Women usually employ body weight workouts or cardio in their fitness routines and neglect weight lifting altogether. I avoided weight-lifting most of my life until I had a particularly nasty long-term illness. After becoming completely depleted of the muscle mass I’d accumulated, I realized how important building muscle is!
Once I started lifting weights regularly, I became addicted to how quickly my strength grew; I was seeing changes in my body much faster than when I did yoga, swimming, or HIIT. I struggled lifting a five-pound dumbbell at first, but now I can easily do three sets of reps with a 15-pound dumbbell less than a year later. Interestingly, my lower body strength increases more rapidly than my upper body’s. I started out doing body weight squats and now I can squat about 60 pounds. I know it may not seem like much (I’ve seen women breezing through 200 lb dead lifts!) but these gains in strength have been life-changing. Personally, the best part of weight lifting has been ripping the seams out of all my old shirts because they wouldn’t fit over my new biceps!
There are many misconceptions about women and weight lifting, particularly when it comes to women’s physical appearance or ability. Not only can lifting weights help women achieve their fitness goals, but the health benefits (both mental and physical) are numerous.
- Increased muscle mass not only can make you look leaner but it raises your resting metabolic rate (calories your body burns at rest). This means you’ll need to eat more in order to maintain your muscles, which is a win in my book!
- It’s fun! Weight lifting itself a fun and effective form of exercise. Using your newfound strength to do things you couldn’t previously (like those crazy-difficult yoga inversions) feels amazing.
- Improves memory. A mere 20 minutes of weight lifting can increase long term memory by 10%!
- Confidence. Knowing your own strength (and knowing how easy it is to get stronger) is a huge confidence booster. Plus, who wouldn’t feel confident with a toned and healthy body?
- Bone health. Women’s bones are at risk as we age due to osteoporosis. Lifting weights increases bone density (even in post-menopausal women!) and keeps your bones healthy.
- You can sculpt your body however you’d like. Weight training gives you the ability to focus on certain muscle groups, and attain the physique you desire.
- Increases strength. Yes, that may seem like a no-brainer, but it feels awesome to see your muscles growing. Everyday tasks become easier. You get better at doing physical activities you enjoy. Plus there’s the added bonus of being more able to defend yourself should the need arise.
- You’ll be more likely to continue being active as you age. As we age, our muscle mass gradually declines by 3–5% per decade, starting at thirty! Losing muscle will decrease your mobility over time and make you more prone to injury. Being as active as possible will keep you doing the activities you enjoy for decades to come.
Even though starting weight training can be intimidating, it is an excellent way to keep your body and mind functioning their best. Start slowly. Work on your posture and technique with an experienced lifter or trainer to avoid injury. People will often try to give you “tips” in the gym, but take these with a grain of salt. Well-meaning gym-goers can be mistaken in their advice, which can lead to injury (though sometimes their advice will be super helpful!).
Don’t worry about getting “bulky”! Obviously there’s nothing wrong with buff women, but if that isn’t your personal goal, you have nothing to worry about. It takes years of hard work, specific workout regimens, tailored diets, and often supplementation to become an extremely muscled woman.
If you start lifting, you may want to aim for two days a week at first. Make sure to train at least 45 minutes a session. Machines are fun, but don’t forget free weight exercises, as they will require you to gain balance, and allow you a greater range of motion.
Learning only a few basic lifts like deadlifts, squats, bicep curls, chest press, hammer curls, and overhead presses can target most of your major muscle groups. You will be sore the first few weeks, but in time your body will get used to building muscle and DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) won’t be as bad. Walking up and down stairs after leg day will always suck though!
A lot of experienced gym-goers target specific muscle groups on a daily basis to avoid full body soreness and proper muscle development. For example, there’s back day, leg day, chest day, arm day, or it can be more specific like hamstrings, calves, back and biceps, etc. For the most part I’ve divvied my weight training between lower body and upper body workouts to keep it simple and manage my time efficiently. You can even choose to do full body workouts a few days a week if that’s what works best for your schedule.
For your health, for your mind, and for the incredible feeling of kicking ass at your workout, try lifting weights! Being strong isn’t just for the guys 😉 .
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Photo: Benjamin Klaver via Unsplash