Not just a guys' club: resistance training benefits older women too

Lifting weights beneficial for women too: study

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When looking at gains as a percentage based on body size, no sex differences were found in muscle size or upper body strength. Photo: Shutterstock.

When looking at gains as a percentage based on body size, no sex differences were found in muscle size or upper body strength. Photo: Shutterstock.

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Men and women over 50 make similar gains relative to body size when doing resistance training, study finds.

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Men might get bigger muscles, but lifting weights at the gym benefits women just as much, a new Australian study shows.

The research led by University of New South Wales found men and women over 50 make similar gains relative to their body size when doing resistance training.

Researchers looked at the results of 30 resistance training studies with over 1400 participants, and compared the results for men and women aged 50 and over who mostly had no prior resistance-training experience.

"Historically, people tended to believe that men adapted to a greater degree from resistance training compared to women," said the study's senior author and exercise science lecturer at UNSW Medicine & Health, Dr Amanda Hagstrom.

"The differences we found primarily relate to how we look at the data - that is, absolutely or relatively. 'Absolute' looks at the overall gains, while 'relative' is a percentage based on their body size."

The paper is the first systematic review and meta-analysis to examine whether older men and women reap different resistance training results. The findings add to past research on differences in younger adults (18-50), which suggested that men and women can achieve similar relative muscle size gains.

"We found no sex differences in changes in relative muscle size or upper body strength in older adults," said Dr Hagstrom.

"It's important for trainers to understand that women benefit just as much as men in terms of relative improvement compared to their baseline."

Sex-specific workout tips

Older men tended to build bigger muscles when looking at absolute gains, the researchers found. They were also more likely to see greater absolute improvements to upper and lower body strength.

But when it came to relative lower body strength, older women saw the biggest increases.

"Our study sheds light on the possibility that we should be programming differently for older men and women to maximise their training benefits," says Dr Hagstrom.

The teamlooked at what resistance training techniques gave the best results for each sex.

"Older men might benefit from higher intensity programs to improve their absolute upper and lower body strength," says Dr Hagstrom.

"But older women might benefit from higher overall exercise volumes - that is, more weekly repetitions - to increase their relative and absolute lower body strength."

Longer training durations could also help increase relative and absolute muscle size (for older men) or absolute upper body strength (for older women).

"Changes to exercise regimes should be made safely and with professional consultation," said Dr Hagstrom.

Strengthening future health

Feeling stronger and having bigger muscles aren't the only benefits to resistance training.

Resistance training can offer other health benefits, like increasing a person's stamina, balance, flexibility and bone density. It has also been shown to help improve sleep, sense of wellbeing, and decrease the risk of injury.

"Strength training is very important and beneficial to our health - especially for older people," said Dr Hagstrom.

"It can help prevent and treat many age-related chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis."

Dr Hagstrom hopes her future research can identify more best-practice prescriptions for resistance training exercises.

"Learning more about resistance training and its benefits could help improve overall health outcomes for Australia's ageing population," she added.

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