From practiced yogis to cardio junkies, we’re all familiar with the importance of physical activity. However, many women shy away when the conversation turns to weightlifting. Shoes are laced and feet are hitting the pavement before a barbell is given a second thought. For many of us, there’s a fear of “bulking up” and putting on too much muscle. Every woman has heard that old fear floating around—“Lifting makes you manly.” Well, it’s time to dispel those nagging weightlifting myths and take back the power, because one fundamental step in achieving any set of fitness goals is strength training, and women are still considerably less likely to make lifting a health and wellness habit. The truth is, the claim that women will bulk up with weightlifting holds no ground. Physiologically, women are incapable of putting on the same amount of muscle as men. This is due to the significantly lower levels of anabolic hormones (which are crucial for building muscle) in female bodies compared with male bodies. The truth is, a date with the weights is the answer you’ve been waiting for. Read on for insight on how to strut over to the weight rack with confidence.
The benefits are waiting, and you’re going to burn baby, burn.
While beneficial, cardio doesn’t offer the same rewards as weightlifting. And despite differing levels of growth hormones, regardless of sex, people experience far greater muscle development when strength training than their friends who are tied to the old treadmill. Lifting helps individuals burn fat while building muscle, as opposed to cardio, which cannot boast toning-related gains. This is especially noteworthy because muscle needs significantly more energy to perform its basic functioning than fat does. This means that with more muscle, an individual’s body will naturally have a higher resting metabolic rate. And the benefits don’t stop there! That muscle will also help individuals reshape their bodies to achieve a more balanced look. An increased metabolism and perky behind? Yes please. According to a recent study, individuals who took part in a weight training regimen developed significantly less belly fat than their counterparts who engaged in aerobic exercise alone. There are many factors at play here. One of the most important takeaways is that although cardio can contribute to weight loss, it doesn’t have the same lasting effect on the body as resistance training does. A runner only burns the total calories expended during their run, but a weightlifter experiences caloric expenditure during their workout as well as an increased metabolic rate during the next 48 hours. This means that exponentially more calories are burned by weightlifters over time. So if you’re longing for that flat tummy, weightlifting may be the trick.
You can hit peak performance with a little help from the weight rack. Stronger muscles mean greater power and exertion across the board. From participating in a local duathlon to acing an inversion yoga flow, once you start weight training, you’ll notice yourself moving with greater efficiency. Your core, arms, and legs will be better equipped to keep you speedy and balanced. This is why runners and yogis alike often cross-train with weightlifting. From pounding through the last few miles to perfecting a crow jumpback, your muscles will be prepared to support you.
Here’s to Longevity
Women are far more prone to bone and joint degeneration than men are as they age, and weight training actively works to lessen this risk. A prime example of this is weight training’s effect on osteoporosis. Research has shown resistance exercise like weightlifting provides “the mechanical stimuli or ‘loading’ important for the maintenance and improvement of bone health,” which means lifting enough weight actually helps stimulate bone growth and improve bone density, preventing or even reversing damage related to joint and bone degeneration. And while cardiovascular activity often gets all the attention when it comes to heart health, strength training also plays an important role. In fact, it may offer greater benefits due to the improved blood flow to active muscles during weight training. Resistance exercise produces unique blood vessel responses, specifically in that it stimulates improved blood flow in the limbs. It also contributes to a lasting drop in blood pressure following the workout that cannot be paralleled by aerobic exercise.
Reach for those dumbbells.
Fear not, cardio bunnies! You don’t need to give up that runner’s high. For the widest range of benefits, combine a few sessions of aerobic exercise with three to four sessions of resistance training each week. Don’t know where to start? Build on the fundamentals and treat form as your highest priority as you get into your new groove. As a good reminder, make sure to establish and maintain full range of motion before moving on to heavier weights. Once your technique is mastered, shoot for three to four sets of 12 to 15 repetitions. Between those sets, keep rest at a maximum of one minute for the greatest benefits. There are hundreds of helpful resources floating around the internet, so don’t hesitate to continue your research. For visual guides, find videos of coaches performing the exercises. However, make sure those sources are credible. T Nation and Bodybuilding.com are both great places to start since they’re brimming with expert advice and workout templates. As you map your plan, aim to rotate upper body and lower body days to keep your initiation into weight training simple. For example, an average week could look like this:
Monday: Upper Body
Tuesday: Lower Body
Take to the streets, gym, pool, or court for the cardio activity of your choice.
Thursday: Upper Body
Follow the same upper body routine as you did Monday, focusing on your form as you become more comfortable with the exercises.
Friday: Lower Body
Revisit Tuesday’s lower body routine with a focus on form.
Drop into your favorite once-a-week class or unfurl your mat and get your stretch on at home.
Enjoy your go-to cardio activity, or switch it up with something else you like but didn’t have time for on Wednesday.