Why Lifting Heavy Weights is Important for Women
Step down from the elliptical! There is more than one way to get an excellent workout, manage your weight, and reap the benefits of regular exercise. That way is to lift weights.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults perform moderate to high-intensity muscle strengthening activities at least twice/week. If you’re skeptical of lifting heavy weights, let us run through all the benefits. Here’s why lifting heavy weights is important for women, especially as we age.
The Overload Principle
The overload principle explains that when a greater than normal stress or stimulus is endured by the body, we can expect physiological change.
In terms of weight lifting, this is seen as an increase in fitness. How much stress is enough stimulus? Fatigue is often a good indicator. The first step in safely achieving fatigue is a serious commitment to good weight lifting form. Sounds obvious but we’ve all seen it, someone curling twice the weight they should be, only able to complete that last rep with a hip thrust, shoulder shrug and an uncomfortably satisfied smile on their face.
A commitment to exceptional repetitions allows you to identify true muscular fatigue as the point that you can’t continue without breaking good form.
Composition matters. Carrying around a high percentage of body fat, regardless of the ‘weight’ on your bathroom scale poses many threats to good health. Weight lifting, when done properly, is a potent stimulus for increasing lean body mass and preventing sarcopenia, the natural loss of lean body mass with advancing age.
Combined with a healthy, balanced diet, stress from regular weight lifting sessions can promote weight loss and strength gains, resulting in improved composition. As composition changes from predominantly fat mass to lean muscle, the elusive ‘good metabolism’ that many of us hope for starts to become a reality. The more soft tissue lean mass a person has (ie, muscle), the more energy is required on a daily basis. More muscle = more eating (healthy) food!
Increases Bone Density
In addition to sharing many of the benefits of a great cardio workout; enhanced mood, better sleep, and overall health promotion, weight lifting has also been found to support bone density.
Weight lifting has also been found to support bone density.
A study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found the effect of 18 months of resistance exercise combined with 500 mg of calcium/day in previously untrained, inactive premenopausal women aged 28-39 to significantly increased regional bone mineral density above baseline levels in the lumbar spine and femur trochanter (1995).
Weight training not only strengthens muscles and bones but also the connective tissues around them, reducing the risk of injury and further promoting physical performance.
Weight lifting can double as a cardio workout, too! Choose large muscle groups and compound movements (think ‘move as many joints as possible’), minimize rest between sets, complete back-to-back supersets and/or lift in a consecutive circuit of alternating muscle groups. Your heart rate will quickly rise and your cardiovascular health will improve over time.
Unless you have unlimited amounts of time and love spending your nights at the gym, lifting heavy weights is a great way to increase the volume of your workout. This can save you a significant amount of time.
To paraphrase Pitbull, “get it in and get it [your life] on”.
Lift heavy, then go home. Really, go home. Be with your family, your pets, your favorite Netflix series.
Manage a life-long commitment to exercise by maximizing your efficiency. The results from lifting heavy should motivate you to continue and the lessened time commitment helps eliminate barriers.
Where to Start Lifting Heavy
Please keep it mind that is always wise and highly recommended to consult with your physician and a certified fitness professional before beginning any new exercise or strength-training program. Your gym will have professionals that can continue the conversation about why lifting heavy weights is important for women, show you correct form, or customize a program for you.
American Heart Association (2015, May). The American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/American-Heart-Association-Recommendations-for-Physical-Activity-Infographic_UCM_450754_SubHomePage.jsp
Lohman, T., Going, S., Hall, M., Ritenbaugh, C., Bare, L. ….Hill, A. (1995). Effects of resistance training on regional and total bone mineral density in premenopausal women: A randomized prospective study. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 10, 1015-1024. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.5650100705
Shannon is a dancer, POUND ICON, NASM Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, and ACE & AFFA Group Fitness Instructor. She's currently receiving her Master's degree in exercise science where she hopes to help people lead healthier lives.