Why Women Need Muscle

What’s the point of getting strong and can yoga get me there?

 

It’s not something that many women aim for… yet it’s something we ALL need and would benefit from so much.

Do you want to feel energetic, confident and make maintaining your weight easier? – then build muscle!

In this mini blog I’ll talk about why building strength is so essential, and how one particular type of yoga helps get you there! Hint…. It’s Ashtanga. 😉

(Ps. If you’re a man reading this – I’m aiming this at the ladies today! But it’s mostly all relevant to you too! It’s just that men don’t need as much convincing to work on strength).

 

Why don’t we do it?

It seems to be a cultural norm that men lift weights and women do cardio and/or ‘stretchy’ yoga. Do you agree?

To some extent this has been changing in the last 10 years, thankfully. There are more and more of us ladies that love Cross Fit and Olympic weight-lifting, and to them I say “you go girl!!!”

But, in my experience, the majority of us women find the weights section in the gym a little intimidating! Or we feel that working on strength will make us too ‘bulky’ or that it is essentially a ‘manly’ thing to do.

 

Well… there are two things I’d like to say to that:

  1. You deserve just as much space in that weights section as ANYONE! (So go use it if you’re curious!)
  2. You can build strength OUTSIDE the gym too! Such as squatting with a kettle-bell, or doing planks at home, ooooor doing some strength-focussed Ashtanga Yoga! More on this later…. 😉

 

Why is muscle beneficial?

Muscles are used for so much more than looking ‘beach ready’!!!

They are important for our health in several ways: 1) Avoiding injury. 2) ‘Soaking up’ blood sugar. 3) Increasing bone strength. 4) Motivating movement in general. 5) Aaaaand increasing confidence as you DO look better with some muscle!

 

1) Avoiding injury.

Strong muscles help your body move efficiently, without over-straining your bones, tendons and ligaments. For example, the stronger your thighs, bum, back and core muscles are, the less likely it is that picking up a child or something heavy from the ground will hurt your back!

 

2) ‘Soaking up’ blood sugar.

Your muscles use blood sugar as a fuel. The bigger your muscles, the more they act as a sponge to soak up sugar when it enters your blood stream after a meal. It’s natural and normal for your blood sugar to rise after eating, but how quickly your body can bring this level back down is a marker of how fit and healthy your body is.

If your muscles don’t absorb this sugar… then your fat cells will. This is also OK and natural! But, I’m sure you’d rather fuel your muscles. 😉

 

3) Increasing bone strength

Bones respond to being used. The saying ‘use it or lose it’ also applies to them! For bone density to remain high, it’s important that we lift heavy things (such as weights or our body as a weight). Working on building muscle therefore helps to keep our bones strong too.

This becomes ESPECIALLY important for us, women, when we pass the beautiful 4-0, as it’s normal for bones to start losing density gradually at this stage. (Unless we lift heavy things!)

 

4) Motivating more movement

When you’re stronger all over, everything in life seems a little easier. So the motivation to jump up and go for a walk or run or swim or dance or…. (fill the black) will be higher!

In this way, having more strength will have a knock-on effect on your cardiovascular AND your mental health as well. Few things are worse for cardiovascular and mental health than a lack of movement and engagement with life.

 

5) Body confidence

Muscle makes you look and feel good. I’m no fan of super restrictive eating or of aiming for a very low body weight. So, please don’t miss-understand my message.

In my opinion, building MUSCLE is the healthiest way of changing the size and shape of your body. And you can do this while still eating enough nutritious food!

Without ‘losing’ weight, this will help your body feel firm and capable. And (through the ‘sugar sponge’ mechanism mentioned above) it may just cause a bit of healthy weight loss (if you need it), without you even trying!

 

How can YOGA help me build muscle?

You’re probably thinking “What’s all this got to do with yoga?” Well, let me explain.

The styles of yoga that I love to practice and teach are Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow yoga. These are strength-building styles which use plank-poses, push-up movements, squats, hand-stands and arm-balances!

It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but for those of you who love getting a sweat on and ‘feeling the burn’ – Ashtanga or Vinyasa Flow yoga is for you!

It’s the way I personally stay strong and toned, and keep my body injury free while picking up a heavy toddler all day long!

But I don’t want you to take my word for it… I’ll show you some science to back it up!

 

A little scientific proof…

Ashtanga, as a specific style of yoga, has not been studied by many researchers yet, but studies are fast being published. (This is very exciting for me!)

To date, the largest randomised controlled Ashtanga Yoga intervention was on 34 women aged 35-50 (Kim et al., 2012). Eighteen were assigned to the ‘control’ group and 16 to the Ashtanga exercise group. Those in the latter group attended 8 months of Astanga yoga twice a week, with each session lasting around 1 hour.

The researchers observed many different health and fitness aspects and whether they would change after the 8 month intervention. However, the one measurement I will focus on today is leg strength.

This increased significantly in the Ashtanga Yoga group compared with the control group!

(For outcomes on Bone Density, have a look at my blog on this: “Yoga Science: Bone Density” )

 

What about upper-body strength?

I find this finding especially significant because Ashtanga Yoga doesn’t actually focus that much on the legs!!

I have been practicing this style regularly for 5 years now, and from my experience, I can say that it strengthens the arms, core and back more than the legs. (I always add EXTRA squats to the traditional sequence of poses!)

The study by Kim et al. (2012) didn’t measure upper-body, core or back strength. However, if they found an increase in leg strength after Ashtanga yoga, then it’s very likely they would have found an even bigger increase in upper-body, core and back strength!

Upper-body strength is also something that women in particular don’t focus on as much as men. I think there might be a lot of limiting beliefs that we hold, which go something like this:

“I can’t do push-ups” or “I have weak wrists” or “I’m just not strong”

And unfortunately, these things will become true if we don’t do the work to strengthen these areas! (Which is the chicken, and which is the egg?)

 

The take-away message?

I’m not being disparaging to women!

I just believe that the vast majority of us CAN (and deserve to) be strong and confident in our bodies. However, many of us are stopped by cultural ideas of what’s a ‘feminine’ form of exercise. Or we are stopped by internalised ideas that we are not ABLE to be strong!

I wish to motivate more of us to lift up a heavy kettle-bell, do some push-ups or some strength-based yoga!

It’s not only about how you look (though it does help!) – but very much about how you FEEL: confident, strong and capable!

Yoga homework

Let’s do a strength-based yoga session this week!

If you are a member of my BendyLife community, go along to the orange strength theme and pick any class.

It could be 15 minutes 30 minutes or 1 hour!


Planning it in

Then, going forwards, plan in at least ONE strengthening activity each week. This could be strength-yoga or a short session of lifting something heavy!


And if you need a little help getting started with Ashtanga yoga, go along an have a look at my classes… 😉

You deserve to feel strong!

Learn more about BendyLife yoga...

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in the comments below!

Jolanthe x


Reference

Kim, S., Bemben, M. G., & Bemben, D. A. (2012). Effects of an 8-month yoga intervention on arterial compliance and muscle strength in premenopausal women. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 11(2), 322.

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