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Why is strength training important for women?

By Michelle Rogers, CPT | November 8, 2019 | Healthy Lifestyle

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Resistance training isn’t just about getting more muscle tone. It’s also about becoming healthier, more fit, and feeling stronger — all of which is empowering for women.

Exercising with weights provides many important health benefits for women, and should be included in your fitness routine along with cardio workouts.

Benefits of weight training

There are many advantages of resistance training and becoming physically stronger. Here are some of them.

Helps prevent age-related muscle and bone loss

Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3-5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. A combination of age-related changes, inactivity, and inadequate nutrition conspire to gradually steal bone density, at the rate of 1% per year after age 40. As bones grow more fragile and susceptible to fracture, they are more likely to break (Harvard Health). Strength training can reduce the risk of osteoporosis, especially important for women. And of course, a great full-body workout can give you stronger muscles.

Actually makes your bones stronger

Studies have shown that strength training not only helps slow bone loss, but it can also even build bone. Activities that put stress on bones can cause cells to form more bone. That stress comes from the impact on bones that can occur during strength training and other weight-bearing exercises like running. The result is stronger, denser bones (Harvard Health).

It helps you lose weight

Resistance training builds muscle, which increases your metabolism. A higher metabolic rate means you burn more calories all day, even at rest. As women age, our metabolism naturally slows down —often leading to a steady weight gain over the years, even if your diet hasn’t changed. Exercise helps fight this by revving up your metabolism, helping to keep off the extra pounds of body fat. So if weight loss is your goal, it’s a great idea to add weight training to your workout program.

It gives you a leaner appearance and better posture

Strength training helps shape and “tighten up” your body, giving you a more fit look. Targeted exercises can also correct muscular imbalances and increase awareness of how you carry your body, helping to improve posture as you build muscle strength with your workout routine.

Lifts your mood, and increases self-confidence

Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, triggering the release of endorphins and serotonin, the “feel good” hormones. When you feel good inside and out, you naturally project yourself more confidently in the world. In addition, recent research found that resistance training helped to significantly reduce symptoms of depression and bring down your stress levels, meaning strength training can actually boost your mental health. READ: Can exercise make you happier?

Boosts your brainpower

Studies have found that exercise benefits your brain health. In fact, Georgia Tech researchers found that a single bout of lifting weights can improve memory!

Increases your muscular strength and endurance

Exercise improves your ability to do all of your activities of daily living. Weight lifting, either with machines or with free weights (or even your own body weight), is a great way to build lean muscle. It also improves your balance, which can help prevent falls and injuries.

Improves your overall physical health

Strength exercise can help reduce resting blood pressure, boost your heart health, improve blood lipid profiles, prevent or improve type 2 diabetes, decrease physical discomfort, and reduce the risk of some types of cancer, among other amazing benefits.

Alternatives to pumping iron

Dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells aren’t the only ways to get an effective strength workout. Other modalities work, too. For example:

  • Bodyweight exercises – lunges, squats, push-ups, planks, etc.
  • Resistance bands (see our exercises here)
  • Suspension training
  • Gym machines such as the leg press, lat pulldown bar, rowing, chest press, and cable machines.

Lighter weights will work, too

You might be surprised to know that you don’t have to do heavy lifting to build strength. There are lots of different ways to add strength training workouts to your exercise program and start building lean muscle mass.

In a university study, researchers found that lifting less weight more times is just as effective at building muscle as training with heavy weights. The key to muscle gain is working to the point of fatigue, say the researchers. That means doing as many reps as you can with good form.

So, if muscle growth is your goal you have a choice: Lift heavier weights with fewer reps; or lift light weights with many reps.

In any case, if you are a beginner it’s a good idea to start with lighter weight. This will help prevent injury to your muscles, tendons, and joints; and will enable you to focus on proper technique and correct form. Then progress by working your way up to more over time, steadily increasing the amount of weight and reps over a period of weeks and months.

Do 2-3 strength workouts a week

The current government physical activity guidelines advise that, in addition to regular aerobic exercise, adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

Typically, with my clients, I advise alternating cardio-focused days and strength-focused days. For example, an aerobic activity on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and strength work on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This schedule will give you a well-rounded level of fitness, and allows time in between strength work for your muscles to recover, which is important.

Keep training and be patient

You’ll feel results before you see them. Muscle growth takes time, good nutrition and consistent training. Genetics also play a role. “How quickly those changes are seen varies for each individual,” says Dr. Erin Nitschke for the American Council on Exercise. “No two bodies are exactly the same and, therefore, no two people will build strength and size at equal rates.”

If you are new to strength training, it can be difficult to try and figure everything out on your own and to do it safely. Consider working with a qualified professional to instruct and support you. A certified personal trainer can create a personalized exercise program and work with you one-on-one to help you reach your goals and avoid the risk of injury.

Thinking about joining a gym? You can get discounts on gym memberships and other health and fitness products and services with Blue365, a free benefit available to all Blue Cross NC members. Learn more here.