In Part One of Female Strength Training, we looked at the aerobic exercise myth, free-weights versus machine strength training, the effects of strength training on muscle development and the differences in gender flexibility.
In Part Two of Female Strength training, we will consider the effects of posture, high-heels, menstruation and typical joint pain experienced in women versus men.
Sore neck and frequent headaches
Your head weighs a massive 8% of your bodyweight and today we have evolved into a forward-head culture, putting huge loads on the neck extensor muscles. Females typically have less neck extensor mass than males and their neck and shoulder girdle posture can often be compromised from puberty onwards (forward head and rounded shoulders) which may mirror emotional challenges during these years as the body changes. The tension in the neck muscles and specifically the sub-occipital, levator scapulae and upper trapezius muscles can lead to tension headaches and migraines. A well-designed exercise program will aim to counteract postural challenges and restore alignment through body joints, reducing pain and turtlehead aesthetics!
If a woman is considering breast implants, before any action is taken, first look at the position of the shoulder girdle. Rounded shoulders tighten the pectoral muscle fascia, which can cause breast droop! Postural correction comes first, and then if necessary, one is free to consider.
Lower back pain and high-heels
A myriad of causes exists for lower back pain yet it is surprising how often high-heels are neglected from the picture. With an increase in heel height, the body must compensate by either hyperextending the knees, increasing lumbar lordosis or bending the knees and flattening the lower back. The calf muscles can adaptively shorten which then pull the knees into hyperextension and the back into more lordosis. I enjoy wearing high-heels (although my friends would not call them “high”) occasionally. When dancing I can sense their impact after an hour for sure! If you do wear high-heels every day for work purposes and do suffer from a niggling lower back, consider whether they are a necessity.
Knee Joint Considerations
Collectively speaking, inherent in women’s structural anatomy is a greater ‘Q’ angle than men, or angle from our outer hip bone to knee. This greater ‘Q’ angle has been associated with higher prevalence of non-contact anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. The greater ‘Q’ angle, coupled with a wider pelvis can lead to medial rotational instability of the leg, which occurs more frequently in women than in men. A wider pelvis can also lead to iliotibial band (ITB) tightness, femoral anteversion (inward rotation of the upper leg bone), foot pronation and retro-patellar dysfunction (lateral subluxation and chronic patella tracking dysfunction). The best cure is a well-designed functional exercise program, based on an individual assessment, with attention given to core, hip, knee and ankle stabilisers.
As you may or may not know (speaking to both men and women), women’s hormones fluctuate in a cycle each month in the preparation for that possible chance of conceiving a child. Pre-menstrual symptoms may range from bloating, transverses abdominis inhibition (core stabiliser), weight gain or water retention, breast tenderness, back pain, mood swings, irritability, bowel irregularity and fatigue. Lucky hey?! A healthy diet and lifestyle to help reduce overall stress can reduce unwanted symptoms, however, take note to be gentle with yourself at this time since the body is not primed for heavy or intense exercise. Ligaments are laxer, maximal strength is lower and the body stabilisers are not working as well as usual.
A note about the core
An important muscle to restore and maintain function is the transversus abdominis (TVA). The TVA, through its connection to the thoracolumbar (mid to lower back) fascia, has a relationship with the diaphragm, the deep stabilisers of the spine and the pelvic floor, as well as the hamstrings and the peroneal muscles of the lower leg and foot. By improving TVA function, the exerciser increases the stability of the spine, pelvis, and legs. TVA function is frequently dysfunctional after childbearing, cesarean section or hysterectomy. A TVA can be inhibited by inflammation and pain, as associated with food intolerances and allergies, digestive problems and parasite or fungal infections.
For the tummy?
We see people over-doing the crunch exercise (where the trunk only moves through a limited 30-degree range of motion and fails to extend past a neutral position), with little results and maybe even the development of back pain.
Also, too much trunk flexion and not enough trunk and hip extension exercises commonly result in poor posture and impaired breathing patterns (depressed sternum and first rib angle, shortened neck flexors, tight upper abdominals). So what can you do? Firstly, an assessment by your Exercise Professional is always recommended before prescribing any movement. First, you’ll want your TVA and lower abdominals functional and thereafter more functional exercises to incorporate the rectus abdominis and obliques.
For body fat?
The major thing is to look at your nutritional, hormonal and lifestyle factors. Find a qualified coach that can help determine how internally challenged your body is and how much exercise is safe and effective. Visit my online coaching for practical exercise programs.
I invite you to visit my online coaching for practical exercise programs!
Burgomaster, K.A., Heigenhauser, G.J.F. & Gibala, M.J. (2006). Effect of short-term sprint interval training on human skeletal muscle carbohydrate metabolism during exercise and time-trial performance. J App Physiol, 100: 2041-7.
Burgomaster, K.A., Hughes, S.C., Heigenhauser, G.J.F., Bradwell, S.N. & Gilbala, M.J. (2005). Six sessions of sprint interval training increase oxidative potential and cycle endurance capacity in humans. J Appl Physiol, 98: 1985-1990.
Diane Lee Treatment of Pelvic Instability (445-459) Movement, Stability & Low Back Pain The essential role of the pelvis Ed. Andry Vleeming et.al. Churchill Livingstone 1997
Paul Chek, Equal But Not The Same (Correspondence Course) C.H.E.K Institute, 1998.
Tremblay, A., Ysohioka, M., Doucet, E., St-Pierre, A., Almeras, N., Richard, D., Labrie, A., Depres, J.P. & Bouchard, C. (2001). Impact of high-intensity exercise on energy expenditure, lipid oxidation, and body fatness. Int J Obes RElat Metab Disord, 25: 332-339.
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