Why Weight Training is So Important for Women


Weight training is highly beneficial for women, but there are several barriers standing in the way of this vital fitness tool. For example, don't let anyone tell you that you must lift heavy weights to get the benefits. Several studies have shown that it's just not true, yet articles continue to insist that it's somehow mandatory (if you keep reading, they'll typically admit that it's not).


Building muscular strength - particularly as we age - is crucial for health and longevity. Yet, between the myths and misconceptions floating around about women and weight, as well as a seemingly unwelcome environment in many gyms around weight equipment, many women decide to stick to cardio.


A 2022 article in Prevention Science (the official journal of the Society for Prevention Research) explored motivational barriers women face when they want to start or maintain a strength training routine. The need to overcome hurdles is particularly unfortunate since the paper also reported that strength training is especially beneficial for women, particularly as they age.


"Post-menopausal hormonal changes put women at a greater risk of younger onset of bone loss and developing osteopenia, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, more severe osteoarthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions compared to men."


Believe it or not, you can lose weight by lifting weights; in fact, weight training is often better than cardio for weight loss. It also appears to be just as effective at promoting cardiovascular fitness and overall heart health. And there's a much longer list of health benefits that make working out with weights (or engaging in a strength training program using resistance mechanisms) a great way to stay healthy and active.


So, let's take a closer look at the exact reasons why women should lift/weight train/engage in strength training, the barriers some women face when trying to switch up their workouts to include weights, as well as the ways women can overcome whatever's stopping them from picking up those dumbbells.


Weight Lifting vs. Strength Training

Just to be clear, "strength training" is a broad term that encompasses all exercises aimed at improving strength and muscular endurance. This can be achieved using weights (like dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells), resistance bands, or even one's own body weight (using push-ups, planks, squats, and lunges).


Weight lifting is a form of strength training that specifically involves lifting weights (it's also an Olympic sport). However, we often use the terms "weight lifting," "weight training," and "strength training" interchangeably in general conversation because they all involve using resistance against a force (such as gravity) to build muscular strength and endurance.


Just note that we're not insisting that weight training is about pumping iron in this article (unless you want it to be). When we use these terms, we're talking about any exercise that helps you improve strength and endurance.


Health Benefits for Women Who Engage in Strength and Resistance Training

So, what are the benefits of strength training for women? Well, for starters, the health benefits of weight lifting for women are far-reaching, encompassing metabolic perks, bone health, mental wellness, and more– and some others may surprise you.


1. Metabolic Benefits

Engaging in weightlifting not only accelerates the metabolic rate but also leads to improved glucose metabolism and an increased resting metabolic rate. This dual advantage facilitates calorie burning and aids in effective weight management.


2. A Longer Life

The increased strength and muscle mass, primary outcomes of weightlifting, have also been shown to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality (that is, they have a statistically lower chance of dying from any cause, be it diseases, accidents, or other unforeseen events, compared to those who do not participate in such exercises).


3. Robust Bone Health

As women age, particularly post-40, the risk of osteoporosis intensifies. Strength training counters this by augmenting bone density, offering some protection against fractures and bone-related ailments.


4. Empowered Functional Fitness

Day-to-day activities become significantly easier with enhanced physical capacity, balance, coordination, and posture. Strength training can alleviate pain and discomfort for people living with arthritis. Exercises targeting the lumbar region can be reduced in individuals with chronic lower back issues, making routine tasks less strenuous.


5. Reduced Risk of Injury

By strengthening muscles and improving balance, strength training can lower the risk of injuries in daily activities.


6. Better Nutrition Absorption

Regular exercise, including weightlifting, improves your body's ability to absorb nutrients from the food you eat, which improves overall health.


7. Better Body Composition

Strength training helps build lean muscle mass, which can lead to a healthier body composition. Having more muscle and less fat reduces the likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome and other health issues.


8. Boost in Mental Health

The act of weightlifting triggers a release of endorphins, which are often referred to as nature's antidepressants. This plays a pivotal role in curtailing symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as elevating overall mood, boosting cognitive function and memory, and improving energy.


9. Disease Prevention and Health Augmentation

From fortifying heart health and boosting energy levels to refining body mechanics, the benefits of weightlifting are exhaustive. These include:

- Ensuring better sleep.

- Improving blood-lipid profiles (a pivotal aspect of cardiovascular health).

- Reducing resting blood pressure.

- Decreasing gastrointestinal transit time, which could reduce the risk of colon cancer.

- Improving blood sugar control, which offers preventive measures against type 2 diabetes.


10. Aesthetic and Self-esteem Benefits

While it’s secondary to health, there’s no denying that improved body composition and increased muscle tone—aided by the enhanced flexibility from strength—contribute to boosted self-confidence.


How many times a week should a woman lift weights?


Now, you might be wondering how often you need to lift to see the benefits of strength training. Of course, the answer varies depending on your goals, fitness level, and schedule. However, a well-rounded strength training program generally suggests lifting weights 2-3 times a week. This frequency allows your muscles to rest and recover between sessions, which is crucial for growth and strength improvement.


But when it comes to strength training, patience is key. You might ask, 'How long does it take for a woman to see results from weight training?' There's no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on your starting point, consistency, diet, and many other factors. Generally, noticeable changes in strength can be seen within a few weeks, but visible physical changes may take 2 to 3 months or more.


Myths and Misconceptions about Women and Weight Lifting

When thinking about working out with weights, many picture large, heavy equipment and wonder, 'Will I get bulky?' But there's a difference between weight lifting and doing strength training for your health. Weight training doesn't have to mean pumping iron at the gym (unless you want it to).


Here are the most common myths that keep women from weight/strength training:


1. Working out with weights will make me bulky or add muscles where I don't want them.

If you want to get fitter and stronger but avoid bulging muscles where you don't want them, we're here to tell you that weight training won't bulk you up unless you go out of your way to make it happen.


Women generally produce significantly less testosterone – the hormone primarily responsible for muscle growth – than men. This means that unless you're following a rigorous bodybuilder's routine and consuming excess calories, getting bulky from regular weight training is quite improbable. But you're more likely to lose some extra pounds, at least according to Eric Shiroma, Sc.D., a staff scientist at the National Institute on Aging:


         "Some people have a hard time gaining muscle no matter how much they lift, while others have a hard time losing weight even when focusing on aerobic activity."


It's essential to understand what strength training actually does to your body. Rather than adding unwanted bulk, it aids in developing lean muscle mass. These lean muscles are more compact and dense than fat, taking up less space in your body. So, instead of expanding your size, weight training often results in a toned, sleeker physique.


2. Any muscle I build will turn to fat when I take a break from strength training.

Let's consider another fear that haunts many of us: the worry that any hard-earned muscle will transform into fat as soon as we take a break from strength training. Believe it or not, this is another tall tale that's been circling around the fitness community for far too long.


Here's the reality: Muscle and fat are two entirely different types of tissues. It's physically impossible for one to transform into the other, just like apples can't turn into oranges. When you stop strength training, your muscles may shrink over time due to lack of use, a process called atrophy. They don't, however, turn into fat.


What can happen, though, is if you stop exercising but continue to consume the same amount of calories, your body may store the surplus as fat. This is why balanced nutrition is just as important as regular exercise.


3. Weight training is dangerous and requires heavy equipment and spotters.

Weight training can be as simple or as complex as you make it. Yes, it can involve heavy equipment, but it can also be accomplished with lighter weights, resistance bands, or even just your body weight. (You certainly don't need a spotter to use those!)


As for safety, any exercise performed incorrectly can lead to injury. The key is to learn proper form, start with manageable weights, and gradually increase as your strength improves.


You don't necessarily need a spotter for every weight-lifting exercise, particularly if you're not lifting heavy. Just remember that safety comes first, so listen to your body and proceed with caution.


4. Strength training is too hard on an older body. 

Do you feel like the ship has sailed for you to start strength training because of your age? Think again. It's never too late to start weight training, and in fact, it can be incredibly beneficial for older adults.


Strength training can work wonders for women over 40. For example, it can:


While it's true you should approach training carefully and possibly modify exercises to fit your needs, that applies to anyone, regardless of age.


5. Weight training requires specialized diets and protein supplements.

Unless you're actively trying to bulk up, a strength training program for women doesn't require you to guzzle protein shakes or follow specialized diets to see benefits.


Nutrition certainly plays a role in muscle recovery and growth, but a balanced diet can typically provide the necessary nutrients without the need for costly or complex supplements. Protein is essential for muscle repair and development, but it can easily be sourced from regular foods like chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, legumes, and nuts.


6. I don't have room in my home for strength training equipment.

Don't let a lack of space deter you from your strength training goals. You don't need a ton of space or equipment.


Women can execute a variety of strength training exercises with minimal equipment in a small space. A pair of dumbbells or a resistance band is often enough for a full-body workout. Bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, squats, and lunges require no equipment at all.


Even better, new smart home gym equipment like the Speediance Gym Monster and Speediance Gym Pal take up very little space and can even be folded up or put away when not in use.


Home gyms also allow you to engage in a wide variety of resistance training motions without the need for a gym membership.


The Final Word on Weights

The benefits of weight training are vast for those who are able to engage in it. You don't need to lift heavy; you can work out with small, light weights or put the resistance of your Speediance machine on the lowest setting and still get benefits! And with Speediance, there are instructions on how best to perform these movements to reduce the risk of injury.


Beyond mere aesthetic gains, it represents a dedication to improved longevity and life quality.