If you go to almost any commercial gym, you will notice that a large portion of males and females are doing completely different types of workouts. The males are generally lifting heavy weights (and often neglecting body parts they cannot see but that is a topic for another day) while the females generally congregate around the cardio equipment and/or in fitness classes that are very cardio-like and neglect strength training.

There may be a few women who lift heavy weights, but they are generally in the minority. However, this minority of women are reaping a large number of benefits from strength training.

Below are some of the benefits of weight training for women. My hope is that by highlighting these benefits it will help more women engage in strength training.

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Photo: Alex Pendlebury from Simple Sensible Nutrition

Fat Loss

Many women spend a large amount of their time in the gym doing cardio or cardio-like fitness classes in an attempt to drop body fat. While doing cardio along with a sound nutrition plan can help to create a caloric deficit and result in weight loss, it may not be the most optimal type of exercise for seeing large sustained changes in body composition.

A recent study sought to determine the most effective diet and exercise interventions for weight loss and change in body composition [1]. They did a statistical analysis of over 20 large weight loss studies involving diet and exercise and found that the largest changes in body composition were observed when a caloric deficit was combined with resistance training. Moreover, the most sustained progress was seen when resistance training was performed progressively utilizing whole body and free weight exercises with loads greater than 75% 1RM.

Take Home Point:

Heavy weight training needs to be included in an exercise plan if the goal is fat loss.

***As a side note, many women shy away from strength training because they fear it will make them “big” and “bulky”; however, this is not the case for the vast majority of women because they do not have the testosterone levels to build muscle like men without anabolic drug use.***

 Metabolic Rate

Skeletal muscle is a metabolically costing tissue meaning that it takes a lot of calories to sustain compared with some of the other tissues of the body. For this reason, metabolic rate is highly correlated with the amount of muscle mass an individual carries.

Along the same lines, several studies [2-4] have observed increases in metabolic rate following resistance training protocols that increase lean mass. However, this is not observed to the same extent following cardio only exercise protocols. Therefore, in order to increase muscle mass and metabolic rate an individual will need to resistance train.

Take Home Point:

If an individual lifts weights and increases muscle mass, they will also increase metabolic rate which will assist in their fat loss goals.

Bone Density

Osteoporosis is a significant health problem (more common in women) that results in increased frailty, fracture risk and medical expense. In fact, it is estimated that 53.6 million older adults in the United States have low bone density [5].

However, high-load resistance training has been repeatedly shown to increase bone density in women [6].

Take Home Point:

Weightlifting should be performed by women to reduce risk of osteoporosis and low bone density.

Increased self-esteem

Low self-esteem has been found to be more common in women than men [7]. However, a recent review of literature on exercise and self-esteem found that resistance training was highly associated with increased self-esteem in adults of all ages as well as clinical populations [8]. Moreover, visual changes in body composition and shape as a result of resistance training may further increase self-esteem.

Take Home Point:

Lifting weights may help to improve self-esteem.

Increased Energy

Fatigue is a common complaint among adults. In a survey of over 17,000 participants 33.3% of participants reported experiencing increased fatigue on a regular basis [9]. Moreover, fatigue prevalence was significantly higher in women than in men.

Weight training may be able to increase energy levels and reduce fatigue. A recent review concluded that strength training alone can significantly reduce fatigue both in healthy adults and many clinical conditions [8].

Take Home Point:

Strength training may help to increase energy and reduce fatigue.

Reductions in disease risk

Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are becoming increasingly prevalent. It is estimated that 39% of adult women will develop cardiovascular disease by age 50 [10]. Moreover, an estimated 382 million people worldwide had diabetes 2013 and that number is expected to increase to 592 million by 2035 [11]. Therefore, interventions to reduce the risk of these diseases are needed.

Weightlifting has been shown to improve a number of cardiovascular risk factors including: heart rate [12], blood pressure [13] and blood lipids [14]. In addition, lifting weights has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity [13].

Take Home Point:

Weightlifting may improve risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Stress Relief

Anxiety disorders affect 1 in 5 US adults and the prevalence is higher among women [15]. However, a study on resistance training and anxiety in women found that progressive weight lifting thrice weekly for 12 weeks significantly reduced anxiety [16].

Take Home Point:

Progressive weight training may reduce stress and anxiety in women.

Improved Sleep

Insomnia is fairly prevalent and affects 10-40% of individuals. Moreover, poor sleep patterns are associated with a number of chronic diseases [17]. However, regular resistance training has been shown to improve sleep quality and may help combat insomnia in these individuals [18].

Take Home Point:

Regular weightlifting may improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia.

Click here for my Female Strength and Fat Loss Program

AUTHOR BIO

peter_fitschen_e

Peter Fitschen has a PhD in Nutritional Science from the University of Illinois as well as a BS in Biochemistry and MS in Biology with a Physiology Concentration from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.  He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is also an professional natural bodybuilder who has competing in natural bodybuilding since 2004.  Peter works as a physique consultant through his company, Fitbody and Physique LLC.

My website is: www.fitbodyphysique.com

Email: [email protected]

Instagram: @fitbodyphysique

References

  1. Clark, J.E., Diet, exercise or diet with exercise: comparing the effectiveness of treatment options for weight-loss and changes in fitness for adults (18-65 years old) who are overfat, or obese; systematic review and meta-analysis. J Diabetes Metab Disord, 2015. 14: p. 31.
  2. Campbell, W.W., et al., Increased energy requirements and changes in body composition with resistance training in older adults. Am J Clin Nutr, 1994. 60(2): p. 167-75.
  3. Pratley, R., et al., Strength training increases resting metabolic rate and norepinephrine levels in healthy 50- to 65-yr-old men. J Appl Physiol (1985), 1994. 76(1): p. 133-7.
  4. Treuth, M.S., et al., Energy expenditure and substrate utilization in older women after strength training: 24-h calorimeter results. J Appl Physiol (1985), 1995. 78(6): p. 2140-6.
  5. Wright, N.C., et al., The recent prevalence of osteoporosis and low bone mass in the United States based on bone mineral density at the femoral neck or lumbar spine. J Bone Miner Res, 2014. 29(11): p. 2520-6.
  6. Kelley, G.A., K.S. Kelley, and Z.V. Tran, Resistance training and bone mineral density in women: a meta-analysis of controlled trials. Am J Phys Med Rehabil, 2001. 80(1): p. 65-77.
  7. Kling, K.C., et al., Gender differences in self-esteem: a meta-analysis. Psychol Bull, 1999. 125(4): p. 470-500.
  8. O’Connor, P.J., M.P. Herring, and A. Caravalho, Mental health benefits of strength training in adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2010. 4: p. 377.
  9. Meng, H., L. Hale, and F. Friedberg, Prevalence and predictors of fatigue in middle-aged and older adults: evidence from the health and retirement study. J Am Geriatr Soc, 2010. 58(10): p. 2033-4.
  10. Coulter, S.A., Epidemiology of cardiovascular disease in women: risk, advances, and alarms. Tex Heart Inst J, 2011. 38(2): p. 145-7.
  11. Guariguata, L., et al., Global estimates of diabetes prevalence for 2013 and projections for 2035. Diabetes Res Clin Pract, 2014. 103(2): p. 137-49.
  12. Stone, M.H., et al., Health- and performance-related potential of resistance training. Sports Med, 1991. 11(4): p. 210-31.
  13. Hurley, B.F., et al., Resistive training can reduce coronary risk factors without altering VO2max or percent body fat. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1988. 20(2): p. 150-4.
  14. Kokkinos, P.F. and B.F. Hurley, Strength training and lipoprotein-lipid profiles. A critical analysis and recommendations for further study. Sports Med, 1990. 9(5): p. 266-72.
  15. McLean, C.P., et al., Gender differences in anxiety disorders: prevalence, course of illness, comorbidity and burden of illness. J Psychiatr Res, 2011. 45(8): p. 1027-35.
  16. Tsutsumi, T., et al., Comparison of high and moderate intensity of strength training on mood and anxiety in older adults. Percept Mot Skills, 1998. 87(3 Pt 1): p. 1003-11.
  17. Yang, P.Y., et al., Exercise training improves sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults with sleep problems: a systematic review. J Physiother, 2012. 58(3): p. 157-63.
  18. Ferris, L.T., et al., Resistance training improves sleep quality in older adults a pilot study. J Sports Sci Med, 2005. 4(3): p. 354-60.