Benefits of Resistance Training for PCOS

weight training pcos

If you spend any time on the internet or social media, you’re probably overwhelmed with the conflicting advice on exercise. One site says weight training is the best, while another site says it will worsen your PCOS or cause you to get too bulky due to already high testosterone levels. So what’s the deal? The bottom line is that strength training is one of the best types of exercise for PCOS. It can help lower insulin levels as well as androgens, speed metabolism and more. Read on to get the low down on the benefits of strength training for PCOS.

This is the fourth blog post of my Exercise and PCOS series where I interview 6 top PCOS exercise experts to get their input. Check them all out!
PCOS and Exercise: Tips to Get Started 
What are the Best Types of Exercise for PCOS?
Is HIIT Good for PCOS?

What is resistance training?

I find that many of my clients with PCOS neglect resistance training. It may be due to gym anxiety,  not know what to do, fear of bulking up or false info on social media. Or perhaps the words strength training conjures up images of downing protein shakes and lifting 50 pound dumb bells! Kudos to you if you can lift that much weight, but that’s not what you need to do!

Resistance training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance with the expectation of increases in strength, tone, mass, and/or endurance. The external resistance can be dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing, your own body weight, bricks, bottles of water, or any other object that causes the muscles to contract. Resistance training works by causing microscopic damage or tears to the muscle cells, which in turn are quickly repaired by the body to help the muscles regenerate and grow stronger.

Benefits of resistance training for PCOS

  1. Lowers androgens
  2. Improves insulin sensitivity. References #1 and #2
  3. Lowers blood glucose. The combination of aerobic and strength training have the greatest effect of lowering HbA1c.
  4. Improves body composition by building muscle and losing body fat. If you’ve started weight training, you may have noticed that your clothes are looser and you are getting more “narrow” despite the scale not changing much. This is because you are losing body fat and building muscle. This is a good thing!
  5. Helps with weight loss – the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even at when you are at rest.
  6. Improves mood
    Not specifically for PCOS, but important ….
  7. Builds muscle strength and tone. Humans lose 5 pounds of muscle every decade after age 30.
  8. Resistance exercise can slow down or even reverse the aging process by building muscle mass and strength.
  9. Builds bone
  10. May lower blood pressure

Do women with PCOS get bulky due to testosterone?

Visions of body builders lifting massive weights with HUGE muscles is not what most women want. Now it’s true that many women with PCOS have elevated androgens (like testosterone). But it’s no where near as high as the typical male. In addition, body builders spend hours in the gym, lift very heavy weights and usually eat tremendous amounts of calories. So it’s unlikely that you will get bulky. However, this question is worth addressing, so I turned to my 6 PCOS exercise experts.

Letisha Bates

Of all the disadvantages of PCOS, this one can actually work in your favor. Higher testosterone can help us build muscle which allows us to burn more calories at rest, have shorter recovery, and improve strength. Studies also show with improved muscle mass it can help improve insulin sensitivity. Picking up the weights will not cause you to break out into the Incredible Hulk but it will help improve your PCOS symptoms.
To learn more above Lestisha: Instagram@ bateslovesweights as well as Facebook  or my website LiveFreeHealthCoaching

Despina Pavlou

Women with PCOS will find it easier to put on muscle because of the higher levels of testosterone. So you may get bulky and put on muscle a lot easier, than women who don’t have PCOS, until you achieve hormonal balance.  But the muscle shouldn’t be feared, it should be embraced.

Martha’s note: I’ve seen some of Despina’s videos on IG and she is lifting VERY heavy weights. It has not made her bulky.
To learn more about Despina: PCOS Oracle, PCOS and Nutrition Podcast:, Podcast link to iTunes, Instagram: @pcosoracle Facebook: @pcosoracle

Maria Horstmann

There’s no answer fits all here. Most women with PCOS will not get bulky. It is also important to remember that not every woman with PCOS has elevated testosterone either. Those women who do have elevated levels of testosterone, they shall not be concerned. That is because with so many exercise modalities and combinations, it is easy to build practises and routines that offer all the mental, emotional, and physical benefits that exercise offers without bulkiness.
To learn more about Maria: www.BeFabBeYou.com, Facebook, Instagram

Erika Volk

I think the theory that high androgens cause PCOS women to grow and develop muscle faster than a woman with normal androgens holds some merit.I do not see this as a bad thing. Muscle helps women improve metabolic factors, maintain lower body fat and score some feminine curves. So for once, PCOS women might have a superpower!!!In my experience, women who feel a little bulky mistakenly blame their muscle instead of their body fat. It is not uncommon for women who’ve recently started working out to get a bit bulky before they start leaning out. Once their diet and workout are consistent, they begin losing body fat, and they become infatuated with their sexy new muscles. Also, the term ‘bulky” is subjective. We all have different expectations when it comes to how we want our body to look. So it’s important that you set a standard of beauty for yourself. Do not let airbrushed images in magazines rob you of body confidence!
To learn more about Erika: pcospersonaltrainer.com, or follow her on YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and FaceBook.

Ginny Silvestro

More testosterone means more muscle mass, but that doesn’t equate to bulky. Bulk muscle is due to the type of weight lifting activity that is done and the diet that is followed.
To learn more about Ginny: BodyEnhancingFitness.com Follow my personal fitness journey: Facebook    Instagram   Twitter

Lindsay Martin

NOT AT ALL! Everyone’s body is different, so if you’re following an actual body builder, then yes, you’re probably going to find someone who is bulky. But it’s important to know their background. Are they using enhancements, are they using certain supplements to achieve that look? I’m a woman with high testosterone from my PCOS and I am not bulky at all! If anything, use the extra testosterone to your advantage! What you’re body can do when you learn it properly is amazing! I know that If I workout heavy with my lower body I can create the physique I desire. I also know that if I lift lighter for my upper body I can do the same. My advice when a woman is afraid she might bulk, embrace your curves sister! Your build will be based on your natural body, how much and how often you lift, and how you’re lifting.
To learn more about Lindsay:  instagram @lindsayrenemartin 

Recommendations for resistance training:

Aim for to perform resistance training exercise at least twice a week in addition to aerobic exercise – and ideally yoga or pilates.  Use free weights, weight machines, resistance bands or your own body weight. Each session should consist of at least one set of five or more different resistance exercises involve large muscle groups. Read my previous post,  PCOS and Exercise: Tips to Get Started for more info.

Tips to get started
-Use DVDs or YouTube videos for weight training.  If you are just starting out, look for videos for beginners.
-Consider working with a qualified personal trainer, for even a few sessions. to learn proper technique.
-Check out the experts profiles on social media for tips.
-Check out On-demand strength training exercise videos
-Go to a local YMCA, health club or senior center for strength training classes
-Other activities that build and keep muscle like heavy gardening
– As to how much weight you should lift, pay attention to how your body feels. Depending on what your goals are, you should be able to do 12-16 reps when lifting a weight. If you can do much more than this, you aren’t stressing the muscle enough to get results. But if your goal is to really build muscle, you’ll likely want to go heavier on the weights and do fewer reps.
– But bottom line, it lifting weights causes you pain or you don’t like what’s it doing to your body, don’t do it … or do very light weights.

 

Bottom line

Strength training should be a part of your exercise program. Don’t fear it! It has so many health benefits for your body. I did a post on it on Instagram and so many women commented that it was weight training – more so than any other type of exercise –  that really helped to decrease their symptoms of PCOS. Pay attention to what type of resistance training is best for your body. Heavy weights? Lighter weights? Alternating cardio with weights? There are so many forms of resistance training. You’ll need to find what works for you. If you need guidance, contact any of the PCOS experts above.

 

I’d love to hear how weight training works for you! Shoot me an email or write in the comments.

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I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.

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