Strength training for women has a huge range of benefits from long term health improvements such as lowering the risk of osteoporosis and reducing high blood pressure, right through to burning fat and enhancing longevity.
Before you start working strength training into your programming and workouts, it is important to think about why you are doing it, and what your goals are. There are no wrong answers here. Maybe you want to get stronger for your chosen sport, lose fat, get more toned, look better, improve your confidence, build muscle, alleviate stress or any other reason (or a combination of different reasons).
Whatever your motivation, you must hold onto it because strength training is hard, which is why it works, and this will help you see each session through to the end and stay on track.
THE BENEFITS OF STRENGTH TRAINING
The benefits of strength training for the human body and psyche are numerous. Here are 15 to start you off.
1 Burns fat
Building muscle actually helps to more effectively burn calories. Did you know that muscle burns three times the amount of calories that fat burns?! The more muscle tone you have, the higher your metabolism will become.
In a 2014 study published in the research journal Obesity, Harvard researchers followed 10,500 men over the course of 12 years and found that strength training is more effective at preventing increases in abdominal fat than cardiovascular exercise.
“When people incorporate strength training into their exercise routine, they not only burn calories, but increase lean muscle mass, which stimulates the metabolism,” Rebold says. Muscle mass is a major determiner of basal metabolic rate, or the number of calories the body burns per day to sustain physiologic functions.
2 Boosted brain health
Strength training can improve brain power across a lifetime, but the effects are perhaps the strongest in older adults suffering from cognitive decline. In one 2016 study in the Journal of American Geriatrics, when men and women ages 55 through 86 with mild impairment performed twice-weekly weight training for six months, they significantly improved their scores on cognitive tests. However, when participants spent their workouts stretching, their cognitive test scores declined.
The key might be getting the blood flowing, Rebold says, noting that high-intensity strength training increases the flow of blood, oxygen and other nutrients to the brain. In the study, adults lifted 80 percent of their 1RM, or the maximum amount of weight they could lift for one rep. That roughly equates to the amount of weight they could lift for eight reps without breaking form.
3 Reduces the risk of osteoporosis by building bone mass
Strength training is effective in increasing bone density and strengthening tendons and ligaments. Developing strong bones reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis and decreases the risk of bone fractures.
Strong bodies have strong bones, with strength training significantly increasing bone mineral density, Rivadeneyra says. He explains that any weight-bearing exercise in which you’re standing and gravity is pulling down on your body lightly stresses and strengthens the bones and muscles. Plus, every time a muscle contracts, it pulls on the bones it’s attached to, which stimulates the cells within the bone to produce structural proteins and move minerals into the bone, he says.
So, for the greatest results, prioritize standing weight-bearing, strength training moves such as squats and lunges. In a 2014 Journal of Family and Community Medicine study, just 12 weeks of strength training with squats increased lower spine and femur (thigh) bone mineral density by 2.9 and 4.9 percent, respectively.
4 Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease by strengthening your heart
studies suggest that strength training also directly impacts the heart. For example, 2013 research in the Journal of Applied Physiology demonstrates that young men who regularly strength train have better-functioning HDL, or good cholesterol, compared with those who never pump iron. Rebold explains that strength training improves blood pressure and triglyceride levels similarly to cardiovascular exercise, but it has even greater benefits on HDL. And 2015 research published in The Lancet medical journal shows that grip strength (a marker for total-body muscle health) more accurately predicts death from heart disease than blood pressure does.
5 Lowers the risk of breast cancer by reducing the high estrogen levels linked to the disease
Visceral fat not only increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, but it can also promote cancer development. Research from the journal Oncogene published in 2017 show that visceral fat cells produce high levels of a cancer-triggering protein called fibroblast growth factor-2, or FGF2.
And according to 2017 research published in Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology, muscle mass is a strong predictor of cancer treatment outcomes. Muscle wasting is a common complication of cancer treatment and is associated with a higher risk of chemotherapy toxicity, faster tumor progression and lower survival rates.