Womens Resistance training

Womens Resistance Training. Is it the same as it is for men? Hormonally speaking?

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Resistance training triggers a hormonal response.  If it didn’t your body would not respond by increasing muscle mass, strengthening tendons and reinforcing bones.  The hormonal changes that occur following training are well-documented in men.  Men who do resistance training show marked changes in hormones and marked changes in muscle mass.  Men and women both benefit from resistance training.  While many fitness sites and health writers tell women that they will not “bulk up” if they add resistance training to their fitness programs, many women are still reluctant to try.  What happens to women when they start resistance training?

Womens resistance training and hormones

Men’s hormone profiles change during resistance training.  Men undertaking resistance training experience:

  • increases in growth hormone (GH)
  • increases in insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1)
  • increases in testosterone
  • reduction in cortisol
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But what about women?   There hasn’t been as much research on what happens with women.  There just aren’t as many research subjects for studies, and possibly less interest.  At least in the past.  That seems to be changing.  A recent paper published by a research team affiliated with the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine looked at changes in womens hormone profiles when they started weight training.   It looks like resistance training also causes hormonal changes in women.   But the changes may be different.  Women showed:

  • increases in growth hormone
  • increases in total IGF-1
  • increases in several IGF-1 binding proteins
  • a decrease in free IGF-1
  • no change in cortisol
  • no change in testosterone

IGF-1 appears to protect or increase bone strength (Courtland 2013).  Laboratory animals with low IGF-1 had “older” more fragile bones than animals with higher IGF-1.  Growth hormone also maintains tissue and helps maintain strength.

Why do Growth Hormone and IGF-1 matter for women?

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Women have less bone and muscle than men to start with.  They are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.  Women may also notice the impact of strength loss before men.  This can be a serious problem leading to frailty later in life.    Frailty is a major factor in loss of independence.  Most women already know they should include resistance exercise in their fitness programs.  Hopefully understanding why and understanding how it works will help provide a little more motivation.

IGF-1 Supplements

Some supplement or nutriceutical companies market IGF supplements to women telling them it will increase youthfulness and vitality.  You may see claims that the supplements are “safe” and “natural.”  To be honest, no one knows if they are safe or not.  There simply hasn’t been enough research to know.  While IGF-1 may protect bone and muscle some suggest that suppressing IGF-1 leads to a longer life-span.   It is also very hard to know how much IGF-1 is in a supplement.  You may be getting nothing, or you may be getting an amount that may harm your health in the long run.   Supplement contents may be “natural.”  But, that is no claim to safety or to effectiveness.  Better to keep strong and healthy by eating well and exercising (and including resistance training) rather than trying to tweek your hormone levels.  We are the product of millions and even billions of year of evolution.   That deserves respect.


Niemann I, Hannemann A, Nauck M, Spielhagen C, Völzke H, Wallaschofski H, & Friedrich N (2013). The association between insulin-like growth factor I and bone turnover markers in the general adult population. Bone, 56 (1), 184-90 PMID: 23792936

Courtland HW, Kennedy OD, Wu Y, Gao Y, Sun H, Schaffler MB, & Yakar S (2013). Low levels of plasma IGF-1 inhibit intracortical bone remodeling during aging. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 35 (5), 1691-703 PMID: 22976122

Deer Antler Velvet may get you banned from competition Crossfit or otherwise

CrossFit Supplements: Deer Antler Velvet Supplements and Human Growth Hormone. Yes or No?

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Deer antler velvet supplements are marketed to body builders, weightlifters, athletes and others. Advertisements claim that deer antler velvet can increase strength gain, speed recovery, improve joint health and increase “vigor.” Deer antler velvet has been used as traditional medicine in China for quite some time. When I first heard about it I thought this was a load of hooey and hoped that no deer were harmed in production.  It turns out that Deer Antler Velvet Supplements may work after all.  Their effectiveness may depend on how much human growth factor has been added to them.

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How deer antler velvet supplements might work.

Deer antler velvet is a velvety substance that covers the developing antlers of male deer.  Antlers require a lot of bone building in a relatively short period of time.  The growth is hormone driven.  Deer antler velvet contains a hormone called Insulin Like Growth Factor.  You may know it as IGF or IGF-1.  Normal deer produce deer IGF.  It is a little different than human IGF.  IGF is used to treat some forms of dwarfism and stunting in children.  It increases growth.  It shows promise in some medical treatments for nerve damage.  IGF declines with age and some people believe that increasing growth hormones will slow or halt aging.  IGF may help preserve muscle mass and strength.  However, IGF can also increase the growth of abnormal cells and increase risk of cancer.

Does deer IGF have the same effect as human IGF?

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It probably does.  Deer IGF and human IGF are very similar.  Deer antler IGF can probably interact with human IGF receptors.  However this isn’t known for sure.  A very interesting paper on Deer Antler Velvet was published this month (October 2013).  Researchers analyzed Deer Antler Velvet supplements and found that many of them actually contained human IGF or IGF from other species in addition to deer IGF.  Athlete use of IGF is illegal.  If you are a competitive athlete you should not use deer antler velvet supplements unless you are sure it has not been “beefed” up with illegal additives.  Other people should avoid deer antler velvet supplements too because using them may increase risk of cancer.

Cox HD, & Eichner D (2013). Detection of human insulin-like growth factor-1 in deer antler velvet supplements. Rapid communications in mass spectrometry : RCM, 27 (19), 2170-8 PMID: 23996390