Benefits of Resistance Training for Women with PCOS

Many women avoid resistance or weight training, because they believe they will “bulk up” and therefore appear more masculine. Bulking-up is a true concern for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) because they already feel more masculine due to factors such as central obesity, infertility, male pattern hair growth and acne. Resistance training, as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) “is a form of physical activity that is designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a muscle or muscle group against an external resistance.” Resistance training can help you burn more calories, and is essential for managing PCOS.

The external resistance, in weight training, may be weights, elastic bands, resistance machines and even one’s own body weight. This external resistance stimulates skeletal muscle to react and adapt to the stressor. Adaptation is seen in the form of gained muscle strength, endurance or muscle size.

Increasing muscle size during resistance training is dependent on factors such as the amount of weight being used (load), how many times the exercise is done (repetitions, sets) and lastly gender.

In order to build muscle size, a woman must train using heavy weights and fewer repetitions of the chosen exercise, whereas lighter loads and more repetitions will build muscle strength and the firmness most women are striving for.

Most importantly, gender must be taken into consideration in regards to muscle strength and size. Women tend to have 10-30% less hormones that stimulate muscle growth and men have more skeletal muscle to begin with. Men have more skeletal muscle in their upper body, which may account for why women have more difficulty than men in regards to completing push-ups and pull-ups.

Benefits of Resistance Training For Women with PCOS

Women should take advantage of resistance training because of its many health benefits, especially for women with PCOS. Resistance training can:

1. improve the efficiency of the heart and lower lipid levels such as cholesterol and triglycerides. This is important for women with PCOS because they have a higher risk of heart disease.

2. Decrease insulin levels and aid in overcoming insulin resistance. With more muscle generally comes decreased insulin resistance. This will decrease risk of Type 2 Diabetes and may help with ovulatory infertility in women with PCOS.

3. Increase bone density- this is important for reducing bone fractures and lowering risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones).

4. Increase metabolism– higher caloric burn even at rest due to increased muscle to fat ratio.

5. Increase muscle, tendon and ligament strength, reducing risk of injury.

6. Increase coordination, endurance, strength and power

7. Improve posture

8. Helps with body image


Where to Start:

First stop would be a visit to your physician to determine if you have any activity restrictions. Once you receive a clean bill of health for resistance training, it may be wise to seek out a qualified personal trainer at least for a few sessions.

Instruction is important because a trainer will be able to assess your current level of fitness and design a training routine that will meet the fitness goals you have in mind. Obtaining professional instruction will also help you feel more confident in a gym environment and make sure your form is correct. Utilizing correct form while resistance training may lower the risk of exercise related injuries.

When searching out a trainer, look for credentials such as Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) from one of the following credentialing sources:

American Academy of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
American Council on Exercise (ACE)
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

Once an evaluation and plan is in place, there are many resistance tools that can be used in the gym, as well as in the convenience of your own home.

Here are two favorite resistance tools:

Kettlebell Set by Tone Fitness
5lb, 10lb and 15lb, kettlebells complete with workout DVD

Power Loops by
Light, medium and firm resistance loops and training manual

Words of Advice

Lastly, some words to live by when it comes to exercise and body image.

“Focus on how good exercise makes you feel rather than how you would like to look. Accepting our bodies for what they are is a great way to get rid of the guilt or pressure we often feel to look a certain way.”
~~ American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Strasser B1, Pesta D2. Resistance Training for Diabetes Prevention and Therapy: Experimental Findings and Molecular Mechanisms. Biomed Res Int 2013.

Lory Hayon Headshot1

Lory Hayon RD, LDN, CPT is a Southern Nevada based registered dietitian and certified personal trainer specializing in PCOS, fertility, and women’s wellness for over 10 years. Lory can be reached at (702) 332-3677, or on twitter at @LorysFoodBuzz.


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Comments (3)
  • Joey Sjostrom, RD

    February 20, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    This is a fabulous article and very well written. I plan to share it my all my clients. Thank you Lory!

  • Leslie Klien

    February 20, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Do women with PCOS build muscle more easily than other women?

  • Alicia

    October 1, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Hi Lori,

    I was diagnosed with pcos in my mid thirties. Doctors back in the day didn’t think i had it because i was able to conceive two beautiful kids. I felt very alone because i tried very hard to follow a diet and exercise program and had a very hard time with my weight. The article about weight training is great. It is true that i have avoided weight training in the past because i have a heavy upper body and don’t want to be bigger. Ive recently incorporated lifting in my exercise routine, but with low weights. I find because of lack of knowledge instructors push people to use heavy weights and don’t understand pcos.

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