The Benefits of Weight Lifting for Women

Benefits of lifting weights for women

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Maintaining adequate muscle mass is one of the best ways to keep body fat in a healthy range and to improve overall fitness, particularly as you age. Resistance exercise such as lifting weights is the best way to build muscle. Still, the number of women who participate in any formal or consistent weight training workout is lower than it should be.

Some women who exercise spend much of their gym time on cardiovascular exercise. But no matter your fitness goals, strength training is important. Learn more about what weight lifting can do for you and how to get started.

Benefits of Weight Lifting for Women

Weight lifting can be rewarding for many reasons, and its advantages are available to people of all genders. Pursuing a regular weight-training routine can change your body and your brain.

Improved Strength

Weight lifting strengthens your muscles. When you are stronger, daily tasks and routine exercise will be less fatiguing and much less likely to cause injury. Improving your muscle mass and strength increases bodily function and life satisfaction.

Lower Body Fat

Studies performed by Wayne Westcott, PhD, from the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, found that the average woman who strength-trains two to three times a week for two months will gain nearly two pounds of muscle and will lose 3.5 pounds of fat. As lean muscle increases, so does resting metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories throughout the day.

Women typically don't develop big muscles from strength training because, compared to men, women have significantly less of the hormones that cause muscle growth, or hypertrophy. Weight training does not make you bulky.

Improved Athletic Performance

Strength training improves athletic ability. Golfers can significantly increase their driving power. Cyclists are able to ride for longer periods of time with less fatigue. Skiers improve technique and reduce injury.

Whatever sport you play, strength training can improve overall performance as well as reduce the risk of injury.

Less Back Pain, Injury, and Arthritis

Strength training not only builds stronger muscles but also strengthens connective tissues and increases joint stability. This acts as reinforcement for the joints and helps prevent injury.

Strengthening the gluteal muscles can help in eliminating or alleviating low-back and knee pain. Weight training can strengthen joints and ease the pain of osteoarthritis.

Lower Risk of Certain Diseases

Weight training can improve cardiovascular health in several ways, including lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol, increasing HDL ("good") cholesterol, and lowering blood pressure. Adding cardiovascular exercise to your workout routine helps maximize these benefits.

Weight training can increase spinal bone mineral density and enhance bone modeling. This, coupled with an adequate amount of dietary calcium, can be the best defense against osteoporosis (women are at higher risk of osteoporosis than men).

Lastly, weight training may improve the way the body processes sugar, which may reduce the risk of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes (sometimes known as "adult-onset" diabetes) is a problem for people of all genders and can be associated with excess weight.

Better Mood and Increased Confidence

Strength training (and exercise in general) decreases depression because the act of exercise produces mood-improving neurotransmitters such as endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.

Plus, women who strength train report feeling more confident and capable as a result of their program. These are important factors in fighting depression.

How Much Weight Training Do Women Need?

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least two days per week of resistance training that works every major muscle group. However, you can gain additional benefits with more training days. Just remember that recovery time is essential; rest for 24 to 48 hours between heavily training a particular muscle group to allow for muscle repair.

The guidelines also advise adding at least 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise, 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise, or a combination of the two,. Cardiovascular activity improves heart health and helps with energy balance (that is, creating a calorie deficit if you hope to lose weight).

How to Get Started

Where you start with weight training depends on your current experience and fitness level. If you haven't done much strength training before, it can help to seek guidance from a personal trainer so you can learn proper form. This can help prevent injuries.

Once you build some basic skills, you can move on to a regular weight training routine using bodyweight, weights, or a combination. If you aren't interested in going to a gym, you can still get a good weight lifting workout at home with basic equipment including dumbbells or kettlebells.

Try starting with one set of 6 to 8 repetitions of a few different exercises targeting each muscle group. Focus on compound movements such as the squat, deadlift, bench press or push-up row, and shoulder press.

Practice with an empty bar, broomstick, or lighter dumbbells until the correct form and movement patterns become second nature. Then add more sets and repetitions. Gradually, but consistently, increase weight, repetitions, sets, or all of these in order to make progress.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many repetitions should women do when lifting weights?

Perform a number of repetitions that sufficiently challenge your muscles. This can range widely, from 1 to 3 reps to 15 to 20, depending on the type of workout you are doing, the weight you are lifting, and the muscles you are working on.

For instance, if you are working on building strength, choosing heavy weights with low repetitions—2 to 5, or even fewer—is ideal. If you are performing an exercise with a small muscle, such as a lateral shoulder raise, you will need to use lighter weights and increase the number of reps.

How much weight should women lift?

The amount of weight you should lift will change as you progress. The weight you lift should challenge you by the last few reps, or even with each rep if you are training with very heavy weights. Each time you train, you can try to increase the weight lifted from the last session. This is one way of ensuring you progress in your strength training goals and continue to see results.

What muscle groups should women target when lifting weights?

Women should target every muscle group during their weight lifting. However, you can separate the muscle groups you target with each training session, focusing on the legs one day, the chest and shoulders the next, and so on. During a week, you should target your entire body using every major muscle group.

How can women avoid bulking up when lifting weights?

Women are unlikely to become bulky when lifting weights unless they purposefully try to. The act of gaining substantial muscle is challenging even for men who can build muscle more quickly and easily due to greater testosterone and other factors. How large your muscles grow and how quickly will come down to many factors, including genetics, nutrition, and training.

A Word From Verywell

It's never too late to benefit from weight training. Women in their 70s and 80s have built up significant strength through weight training and studies show that strength improvements are possible at any age. It is vital for women to develop and maintain strength as they age to prevent injury and stave off bone loss and osteoporosis.

Strength training not only strengthens muscles, but also the bones that support the muscles. Note, however, that a strength training professional should always supervise older participants.

11 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.