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Macho myth of bulking up

Only a very small percentage of women possess the genetic potential to develop muscular hypertrophy
Other common beliefs are that weight training, which also conjures up images of an adrenaline-rich sweaty environment, adversely affects women’s internal organs and promotes weight gain. In short, with women, resistance training loses considerably to yoga, Pilates or dance therapy.

Mayukh Banerjee   |   Published 23.07.20, 01:54 AM

At the beginning of this month, gamers were mad that Abby, a female character in ‘The Last of Us: Part II’, displayed large arms that hauled a man over the ledge. They were mad enough to issue death threats.

While the reaction bares the horrible macho side of the gaming world again, it is also true that many women do not want to bulk up — and therefore avoid resistance training, which is regarded as a very “manly activity”. Weights are thought to “bulk up” their bodies by helping them to gain muscle mass.

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Other common beliefs are that weight training, which also conjures up images of an adrenaline-rich sweaty environment, adversely affects women’s internal organs and promotes weight gain. In short, with women, resistance training loses considerably to yoga, Pilates or dance therapy.

It is time to bust such myths!

Muscular hypertrophy, or “bulking up”, is very difficult for women. Quite simply because women are built differently from men. From a scientific standpoint:

  • Only a very small percentage of women possess the genetic potential to develop muscular hypertrophy.
  • Muscular hypertrophy is dependent on growth hormone and testosterone. Genetically, most women cannot produce the required quantity of testosterone for muscular hypertrophy. In fact, it is difficult for most men to add a large amount of muscle mass, even with the physiological advantage of higher testosterone.
  • The training, diet and supplementation required for muscular hypertrophy, aka bodybuilding, is vastly different from that which is followed for women’s fitness, endurance and body toning.
  • Women have less lean muscle fibre and are smaller in size, thereby making muscular hypertrophy very challenging.

But through resistance training, getting an aesthetically-pleasing physique with toned muscle, good flexibility and great mobility is very likely. Gains will not be in terms of weight but in terms of percentage muscle mass. Loss in percentage fat, especially subcutaneous fat, will aid in giving the body an overall toned look.

Lastly, weight training need not be about heavy lifting in an adrenaline-filled environment. By using equipment such as kettlebells, resistance bands and her own bodyweight, a woman can experience a pleasant, yet charged-up workout.

Resistance training should be included in every workout programme. 

Here’s why:

  • An average adult who does no resistance training loses 5lb (2.3kg) of muscle mass per decade. This is huge and debilitating, particularly for women. Resistance training reverses this process.
  • Muscular strength is required for performing activities of daily living. With progressive muscle loss, these activities become more difficult to perform. Worse, the normal range of joint motion is restricted. Imbalances between muscle groups cause further complications like loss of mobility, back pain or frozen shoulder. When devising a resistance training programme for a client, a qualified coach will take these factors into account.
  • A good muscle tone is aesthetically pleasing. Loss of muscles causes the body to sag. Through systematic training a fit and toned appearance can be easily achieved.
  • Resistance training aids in controlling lifestyle disorders such as hypertension, blood sugar and cholesterol. The psychological impact of possessing a toned body also cannot be ignored. It makes an individual confident, positive and high spirited, a must in today’s day and age.

Generic guidelines for resistance training are available everywhere. But my suggestion is to always consult a qualified fitness professional. Each person has different needs, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. So consult a professional and embark on a resistance training programme today.

The writer is the founder of Mike’s Martial Arts, a Calcutta based martial arts and advanced functional fitness studio. Contact: mayukhpb@yahoo.co.in



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