just awesome to watch someone go from being unsure of lifting weights to embracing it and getting stronger and more confident.”
Dr. Therese Miller, a health and exercise science professor at Fulton’s Westminster College, points out the strength gained from regular weights workouts can be useful away from the gym, too. For example, every day activities like carrying groceries or yardwork tend to be easier with a bit of muscle development.
“Strength training helps decrease the muscle loss that occurs with aging and lack of activity,” she said via email. “Strength in core helps with posture and balance, and decreases low back pain.”
Older adults who strength train can see a reduced risk for osteoporosis, a disease marked by brittle bones. That improved posture and balance can also help them prevent falls.
But what about strength-training routines – should they vary significantly between men and women? Not necessarily.
“There aren’t a ton of differences. I’ve found anything men can do, women can do too, and sometimes better,” Lamb said with a modest laugh.
The fitness specialist recommends selecting a program based on individual goals rather than gender. If you want muscle endurance, select a lighter weight, then lift it up to 20 repetitions. If you’re after strength, pick a heavier weight and fewer reps.
Weight-selection is where men would consider whether they want big muscles or a leaner look. Women, though, probably won’t grow big and bulky either way.
Miller is quick to dispel any of those fears: “Women benefit from strength training; these gains are usually not accompanied by large increases in muscle bulk, in part because of lower testosterone levels.”
How do you start your new strength training routine? Miller recommends working out two or three times per week with weights, in addition to a regular cardio program. Each strength workout should include all the major muscle groups, and about eight to 10 moves. For example, you might perform bicep curls and bench presses to work your upper body, squats and lunges for your lower body and crunches and planks for your abs.
Lamb is a big fan of the trap-bar deadlift, a gadget in which a pair of barbells connect to weighted plates. The trainer also loves to progress his clients to a Turkish getup, a full-body move in which they lie on their back, holding a kettlebell or dumbbell over their shoulder, then rise to standing. But how do you know how much weight to use? “It varies on the client. If the form breaks down, we stop the set or lower the weight,” Lamb said. Miller separately echoed the importance of good form.“Safety and sound progression are key,” she said.
You don’t want to select a weight that’s too light either, or you’ll miss the benefits of lifting. Berhorst, the lifter, suggests finding an amount that’s challenging but doesn’t require sacrificing form. “Towards the end you should be a little tired, but still have perfect form,” she said.
Lamb agreed: “The last rep or two should be a little bit of a grind, but still have good form.”
For more information, contact the Firley YMCA at 573-761-9530 or 573-761-9005, or visit jcymca.org.