Weight lifting is the Holy Grail of exercises—it keeps you lean, strong, healthy, and happy. Women in particular can experience some pretty amazing benefits from weight lifting, from a healthier weight to stronger bones to better confidence and self-esteem.
But unfortunately, most women don’t add weights to their regular exercise routine. One survey found that just 21 percent of adults participated in strength training activities at least twice a week.
But won’t lifting weights make me bulky?
One of the biggest reasons women tend to avoid weights is the fear that they’ll become “bulky.” If you’re worried that weightlifting will turn you into the Hulk, it’s time to put that myth to rest once and for all. Becoming “bulky,” or developing a large amount of muscle mass, is not something that happens easily for women.
Women have much lower levels of testosterone (the main muscle-building hormone in the body) than men, so bulking up takes a significant amount of effort. Female bodybuilders also follow specific programs, training for hours each day and eating a great deal of food to fuel their muscle growth.
Simply put—unless you’re following a special diet and exercise program specifically designed to add mass, adding weights to your routine (even heavy weights) won’t make you bulky.
Why Women Should Lift Weights
Now that you know lifting won’t turn you into Popeye, here are some of the best reasons to lift weights:
You’ll get a leaner, more toned figure.
If your goal is to be “toned,” weight lifting is one of the fastest ways to get you there. Keep in mind that being toned doesn’t mean your muscles suddenly get harder; it means they grow in size while your body fat percentage shrinks, giving a more defined appearance.
Muscles grow while at rest after working out, when the body repairs the damage to muscles. As your body adapts, lifting heavier weights and varying your exercise routine will help ensure your muscles continue to grow.
Weight lifting helps with weight loss.
If your weight loss efforts consist primarily of logging hours on the treadmill or elliptical machine, adding weight lifting to your routine will help you see results faster—and help you avoid the “skinny fat” look by increasing muscle.
In one study, researchers compared the effects of aerobic, resistance training, and aerobic and resistance training combined on fat loss, waist circumference, and lean muscle mass. The combined group saw the greatest decreases in body fat while adding the most lean muscle mass. Another well-known study from Penn State indicated that those who added weight lifting to their cardio routines burned 40 percent more fat than those who did cardio alone.
You’ll feel better mentally.
Exercise is one of the best stress-busters, and weight lifting is no exception. Weight lifting releases endorphins, the body’s “feel good” hormone, along with other chemicals that help battle stress, including dopamine and serotonin.
Several studies confirm that when it comes to battling the blues, weight lifting reigns supreme. Researchers found that, of the various exercises studied to treat depression, women who lifted weights three to five times a week were significantly less depressed after five weeks than those who did other forms of exercise.
Your heart will thank you.
Weight lifting has also been shown to help protect the heart against heart disease, primarily because of its complementary effect on cardio. The American Heart Association recommends at least two to three weight lifting sessions per week in order to get the most out of aerobic exercise. Because weight lifting also helps control weight, it lowers the risk of weight-related heart disease.
As with any weight loss or exercise program, it’s always important to get the green light from your doctor before you proceed.
You’ll have more energy.
If you could use more energy throughout the day (and who couldn’t?), head for the weight rack. Lifting weights improves the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, allowing them to produce more energy as a result.
Low-intensity weight lifting has even been shown to have a great impact on your energy levels. A study from the University of Georgia found that participants in a low-intensity exercise group had a 65 percent drop in feelings of fatigue versus the 49 percent drop found in those who performed high intensity cardio exercise.
Weight lifting strengthens bones.
All women should take steps to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, especially as we age. One of the best ways to do this is by lifting weights. Weight lifting improves bone density, keeping bones strong and helping prevent the weakening that often comes with age.
Even lifting light weights has a significant impact on bone density, as long as you do a lot of reps—one study found that women who lifted light weights with high repetitions increased bone density by four to eight percent.
You’ll lower your risk of injury.
For seniors, the risk of injury from falls poses a serious threat; falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries among older adults. Women in particular are more susceptible to injuries; of the 1.64 million people over the age of 65 treated for injuries like fractures and head trauma from falls, 70 percent were women.
Weight lifting on a regular basis can help mitigate the likelihood of injuries from falls. Not only does it strengthen your bones, as mentioned above, it also helps strengthen your lower body muscles, providing more flexible joints and greater stability.
You’ll feel more confident.
It’s not just strength and muscle you’ll gain from weight lifting—you’ll likely notice your confidence soars as well. Weight lifting increases functional strength, which allows you to complete every day activities easier over time. There’s just something empowering about being able to pick up your kids, grab an armful of groceries, and even open your own lid on a jar of tomato sauce.
You’ll burn more fat while at rest.
One of the reasons weight lifting is such an effective tool for fighting fat and helping control weight is that it raises the body’s resting metabolic rate, or the amount of fat your body burns while at rest. Cardio burns more calories during exercise, but that burn stops soon after you stop exercising. Weight lifting, however, continues to burn fat after you’ve stopped.
A pound of muscle burns about three to five times as many calories as a pound of fat (approximately 6-10 calories per pound of muscle versus about 2 calories per pound of fat), so your body becomes a lean, mean, fat-fighting machine around the clock.
Weight lifting improves brain function.
If you want to keep your brain in tip-top shape, weight lifting can help with that, too. Weight lifting and its effects on the brain has been studied extensively in older adults, since the greatest amounts of cognitive decline are seen with age. Multiple studies have shown that weight lifting helps improve a number of cognitive functions, including memory.
Lifting weights twice a week has been shown to slow the rate of shrinkage in the brain’s white matter, which can also lead to improved cognitive function.
Weight Lifting and Your Diet
Your diet plays a critical role in your weight lifting success. In order to see the greatest results of your weight lifting efforts, make sure you are consuming enough protein. Without sufficient protein intake, you can weaken your immune system, recover poorly, experience soreness and fatigue, and reduce muscle growth.
Use this calculator to help you get an idea of how much protein you should eat each day. As you add more protein to your diet, remember that it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to add more calories to your diet—especially if your goal is weight loss. So keep the number of calories you need the same, just increase the amount of calories that comes from protein.
If your exercise routine doesn’t include lifting weights, there’s no better time to start than now. Your body, mind, and health will thank you!
Written By: Jill Overmyer
Reviewed and Edited By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian