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Looking for a secret? An approach that can boost your fat loss, tone your tummy and help improve the hormonal mess that is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)? Weight training might just be your answer. Before I begin sharing my approach and some wonderful, simple exercises, let’s turn to the research into weight training and specifically how it can help women with PCOS.
Anyone who’s been listening to me for a while may be sick of hearing my many mumblings about insulin resistance. However, as insulin resistance is a potential cause of many of the signs and symptoms of PCOS, and a number of its potentially deadly consequences, here I go again.
What is insulin resistance?
“Your body produces insulin to allow your cells to ‘take in’ glucose [sugar]. When a person’s body cannot respond to insulin properly, it produces excessive amounts of insulin− known as hyperinsulinemia. As hyperinsulinemia continues, it leads to insulin resistance.”
Insulin is an important hormone with a raft of roles and actions. Research shows that weight training can reduce insulin resistance.
In another study, Turcotte and Fisher state, “It appears that resistance exercise [has] the potential to improve the action of insulin in patients with T2DM (type 2 diabetes mellitus).” As women with PCOS have insulin resistance at equivalent levels to T2DM, and are at increased risk of diabetes, this is exciting news!
Inflammation is common in PCOS, and one of the reasons we can experience pain that halts our exercise dreams dead in its tracks. Wonderfully, weight training can help here too.
Calle and Fernandez note an, “Increase in muscle mass has [a] positive impact in energy expenditure and insulin sensitivity and in turns decreases CRP.” What does this mean? Women with PCOS commonly have higher levels of inflammation, as measured in the blood by a telltale marker such as CRP. As you increase your muscle size through weight training, you also increase how much energy you can burn (great for the waistline!), improve your insulin sensitivity and reduce your CRP levels. This can boost weight loss, reduce your PCOS related signs and symptoms, and potentially pare back your pain.
Starting to exercise can create a positive cycle; giving you the forward momentum to continue, reap results and create a long-term, healthy habit that can help to transform your life.
Weight training may give the gift of other unexpected health goodies, including:
– A reduced waist circumference
– Lessened body fat percentage
– Reduced free testosterone levels
Now that you’re enthused about the possibilities weight training can offer, where should you begin?
Firstly, talk to your health professional and make sure it is safe to begin.
Secondly, decide whether your experience and knowledge enables you to go it alone, or if some professional guidance is appropriate. An exercise physiologist or an experienced personal trainer can tailor a program for you.
Thirdly, if the gym is gently calling your name, find one you feel comfortable with and sign up. If you’d feel more anonymous and motivated away from the gym, consider coercing a friend or accountability partner who will keep you on track. After all, weight training only works if you do it!
But before we delve into the types of weight training I like for women with PCOS, let’s touch quickly on an urban myth…
Strength, Not Bulk
Oh, I can read your mind (because I’ve been there).
Many women with PCOS worry that weight training will transform them into macho figures. Let me alleviate this concern right now! The infertility, irregular periods, abdominal obesity, increased hair growth and scalp hair loss that often leave a woman feeling stripped of her femininity are often related to insulin resistance. Incorporating weight training, with other lifestyle choices, will help you to tackle this issue head-on.
Don’t want huge muscles?
Easy! To walk in a bodybuilders trainers, you need to plan specifically to achieve this outcome. And it’s a dedicated existence. Resistance training alone won’t get you there.
Now that’s decided, what weight training do I recommend and why?
Functional weight training lifts in a way that you would in life, as opposed to an exercise focused on one main target muscle in a set position. Let’s do a bicep curl comparison.
A traditional bicep curl holds a stable position, a weight in the hand, and an up and down movement guided by the continued bend and extension of the elbow.
A functional movement might consider this same muscle, the bicep, as it would act when lifting a bag of groceries. While the comparable action is present with the bend and extension of the elbow, a host of other muscles are also used. Think about the core muscles needed to stabilize the torso, the legs to lift the bag, the shoulder muscles to hold the load. This doesn’t mean you need to do your shopping prior to a workout, but does illustrate the difference.
Why is this better?
Why exercise one muscle when you can strengthen six together? This time saver also tones your frame in a holistic manner, which can protect against injury and reduce pain. And I think it’s more fun!
Body weight training is just as it sounds; you use your body weight for work out. This option is ideal, and intensity can be increased as fitness develops.
There are many body weight exercise options, so boredom should never be a factor. Need a challenge? There will always be a step up, so to speak, a next level. Or you can combine bodyweight and traditional weights once you are fighting fit and ready to take on the world.
If you are a super fit athlete already, explore and enjoy! If you’re not quite at that stage yet — neither are most of us — so begin simply and work your way healthier.
A set of lunges can be lowered and held longer. And push-ups can be moved from an on-knee to on-toes version, up to a plyometric push off that really tests your muscles. Wall squats can begin with knees at 135 degrees and dropped down to 90 degrees as your legs fortify.
Want to maximize your muscle strength? Hold. Oh, how that short word can create pain, perseverance, and develop your strength! I remember shaking violently as my personal trainer sternly warned me to hold it… just a little longer, come on, just a little longer!
Squats, push-ups, lunges, planks… Never mistake body weight training as an easier option. Plus, by choosing yourself for your workout weight, you are ready wherever you go!
To conclude, weight training is an important addition to the lifestyle choices of women with PCOS. It might just be a missing piece to your success puzzle.