The fitness community as of late has taken to encouraging women to lift heavy weights, and I love it. For those of you who have been slaving away on an elliptical, treadmill or spin bike for hundreds of hours over the years, I’m sorry, but you need to know. Weight lifting has an important place in a healthy and lean woman’s exercise program.
I have 5 reasons why you should incorporate strength training into your exercise program.
- Weight control
I am not going to pretend that most women don’t exercise for fat loss or weight maintenance. However, building muscle is crucial; and research supports the idea that the amount of muscle on your body correlates to your metabolic rate at rest. Muscle takes energy to maintain, and since it can comprise around 30-40% of our fat-free mass, it is a significant determinant of our overall metabolism. Moreover, studies suggest that endurance training down-regulates your thyroid hormone–another important control for metabolism. Anecdotally, when I started a heavy squat program, my body got leaner as I got hungrier – I had to eat more healthy food to feed my muscles.
- Blood sugar balance
Exercising muscle via weightlifting uses up sugar present in the blood, which makes it an incredible tool for blood sugar control and improving insulin sensitivity in patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes. A large-scale randomized trial containing almost 300 patients showed that glucose control was greatest in those who participated in a combined weightlifting and aerobic training program than the no-exercise, resistance-only, or aerobic-only groups. These results show that a combination program is best – so don’t ignore those weights.
- Strong bones
For many women, preventing osteoporosis is a significant concern. Hip fracture risk is a significant predictor of mortality; inactivity and muscle loss contribute to increased fracture risk especially among the elderly. While any sort of weight-bearing exercise, including walking, is well known to increase bone density, scientific reviews show that high-impact exercises are best for building bone density. Studies have also shown that bone density increases in a site-specific fashion. In other words, arm exercises will decrease your risk of wrist fractures much more than running will. A full-body strength program is a great choice to prevent fractures.
- Healthy aging
As you age, maximal muscle power and strength are required to prevent falls and even to get up from a fall, which will happen to a third of people over 65 each year. Strength training helps develop muscle, balance and coordination that can stop falls. Loss of muscle mass due to aging is a significant contributor to falls and mortality rates, so start building yourself a bulletproof body early by forming these muscle-building habits now.
Nothing says independence and self-esteem like being strong. The core strength you develop from weightlifting in the gym can help you to lift objects in real life and avoid injury. From carrying heavy groceries to the car to helping move heavy furniture and everything in between, being strong just makes life easier, and I’m all about making life easier.
If you’ve spent the last decade running 5ks or triathlons, you might not know how to go about strength training. I started out with a resistance band and a pair of 8-lb dumbbells and clipped out articles from fitness magazines; now after seeking the right trainers and facilities I’m squatting and dead lifting hundreds of pounds. Some patience, determination, and proper professional guidance from a qualified, experienced trainer is key to developing strength and minimizing injury.
I think every woman I’ve talked to would like to look “lean” and “toned”, and the best way to get there is by weight lifting. And you won’t get bulky. Not unless you’re really, really trying, since your hormones just don’t favour massive strength gains. While cardio training is important, if you want the biggest bang for your exercise buck, strength training is the way to go, especially if you’re a woman.
Get out there and lift some heavy objects and your body will thank you!