Like many women, I avoided lifting weights for years. I was the Queen of Cardio: Running, Zumba, step aerobics, ellipticals, you name it. And while cardiovascular exercise is important (and was quite transformative in my initial weight loss journey), I didn’t realize I was missing another key component in well-rounded fitness: Weight training.
Cardio seemed like a no-brainer because it felt faster, easier and burned lots of calories. Weight training seemed foreign, complicated and counterintuitive to my goals. I wanted to lose weight, firm up my jiggly areas and look feminine. Weights were just going to make me look thick, bulky and masculine, right? (Plus, there were all of those dudes loitering around the weight section with their cut off shirts and protein shakes, and I was pretty sure were judging me every time I shot a sideways glance at a dumbbell.)
As it turns out, my fears and assumptions couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Not only did lifting align with all of the short-term goals I’d had in mind, there were also many long-term benefits to weight and resistance training. Now I regularly incorporate weight training into my routine as a woman and here are 10 reasons you should consider doing the same.
1. Better fat loss
Cardio is important, but sometimes overshadows the value of weight and resistance training. Research shows you can actually burn a higher volume of fat per workout with heavy resistance training. This occurs through post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), where your body consumes additional oxygen in the hours following exercise. A 2003 extensive research review* concluded that resistance exercise produced measurably greater EPOC response than aerobic exercise. This also means that your body can continue burning fat well after your lifting session.
2. Boost that Metabolism
Muscle mass is denser and more metabolically active than fat, meaning it requires more energy (calories) to maintain. It takes up less space and operates more efficiently than fat, making it a lean, mean, calorie-burning machine. While there is some debate over the exact amount of extra daily calories burned while your muscles are at rest, your metabolism can still benefit as you increase muscle mass (and even more as you continue using and building those muscles).
3. Stronger Bones
Our bones decrease in mass as we age and women are at an especially high risk of developing Osteoporosis (a disease in which the bones become weak and brittle). The National Institutes of Health refers to Osteoporosis as the “silent disease” because this weakening occurs over time with no signs until an unlucky bump or tumble leaves you with a broken bone. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately one in two women ages 50 and up will break a bone from this disease. Studies* have shown that resistance training can help reduce those risks by preserving bone mass in pre and postmenopausal women, making it a great long-term investment in your health at any age.
4. Increased Strength
Surprise! Yes, you’re going to get stronger as you lift. That’s an asset in daily life in everything from carrying all the groceries in one trip, changing a flat tire, moving heavy objects in your home or office and even opening the world’s most stubborn pickle jar. Building strength as a woman doesn’t mean getting unnaturally ripped or spending your weekends tearing phone books in half (you know, unless you dig that). It’s just growing into a stronger, more independent version of yourself.
5. Firmer Figure
A large misconception that keeps women from lifting is fear of becoming “bulky” or “masculine”. In reality, it’s very difficult for women to “bulk up” because we don’t have the right hormones for it. Testosterone is one of the key hormones in muscle hypertrophy (or “bulking”) and women possess significantly (15 to 20 times) less of it than men, according to Bill Kreamer in Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Our bodies respond differently to weight training than men and it actually helps us build a firmer, leaner, hourglass shape. Those ripped female bodybuilders you’ve seen on magazines? It took them a long time, targeted training and (more likely than not) hormonal enhancements to build that way. You? You’re just going to get toned arms and a nice booty.
6. Sounder Sleep
Many varieties of exercise can benefit your sleep, but research suggests that strength training may especially increase your odds of a better night’s rest. One population- based study* found that individuals, ages 20-85, who engaged in muscular strengthening activities increased their chances of better sleep by 19 percent. Another study* by the International SportMed Journal suggests that morning endurance and strengthening exercises can help you fall asleep easier, longer and with better quality after even a single session. That can mean pep in your step without the jitters or energy crash of caffeine.
7. Fight anxiety and depression
Like other forms of exercise, weight lifting serves as an outlet for reducing stress levels by stimulating the brain and releasing endorphins. One study* published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found weight lifting to be equally effective as aerobic exercise in significantly reducing depression in female subjects. Another extensive research review* of the relationship between exercise and anxiety disorders revealed substantial links between exercise and the effective treatment of anxiety and depression. Beat the blues, pick up a barbell.
8. Healthier Heart
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Weight lifting can reduce that risk and keep that ticker going strong. But wait, isn’t weight lifting supposed to be riskier for your heart? Some research points to ties between weight lifting and strain on the aorta, but this more so applies to training with excessively heavy (half your body weight or more) amounts of weight. While it’s possible to train safely with heavy weights, it’s not necessary to reap all the benefits we’ve discussed. You can keep it simple and at your own pace. In fact, both the CDC and American Heart Association recommend strength training a minimum two days a week to keep your heart happy and healthy.
9. More Energy
We noted how resistance training can improve sleep, but according to a study* published by the National Health Institute, it can also increase energy expenditure and improve your overall pizzazz during the day. According to the study, even a minimal resistance training program resulted in a chronic increase in energy expenditure. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) also upholds weight lifting as a tool to fight fatigue and boost energy levels. Increasing your natural capacity for energy will take you way further than that second cup of coffee.
10. Improving self-confidence
Confidence is built by challenging ourselves to do things we never imagined possible. That includes overcoming our own insecurities; worries that we will look silly, out of place or incapable. The strength we build in the gym is often contagious in other areas of our life. Taking it one day at a time, learning and growing along the way is an empowering experience and reminds us that as women, we are strong, capable and breakers of the mold.
Making it happen
Whether you are braving it out amongst the bros in the weight section, working with a trainer or taking a weight training group fitness class, any start is a good one. Even if it’s intimidating at first, making a change to invest in our health is worth putting yourself out there and trying something new. So get out there and lift, ladies!
All writing copyright © 2017 Rachel Elise Weems Woods
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