TweetThe Best Workouts for Women : Why your fitness plan should be different from his.
Sometimes, it's okay to steal things from your guy. His sweats, his socks, his Coldplay CD. But one thing you don't want to steal is his workout routine. Why? Because you could end up looking like him, and let's face it, one pair of brawny deltoids is enough for any couple.
Problem is, almost every workout we see is created by guys for guys, or it's some kind of half-workout that involves big rubber bands, large, brightly colored Swiss balls, or hopping around in a leotard.
For serious results, you need a workout for women. One that's made especially for you and what you want — a tighter butt, trimmer thighs, flat belly, and toned arms — not an 18-inch neck, biceps the size of canned hams, and thick thighs (You know, the kind you'd get from Arnold Schwarzenegger's leg workouts?).
Here are eight ways to get the best workouts and the most out of your fitness routine, from losing weight to reducing stress to feeling great about yourself.
1. Socialized Exercise
Being hardwired for childbirth would make most pain-related experiences seem like a cakewalk. But even though women tolerate higher levels of pain and exertion than men, they don't necessarily push themselves as hard. That is, until they have a damn good reason. "Women like to talk and bond more, and are good at connecting with each other," says Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., an obesity researcher at Yale University and author of Food Fight. "They're more likely to exercise with someone else." Taking aerobics classes or joining a tennis club may be the motivational butt-kick you've been waiting for.
"Women are excellent team players, because they show a higher degree of cooperation," says Robert Heller, Ed.D., a clinical and sports psychologist based in Boca Raton, Florida. "At a critical moment during a game, a woman is less likely to give up so as not to let the team down."
And once you get started, chances are you'll go the distance. "Women pace themselves better," says Liz Neporent, coauthor of The Fat-Free Truth. "They'll start at a steady pace and maintain it, whereas men start stronger and faster, then slow down sooner."
2. Pelvic Pullups
Ever laughed so hard that you peed in your pants? Sure, and how funny was that? Not. Weak pelvic floor muscles lead to leakage; and with age, or during and after pregnancy, the situation can worsen. Your best line of defense is to start performing Kegel exercises for 3 to 5 minutes every other day.
Focus on the sphincter-like muscles around the anal and vaginal area — and just start squeezing. For endurance, alternate between holding each contraction as long as you can (without holding your breath); to build strength, do squeeze-release contractions. Besides keeping you out of adult diapers, pelvic-floor exercises can do wonders for your sex life. Muscles that are fit promote blood circulation in the area, better lubrication, and an easier buildup and maintenance of sexual tension, with improved sensation.
Whether it's weight, pants size, or those last 3 minutes on the treadmill, women fixate on number goals. "I find that many women clients feel they have to achieve an exact number of repetitions or minutes of cardio or days per week of exercise," says Christa Bache, a New York City based personal trainer. "And they're hard on themselves when they don't. It's a type of control similar to the all-or-nothing diet mentality, where if you slip up, you've ruined the whole diet, so you might as well binge. The downside is that women waste time beating themselves up, and even slip off course because of it, making it that much harder to achieve their goals."
Sound familiar? The next time you shorten a workout or find yourself a few pounds over, don't let it derail you. "Remind yourself that you've still been exercising consistently," Dr. Brownell says, "and your body is all the better for it. You'll just have to stick with it a bit longer to get more results."
Either that, or maybe you're better off not weighing yourself so often.
4. Stretched Out
Women are naturally more flexible than men, which is one reason why they tend toward activities such as yoga and Pilates. But being stretched and toned is one thing; bending your body like a rubber Gumby doll is another. Too much flexibility can weaken your joints, especially if you're slack on the strength moves. Signs that stretching has gone too far: feeling pain or an ache in your joint rather than the muscle you're stretching, and taking years to develop enough flexibility to reach a specific position. (If it takes that much work, your body just isn't meant to go there.) A regular program of resistance training will keep your joints strong — and improve flexibility.
5. Upper Body Matters
What's wrong with this picture: You have strong legs, a tight butt, twigs for arms, and soft, rounded shoulders. Hmmmm. Women tend to be all about losing fat and toning their lower bodies, which means they often minimize their upper body work. "Our higher levels of body fat tend to be perceived as a bigger problem than puny arms," says Keli Roberts, a Pasadena, California?based trainer and author of Stronger Legs and Lower Body.
A balanced upper and lower body is key for strength, bone mass, and joint stability, not to mention overall tone and shape. So the best workout for women should include strength training for your back, arms, and shoulders two to three times a week. Choose a heavy enough weight that you feel fatigued by the last few of each set of 8 to 12 reps. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that women fatigued earlier than men when doing upper — but not lower — body strength moves. So one set may provide the same benefits as two or three.
6. Feel Your Natural High
If there were no hormones, would the world be a happier place? Probably not. But it's something to think about. And the fact is, because of hormonal fluctuations, low self-esteem, and high stress, women have twice the risk of depression as men. The good news: Exercise — especially cardio — can keep these stressors at bay. "It's probably an interaction between the biological and physiological effects of working out," Dr. Brownell says. "Completing a workout has a positive psychological impact and makes you feel better about your body."
So whether you have the blues, PMS mood swings, or simply a stressful day, exercise will almost always make you feel better. "Aerobic exercise, like walking or running, is the best outlet for high stress," says Jack Raglin, Ph.D., a sports psychologist at Indiana University in Bloomington.
How much? In one study, participants who did cardio workouts for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week reported feeling less stress and were less depressed over time.
"Even one 10-minute walk can help with mood management," says health psychologist Patricia Dubbert, Ph.D., of the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. "We've found that in women, the boost from exercise was greatest in those who felt worst before the exercise."
7. Boing, Boing, Boing...
During your 20s and early 30s, impact workouts can stimulate bone-boosting cells — when combined with enough calcium and other nutrients.
After age 30, building bone isn't as easy (blame those hormonal shifts again), but stress from impact exercise can help. "One of the best exercise preventions is jumping for the lower body and resistance training for the upper body," says physiologist Larry Tucker, Ph.D., of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
Exactly how much jumping results in healthier bones is still being researched. But some studies have shown that jumping as few as 10 minutes a day improves bone mass in the hips. Try this: Jump rope in place for 1 minute, morning and night, alternating double-legged jumps in which you switch feet. (You can also do this without the rope.) Jump every day. Each week, add 15 seconds to your jumps until you've worked up to 5 minutes, twice a day, of varied jumps.
(If you have any history of being underweight or have been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis, then consult with a physician or physical therapist to get the all-clear before you start a vigorous exercise program.)
8. Sweat More, Lose Fat
Life's not fair, Volume XVI: Losing fat is easier for men. If a man and a woman both walk for 45 minutes at the same speed, on the same days, over the same period of time, the man will burn more calories than the woman. In part, that may be because he's bigger, but it's also because a woman's metabolism is about 10 percent slower than that of a man the exact same size. In general, women also carry more body fat, as opposed to lean muscle, and with higher levels of estrogen, that fat is more likely to settle on their hips and thighs. If that's not enough to make you want to wear a burlap sack, you also have more fat-storing enzymes.
Okay, that seems grim. But all it really means is that in order to lose fat and burn calories, you just have to sweat a little more and a little harder.
There are three ways to accumulate a sizable calorie burn — and sweat-soak your workout clothes. "You can do long-duration aerobic activity, like walking or running for 45 to 60 minutes at a low to moderate intensity at least 1 day a week," says Len Kravitz, Ph.D., a physiology professor at the University of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Or you can intensify the workout and save time. Move faster by, say, cycling at a race pace for 15 or 20 minutes.
If you're not up for the killer push, try interval training. For example, walk for 5 minutes and then jog for 1 minute, for 30 to 60 minutes. "Working at vigorous intensities, even for a few minutes at a time, revs up hormones that help your body burn more calories, not only during, but after a workout," Dr. Kravitz says. "You can burn an extra 20 or 30 calories postworkout. That may not seem like much, but [it adds up to] increased fat loss over months of regular exercise."
If you miss the treadmill or the bike path once a day, don't sweat it. Instead, just make a conscious effort to keep moving throughout the day. A minute or two of extra body action here and there may not seem like much, but consistently keeping your body in motion leads to weight control.
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