What’s an activity that can help women stay strong, burn calories, and build healthy bones? Strength training. Before you say “no thanks” to weights, take some time to challenge your preconceptions and learn about the importance of strength training for women.
In a 2011 opinion poll reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than 20 percent of women contacted said they accomplished the CDC’s recommendations for 2 1/2 hours of aerobic exercise and two periods of strength training weekly. Yet the benefits speak for themselves. Inactive adults experience a 3 to 8 percent loss of muscle mass per decade. Resistance training may increase resting metabolism by about 7 percent and help minimize muscle loss.
What’s more, when you strength train, you get more calorie-torching bang for your buck. Working with weights keeps your body working long after you’ve stopped lifting. This is the process commonly called “after-burn.” There is much talk in exercise circles about the body’s ability to continue burning calories after exercise, called “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” or EPOC. A study reported by the University of New Mexico (UNM) reports that the body takes between 15 minutes and 48 hours to return to a resting state after exercise. This means you can continue burning calories after you exercise. The UNM study reports that the intensity of the workout has the most effect on how long the after-burn effect lasts.
Many women miss out on the benefits of strength training out of fear of developing bulging muscles. This is a misconception. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, high levels of estrogen make it very difficult for women to become overly muscular. When women lift weights, the changes to their muscles are generally related to tone, strength, and endurance rather than size. The resulting look is firm, feminine toning, not bulky masculine muscles.
Strength training is a key component of overall health and fitness, and it provides an important balance to aerobic workouts. The Mayo Clinic counts the following among the many benefits of strength training.
Preserves muscle mass
Muscle mass diminishes with age. You can counteract this loss through strength training. The percentage of fat on your body increases as you get older if you don’t do anything to replace the lean muscle you lose. Strength training helps preserve and enhance your muscle mass, regardless of your age.
A regular strength training program helps you increase lean body mass and burn calories more efficiently, which can result in healthy weight loss.
Reduces risk of osteoporosis
Because of hormonal changes that women experience as they get older, they naturally lose bone density, putting them at increased risk for developing osteoporosis. Routinely lifting weights slows bone deterioration and can help your bones grow stronger, help you maintain strength, and reduce your chance of developing — or slow the effects of — osteoporosis.
Decreases injury risk
When you build muscle, you help protect your joints from injury and increase your balance and coordination. This becomes increasingly important to help you maintain your independence as you age.
It’s easy to begin a strength training program at home or in the gym. The following options will help you build lean muscle.
Using your own body weight for resistance is an excellent way to increase muscular strength. Pushups, pullups, and abdominal crunches are among the simplest exercises that use body weight.
The following are standard types of free weights:
- weight bars
You can purchase these inexpensively at sporting goods stores, or find them at most gyms.
Many fitness centers offer circuit-style weight machines targeting different muscle areas of the body. Ask for assistance in using the machines for the first time or follow the diagrams on the equipment. Weight machines are also available for purchase for home gyms.
Resistance tubing provides an inexpensive way for home strength training. Some doctors’ offices or sports medicine clinics provide tubing to patients free of charge. Alternately, you can select from a range of options at sporting goods stores. If you’re unfamiliar with rubber tubing, it resembles large, colorful rubber bands.
For an effective workout, select a weight or resistance level that fatigues your muscles after 8 to 12 repetitions. You can begin with a single set and work up to two or three sets as you become stronger. For instruction with specific types of weights and lifts, seek assistance from a trained instructor at a gym, health center, or local community center.