Resistance Training For PCOS: The Benefits and How To Do It
When I suggest resistance training for PCOS, I am often greeted with raised eyebrows.
Because resistance training is often avoided by women in fear of becoming too muscular. But you might be surprised to hear women should include resistance training into their workout program. Especially women with PCOS.
In this post, you will find out why resistance training is a great exercise for PCOS. We will look at what it is, the benefits of resistance training for PCOS and I will also give you four tips to get you started.
What is Resistance Training?
Resistance training is a type of exercise that involves your body pushing or pulling against resistance in order to increase strength, muscle mass and endurance.
So you now know what resistance training is, let’s take a look at what the benefits are for PCOS.
The Benefits of Resistance Training for PCOS
So here’s the thing.
There are limited amounts of research looking at the impact resistance training has on PCOS. But the truth is that it has tons of physical and mental benefits that can help PCOS women.
But, you may be wondering 'exactly what can resistance training do for my PCOS?'
Well, let’s take a look at what the research suggests.
Reduces Insulin Resistance and Increases Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance is the most common root cause of PCOS, with about 70% of PCOS women suffering from this. This is a condition where the cells in the body have become unresponsive to the effects of insulin. As a result, there is a build-up of sugar in the bloodstream.
To reduce blood sugar levels the pancreas starts producing even more insulin. High levels of insulin in the body then has the unwanted side effect of telling the ovaries to produce more androgens. Which then causes the PCOS symptoms women experience.
While studies show all forms of exercise can improve insulin resistance. Research shows resistance training is better. A study found that each 10% increase in muscle was associated with an 11% relative reduction in the risk of insulin resistance.
When we contract our muscles during resistance training, we increase glucose uptake. Which means glucose can be shuttled to muscles independent of insulin. Regularly applying force or tension to our muscles allows the glucose in the bloodstream to be used as energy. As a result, helping the cells becoming more sensitive to insulin.
So, if you suffer from insulin resistance implementing resistance training can be beneficial.
Lowers testosterone Levels
Women with PCOS produce too many male hormones. A study found resistance training can lower testosterone levels in women with PCOS.
Researchers looked at the effect a 16-week resistance training program would have on the quality of life of PCOS women.
The results show that after the 16 weeks their testosterone levels significantly reduced.
Now, this may have come as a shock to you because many women believe resistance training increases testosterone. But as you can see it has the opposite effect.
So, resistance training should not be feared. We should instead embrace it as an effective way to lower testosterone levels.
Resistance Training Lowers Inflammation
Researchers have found that most PCOS women have chronic inflammation in the body. Many factors can cause it including insulin resistance and high cortisol.
A study found inflammation directly stimulates the ovary to produce male hormones. And as a result PCOS symptoms.
But research shows regular resistance training lowers inflammation. This is encouraging for women who must lower levels of inflammation to reverse their PCOS.
This benefit can only be achieved, however, if you schedule rest days in your workout program. Meaning you have to allocate days where you don’t train so your body has time to heal and recover. This is because over-exercising can increase inflammation.
Weight gain is a common PCOS symptom. Researchers found PCOS women, particularly those who suffer from insulin-resistant PCOS, have a lower Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). BMR is the number of calories your body burns at rest, e.g., breathing, sleeping, sitting.
Women with PCOS are often led to believe that if their BMR is low it cannot be increased.
But this is not true.
One way to increase your BMR and boost your metabolism is to build muscle. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. This means muscle burns more calories while your body is at rest.
Lowers LDL Cholesterol
Research shows 70% of women with PCOS have high levels of LDL cholesterol, 'bad cholesterol', and low levels of HDL cholesterol, 'good cholesterol'. Both of which are associated with cardiovascular disease.
A study found resistance training significantly decreased LDL and total cholesterol levels.
Scientists have yet to find the mechanism by which resistance training lowers cholesterol levels. One theory is that due to resistance trainings effect on body composition, decreasing body mass and body fat, a benefit of this includes an improvement in cholesterol levels.
Reduces the Risk of Depression
Researchers have found this form of exercise significantly reduced the risk of depression.
The theory behind why resistance training reduces the risk of depression is that it can change the structure and function of the brain. But also because it can trigger the release of mood-enhancing chemicals such as endorphins.
Now, of course, mental health and treating depression is more complicated than just lifting weights. But the results from the study suggest resistance training can be a powerful tool that can help boost mood and support our mental health.
Improves Sleep Quality
Sleep plays a key role in balancing hormones. However, women with PCOS report difficulty falling asleep. Research shows sleep disturbances were twice as common in PCOS women than non PCOS women.
A study found resistance training can improve sleep quality. But, further studies must be done to identify the optimal time-of-day and how often to do it to reap the benefits.
Boosts Your Self-Esteem
PCOS comes with many symptoms that can impact a woman’s confidence and self-esteem. Personally, I have found from my own journey and others in the PCOS community, that resistance training can boost your self-esteem.
As you build muscle, sculpt your body and gain strength your attitude towards yourself changes. You start to feel good and your self-esteem increases.
How do you do it?
Types of Resistance Training
As I said, resistance training is any type of exercise that uses resistance. Tension can be applied to the muscle in various ways.
|Resistance Training Exercise||What is it?||Benefits|
|Free Weights||This is one of the most popular forms of resistance training. The two most common free weights are dumbbells and barbells. But kettlebells, medicine balls, sandbags and tires are also examples of free weights.|
The word ‘free’ simply means you can pick it up, move it, and essentially do whatever you want with it. With free weights, you are resisting the force of gravity on that object.
|1. Free weights allow a greater range of motion when executing an exercise. Meaning free weights allow full movement of a joint.
2. Using free weights also activates more muscles which means increased muscle and strength. But it also reduces the risk of developing muscle imbalances.
|Resistance Bands||A huge difference between free weights and resistance band workouts is the tension. With free weights, gravity dictates where the weight is coming from. So one part of the movement may have more resistance. Resistance bands also keep constant tension on the muscle you are targeting.|
They can be used in place of free weights for various exercises like bicep curls, bent over row and front squat.
|Resistance bands are portable and can be adapted to meet your strength and level of experience. This is because they can be bought in different colors and each color indicates its strength.
|Weight Machines||Machines use gravity as the primary source of resistance and often target one muscle group at a time. So depending on what muscle the machine is targeting, the resistance will be applied onto it.||Weight machines can be helpful for beginners looking to learn exercise technique. But they also provide you with support because everything is fixed into place. So, there is less risk of losing your balance unlike with free weights.|
|Suspension Equipment||Suspension equipment like the TRX is can be used by everyone regardless of their fitness level. This form of equipment uses gravity and the body weight of the individual.||1. You can increase of decrease the resistance of an exercise by adjusting the position of your body. As your body changes position during an exercise, your centre of gravity is shifted. This, therefore, forces you to activate your core muscles to stabilise your body. As a result, suspension training is an effective way to build core strength.
2. This form of equipment is light and compact so you can be used anywhere such as the gym, at home or outside.
|Body Weight||You don’t need any equipment to create resistance. An individual can use their weight to create resistance against gravity.||Bodyweight exercises are extremely convenient, easy and effective.|
You might be wondering.
Is There a Best Resistance Exercise for PCOS?
I wouldn’t say there is a ‘best’ one. Each type is effective at providing you with the benefits mentioned above. But to help you decide which resistance exercise is right for you, I suggest trying them out. Once you have giving them a go, choose the one(s) you enjoy and see yourself doing in the long term. This is important because consistency is key to seeing results.
Personally, I enjoy free weights, bodyweight and resistance bands. So, I often create a workout that includes two of these types.
Like most things in life more isn’t always better. This is especially true for resistance training. So don’t think that you need to do it every day. To reap the benefits of resistance training and decrease the risk of injury and inflammation, you want to make sure you are not over-exercising.
So here’s the thing.
Your training frequency (how often you train a muscle per week) will be dependent on factors like your schedule. But as a beginner, for example, a good place to start is to do resistance training 2-3 times a week.
Now within your training sessions, research suggests training each muscle group 2x a week over 1x a week.
Instead of doing exercises that target and train your back every Tuesday, you do those same or similar exercises again on Thursday.
Experts say this training frequency is more optimal when looking to build muscle and strength.
Beginner Resistance Training Tips
Here are 4 resistance training tips that can help get you started.
Warm-up, Stretch and Cool down
Including a warm-up, such as a walk on the treadmill, before your workout is important to prevent injury as it gets your body warm and ready for a workout.
Stretching is often recommended after your warm-up because your muscles are looser as a result of the increase in body temperature and movement. So again, there is less risk of injury.
After a workout, it is recommended you do a 5-10minute cool down is also important to add at the end of your workout to help your body return to its resting state.
Focus on form and technique
This tip is critical when you are starting out but also for experienced lifters. Work with a personal trainer to learn how to correctly execute a movement/exercise. They will teach you the exercise form and technique to ensure you are targeting the muscle you want. But most importantly executing it correctly to prevent injury.
Include the compound lifts
The compound lifts are exercises that use large and multiple muscles during a single movement, such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press. Including these compound exercises will result in faster muscle growth.
Follow a program
Find or work with a professional who can provide you with a personalized workout program. As a beginner, following a program will help you get started and will take the thought out of what exercises you should be doing. But also, following a structured program will help ensure progression and lead to faster muscle growth.
To sum up, resistance training is a great form of exercise for women with PCOS. It can help reduce insulin resistance, testosterone and inflammation in the body. As well as boost weight loss, lower LDL cholesterol levels and the risk of depression. Resistance training can also improve sleep quality. And boost your self-esteem.
All women with PCOS should include some form of resistance training in their workout to help them build muscle. Don’t be afraid of putting on muscle because, as discussed, the benefits for PCOS are incredible.
As a beginner, I suggest trying the different types of resistance training until you find one you enjoy and can do regularly. As discussed, resistance training doesn’t always involve going to the gym and lifting weights. It can be done with resistance bands, suspension equipment or bodyweight exercises.
Regardless of what type of resistance training you choose to do, make sure you warm-up, stretch and cool down. Always focus on form and technique and schedule rest days to avoid over-exercising.
So, are you ready to give resistance training a go? Let me know in the comments if you are! I for one have certainly noticed huge benefits and can’t live without it!
Hey there! I am Despina Pavlou, founder of PCOS Oracle and online coach. I want to share with you the diet and lifestyle changes I made to naturally reverse my PCOS and achieve hormonal balance. I believe using my holistic approach you too can take back control from PCOS.