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Weight lifting beneficial for women

Nikki McGowan teaches a weight-lifting class for women at the Patti & Allan Herbert Wellness Center

Walking into the free weights area of the Wellness Center, you can’t help but notice one thing: the vast majority of people in the area are men.

One University of Miami alumna is working to shatter that stereotype through her twice-weekly women’s weight lifting class.

“The goal of this program is to get women more familiar with the weight room,” said Nikki McGowan, the personal trainer who teaches the class. “One of my friends in the weight room pointed out to me one evening that there were girls who were interested in using ‘that side’ of the gym, but were too timid or not educated enough in proper lifting technique.”

Focusing on women who have not had extensive experience in the weight room, the class stresses high repetition exercises with low weights. A central emphasis during the class is proper lifting form, as well as the proper technique to help a friend while they are lifting.

The class is offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:15 to 10:45 a.m. and will continue until March 4 at the Wellness Center. The Tuesday sessions concentrate on exercises that work both sides of the body simultaneously, while the Thursday sessions focus on exercises alternating sides of the body. The purpose of the different types of classes according to McGowan is to encourage a comprehensive exercise routine.

“I have met many people since moving here that believe women should not lift weights which isn’t the case at all,” she said. “It can be argued that it is more imperative for women to lift than men because of their risk of osteoporosis later in life.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), at the age of 65, women have an increased chance of being diagnosed with osteoporosis, a painful and debilitating disease that weakens the strength of bones. The excessive consumption of alcohol, smoking and a passive lifestyle will increase a woman’s risk for osteoporosis later in life.

One major way of combating osteoporosis, according to the HHS, is to “build strong bones now” by consuming calcium, vitamin D and keeping a balanced diet.

Before graduating last December with a degree in exercise physiology from UM, McGowan was a 200- and 400-meter sprinter. Although she was not eligible to compete last year, she worked with head strength coach Andreu Swasey, under whom she served as an assistant strength and condition coach for the track and field and football teams.

“Under Coach Swasey I learned a lot about balancing workouts and the importance of organizing proper programs for certain athletes’ needs,” McGowan said.

Currently, she is a master’s student here, studying exercise physiology with an emphasis on strength and conditioning.

“I have been training with Nikki for a little more than a year. She has designed an amazing weight lifting program for me. The program is challenging but is gradual,” said Silvia Mitchell, a class participant. “We worked in cycles of 5 weeks in which the weight gradually increases. The results were absolutely incredible.”

Besides making women stronger, McGowan is also breaking popular misconceptions.

“I want to debunk a lot of myths that exist about the weight room, such as if women lift they will get ‘big’ or muscular which is rarely the case,” she said.

Ramon Galiana may be contacted at rgaliana@themiamihurricane.com

February 3, 2010

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Ramon Galiana

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