Considering we as women reach our maximum bone density at age 30 and begin to decline afterwards, you would think that strength training would be more of a central focus for us, especially because we are four times more prone to bone loss than men. Strength training can also positively impact health issues such as insulin resistance, resting metabolic rate, glucose metabolism, blood pressure, body fat, and gastrointestinal transit time, which are associated with diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
With all these great reasons to strength train, it should be shocking to hear that a 2014 review of physical activity in the U.S. by the Center for Disease Control found that only 20% of women met the 2008 federal physical activity guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. In fact, when you look at the 25-64 age group, the percentage dropped to slightly over 18%. Obviously we are not doing an awesome job of getting women to embrace strength training.
The sandbag is effective for everyone from new trainees to fitness veterans. [Photo courtesy of Jessica Bento]
The Truth Behind Lack of Strength Training
Many women have so much on their plates that it seems understandable that we don’t find more time for strength training, or even exercise in general. This isn’t just a U.S. issue. The Daily Mail reported a Sport England study that stated two million less women than men participate in sport and daily activity. Their reasoning was even more interesting. According to the report, these women are deterred women from living healthier lifestyles because of “…concerns over appearance, ability, and whether they will, as mothers, be judged for putting themselves first.”
As much as hearing such things disheartened me, they are a reality. Fitness professional Amanda Thebe of Fit N’ Chips in Toronto specializes in teaching women how strength training can be empowerment. She sees another issue that goes hand-in-hand with lack of women’s practice of strength training. She says, “Many of my female clients would never set foot in a big box gym and could never enter a floor-space where the grunts are as big as the muscles on the meatheads making them. This is just not their place. It feels unwelcoming and intimidating.”
Believe it or not, no matter how many times women are told online that weights won’t make them bulky, the idea is still very much alive. Fitness professional, Michele Decerio, knows this all too well. “The biggest apprehensions women have about strength training are “bulking up” and fear of injury due to lifting improperly historically. This falsehood is so strongly engrained in the minds of women it may take some serious time and education until we can change it.”
That isn’t to say we aren’t allowed to care how we look. Rather, we need to keep educating women that being strong and looking good can be the same goal. In fact, understanding how we naturally move allows us to build more efficient workouts that create real world strength. Instead of starving ourselves and spending hours and upon hours with ineffective cardio training, women should seek out more effective means of making ourselves stronger, healthier, and yes, that will end with us looking our best.
Many times women are no different than men in that we cognitively know we should be doing more strength training, but just don’t really know where to begin. Annmarie Licatese, who spends much of her day trying to educate women on the empowerment of strength, says that many women she works with are apprehensive, because they are not confident about how to properly incorporate this kind of training.
Sandbag Training at Its Finest
If we are being honest, I can relate. Having been a rather high-level competitive athlete and now a physical therapist, for many years I found that most of my training time actually happened at my tiny condo’s gym. I was definitely busy, but truthfully, I didn’t have interest in dealing with “the looks” or the “crowds.” Although I had a background in health, I didn’t then have much exposure to serious strength training.
My direction started to change when I had badly hurt my back moving a patient. It became difficult to do my job and even to get out of bed in the morning. At that point, I just wanted to regain my life, let alone worry about my looks. Fortunately, things would change for me when I met DVRT and Ultimate Sandbag creator, Josh Henkin. Hearing how frustrated I was by my back injury and how it limited me in so many ways, he asked me to give his program a chance.
I was skeptical. After all, I had tried so many different things, how could this “bag of sand” make much of a difference? But everything changed when, during the first session, Josh got me to squat for the first time in a long time without pain. I needed and wanted to know more.
You might think that the idea of training with a sandbag is a bit barbaric, or lacks sophistication. But, as Amanda Thebe describes, “What in fact usually happens is my female clients get a shock. Working with sandbags is not easy, and it requires impeccable form. All the small cues I feed them matter; they must activate, stabilize, resist rotation, and move with grace and strength.” It turned out that the real purpose wasn’t to just lift the sandbag, it was to teach me about my movement, expose where I was weak, and learn how to be better connected with my body.
The fact that a sandbag isn’t iron can also play a psychological role. As Annmarie Licatese points out, “I think that women find the sandbag appealing because it’s not as intimidating as iron weights. They’re trained to move better, not just pick up heavy weights and put them down.”
Almost a decade later, I’m not only a believer, but I now help design DVRT so that no matter your starting point you can use and benefit from this amazing method. Now, not only do I wake up without low back pain, I am able to do things most guys can’t.
I’m not the only one. The results that so many women have found by using our training method has allowed them to train anywhere that works for them, and the results are astounding.
I have so many truly inspirational stories and the changes we have seen from a strength perspective though have been mind-blowing… This is huge! – Amanda Thebe
So, this is why our approach is so effective for women: the system teaches good movement with an implement that is less intimidating than iron and one that is incredibly versatile. It uses a tool and a program that can replicate the demands of real life, and it is effective for everyone from new trainees to fitness veterans.
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