Women say goodbye to aerobics and hello to strength-training

Gulf News talks to a Dubai personal trainer about myths, recommendations and trends revolving around women’s weight training

Dubai: The days of aerobics are long gone as more women are now interested in weightlifting curls, triceps kickbacks and chin-ups, all while carrying heavier weights than the classic feathery pink dumbbells.

While strength training has always been a male domain, more women are now moving away from the skinny look and joining the trend of increasing muscle mass to achieve the best aesthetic body.

“All women should be strength training,” Dubai personal trainer Jonathan Hadfield told Gulf News.

“What most women want is aesthetic training, and it’s what they call ‘toning’- but there is no such thing as toning,” he said.

Hadfield emphasised that it’s as simple as reducing your body fat and building muscle, which then shows through the thinner skin and reduced layers of fat.

“You could call it strength or weight training as it is a form of bodybuilding,” he added.

However, despite more women exploring strength training, many fall into the trap of believing one of few misconceptions.

The first and most popular being the idea that if they lift weights they will look big, bulky and masculine, said Hadfield.

“Many women I come across think that if they train like a body builder, they’ll look like a body builder and become muscular, when it’s not the case. Becoming overly bulky is down to using sport enhancing drugs. Explaining this is a battle every time I have a new client,” said Hadfield.

He pointed out that strength training is simply “moving a heavy object from A to B and back to A in correct form.”

While many people resort solely to hours of cardio to lose weight, Hadfield explained that it does not achieve aesthetically pleasing results.

“The phrase ‘skinny-fat’ is something you see when you look at a marathon runner. To achieve that ‘toned’ aesthetic body, you have to go to gym and lift weights and combine that with a low calorie diet,” he said.

Popular exercise options such as yoga and Pilates will increase core strength, flexibility, and cater to the body-mind spirituality through meditation. However, it is necessary to combine them with big lifts such as barbell squats, military presses, and dumbbell curls to change your body.

For women looking to lose weight, simply counting calories and weight training will do the trick, said Hadfield.

“You are burning fat to a certain degree when you lift weights and helping to increase your muscle mass. The low calorie and high protein diet will reduce the fat in your body, and the strength training will increase your muscle,” he said.

He pointed out that most women have difficulty eating a lot of protein and tend to crave more carbohydrates, especially as a result of their monthly cycle and hormonal changes.

“The only supplement I would recommend is protein shakes especially for women who are not able to have 1.2 — 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight when weight training,” said Hadfield.

Count your calories

Working out your BMI and even opting for an accurate skin calliper test, can give you a good idea of your needed daily calorie intake.

“Fat sits on the body, and weightlifting protects your muscles so your body doesn’t metabolise it, which is a common result seen with cardio,” said Hadfield.

However, results take time.

“Results don’t happen overnight and there is no quick fix. It is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” said Hadfield.

He referred to social media influencers who post images showing extreme progress in just a matter of weeks, as “unrealistic”.

Online posts showing exaggerated results are created through intake of body enhancing substances.

“You will see strength increasing within six to eight weeks, but to see big changes, it can take up to a year or even two. The gym is a long life thing,” added Hadfield.

He advised against muscle enhancing substances, as well as weight loss gimmicks such as pills, teas and shakes.

Can I strength train with my condition?

Another common misconception is that weight training is not suitable for people suffering from injuries or specific conditions.

“If someone has skeletal issues or injuries, they should be referred to a medical practitioner by their trainer. They would then be sent to a physiotherapist who will clarify which weightlifting exercises to practise and which to avoid,” said Hadfield.

There is always a safe way to lift weights and a range of exercises one can do to best suit his body, he added.

Just the same, age is not an obstacle when it comes to hitting the gym.

“I train people of all age groups. You can be 20, 50 or even 70, if you’re physically and medically cleared, then you can lift weights,” confirmed Hadfield.

Depending on age, genetics and lifestyle, exercises slightly vary considering factors such as range of movement, period of recovery and strength level.

Hadfield referred to increasing bone density and reducing your chance of falling and breaking a limb, as one of the long-term benefits of lifting weights.

“If you feel stronger and fitter, you feel better physically and mentally and are more confident to cope with the challenges in front of you, because your body feels strong,” said Hadfield.

Depending on type of job, lifestyle, and family duties, he recommends training three times a week for 45 minutes to an hour with a rep range of 8-12 for each set to begin with, and slowly moving towards the five times a week routine.

“The whole point is to be safe when lifting weights and having the correct form as well as learning how to engage muscles correctly. It’s a personal battle, it’s about you going to the gym and taking on the battle with the weights, and lifting as heavy as you can safely and within the recommended rep range,” advised Hadfield.

Jonathan Hadfield’s 10 golden principles on strength training for women

1. Do not compare yourself to anyone else when weight training

2. Take progress pictures — as we tend to look at ourselves every day in the mirror and are not able to see the subtle changes in our body

3. Find a gym where you’re comfortable working out

4. Find a trainer who looks and knows what they’re doing to train you, by identifying what you want to look like (a marathon runner, a cross-fitter, a toned muscle builder)

5. Maintain a high protein diet to protect your muscles- include a (Whey protein) supplement if needed.

6. If you suffer from any skeletal injuries, visit a medical practitioner and get cleared to lift weights

7. Try to build mind to muscle connection when working on specific muscles across your body

8. Be patient and don’t expect major results in a few months

9. Train consistently and allow your body to recover. Remember if you stop weight training, your muscles are likely to deflate back to your original state

10. Understand the effects of your monthly cycle on diet and maintain healthy food choices while reasonably satisfying your cravings


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