For women who workout, most use cardio equipment or engage in some other type of aerobic activity. But, very few women lift weights. The reason? Women tend to associate strength training with men and they do not lift weights due to a fear of getting too big. If this notion is what’s keeping you from pumping iron, then you’re missing out on some important health and appearance benefits.
To help you appreciate the benefits of weight training, we talked with two certified personal trainers from opposite coasts – Chris Juergens in Los Angeles and Yvonne La-Garde in Boston. Our two experts, who train women of all ages and fitness levels, offer their insights on why you should start working out with weights and help to dispel some myths.
1. Burn More Calories
If you’re looking to burn more calories – and who isn’t these days – boosting your metabolism is critical. Given that muscle burns more calories than fat, increasing lean muscle mass will help you reach this goal. Strength training helps you gain muscle while losing body fat thereby increasing your resting metabolism. Although some studies indicate that for each pound of muscle gained you burn an additional 35 calories a day, a more realistic calculation may be closer to 15 calories. But, that’s certainly better than the 3 calories or less burned by a pound of fat!
During a workout, cardio burns more calories than strength training. But, the body continues to burn fat for several hours after a strength training workout, making it an ideal fat blaster. If the weight load is increased, the calorie burn is even more pronounced.
Chris, a certified strength and conditioning specialist says, “If your program involves multi joint/body parts, you’ll get the benefits of cardio plus weights. This is known as compound lifting and is similar to interval training. An example includes using arm weights for a biceps curl while doing squats.”
Yvonne opts for interval training with her clients. “Interval training alternates between high and low intensity exercises. So, I might have a client complete a set of bicep curls and then I’ll have her jump on the elliptical for a few minutes. Studies have demonstrated that this type of training – consistently raising and lowering your heart rate – requires more energy and burns calories more effectively in a short period of time,” says Yvonne.
Not sure how many calories your body needs while at rest? This measure, called Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), is easily calculated†. For example, a 48 year old women, who weighs 130 pounds and is 5’ 5” requires about 1,294 calories at rest. Even if her weight stays the same but her percent lean body mass increases, then her BMR will go up.
2. Maintain Muscle Mass
In physically inactive adults, after the age of 30, the rate of muscle loss is about 3-5% per decade and a similar decline in muscle strength. Loss of muscle mass usually starts in women in their 40s and accelerates in their mid-70s. Known as sarcopenia (“poverty of flesh”), this loss of muscle mass, strength and function as we age is associated with the absence of exercise in sufficient intensity or volume. Resistance exercise can mitigate this muscle loss over time.
“Think of weight training as a 401k program for your muscles where you’re building a reserve. The more you build up your reserves, the longer it takes to deteriorate. So, the sooner you start, the better,” says Chris. “Remarkably when it comes to shrinking muscles, you can get a second chance. Just two months of strength-building exercises can reverse two decades of a typical person’s muscle loss,” adds Yvonne.
3. Lose Body Fat & Inches
While cardio promotes weight loss, strength training is required if you want to change your body definition. Most women mistakenly believe that weight lifting will make them look bulky. This is not possible as women do not have sufficient levels of testosterone, the hormone responsible for building muscle. With a weight program, you will not only lose body fat but keep it off. For those fixated to a number on the scale, you may be better served to take pictures and body measurements instead. It’s likely that after several weeks or months of lifting weights, you may weigh the same but you will lose inches. Your silhouette will be tighter and more sculpted.
Chris adds, “Training stimulates the appetite so you want to be sure to refuel your body with the right nutrients – lean protein, plenty of fruits & vegetables and unsaturated fats”. Yvonne agrees, “I recommend that all my clients eat Greek yogurt (0% fat) with fresh fruit. It’s much higher in protein than regular yogurt, low in calories and fat and creates a sense of fullness that lasts until lunchtime.”
4. Improve Strength & Endurance
A rewarding aspect of weight training is that you can experience first hand improvements in your strength and endurance in just a few short weeks. Initially, a 5 pound arm weight might seem heavy, but in time this can be increased to 8 or 10 pounds. Studies show that even a moderate program can increase a woman’s strength by 30 to 50 percent.
“All of us are aging, so it’s important to maintain strength. Functional training helps you perform everyday activities like carrying groceries up the stairs, walking the dog, gardening or opening a jar,” says Chris.
5. Improve Posture, Coordination & Balance
Today, many young people have poor posture. This is related to 16 to 18 hours in front of a computer or in a seated position with the shoulders rounded in and head down. This repetitive activity shortens and tightens certain muscles (in front of body) while at the same time, stretches or lengthens other muscles (in back of body or posterior side).
Chris addresses postures issues by using a balanced strength training program. He comments, “I work on balancing agonist with antagonist exercises – or working opposite muscle groups equally. For example, during the lifting phase of a biceps curl (agonist muscle), the triceps muscle lengthens (antagonist) while the biceps muscle contracts (shorten). Chest and back muscles are another example of agonist/antagonist muscle groups.”
For too man senior citizens, a loss of balance and a fall oftentimes leads to fractures which can be debilitating. Studies have demonstrated than even in the elderly, strength training can significantly improve a person’s flexibility and balance, helping to reduce the risk of falls.
Yvonne adds, “For many older adults, growing older seems to involve an inevitable loss of strength, energy and vigor. But it need not be so. The frailty and decreased energy we associate with aging, such as difficulty walking for distances, climbing stairs or carrying groceries, are largely due to muscle loss. The muscle loss results mainly from inactivity. The old saying “use it or lose it” is true when it comes to muscle.”
6. Elevate Your Mood
You might associate endorphins – those compounds responsible for making you feel good – with running. But, weight lifting on a regular basis can also improve your mood. Committing to a regular workout does wonders to relieve tension, increase self-confidence and improve self-esteem.
7. Improve Athletic Performance
Building stronger muscles, bones and joints through weight training will help improve your performance in other activities like elliptical trainer, aerobics, swimming, walking, bike riding, running or tennis. I run several days a week, practice yoga on a weekly basis and ski during the wintertime. I credit my twice weekly weight training workouts with improving my performance in each of these areas.
8. Reduce Risk of Injury
With age the joints become stiffer and less flexible, making us more susceptible to injury. Weight training not only strengthens muscles but the joints, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue. This helps support daily activities and reduces the chance of injury. A few years ago when I crashed during skiing, I credit my strong knees, quad and ham muscles with preventing me from tearing the ligaments in my knee.
9. Reduce Osteoporosis Risk
By 2020, it is estimated that half of all Americans over the age of 50 will be at risk for fractures and low bone mass due to osteoporosis. A weight training program not only builds muscle but maintains bone mass and strengthens bones. When combined with a proper diet, strength training reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis.
“Bones may not look alive, like skin or a beating heart do, but bone is living tissue made of bone cells. When you do weight-bearing exercises your muscles move against resistance by contracting. Contracting muscles, which are attached to bones by tendons, pull on your bones. This forces the bone to become stronger and denser in anticipation for the next pulling (weight bearing) activity. That’s how building muscle also helps to protect your bones,” says Yvonne.
10. Reduce Signs & Symptoms of Chronic Disease
Those with back pain and chronic inflammatory disorders like arthritis can benefit from weight training. Studies have demonstrated that with a weight training program, disabled participants can increase their range of motion with less pain. A recent study showed that women with lymphedema after breast cancer surgery reduced the incidence and symptoms of swelling and increased muscle strength by weight lifting.
11. Improve Blood Lipids
Like many forms of exercise, weight lifting improves cholesterol levels by reducing LDL or “bad” cholesterol and raising HDL or “good” cholesterol. Given that heart disease is the #1 killer for both men and women, this is an important health benefit.
12. Improve Glucose Utilization
A hallmark of type II diabetes is the body’s diminished ability to uptake glucose due to insulin resistance. In the past decade, the incidence of type II diabetes has jumped, largely a result of a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. In a recent study of Hispanic men and women, 16 weeks of strength training produced dramatic improvements in glucose control.
13. Improve Recovery Time
If you’ve been sidelined due to injury or surgery, you may have lost weight. But, this loss was most likely from muscle and not fat. That’s because muscle acts as a reservoir for proteins and metabolites that are needed for repair and recovery. Without sufficient reserves, recovery time takes longer. This is particularly relevant in the elderly who have limited muscle reserves due insufficient protein intake and absence of strength training.
If all of these reasons has you eager to start an weight training program but you’re not sure where to begin, then read, “Getting Started with Weight Training“. Yvonne and Chris offer pointers on how to get started and get the results you’re looking for.
In terms of the benefits of strength training, Yvonne sums it up nicely, “You have to program exercise into your life because you want a quality life. It is your choice, not chance that determines your destiny. The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. It used to be said, “If you will take care of me, I will take care of you”. Now we say, “I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.” If you don’t exercise; if you don’t eat right; you WILL accelerate the aging process. The bottom line is … if you want to live a long and healthy life you need to include strength training in your daily routine.”
To Calculate Basal Metabolic Rate:
Women: 655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
Men: 66 + (6.3 x weight in pounds) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
Adjust BMR according to activity levels. Multiply BMR by 1.4 if sedentary; by 1.5 if moderately physically active and by 1.6 if very physically active.
Chris Juergens is a CSCS, ACE, NESTA and TRX certified strength and conditioning personal trainer. He currently trains his clients at Spectrum Clubs in the greater Los Angeles area. You can reach him via email at: [email protected]
Yvonne La-Garde has a Masters in Education and is a Certified Personal Trainer & Nutritional Consultant via the National Personal Training Institute & the National Federation of Personal Trainers. You can reach her via email at: via email at: [email protected]
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.