Women’s secret to optimal health – muscle mass

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Women’s secret to optimal health – muscle mass

There was a time many decades ago when women were not encouraged or even informed that lifting weights was their secret to optimal health and staying slim.  Thankfully, today women are highly advised to pick up weights pumping iron to build sufficient muscle mass to reach their best health. 

Any woman who currently hasn’t picked up a dumbbell lately needs to change her lifestyle habits to include lifting weights in her exercise routine. Women are already at a disadvantage when it comes to muscle mass and health. Starting as young as age 30, muscle mass can begin to deteriorate.  Add to this fact that the male gender naturally has more muscle mass than women to begin with putting them at a disadvantage.  Over the years if a woman is not engaging in resistance training, her muscle mass will gradually atrophy becoming weaker and smaller and will be replaced with fat mass.  This can result in a woman who reaches her 50s and older who has lost significant strength and has gained more weight than what she wants. 

Here is why having increased muscle mass in women is important:

·      Muscle mass increases metabolic rate – the more muscle a woman has the more calories she will burn even after a workout.

·      Increased muscle mass prevents loss of lean body mass that can occur from dieting and aging.  Weight gain often happens as our metabolism slows down with age.  Lifting weights can help slow some of that weight gain keeping a woman fit and strong.

·      Improved muscle mass will change a woman’s body composition helping her have a slimmer waistline and better muscle tone.

·      More muscle mass strengthens bones and connective tissue.

·      Women who have a higher percentage of muscle mass are stronger, have more endurance and can maintain being active as they age.

·      Increased muscle mass improves coordination, balance, and may reduce injuries.

Even if a woman has not picked up a weight in years, it is never too late to build up muscle strength.  However, there are four key target zones a woman should focus on building muscle in – upper body, core, pelvis and hamstrings. 

1.  Upper body

Women do many tasks requiring upper body strength– carrying groceries, kids, lifting something off the floor or pushing a vacuum cleaner.  To do these everyday tasks, they require strong trapezius, deltoids, biceps, and triceps muscles.   If these muscles are not worked out with weights, the weaker they will become making a woman prone to arm, shoulder, and neck strain. 

To prevent this from happening, women need to maintain upper body strength.  One of the best all-around upper body exercise that doesn’t require weights is push-ups.  Whether wall push-ups or floor push-ups, do at least 10 on the wall and 10 on the floor each day.  Here is a video of beginning arm exercises using weights.

2.  Core

Working the core muscles within the abdominal area is one of the more challenging muscles to reach.  Yet, it is very important to keep these muscles from weakening – maintaining their tone and strength goes a long way for preventing back pain which can make the most basic tasks such as sitting or bending over, excruciating. 

To keep the core muscles in top shape, performing planks every day can be one of the most effective moves to strengthen the core while building endurance.  Make sure to use the correct form when doing planks and gradually build up the duration until you can hold for at least a full 30 seconds or more.  Do five planks daily.  Other moves using weights for building strong core muscles should also be performed regularly. 

3.  Hip flexors

Even if a woman is performing total body workouts, chances are she is overlooking a muscle super important for preventing injuries and pain – hip flexors.  Hip flexors are several muscles that bring the legs and trunk together in a flexion movement.  They allow a person to move their legs or knee up towards their torso and to bend the torso forward at the hip.  They are also one of the most commonly overlooked muscles in the body. 

When the hip flexors become weak, this can lead to hip, back, or knee pain and injuries.  It’s especially important for women to work their hip muscles since they have wider pelvises and slightly greater angles between the hips and knees than men placing them at a higher risk for injury.  Lack of exercise and the more a woman sits, the shorter and weaker these muscles become.

To maintain adequate strength in the hip flexors, there are several moves a woman can do keeping these muscles strong and healthy.  Hip flexor stretches and stretches for tight hip flexors will preserve these muscles for years to come.

4.  Hamstrings

Women often focus on making sure their quadriceps get a good workout – think squats and lunges – but often forget about their hamstrings or the back of the thighs.  It is not unusual for a woman’s quadriceps to be twice as strong as their hamstrings.  Add in wearing of high heels which transfer body weight forward so that the quadriceps have to work even harder with every step.  However, this imbalance also makes women vulnerable to knee injuries along with the fact of having weak hamstrings.

To change this scenario, women must remember to work the back of their legs or hamstrings. One of the best exercises to work this area is the dumbbell single-leg deadlift.  With progression, women can then try to perform basic exercises to strengthen the hamstrings without weights which can also help strengthen the lower back and glutes.