Friends, Ladies, fellow Cardio Bunnies, lend me your ears. For the first two decades of my life I was terrified to lift weights. I didn’t understand proper form; I thought they’d make me bulky. I assumed lifting was best left to guys and professional athletes. So, I clung to my treadmill. I pursued my love of running for many years (sometimes I’d even do a few crunches post workout). Over time, while cardio had been a wonderful outlet, progress slowed and my motivation fluctuated frequently due to boredom. It wasn’t until I began lifting weights did my fitness journey truly take off.
What I didn’t realize at first was that strength training refers to a large spectrum of exercises. It can range from using modest machines at the gym to whipping out major compound lifts on the squat rack. Now, no one needs to be benching their bodyweight regularly to reap rewards. In fact, moderate weight lifting is all women need to start seeing major benefits in their health, athletic performance and overall appearance.
Still think weights aren’t worth the time? Here are five reasons to pick up that dumbbell the next time you visit the gym.
1. You’ll Improve Your Body Composition
Many will argue that weight lifting helps women lose weight. While this is true, I wouldn’t suggest using the scale as your sole metric for success. In fact, successful, long term weight lifting can lead to weight gain in some individuals (I’m one of them!). But wait! Before you swear off the weight room for good, understand that your resulting, improved body composition, not weight, will ultimately determine your health and overall physique. Body composition refers to the ratio of adipose tissue (fat) to lean body mass (bones, organs, muscles, etc.) – these are the numbers to care about. Ever wondered how two individuals with the same weight can look so different in the mirror or struggle with different weight related conditions?
It all depends on the amount of fat mass that accounts for their weights. Now, while cardio is an excellent fat burning method, too much aerobic activity leads to muscle loss and an unbalanced composition. However, when cardio is appropriately paired with lifting, not only will the workout regimen burn almost exclusively fat, but also build substantial muscle in the process. With an increased percentage of lean mass, your body will begin burning calories more efficiently. Talk about one of the healthiest, surefire fat loss solutions around.
2. You’ll Reduce Your Risk of Osteoporosis & Injury
Osteoporosis is a condition on every woman’s mind, especially as she ages. Studies show that resistance training can increase bone mineral density in as little as 6 months, fostering a stronger, sturdier frame. Don’t forget to couple your new workouts with appropriate daily doses of dietary calcium!
Additionally, weight training helps reduce your risk of injury. Lifting not only builds stronger muscles but fosters connective tissues and joint stability as well. When I solely ran on the treadmill for my workouts I would often have to take long recovery times because I would strain my calves, knees or quads. Lifting has given me a stronger base to work with, meaning I can reach my cardio goals much faster. Studies have also shown that a stronger, more muscular lower back aids in eliminating lower back pain – a feeling I’m even familiar with in my early twenties.
3. You’ll Improve Your Athletic Performance
Long distance running was my introduction to health and wellness. I would run for miles, loving the alone time and stellar endorphin high hours later. To this day, it is my favorite activity for cardio sessions. As my love for running grew with age, I began competing in community 5k’s and relay triathlons. I did reasonably O.K. I survived and, for a while, that was fine by me. However, as soon as I started lifting weights, growing my leg, glute and core muscles, I began to see major improvements in my race time. I was setting new personal records every month. Races were no longer just for fun; I was winning them too.
There are countless studies confirming the benefits of strength training on athletic performance. Whether you’re a runner, basketball player, golfer or swimmer, lifting will make you a more competitive athlete. And, as a result, the sports you love become even more fun to play. Now, who wouldn’t want that?
4. You’ll Drop a Size and Gain Some Shape
So many times I have asked my girlfriends to come lift with me, only for them to decline in fear of becoming “too bulky.” The belief that women pack on bulging, manly muscle from weight training is a misconception. In fact, it goes against our biology. Due to high levels of estrogen and low levels of testosterone, the female body responds to weights by strengthening, toning and firming its muscles — not excessively hypertrophying. Women who compete in powerlifting, bodybuilding or other sports that require massive activation of fast twitch muscle fibers spend years building their incredible physiques. It takes discipline and constant hard work to achieve and maintain major muscle size. Not to mention some athletes seek the help of steroids and hormonal injections to reach abnormal muscle growth. So don’t worry, lifting weights will not make you bulky. In fact it’ll give you a more feminine shape as you tighten and tone. Don’t be surprised if you even drop a dress size.
5. You’ll Build Mental Strength
Many women report boosts in confidence and mood upon starting a weight training routine. For me, there has always been something empowering about increasing my strength and athletic abilities. For many women, the ideal body is small, weak and dainty. I understand; I pursued this image for years and achieved it in my late teens. I weighed 90 pounds, possessed an unhealthy thigh gap and often felt faint due to my complete lack of mass. I felt like half a person. Lifting therefore became a major checkpoint in my life, as it increased both my physical and mental presence. Suddenly I had a greater lust for life.
Countless studies prove just how beneficial weight training is to our emotional muscles. Happiness is harnessed via the intense release of endorphins, sleep improves as your body needs more quality snoozing to repair and recover muscles and stressful situations are dwarfed as lifting releases high levels of norepinephrine. Plus, the results you will see (and become addicted to) from weight training will motivate you to pursue better nutrition and time management, all of which leads to a happier, more productive life.
Today, I’m a firm believer in the popular quote “strong is sexy.” Since I started weight training, I have never felt more in tune with my body or more motivated to tackle the mountains in my life. If you’re looking for an avenue to take your body and mind to the next level, this is it. Now, let’s get lifting.