Why women should strength train
We all want to look and feel our best. Whether your goal is to improve your health, athletic performance, fat loss, or you just want to change the shape of your body then strength training is definitely the answer for you. When it comes to women lifting weights, countless amounts of conflicting information makes it hard to separate fact from fiction. Because of this, many women end up in a vicious cycle of a never-ending cardio routine and a fear of lifting heavy weights.
While the myths and misconceptions out there have started to evolve in recent years there are still two main ones that I need to dispel:
Myth 1 – Lifting weights causes women to be bulky
In more than 15 years of working in the fitness industry I have heard this repeated more times than I can count. There are numerous images in the media of female bodybuilders and professional CrossFit athletes and this is what people believe they will look like if they pick up a dumbbell, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. It can take lifting seriously heavy weights up to 6 days a week for many years, alongside eating in a calorie surplus for women to significantly increase their lean muscle mass. Adding in weight training 2 or 3 times per week is not going to make you look like them.
Women have the ability to lift a huge amount of weight, but do not increase lean muscle mass the same as men do due to the physiology of the female body. Compared with men women produce much less testosterone, meaning we will gain lean muscle mass but won’t get huge.
My favourite way to think of it is like this: “Not lifting weights from fear of looking like a bodybuilder, is like not driving your car because you fear becoming a race car driver”
Myth 2 – Cardio is the most effective way to burn calories
Far too many people are focused on how many calories they burn while they’re in the gym, but this is short-sighted. We need to stop focusing on how many calories we burn on the treadmill and instead focus on how our body expends calories outside the gym. Lets face it most of us spend 1 hour in the gym and 23 hours per day outside of it. You burn calories throughout the day regardless of what you are doing, but exercise helps increase the rate at which you burn those calories. High intensity, resistance and weight training can lead to a greater total amount of calories being expended than cardio alone. I’m not saying to avoid cardio but it just doesn’t provide enough stimulus to increase levels of lean muscle, which makes your body more metabolically efficient by burning calories even when the body is at rest.
Benefits to strength training for women
Aside from improving your body composition by increasing lean body mass, there are several other benefits of strength training in addition to muscle growth and looking fitter.
Here are a few reasons why as women we should be prioritizing strength training:
1. Increases metabolic rate
Most literature suggests resistance training boosts basal metabolic rate by between 6 and 7% after several weeks of training. Your basal metabolic rate accounts for between 60 and 75% of your energy expenditure each day.
When you lift heavier weights to near failure your body releases growth hormone and testosterone to help you build muscle and burn fat. The more muscle tissue you have the better for your metabolism. A pound of fat isn’t very metabolically active, it only burns between 3 and 5 calories a day, but in contrast a pound of muscle burns almost 5 times that amount daily.
2. Bone Health and anti aging
Due to dropping levels of oestrogen, postmenopausal women are prone to osteoporosis. Numerous studies show a positive relationship between resistance training and bone density. Not only can strength training offset bone loss, it can actually cause an increase in bone density in women who regularly lift weights.
Increasing bone density while you are younger has been show to delay the degeneration of bone strength as you age.
Strength training can also cause women to produce more human growth hormone; this hormone is considered an important part of reducing the effects of the biological aging process.
3. Heart Health
Strength training can reduce your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association approves it as a form of healthy exercise for those as risk of heart related conditions. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that those who lift weights are less likely have heart disease risk factors such as a large waist circumference, high triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, and elevated glucose levels.
4. Hormone Balance
Weight training is brilliant for women that struggle with their hormones. Firstly, lifting weights can help improve your body’s insulin response, which helps to regulate your levels of a stress hormone called cortisol. For anyone with blood sugar problems such as pre-diabetes or diabetes, weight training can improve your body’s response to insulin. Many women who suffer from PCOS often suffer with insulin resistance and elevated insulin levels can cause hormonal imbalances. Weight training can improve this and help ameliorate PCOS symptoms, one of which is problems with losing weight.
5. Injury prevention
During resistance training we put loads through our joints, creating physiological changes in the bone, muscle, and connective tissue. It helps strengthen muscle and tendons while increasing the flexibility of the ligaments, decreasing the risk of you pulling or tearing a muscle.
Even in your day-to-day life strength training have a positive impact. Normal tasks such as carrying the groceries or moving your sofa become a little bit easier and less risky. When you are stronger you can move in more efficient ways and that works in our favour to prevent injuries.
Lets be honest although all these health benefits are amazing, we all want to look and feel better. Strength training and weight lifting can change your outward physique, but what if it could also heal your view of yourself? Looking good might be our motivation, but when your body shows you what it is capable of, you will have a new respect for it and will never look back.
Do you want to look and feel your best on the inside and out? Come and lift weights with me. You can find me on Instagram: @jesstowl or you can Email me: JT@innerfight.com
Jess is part of the Innerfight endurance team.