It’s that time of year again, when many people’s thoughts turn from all the Christmas cookies they packed away in December to getting fit in January. That’s a great goal, but you need a way to stick with it. What do we suggest? Incorporating strength training into your life! It’s fun, has measurable results and gains that will keep you motivated, and has multiple health benefits. While strength training is perfect for almost anybody (and any body), right now we’re specifically talking to all you women out there. There’s long been a misconception that women should be doing tons of cardio or using very light weights to get fit. Those are great if that’s what you enjoy, but it might be time to ditch the treadmill and the tiny pink dumbbells and get strong!
What Is Strength Training?
Strength training can actually be done in multiple ways. It doesn’t have to be hoisting a massive barbell above your head. You can personalize it to work for your body, your goals, and the equipment that you have or are willing to obtain. Strength training of any kind is pretty much defined by two things:
- Movement of any weight (including your body weight!) – if you do any kind of exercise that pushes your muscles out of their comfort zone, then you’re forcing them to rebuild and get stronger.
- Progressive overload – if you exert slightly more effort each time you train, then your muscles will have to adapt and get stronger.
Basically, strength training starts when you move your body weight in a way that causes you to exert your muscles, or when you pick up a weight that is beyond what your body is normally used to. For example, you can start strength training right now by doing 10 squats and 10 pushups from your knees! Then when you master that, you would move on to doing squats holding dumbbells and pushups from your toes.
The most important thing about strength training is pushing your muscles out of their comfort zone. This is so that they will break down and actually tear slightly as you work out. Sounds weird, but if you break down your muscles, over the next 24 – 48 hours they will actually begin to rebuild themselves – and this time they’ll be stronger than the day before!
The Benefits of Strength Training
Why should you strength train? Well, you’ll get stronger! Who doesn’t want to be able to bring in all of their groceries in one trip, carry an air conditioner up the stairs without help, hoist a sleepy child out of the car with ease, push their car out of the snow without any problems, and so on and so on? But the benefits of strength training don’t end there.
- Long-term benefits:
- Prevents disease and degenerative conditions like heart disease, which many people are surprised to know is the number one killer of women in the United States. Strength training helps correct issues relating to cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and inactivity – all factors for heart disease.
- Helps combat age-related muscle loss so you can stay independent longer.
- Increases bone density, which is especially important for women as they age.
- Benefits you’ll see right away:
- Improved balance and coordination.
- Improved mood, and helps combat stress and anxiety.
- Weight loss. Study after study has found that strength training plus healthier eating habits is the perfect combination for weight management, even if you’re not doing cardio. And if you’re taking up exercise for aesthetic reasons (and it’s ok if that’s not your goal!), you can change the shape of your body with strength training. How many times have you heard you can’t spot reduce fat? Well, it’s true, but you can build up muscle in certain areas and change the shape of your body that way.
- Increased metabolism. Strength training speeds up your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), because it takes more calories to maintain muscles than it does to maintain fat. In addition, because your body needs to do so much work to recover after a strength-based workout, your metabolism can be boosted even more for up to 38 hours after you finish your workout.
- Measurable results! Part of the fun of strength training is seeing your progress, both in your physical appearance (if that’s your thing!) and in the amount you can lift or the number of reps you can do.
At this point, you might be itching to get started! But first, let’s answer something once and for all.
Do Women Need to Strength Train Differently?
Strength training is one of the best things you can do for your health, but it’s estimated that only 20% of women do it! Maybe it’s because women are told that it’s not for their bodies, or they don’t need to do it, or they can’t lift the same way men can. But there’s actually a pretty easy answer to whether women need to approach strength training differently than men do. NO! In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine doesn’t differentiate between the sexes when it comes to their strength training recommendations.
Let’s also address a question many women have about strength training: will it make me look “bulky.” The answer to that is also a firm “no,” unless you make a very, very specific effort to make yourself build the amount of muscle that a bodybuilder has. Believe us, that doesn’t happen by accident! So don’t worry about that, and get started!
How to Start
If you’re totally new to strength training, the best way to start is with your own body. That’s right, bodyweight exercises are great for you – you’re doing exactly what your body was designed to do, plus you’ll never be without your equipment! For example, try doing this “circuit” of 6 exercises, 3 times through:
- 20 bodyweight squats
- 10 push-ups – you can even progress with pushups as you get stronger. Start by doing them on your knees, then move to doing them from your toes, then try them with your legs elevated, and so on.
- 10 walking lunges per leg
- 15 seconds of plank
- 30 jumping jacks
And there you have it! Your first strength-based workout. Once you get comfortable with bodyweight work, and are ready to move on, you should get yourself some dumbbells (or go to a gym and use theirs) and add in exercises like goblet squats (holding one heavy weight at your chest), weighted lunges, dumbbell rows, shoulder presses, bicep curls, and tricep kickbacks. And when you get really strong? If you have access to one, try working with a barbell. This will allow you to pick up heavy weights and do movements that recruit every muscle in your body. Before you know it, you’ll be deadlifting and doing cleans and presses – and you’ll be super strong.
Everybody has their own reasons for wanting to incorporate exercise into their lives. Maybe you want to feel great, look great, get strong – or all of the above! If so, strength training is the way to go. There’s absolutely no restrictions on who can do it (just ask your doctor first!), and no limits to how much progress you can make, no matter your gender, as long as you put some effort into it!