Do you want a lean, toned-looking physique? Want to reduce your risk of disease and injury? Burn more calories and boost your metabolism? If any of these benefits even remotely interest you, you should be practicing strength training using heavy weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight at least two times a week. Strength training is a crucial element for overall health and wellbeing and yet, only an estimated 20% of women strength train. Those who don’t cite excuses like the fear of “bulking up” or looking too masculine. But the reality is that unless you have the dedication of a bodybuilder and the testosterone levels of a man, lifting heavy weights will NOT turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger. This doesn’t mean you have to give up your running or pilates, but incorporating a strength training workout into your routine can deliver a whole host of benefits. Here are the top 10 reasons why all women should strength train:
1. It makes you strong
This may be stating the obvious, but what many don’t realize is that you gain strength both in and out of the gym. Building strength in your muscles and bones gives you the ability to carry heavy groceries, do yardwork, housework, open stubborn pickle jars and haul around your oversized purse with ease. By building a base level of functional fitness, life in general becomes much easier. For example, at my day job I’m often expected to pack and lift large boxes of up to 50 lbs, something I wouldn’t be able to do without strength training.
2. Reduces the risk of osteoporosis
Women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis due to thinner bones and menopause. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 80% of the 10 million Americans with osteoporosis are women. But with strength training, this doesn’t have to be an inevitable consequence of aging. Weight-bearing exercises build bone density and strength, reducing the risk of bone fractures and breaks.
3. Reduces the risk of heart disease
Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States. The American Heart Association heavily endorses strength training as a way to keep your heart healthy and pumping strong. In fact, studies show that strength training reduces bad cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, and improves blood flow throughout the body.
4. Improves sleep
Strength training at least two hours before bedtime is a great way to help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. While I normally toss and turn for at least an hour before drifting off, a thoroughly exhausting session at the gym helps wear me out physically so that I can’t wait to pass out! Plus, evidence suggests that strength training can improve sleep apnea and reduce insomnia.
5. Helps burn fat and boost metabolism
While cardio exercise is important, it’s a myth that you need to spend hours on the elliptical in order to lose fat. Minute for minute, weight-bearing exercises burn more calories than cardio–so continually going through strength-building exercises (like circuit training) will burn as much or more calories than a steady cardio session. By weight training, you also build lean muscle which burns more calories than fat, and in effect boosts your metabolism. As a bonus, lean muscle mass burns more calories throughout the day even when you’re not at the gym! Finally, weight-bearing exercises induces human growth hormone production, both of which keep your body fat levels low (and your skin and hair glowing, natch).
6. It makes you toned
We all know that a pound of muscle looks very different than a pound of fat–it’s actually just 1/5 the volume. Building lean muscle may not necessarily make you see a lower number on the scale, but you will certainly lose inches and it will help you achieve the much sought-after tightened and toned look.
7. Reduces the risk of injury and back pain
It’s not just your muscles and bones that reap the benefits of strength training, but also your ligaments and tendons. As you strengthen ligaments and work your joints in their full range of motion, you improve flexibility and decrease your chances of getting hurt.
8. Boosts libido
Strength training raises testosterone levels in women, a hormone linked to sex drive. Need I say more? 😉
9. You can do it anywhere
My favorite way to strength train is to practice bodyweight exercises. Not only are there countless variations of exercises to choose from, but it requires no equipment and you can do it even in small spaces like apartments or hotel rooms. This also makes it easier to fit a workout into my day, as I don’t need to worry about driving to the gym and all the before and after prepping that comes along with it.
10. Boosts confidence
Yoga may have helped me gain peace, but strength training helped me gain confidence. It is an incredibly empowering experience to feel that you are strong and capable. Not only has my body image improved, but I feel a rush of pride when I can bust out reps of a full pushup! Seeing my hard work pay off in improved strength has given me the boost of esteem that no other exercise can achieve.
Need some strength training inspiration? Check out our do-anywhere workouts on Your Dream Body!
Also by Sarah McEwing: Delicious Homemade “Yumm” Sauce Recipe
Related: 6 Vegan Post Workout Snacks
Photo: Natalia Robba via Flickr; Meg via Flickr