Why is strength training important for women?
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.
Benefits of strength 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 mass, 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.
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 metabolism 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.
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.
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. 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
This improves your ability to do all of your activities of daily living. 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, 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: https://blog.bcbsnc.com/2019/07/resistance-band-workout-for-stronger-arms-legs-and-abs/?cmpid=??_1562771530)
- 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 lift super heavy to build strength.
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.
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 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 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.