So, it’s 2019. You’re revved up for a new year, a new you and may even a have a few resolutions up your sleeve. Like many women, I’ve given myself more than a few vague fitness-related resolutions over the years. And for most of that time, I became the Queen of Cardio in pursuit of my health goals. Running, Zumba, step aerobics, ellipticals, you name it, I was all about it.
But over the course of eight years as a self-described “fitness-addict”, all I ever seemed to accomplish was maintaining a general weight and size. In spite of working out religiously, often six days a week, my progress was pretty stagnant. My jiggly areas never seemed to “tone” up. I was tired. My joints often ached. And I felt stressed over the scale, always gaining those few pounds back as soon as I lost them.
I’d unknowingly been burning my body out on cardio. And training toward my goals very ineffectively. Cardiovascular exercise plays a part in caring for our bodies, it’s only one part. Not the whole thing. For years, I’d been missing another huge piece of the puzzle in taking care of myself, inside and out, as a woman: Weight training.
Cardio had always felt faster, easier and familiar. Weight training seemed slow, 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 bulky and masculine, right?
As it turns out, my fears and assumptions were completely backwards. Not only did lifting align with all my short-term goals (“toning up” the jiggle), it came with many other long-term benefits. In 2016 I started regularly incorporating weight training into my fitness routine. Looking back, wish I had started so much sooner. So as you kick off the New Year, here are 10 reasons why as a woman you need to start lifting weights in 2019.
Better Fat Loss
Cardio has a place in your fitness routine. But it can sometimes overshadow the value of weight and resistance training. You can burn a few more calories in a single cardio session, but 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 (i.e. your body keeps burning calories throughout the day after a workout). A 2003 extensive research review concluded that resistance exercise produced measurably greater EPOC response than aerobic exercise. Incorporating regular weekly lifting sessions will help your body become more efficient at burning fat.
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.
A Metabolic Boost
You might have heard the saying “muscle weighs more than fat”. Well, no. Weight-wise, a pound is a pound. Kind of like that riddle all the kids used to tell in 5th grade: “What weighs more, one ton of bricks, or one ton of feathers?” And the answer was always “the same” since a “ton” is simply a metric unit for measuring mass, no matter the material.
But, muscle is different than fat. Muscle 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). The more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn throughout the day and at rest (even while you sleep!).
Yep, you’re going to get stronger as you lift! And that’s a great thing. It’s carrying all the groceries in one trip or moving heavy objects in your home or office. It’s changing a flat tire or lifting a hefty suitcase into the overhead compartment of a plane. It’s even opening the world’s most stubborn pickle jar without any assistance.
A stronger you is a more independent you. Building strength as a woman doesn’t mean becoming a she-hulk who spends her free time tearing phone books in half (you know, unless you dig that). It’s simply growing into an even more self-sufficient version of yourself.
Everyone’s bones decrease in mass as they age. Women, however, are at much higher risks of developing Osteoporosis. The National Institutes of Health refers to Osteoporosis as the “silent disease” because this weakening of the bones occurs over time with zero signs until one day 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. No matter your age as a woman, 18 or 80, weight training is a big investment in your health and long-term quality of life.
A large misconception that keeps women from lifting is fear of becoming “masculine”. In reality, it’s very difficult (like, practically impossible) for women to “bulk up” the way men do. Why? 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 very differently to weight training than men. When women lift weights, it actually helps us build a firmer, leaner, hourglass shape. Those ripped female bodybuilders you’ve seen in magazines? It took them years, targeted training, dieting and in some cases hormonal enhancements to build that way. You? You’re just going to get toned arms and a nice booty.
Fight Anxiety and Depression
Like other forms of exercise, weight lifting serves as an outlet for reducing stress levels. It stimulates the brain and releases “happy” endorphins.
An extensive research review of the relationship between exercise and anxiety disorders revealed substantial links between exercise and the effective treatment of anxiety and depression.
Another 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. Picking up a barbell might help you beat the blues.
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 weightlifting 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.
A 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. 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.
But wait, isn’t weightlifting supposed to be riskier for your heart?
Some research points to ties between weightlifting and strain on the aorta. But this mainly applies to training with excessively heavy (half your body weight or more) amounts of weight. It’s 100% possible to train safely with heavy weights, but you don’t have to lift heavy to reap all the benefits we’ve discussed. You can keep it simple and at your own pace.
Confidence is built by challenging ourselves to do things we never imagined possible. Stepping out of our comfort zone and into a space where we can grow. 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
When I first began lifting weights about 3-4 years ago, I began by working with a personal trainer (which was actually part of what inspired me to eventually become a certified personal trainer myself). I was pretty nervous about knowing which exercises to do, using correct form and being one of the few women in the weight section at my gym. But with time and consistency, my confidence and knowledge of weight training began to grow. Now I’m incredibly comfortable on the weight section, even if I’m the only women out there.
A lot of women are intimidated by the idea of lifting weights or aren’t sure where to begin. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. There are a lot of easy ways to get started. A great place to begin is by taking a weight training class like BodyPump or another strengthening fitness classes at your gym. You can also work one-on-one with a personal trainer to learn proper form and get a weekly training program tailored to your goals. And if you’re looking for some workout ideas to start incorporating into your routine, be sure to check out my Instagram page @reesewoodsfit. I post full free workouts along with videos on proper form.
Making a change to invest in our health is worth putting yourself out there and trying something new (even if it’s a little scary at first). You are worth it. You do this. This is your year to make 2019 the year of the barbell, ladies.
All writing copyright © 2018 Rachel Elise Weems Woods
Originally published 1.30.17. Updated 1.3.19
1. Bersheim, E, and Bahr, R. (2003) Effect of exercise intensity, duration and most on post-exercise oxygen consumption. Sports Medicine, 33, 14, 1037-1060
2. McCall, Pete. “7 Things to Know About Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption.” AceFitness.org. American Council on Exercise, n.d. Web.
3. Kinucan, Paige, and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. “Controversies in Metabolism.”unm.edu. University of New Mexico, 2006. Web.
4. “What Is Osteoporosis?” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. National Institutes of Health, Nov. 2014. Web.
5. Sports Med. 2016 Sep;46(9):1239-48. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0507-z.
6. Sports Med. 2016 Aug;46(8):1165-82. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0494-0.
7. Prev Med Rep. 2015 Oct 31;2:927-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2015.10.013. eCollection 2015.
8. “Effects of Endurance and Strength Acute Exercise on Night Sleep Quality.” International SportsMed Journal 12.3 (2011): 113-24. Sabinet Online. Web.
9. NSCA. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 4th ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. National Strength & Conditioning Association. Web.
10. “Strength and Resistance Training Exercise.” American Heart Association, May 2014. Web.
11. “Heart Disease Facts and Statistics.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, n.d. Web.
12. Webb, Charles. “Does Lifting Heavy Weights Hurt Your Heart?” Livestrong. Livestrong Foundation, Jan. 2015. Web.
13. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 May; 41(5): 1122–1129. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318193c64e
14. “Exercise As a Cure for Fatigue and To Boost Energy Levels.” AceFitness.org. American Council on Exercise, n.d. Web.
15. “The Benefits of Physical Activity.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, n.d. Web.
16. Expert Rev Neurother. 2012 Aug; 12(8): 1011–1022. doi: 10.1586/ern.12.73
17. Running versus weight lifting in the treatment of depression. Doyne, Elizabeth J.; Ossip-Klein, Deborah J.; Bowman, Eric D.; Osborn, Kent M.; McDougall-Wilson, Ilona B.; Neimeyer, Robert A. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 55(5), Oct 1987, 748-754.
Photo accreditation: Bigstock photography