You might have heard people talking about the benefits of weights training, or resistance training.
This article will explain just why it’s so good, for women of all ages, and how you can incorporate it into your life.
What is resistance training?
Resistance training is something I’m really passionate about encouraging women to do. It’s basically training your body to overcome resistance and become stronger, fitter and healthier. It can be done using a range of equipment such as dumbells, bars, machines, bands and kettlebells, and also your own bodyweight.
It can be pretty intimidating if it’s something you haven’t done before, but there are so many benefits, many of which people don’t realise. And it’s never too late to start – my oldest clients are in their 70s, and I’ve seen some amazing women in their 80’s lifting weights too. If they can do it, so can you!
Why is it so good for women?
There’s many reasons, but I’m highlighting 10 big ones in this article. I actually think the points after number 1 are far more important, but I’ll start with this one first as it’s the benefit that often grabs people in the beginning:
1. Lifting weights is the best way to get slim and toned
If you lose weight by dieting alone, you’ll get slimmer, but you’ll also likely still have areas that you feel are a bit ‘flabby’ and soft. Resistance training is by far the best way to tone these areas up.
A big concern for a lot of women is that by lifting weights they’ll get big and muscly. Rest assured, this will not happen. To build muscle you need a lot of testosterone. Women have just 10% of the amount of this hormone compared to men, and even they have to work really hard to get bulky.
What will happen is that as your body slims down, it will also become tighter and firmer.
A lot of my clients mention to me how they’d like to wear sleeveless tops in the summer and feel confident with how their arms and shoulders look. Others want to have more tone in their legs, a tighter bum and a flatter tummy. We all want our clothes to fit better and flatter our figure.
This happens when you do resistance training (and eat the right amount of food for your body).
But there are SO many more benefits than just how it makes you look.
2. Your whole body becomes stronger
One of the really great things that happens is that your muscles and body become stronger as a whole.
You’ll be more independent.
You’ll find you’re suddenly able to lift heavy objects at home without the need for help.
You’ll be carrying 3 heavy bags of shopping in each hand no problem.
You’ll skip up the stairs, get to the top and suddenly realise your knees feel fine and your back doesn’t ache anymore.
Your body adapts fantastically well to a good weights program – physically and mentally, you reap the rewards.
3. Helps reduce your risk of serious illness and disease
Stronger muscles, combined with a good diet, can vastly improve your body’s insulin sensitivity. This means that your blood sugar levels remain more stable and your body becomes better at processing and dealing with the foods that you eat. It helps you lose weight, and makes it much easier for you to keep it off too.
Resistance training can also lower your blood pressure. A study that’s discussed in detail HERE shows that 12 weeks of following a weights training program lowered blood pressure more effectively than reducing salt intake, doing cardio and losing weight. This translates to a much lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Recent studies have shown that muscle tissue releases hormones that may inhibit breast cancer cell growth. Another demonstrated that older individuals regularly doing resistance training were 46% less likely to die during the 15 years of the study than their non-training counterparts. This was an observational study with some limitations (other variables could have contributed to the outcomes) but it adds to the growing list of potential health benefits from lifting weights.
4. You are less likely to get injured in daily life
Strong, well-used muscles are far less likely to suffer from pulls and strains. When you pick up a wriggling child or have to reach to grab something heavy at work – before you might have done your back in, but with strength training your body copes and you don’t get hurt. You probably don’t even notice, because you don’t get hurt. But if you hadn’t done the training, you’d know about it!
Strong muscles are able to adjust much better when you are on a slippery, unstable or uneven surface. We all know our risk of suffering falls increases as we get older, and we are far more likely to get hurt in the process. When you’ve trained your body to be strong in various positions, you react quicker and have the ability to cope far better with the physical challenges life can present.
5. Strengthens your tendons and bones
This is a really important point for women especially. As we get older our bone density decreases and we become more at risk of osteoporosis, especially after menopause. When we train our body using resistance, muscles pull on our tendons and bones and cause them to react by becoming stronger. This can increase bone density and leave you far less likely to break bones if you fall (and again, less likely to fall in the first place).
Below is a couple of snapshots from a video of my 70 year old client Norma doing step ups to improve her strength and balance (this lady is a superstar).
6. Can help sore knees and achy backs
And any other joints for that matter. Of course everyone is different and there is a big spectrum of injuries and problems people can have; some of which can’t be helped with weights.
But many, many people who find their joints are sore now they’re getting older could find huge benefit from resistance training coupled with some flexibility work. Stiff knees and backs are often actually caused by tight hips and weak glute (buttock) muscles. Most of us spend a lot of time sitting down, and our hips start to lose their strength and mobility. This causes the knees and lower back to have to do more work than they’d like to in order to compensate. Muscles around those areas get overworked and tight, and you experience that as aches and pains.
A good resistance program will strengthen weak muscles, improve mobility, and balance things out so that no area is under too much strain. Once the balance has been re-dressed, joints that were complaining often settle down.
7. Boosts your confidence and self-belief
I’ve heard countless times from my own clients and other women how empowered they feel after a session lifting weights in the gym. Seeing and feeling your body get stronger and become capable of more than before is incredibly rewarding. One of the ‘gym m
oments’ I love most is seeing the look on a client’s face when they achieve something they didn’t think they could do; usually lift heavier than before and nail it. It’s a mixture of being a bit worn out, yet elated and proud at the same time. It’s brilliant to see.
8. Can help you sleep better
There’s not a lot of things that are more satisfying than climbing in to a warm comfy bed feeling that your muscles have worked. You can lie there all cosy and relaxed knowing that you’ve achieved something, and your body is now going to get the rest and repair time it deserves. The physical and mental work that goes in to a resistance session leaves you tired yet satisfied by the end of the day, and it does seem to translate into better quality and deeper sleep for many people.
9. Great for de-stressing
Tough day at work? Kids getting on your nerves? There’s no better place than the gym to go and let your frustrations out. Channel those feelings into pushing, pulling and lifting heavy things and you will feel so much better. Especially when that stress inspires you to push yourself and you end up having a really great workout. I’ve had many women come in for a session tired and stressed out, and watched them leave an hour later with their head held high, calmer and ready to take on the world again.
10. Focuses on achievements
So many women go to the gym purely to burn off calories. Exercise is seen as purgatory – we HAVE to burn off the food we eat, we’ve GOT to do it, we SHOULD go to the gym.
We essentially use exercise as a stick to beat ourselves with, then wonder why we don’t enjoy it!
Resistance training can switch our focus from ‘going to the gym because I need to lose weight’, to ‘going to the gym to get stronger, feel better and achieve something’. It’s all about doing a little more each time – making small manageable improvements. Doing one extra repetition, moving on to the next pin on the weight stack, or adding a couple of pounds to the bar. All these subtle achievements add up, they show that your body is getting stronger, and they make you feel great.
That all sounds brilliant, how do I do it?
To get the most out of resistance training, a workout that covers your whole body is key.
In my beginner programs I often break this down into 6 exercises – two for your legs, and four for your upper body.
You don’t need to spend hours doing it either: 30-45 minutes, 2-3 times per week can work extremely well.
Going to a gym is the best way to do this, because it opens up various highly effective exercises you can do with a range of different equipment. Most gyms will offer a free induction or program session as part of your membership, where a gym instructor will take you round, show you how to do certain exercises, and then write them down for you so you have a plan to follow.
This is a great way to get started.
If you can afford a personal trainer, it’s well worth investing in even just one or two sessions with them (though of course, the more you can do, the better). Then you will be guided through a routine that is tailored to your goals and ability level, and have an expert there to correct your technique and make sure you’re getting maximum benefits from your time and efforts. You’ll also have the motivation to keep going, as well as the confidence that you’re doing things right. A good personal trainer will guide you on your nutrition too, and keep you accountable to the goals you set.
Gyms can still seem very scary places at first, and I assure you it is totally normal to feel intimidated and uncomfortable in your first few sessions, especially if you’re on your own. What’s important to remember is that everyone else felt that way when they first started too. Anything that’s new is confusing at first, but any good gym instructor will be more than happy to help you out if you forget what to do. And all those people that you think are looking at you and judging you, are far more likely to actually be worrying about what you and everyone else are thinking about them.
If you can’t, or really don’t want to go to a gym, there are still exercises you can do at home that can really help. You could consider buying some weights to keep at home, and maybe hiring a personal trainer who can come to you to show you how to use them.
There are even some really great exercises you can do with no equipment at all. I’ll run you through two of the best ones here. These are great to get you started, and then I’d highly recommend finding something that works for you to have more variation and allow yourself to keep progressing.
Two great home exercises: Squats and Press ups
Squats are a brilliant exercise to work your legs, bum and core muscles. Seek advice before doing them if you have hip, knee or back problems or if they cause you pain. Done correctly, this can be a great exercise to strengthen all these areas.
Start standing with your feet hip width apart and toes pointing slightly out.
Keeping your head and chest up, lower yourself down as if sitting on a low seat behind you. Keep your weight in your heels and your hands out in front for balance.
When you get as low as you can, push through your heels to stand up again.
If you have a dumbbell or kettlebell at home, you can hold that under your chin to increase the challenge.
Don’t worry – you don’t need to do full press ups on the floor. If, like most people, you find press ups really tough, all you need to do is find a higher place to rest your hands, so you are at an incline (like in the photo). The kitchen worktop, dining room table, or arm of the sofa can all work well. Ideally, find a place where you can do 10 press ups and it’s starting to feel tough by the end.
Start with your hands just wider than your shoulders, and your body straight.
Keeping your tummy pulled tight, slowly lower your chest down to the surface in front of you.
Make sure your body is straight – it’s easy to let your back sag or stick your bottom in the air.
At the bottom of the press up your head should be just further forward than your hands. Push up back to start and repeat.
How many to do
For both of these exercises, technique is really important, so take it slow and try to do a set of 10 really good repetitions. Then have a minute or so rest and do it again. 3 total sets is good. You could do one day where you do 3 x 10 squats, and then the next day do 3 x 10 press ups. Alternate through the week, have one day of rest, and you’l
l have done 90 repetitions of each exercise by the end of the week. That’s great! To increase the challenge over time, you could hold a heavy object while doing the squats, or increase the repetitions up to 20. For press ups, you can find lower places to put your hands, working towards eventually doing them from the floor.
I hope you found this article helpful, and I’d love to hear any feedback – feel free to leave a comment below or like and share the post.
Thanks for reading!
For more information on training programs, personal training and online coaching, you can contact me via email at email@example.com
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