6 Reasons Why Women Should Add Strength Training to Their Workouts – Your Health Forum by Dr. Cirino

How is strength training beneficial for women? You may have asked this question at some point in your fitness journey. If you’re focusing on cardiovascular “cardio” exercises to burn calories, lose weight, and get healthier — you might be wondering how lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises can be beneficial. 

Running, riding the elliptical machine, and swimming, which are some examples of cardio movements, are great. However, there’s plenty of research showing the impressive benefits of strength training for women. 

It’s time to ditch the limiting belief that women should not strength-train because it will make them look too big and bulky. This article shares 6 important strength training benefits backed by science. 

What Is Strength Training?

Strength training, also called resistance training, is a type of workout that causes muscle contraction in response to external resistance. Essentially, this external resistance is the force your muscles need to overcome during your workout. 

Sources of external resistance include any of the following: 

Bodyweight: As the name implies, bodyweight exercises are equipment-free. Instead, a woman uses their weight to resist gravity. Examples are pushups, squats, and planks.

Free weights: Strength training exercises involving free weights involve picking up items and moving them, such as dumbbells, kettlebells, and medicine balls. 

Machines: Unlike free weights, machines cannot be moved around freely and limit you to one type of strength training exercise. However, they’re great for beginners since their settings can be adjusted, which allows you to increase weight gradually. Examples of machines are the leg press machine, chest fly machine, and bench press machine.

Household items: For women who want to strength-train at home and do not have free weights, they can take advantage of common items at home, such as water bottles and backpacks filled with books. 

Why Is Strength Training So Important for Women?

Athlete or not, strength training deserves to be at the top of your list of health and fitness strategies. Here are the reasons why: 

1. Helps increase fat loss 

When it comes to gender differences, women carry more fat in their bodies than men, and the reason for this morphological difference is to prime them for childbearing. 

However, a woman’s body fat further increases as they approach menopause due to hormone changes. A poor diet, lack of physical activity, and insufficient sleep can cause them to store more fat — which can be harmful to their health.

With strength training, there’s an “afterburn effect” called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This means that your body continues to use more oxygen and calories post-workout, similar to a car engine staying warm after it’s turned off. 

2. Reduces your risk of injury

A woman who adds resistance to their workout routine gains strength over time. This leads to more stable and healthier joints, meaning that your joints become more capable of resisting stress and pressure. The result? Your risk of getting injured decreases. 

According to one systematic review involving 7,738 participants aged 12-40 years, it was found that a 10% increase in strength training reduces the risk of injury by 4%. 

The older you get, the more likely you are to sustain an injury due to decreased muscle mass and reduced bone density. Moreover, older adults have some sensory disturbances and poor balance. 

When performed correctly, strength training can be a powerful tool to decrease falls and injury.

3. Helps you look leaner

When women say they want to “look lean,” this implies having a firm physique, like an athlete, without having too much muscle. 

The good news about strength training is that the muscles you build will give your body a more sculpted appearance. Muscle definition creates the illusion of looking lean despite your body weight staying the same. 

Another interesting fact about muscle is that it is more metabolically active than fat. In other words, muscle burns more calories throughout the day even when a person is resting. 

If your goals are losing weight and looking leaner, you should do strength training. 

4. Positively influences BDNF production in the brain

If you haven’t heard of BDNF, it stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor — a protein that maintains nerve cells and helps them grow and mature. For both men and women, BDNF has the following important roles:

Learning and memory

Regulates mood

Shows neuroprotective properties

Research shows that functional exercises, which include bodyweight and resistance movements, improve serum BDNF (the concentration of BDNF in the bloodstream). So, by incorporating strength training into your fitness routine, you’re also supporting your brain health and lowering your risk of neurodegenerative conditions. 

5. Manages your blood sugar levels

Exercising, in general, can help with maintaining blood sugar control. This is especially important for women who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Certain factors in women make them prone to this health problem — for example, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and excessive body fat. 

Although cardio training definitely helps with blood sugar management, you might want to choose strength training over other exercises — or balance it with cardio — to enjoy other benefits like muscle preservation and stronger bones. 

6. Boosts your energy 

Tiredness in women has different causes, and strength training can be one of the ways to feel more energized. 

If you’re having difficulty falling asleep, which is making you feel fatigued, strength training may lead to a good night’s sleep. A 2019 study where participants engaged in a 4-month resistance exercise program found that resistance exercise (and also stretching) significantly improved sleep in those with chronic insomnia.

Another means by which women can experience an energy boost is through increased endorphins. When you engage in strength training, “feel good” neurotransmitters, particularly endorphins, are released. 

As a result, you’ll feel happier, more alert, and more motivated.  

How to Start Strength Training

If you’ve never done strength training in the past or you need some advice to make it a habit, follow these tips. 

Focus on basic strength training movements.

As a beginner, it’s important to master the fundamentals as this allows you to practice maintaining proper form and lower your risk of injuries. Examples of basic strength training moves include:

Squats

Lunges

Push-ups

Planks

The bird dog

Once you feel more comfortable with them, you can slowly increase the intensity or difficulty by adding weights and increasing the number of reps. 

Vary your strength training workouts. 

Changing your routine every now and then is important for any type of workout. Make sure to target different muscle groups to avoid overuse injuries. These are microtraumas in your muscles and joints that result from doing too much of one workout. 

Keep things interesting by targeting not just your upper body, but also your lower body and core. Also, change from a total body workout to a split workout, and vice-versa. 

Always do a warmup.

Warm-up exercises are a must before lifting weights or bodyweight workouts. You can do cardio, such as running, jumping jacks, and leg swings to activate your upper and lower body. 

The key is to help loosen up your muscles so that you can be ready to perform a strength training session. A pre-lift warmup may take about 10 to 20 minutes. While you might feel tempted to skip a warmup, remember that by prioritizing it, you avoid injury. 

The Bottom Line 

Strength training has impressive benefits for women no matter their age and fitness level. Don’t start a strength training routine without learning some basic movements, how to perform them properly, and safety tips. Speaking of safety — discuss your goals with a healthcare provider, especially if you have a medical condition.

Just like in any other exercise routine, consistency is key in strength training if you want to see results. 

References:

1. Karastergiou, K., Smith, S. R., Greenberg, A. S., & Fried, S. K. (2012). Sex differences in human adipose tissues – the biology of pear shape. Biology of sex differences, 3(1), 13. https://doi.org/10.1186/2042-6410-3-13

2. Clinic, C. (2023, December 22). What is EPOC? (And why it matters). Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/understanding-epoc

3. Lauersen, J. B., Andersen, T. E., & Andersen, L. B. (2018). Strength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52(24), 1557–1563. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099078

4. Alizadeh, M., & Dehghanizade, J. (2022). The effect of functional training on level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and functional performance in women with obesity. Physiology & Behavior, 251, 113798. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2022.113798
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