Weight lifting, which historically only was performed by men, was one of the many sports that women would avoid and shun because it was seen as being too “feminine.” It wasn’t until weightlifting became more widely available to women in the 70s and 80s when female powerlifters were recognized (in 1987), a Women’s strength competition was created in 1987, bodybuilding shows for females became prevalent in 1977, and the “Strongest Woman” competition debuted in 1997
Since the recent emergence of CrossFit in the early 2000s, the idea of female strength and power athletes has been increasing in popularity.
Strength training is a major part of a healthy lifestyle women should consider. Strength training can lead to many advantages including increased sports performance, improved bone strength, and weight management.
5 REASONS WHY WOMEN SHOULD LIFT
- Development of Good Movement Patterns
- Improvement of Self-Confidence
- Increasing Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)
- Decreased Risk of Metabolic Syndrome
- Improvement of Bone Mineral Density
Many women start weight lifting for aesthetic reasons. They might have seen a social media post or magazine article with pictures of muscular women, which they want to emulate.
Or maybe they have been told that weight lifting will help them lose weight while they participate in a weight loss program.
The long-term benefits of fitness are very tangible and often life changing. These benefits can include a better body composition, improved aesthetics, and increased lean muscle mass.
The less tangible but more motivating factors such as strength training can also have a significant impact on physical performance, quality of life, and overall well-being.
REASON #1 DEVELOPMENT OF GOOD MOVEMENT PATTERNS AND PAIN REDUCTION
There is some truth to the old adage “if you do an activity with your muscle groups too frequently, they will develop imbalances and ineffective movement patterns.” For example, humans are prone to having muscle imbalance, and companies like Segway have had problems developing steering wheels that aren’t in line with human movement.
Many adults deal with chronic neck, back, knee, or shoulder pain. As many as 70 percent of adults will deal with one of these conditions at some point during their lives. Musculoskeletal pain and associated syndromes are currently the leading cause of disability worldwide. This type of pain is often attributed to chronic movement patterns that lead to skeletal imbalances (Corbett et al., 2019).
Strength training can target weak muscle groups and improve overall movement patterns that lead to significant decreases in pain-free exercise. Using a qualified fitness professional, strength training is your best bet for healthy living.
REASON #2: IMPROVEMENT OF SELF-CONFIDENCE AND SELECTION OF HEALTHY GOALS
Poor body image is a common issue in both younger and older women. One exercise has shown to improve women’s perceptions of their body image and self-esteem, while others show no difference. This has been found true, compared to other exercise modalities such as walking (Seguin et al., 2013).
Our relation with weight brings in a lot of pressures. Women often struggle to maintain that number on the scale, engaging in disordered eating patterns and unhealthy fad dieting as a way to do this. Resistance training can help us change our focus, increasing strength rather than losing weight.
Szabo and Green discovered that women who voluntarily undertook a resistance training program benefited psychologically from improving their body as they remained in healthy ranges. The research suggests that weightlifting is an effective strategy to break the cycle of dieting and unrealistic body image goals.
REASON #3: INCREASE IN RESTING METABOLIC RATE
The total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is composed of the resting metabolic rate (RMR), which accounts for 60-70% of TDEE. A person’s lean body mass has a substantial effect on overall RMR, and overall metabolic rate as muscle requires more calories to sustain itself than adipose tissue does. This means it takes more energy to sustain muscle than fat does.
Calculate Your RMR here!
For example, Sarah and Rachel are both 30-year-old women who are 5’4” and 140 pounds. At first glance, we may assume that these two women have the same metabolic rates since they are the same height and weight. However, there is a significant difference. For example, Sarah weighs in at 142 pounds while Rachel weighs in at 133 pounds.
Rachel is a recreational powerlifter who engages in strength training five days per week. Sarah is relatively sedentary and has a body fat mass amounting to 35% of total weight. Rachel has a total lean body mass of 114.8 lbs, while Sarah has a lean body mass of 91 lbs.
Rachel’s RMR: 1,497 kcal/day
Sarah’s RMR: 1,263 kcal/day
Increasing muscle mass through strength training has the power to shed pounds over time. When you lift a lot of weights, it does not cause a huge caloric burn, but it can lead to an increased TDEE, which can help result in a slimmer physique.
It’s not just the number of calories we burn, but also how hard it is to burn those calories. For example, Sarah has 10% more muscle mass than Rachel. So while Rachel’s RMR may be average at 240, Sarah has an average of 258 RMR. Every pound of lean body mass “burns” 3-4 more calories per day than if she had the same percentage of fat only.
REASON #4: DECREASED RISK OF METABOLIC SYNDROME (EH HEM…DIABETES AND HEART DISEASE)
People who have diabetes and are limited by the condition to a certain degree are the group of individuals who should exercise regularly due to significantly higher rates of coronary vascular disease. There hasn’t been much research in exercise benefits for diabetics, but some studies have shown moderate benefits in strength training.
Researchers have found that individuals who regularly start strength training may enjoy a significant decrease in their risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes (Liu et al., 2019; Shiroma et al., 2017).
REASON #5: IMPROVEMENT AND PROTECTION OF BONE MINERAL DENSITY (HELLO OSTEOPOROSIS)
Osteoporosis is a silent bone disease often experienced by an individual who has not experienced any fracture yet. Women are more likely to experience an osteoporosis-related fracture than men. Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease worldwide and has become even more common with life expectancy increases worldwide.
Individuals with osteoporosis are at a greater risk for fractures due to the decreased amount of bone mass and overall weakness. Without enough replacement, their bones can be easily weakened which eventually leads to immobility. The rate of bone accretion must surpass the rate of bone resorption or this tissue is less likely to remain strong and healthy.
The proven way to increase bone formation is by using resistance training. Study after study has shown that bone cell growth and bone mineral density (BMD) are higher in those who regularly use resistance training as part of their exercise regimen (Hong & Kim, 2018).
HOW MANY TIMES A WEEK SHOULD A WOMAN DO WEIGHTLIFTING?
Your training frequency and exercises should depend on your goals, what type of program you’re currently following, and the severity of your current symptoms. The two sessions per week suggested here would target major muscle groups. However, for a well-rounded program, you would want to include a flexibility component such as strength or foam rolling and address any movement compensations you may be experiencing before starting.
The NASM OPT model™ is a five phase, supervised program for those new to strength training. These phases include (1) stabilization-endurance, (2) strength-endurance, (3) muscular development (hypertrophy), (4) maximum strength and power and finally an undetermined number of sets, repetitions and training frequency. Women who are new to height training often remain in the beginning phases for a long period of time.
Some women may not have any desire to progress past phase 2. Female athletes who are interested in making more significant strength gains over time may need to cycle through Phases 3, 4, and 5 which may require significantly more training frequency than 2 sessions per week
CAN YOU LOSE WEIGHT BY WEIGHTLIFTING, OR SHOULD I FOCUS MORE ON CARDIO?
Basal metabolic rate is a measurement of the energy your body burns at rest. If you have more skeletal muscle, your resting energy expenditure will increase through the day and help you burn more calories to lose weight.
The skeletal muscle tissues are metabolically active tissues and is a major contributor to your TDEE. Skeletal and cardiac muscles account for approximately 30 percent of the TDEE in a healthy individual (McPherron et al., 2013).
However, cardio is also an important part of any weight loss plan. Weight loss occurs when there is a caloric deficit, or rather when TDEE exceeds total daily energy intake (TDEI). The act of strength training may not utilize as many calories per session as cardio exercise does, which means that cardio is needed to increase TDEE. Think about it in terms of a financial analogy.
Many people erroneously believe that strength training increases their TDEE by increasing their RMR, but actually strength training increases your skeletal muscle mass and RMR indirectly, which is more accurate. Cardio can increase your daily income in a job, while strength training can increase your investments in the stock market. For the most well-rounded exercise plan with regard to fat loss, you should factor both cardio AND strength.
WILL I GET VERY BULKY FROM WEIGHTLIFTING?
Muscle hypertrophy is likely not to result in bulky muscles, though it is always great to increase strength, which will help you gain muscle mass.
Women tend to have smaller muscle fibers, a lower concentration of type-II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers, and a much lower (approximately one-eighth to one-tenth) serum level of testosterone than males. For these reasons, women tend to be at a disadvantage when it comes to bodybuilding and weight training.
For men, the effects of muscle hypertrophy are especially significant even when training under the same volume. As with any high-level effort, building more muscles requires targeted strength training and a lot of diet-focused effort.
Men and women have to work hard in order to achieve success in general.
WILL I GET INJURED BY DOING WEIGHTLIFTING?
Strength training can decrease the risk of injury and may relieve your pain syndromes if you implement the appropriate corrective exercises. A study from 2014 showed that these are effective methods to use when designing an exercise replacement activity plan for strengthening weak muscles and stabilizing injured joints.
Some people worry whether they will injure themselves when they lift weights. It can seem intimidating to use gym equipment, especially if you have a chronic musculoskeletal issue (back, knee, or hip pain).
The bottom line is to work with a qualified fitness professional for balance and movement appropriate weight lifting.
WEIGHTLIFTING CONSIDERATIONS FOR WOMEN OVER 50
With respect to muscle, it may be more difficult to attain progressive hypertrophy with the decrease in circulating levels of anabolic hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone) and reduction in muscle satellite cells, though still attainable with appropriate training and nutrient timing (Sims 2016).
There are no limitations stopping a woman from excelling in the field of weightlifting, they just need to make sure they have enough time and that they’re making smart decisions.
It is more likely to experience complications from CVD in this age range. Additionally, the frequency of conditions such as high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and DM may make certain types and intensity of exercises difficult for many people.
This is also important to note: women in their mid-60s may have a greater risk for osteoporosis, and exercises that place significant pressure on the spine may not be suitable for some within this age group because of potential accidents.
What To Do After Weightlifting Workout
You let out a sigh of relief as soon as you’re done with your workout and you mentally go over everything that needs to be done after. After dropping your daughter off to preschool, you stop by the drugstore before rushing to work.
No time for rest
However, fitness isn’t complete when you’re finished your workouts. These are some tips for after you finish working out to make sure you’re still in good health.
1. Cool Down
When your body’s blood vessels widened when you exercise, it is important to consider following a cool-down period for the blood vessels to return to normal. If you want to do this on the treadmill, then use their cool-down setting or after exercising during a jog, slow down and walk for a few minutes.
You want your body to return to how it was before you started your workout, so heat up your muscles with a warm and relaxing stretch. Muscles will lengthen best when they’re warm because that’s when they’re more elastic and pliable. As the muscle cools down, it contracts – keeping you in better shape and decreasing soreness. Stretching will help accelerate your recovery process and increase range of motion while also relieving tension throughout the workout.
3. Drink Some Water
Drink some water! When you work out, your body uses a lot of energy and loses water. You want to replenish your body’s water supply to increase muscle flexibility and strength and decrease muscle soreness. Drinking sports drinks is unnecessary unless your workout was lengthy or intense. The amount of water you need for weight loss overall varies, but the American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking about two cups of water for every pound lost during the workout.
4. Change your clothing after you sweat
Seems like a small and probable no-brainer, right? But maybe you’re in such a hurry to drop off your kid at preschool that you don’t have the time to change into fresh clothes. So, you’re planning to get dressed when you can or tomorrow at work. Even if you can’t change your entire outfit it’s important to remove any wet clothing, like your bra, underwear, and socks. Soggy workout clothing can trap moisture and promote the growth of yeast, fungi, bacteria and germs. And that can lead to breakouts or skin infections for some people.
5. Take a cool shower
You don’t need to take an ice bath like a pro football player, but adjusting the temperature of the water makes your body more inclined to healing and decreases inflammation due to exercise, which lowers soreness the next day.
6. Let Your Body Recover
One of the big dangers to constantly pushing yourself past your limit is that it won’t allow your muscles to recover and fix themselves. By giving your muscles a break, you’re able to work around their limitations and help them heal quicker without getting injured.
7. Follow the right diet
Too often people eating junk food at the end of a workout are doing exactly what they’re trying to avoid in order too maximize their workout. They eat for the wrong reasons and it not only negates the benefits of their hard work, it also causes muscle soreness as well as derail recovery from overeating unnecessary calories. But avoiding these pitfalls can be done by following a good diet that helps build up muscles which allows you to have better workouts to perform more efficiently in future workouts.
A regular and appropriately designed strength training program is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for women of all ages and stages of life. Strength training is important for the health, wellness, and overall well-being of both men and women, but it particularly has benefits for post-pregnancy women.
Resistance training has the power to help improve our muscles, bones, metabolic systems, and psychological well-being and also achieve more aesthetic goals.