Resistance Training For PCOS: Avoiding The Bulk

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Many women with PCOS may feel intimidated when it comes to resistance training due to the myths and misinformation out there telling them that they may end up “bulky” or “masculine” if they start resistance training. I’m here to tell you that those claims are false. While some women with PCOS may have higher levels of testosterone and feel that they are at a disadvantage when it comes to resistance training, as a dietitian and fitness professional I want to tell you that it is a blessing, not a curse! I’m here to help you turn what some may see as a negative into a positive that has the potential to impact your life for the better and bring you the results that you’re looking for. Instead of doing endless hours of cardio to change your body composition, I want to introduce a tool that will help you lose weight faster, burn more calories at rest, and give you the confidence to wear that sexy black dress and work it like never before! Below I’ve lined out three major points to focus on when implementing resistance training into your exercise regimen.

Pick A Plan and Stick To It

Women with PCOS are bombarded with so many different diets, training programs, and so much other information that it’s hard to know what to do. This leads to trying anything and everything to get the results they want. You hear it all the time, “I tried so-and-so’s program and got great results! Now I’m going to try this one!” After training and assisting many people in their weight-loss journeys over the years, I’ve found that one of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to resistance training and their long term success is moving from program to program. To determine if a program really works, it’s best to stick to it for at least 6 months. If after 6 months you feel that you haven’t made much progress from this program, then it’s time to look at other programs. The main thing to focus on is persistence and commitment to the program.

Take Home: Stick to the plan! Don’t even think about changing programs at less than 6 months. At the 6 month mark, look back at your progress and what has worked/what hasn’t worked for you. Finding the program that works best for you and sticking to it is the key to long term success!


Prioritize Resistance Training in Your Program

Weight loss and better health is about more than just calories in vs. calories out. When cardio stops working for weight loss, a lot of women with PCOS feel that the only solution is to increase the cardio and decrease the food intake! Well, let me let you in on a lesser known secret: running more just makes you better at running and you can only decrease your calories to a certain point before your metabolism slows to a crawl. Effective weight loss is a combination of cardio, resistance training, diet, and hormones. While we can’t do much about hormones, we can optimize our training to help us achieve our goals in the most optimal way possible.  Studies have shown that increasing cardio too much can increase cortisol levels (which can be even more difficult for women with PCOS, as research has shown that women with PCOS tend to have higher cortisol levels already), slowing metabolism, causing the body to hold onto more fat and more water. Increasing resistance training and limiting excessive cardio will help decrease cortisol, optimize the conditions for more effective fat loss, and increase calories burned at rest thanks to that hard earned extra muscle!

Take Home: Turning yourself from a cardio queen to a weight lifting warrior is great, but a combination of the two in the right circumstances will likely result in the outcomes you’ve been working so hard for!


Forget Adequate, Focus on Optimal

 Almost anyone can lose weight with adequate diet and exercise. Well, we’re not talking about what’s adequate. We’re talking about what’s optimal. The question we should all ask is, what is most optimal for the results I want? Depending on if you’re looking for strength or sculpting a finely toned physique, the set and rep ranges are important to your success.

If you listen to the magazines, it would seem like the journey to a perfect body is 3 sets of 10 reps on every body part. If you’re looking for hypertrophy (increases in muscle size), then that’s more than likely the way to go. If you’re like most ladies and want the strength and confidence, but without all the bulk, sticking to heavier weight (with good form) and lower reps (3-5 sets and between 3-5 reps for main lifts such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, and 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps for accessory work like hamstring curls, tricep pushdowns, and shoulder raises, etc.) would be the best route for you.

Take Home: Forget about adequate. Focus on optimal. If you have a certain goal, train for that goal with the proper sets and reps that will get you there. You’ll be amazed at what a little focus and planning can do!

While not everyone loves the gym and nobody wants to spend half their day working out, resistance training is a necessity and should be make a priority in our lives (regardless how much or how little) to help increase our health and wellness. This is especially true for women with PCOS. I hope that after reading this article, you will feel empowered in your strength and feel that you have the right tools to charge ahead as warriors in the fight for better health and wellness. Remember, strength is never a weakness and you have the power to illicit change in the world and your life.

ZackKnightZack Knight, MS, RD, ACSM-CPT is originally from Chesapeake, VA, currently living in Greensboro, NC, working as a Clinical Dietitian at an acute care hospital in Martinsville, VA. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree with a double major in Kinesiology and Dietetics and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Physical Activity, both from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. He is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine, and competes in powerlifting with best lifts of a 515lb squat, 340lb bench press, and 525lb deadlift. You can reach him on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter all @TheBarbellRD.


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