This is a long-overdue post and I am excited to finally share it with you! There is so much to say that I am dividing this up into two separate posts. First, this general introduction to the benefits of strength training and a second post to come including lots of wisdom from fitness professionals and other female fans of weight training.
Note: while any activity is better than no activity, I’m writing this specifically to emphasize that strength training is necessary for optimal health and that women need not fear getting “bulky” by adhering to strength training recommendations. However, especially for those just starting out, go slow and listen to your body. If you’re interested in starting a weight-lifting routine, work with a fitness professional and honor the process.
What is strength training?
Strength training comes in a variety of forms. It does not mean that you have to perform heavy dead lifts and biceps curls (even though those are fun, especially when you listen to Beyonce). Strength training includes push-ups and sit-ups at home, doing rigorous gardening, moving furniture, using resistance bands and even yoga. Find activities you enjoy and do them often, with or without a gym membership. The point is to put stress on your muscles to help them (get and) stay strong to support a long and healthy life.
Everyone should incorporate strength training into their exercise routines at least twice per week
Our national physical activity guidelines recommend adults engage in at least 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (commonly expressed as 30 minutes of activity on 5 days of the week) plus moderate- or high-intensity muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups on at least 2 days of the week.
I think many people know about the aerobic activity recommendation but may not be aware of the strength training recommendation. Some people think strength training is only for body builders. When in reality, strength training is for everyone. You will not reap the maximum benefits of physical activity through aerobic exercise alone. It’s like brushing and flossing your teeth—you have to do both!
Strength training isn’t about getting big muscles
It’s great to be strong. It’s empowering, it’s fun and it’s actually really useful for everyday life. However, strength training recommendations do not exist to make us all look like bodybuilders (see point #3); they exist so we have strong bones and muscles to support our daily lives. This becomes especially important as we age–to maintain our functionality, fight natural muscle loss over time and prevent falls.
In fact, a recent study found that older adults who did strength training twice a week had a 46-percent lower risk of dying than those who did no strength training.
Additionally, weight-bearing exercise is crucial for preventing osteoporosis. Did you know that 1 in 2 women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis? Do what you can to not be one of them by making strength training a habit now.
Strength training also helps lower our risk of:
Increasing lean mass helps us stay trim
Have you heard that muscle burns more calories than fat? It’s true. Muscle is metabolically active and fat is not—meaning even at rest, muscles are burning calories. Most of us tend to slowly put on weight over time (which may pose a health risk) and maintaining ample lean body mass helps prevent this.
Having a good foundation of muscle mass is also important for anyone who needs to lose weight. It’s impossible to lose only fat when we lose weight, we also lose lean tissue. So to ensure as much precious lean tissue as possible remains after losing weight, you’ve got to start with a good amount of muscle mass.
To get giant muscles you have to do a lot more than lift weights a couple times a week
The impetus for me finally writing this post is I heard one young lady express to another in the elevator recently, “I don’t want to lift heavy weights because I don’t want to bulk up. I want to be skinny.” My heart sank. First of all, “bulking up” is a totally misguided assumption related to females and weight lifting. Secondly, I was really saddened by her expressing her motivation for exercise as a means to a skinny end. And third, acknowledging that she wanted to get smaller, her statements didn’t make sense as weight training helps tighten up the body.
Part two of this two-part strength training post series will address this last item in more detail, and include snippets from interviews with sports dietitians and female weight-lifters.
Until then, I hope this post encourages you to make your strength training activties of choice a permanent part of your routine.
As always, talk to your doctor about safe physical activity and work with a fitness professional to determine the appropriate type, duration and frequency of exercise for you.