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Weight Training for Women and Older Martial Artists:

An Interview with Charles Staley

(Part 2)

by Tom Ross

In part one of this interview, Staley discussed the subject of Strength Training Benefits for Martial Artists.

Charles Staley is a sports conditioning specialist and author of the newly released book "Strength Training Benefits for Martial Artists". Do you feel strength training to be of value to the older martial artist, and how should the approach to training be handled by a sixty year old as opposed to a twenty year old?

Staley: As we age, we steadily lose our fast twitch muscle fibers- the ones responsible for our ability to function, maintain posture, and keep the metabolic rate at a high level. The value of properly performed strength training is that it slows the loss of these valuable fibers, so that you lose physical functioning at a much slower rate than if you did not train. In power lifting, there are men over the age of 60 who squat over 600 pounds- a weight that would simply squash the average man. One well-known power lifting coach recently lifted 900 pounds at age 58. This is only a tad less than the current open category world record.

Many, many studies have now been conducted with people over 80 years old, and it has been demonstrated that strength can be easily and safely doubled in a few months, even at these advanced ages. Kind of exciting, I think. Older athletes need to approach it more conservatively, and they should have supervision (as should everyone).

FA: Many female martial artists I've spoken to have failed to utilize a strength training program due to fears that it would add excess bulk or stimulate a masculine appearance. Could you address these fears?

Staley: I recently went on a hike in the Valley of Fire National Park, about an hour north of Las Vegas. During a break for lunch, a female friend of mine mentioned that she had just benched pressed 135 pounds for the first time ever. Another member of our party, a successful artist with an advanced academic degree, asked what the world record was for the bench press. When I replied that it was something over 400 pounds for women, he replied "Jeez, why would you want to take it that far?" I quickly jumped in and responded, "Why would you climb Mt. Everest, or try to earn your first million by age 30?" He then said "What I mean is, why would you want to get so big?" I was just dumbfounded that this man had no ability to distinguish between being strong and looking like a "brick outhouse." My client Mariam Power, who is the Canadian Jr. Champion in the sport of power lifting, bench presses 240 and squats over 400 at a body weight of 155. She looks like a Victoria's Secret model.

When a woman is strong, but maintains modest proportions, no one seems to notice. It's only when you have a woman who weighs 240 (who probably was always big, even before she ever touched a weight) that people notice.

If you ask a middle-aged woman when she thinks she was in her best shape ever, she'll invariably say that it was in her late teens or early twenties. Know why?

FA: Because her metabolism has slowed down?

Staley: Indirectly, yes. It's because that's when she had the most muscle (which is what fueled her high metabolism). Repeat after me..."Muscle is our friend, muscle is our friend."

You can also look at women at high levels in sport- Katerina Witt, (figure skating), Marion Jones (track & field). These are strong women, much stronger than the average man. And most women wouldn't mind looking like them, I assure you.

FA: True enough. Would you say that a female martial artist begins by utilizing the same approach recommended for male strength trainers?

Staley: Yes, in general. There are some differences of course. Truthfully, when I train an athlete, I look at that person individually -- the concept of sport-specific or gender-specific training is a bit over-rated. In other words, regardless of their gender or sporting event, I look at their posture, flexibility levels, training experience, injury status, and so on. These parameters probably have a greater bearing on how I train them than their gender.

FA: Many male weight lifters take precautions to prevent training injuries such as a hernia, etc. Are there any areas of concern a female new to strength training should be careful of?

Staley: In general, no. Incidentally, most lifting injuries are not what I could call an "acute" event, such as a muscle tear or someone blowing their back out. Usually, it's long term, incorrect lifting that can potentially set the athlete up for an injury down the road. A lot of this can be avoided by ensuring that one's training program has adequate diversity and variation.

The main difference I find in training females is that they have a lot of preconceived fears about resistance training making them look masculine, and so on. Having trained a lot of female athletes, I'm fairly skilled at educating them about why that won't happen. And I will say that women are very gratifying to work with, because when they do get super strong, I'll tell you, they just LOVE it. Many women are surprised by their own reaction, in fact.

A related article by Charles Staley is Strength Development: Fundamentals for Martial Artists.

About the Author

Charles I. Staley, B.Sc., MSS, is a sports conditioning specialist and Vice President of Program Development for the International Sports Sciences Association. A former martial arts competitor and trainer, Staley is also an Olympic weightlifting coach, as well as a master's level track and field competitor (discus event). He has coached elite athletes from many sports, including martial arts, boxing, track & field, football, Olympic weightlifting, and body building. Staley has written over 150 published articles, and has lectured extensively on the topics of human performance and sports training. He has recently authored a text on conditioning for the martial arts (Strength Training Benefits for Martial Artists), and has several other books in the planning stages. See: He may be reached at (800) 519-2492, or through the internet at

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

strength training, resistance training, sport-specific training, gender-specific training

Read more articles by Tom Ross

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