The Benefits of Lifting Weights for Women

Woman lifting weights at home
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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 actually 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. Whatever your reasons for avoiding the weights, if you are a woman, here are some reasons why women should lift weights.

Benefits of Weight Lifting for Women

If you aren't interested in going to a gym, you can still get a good weight lifting workout at home with very basic equipment including dumbbells or kettlebells. Where ever you plan to train, lifting weights can provide some important benefits.

Improved Strength

If your maximum strength is increased, daily tasks and routine exercise will be far 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, Ph.D., 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 your lean muscle increases, so does your 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 10 to 30 times less of the hormones that cause muscle hypertrophy. Weight training does not make you bulky; excess body fat does.

Improved Athletic Performance

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

Whatever sport you play, strength training has been shown to improve overall performance as well as decrease the risk of injury.

Less Back Pain, Injury, and Arthritis

Strength training not only builds stronger muscles but also builds stronger 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 ease the pain of osteoarthritis and strengthen joints.​

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. When cardiovascular exercise is added, these benefits are maximized.

Weight training can increase spinal bone mineral density and enhance bone modeling. This, coupled with an adequate amount of dietary calcium, can be a woman's best defense against osteoporosis.

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 growing problem for women and men.

Better Mood, 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 commonly report feeling more confident and capable as a result of their program, all important factors in fighting depression.

How Much Weight Training Do Women Need

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 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; leaving 24 to 48 hours between heavily training a particular muscle group will allow for muscle repair.

Adding at least 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise, 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise, or a combination of the two, is recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Cardiovascular activity will improve your heart health and help with energy balance.

How to Get Started

Where you start with weight training depends on your current experience and fitness level. If you have trouble with basic movements and balance, seeking guidance from a personal trainer who can ensure you are using proper form prevents injuries and poor movement patterns. Once you have the proper form and basic skill level, you can move on to a regular weight training routine using bodyweight, weights, or a combination.

Try starting with one set of 6 to 8 repetitions of multiple exercises that target 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 you have the correct form and the movement patterns become second nature. Once you have this down, you can move on to adding more sets and repetitions. Be sure to increase your weight, repetitions, sets, or all of these to progress.

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.

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