If you think strength training is just for bodybuilders or competitive athletes, allow me to set you straight: strength training is really just exercising with resistance in order to build muscles. That's it. And while I think everyone* should be doing some sort of resistance training, I'm not necessarily saying you have to attempt super heavy weight lifting. There are many varieties of resistance training (TRX! Pilates! Some types of yoga!) so stay with me...
To be clear, strength training has an obvious place with sports performance and bodybuilding. However, I'm writing from a perspective where I'm more concerned about your overall health, well-being and fitness level for both now and as you age. There are so many benefits to a regular strength training routine, and it doesn't get talked about enough, especially for women. Many women shy away from strength training because they think it HAS to be a form of lifting weights or they assume it will make them bulky. [That's a myth. It won't.] Let's start by understanding some of the benefits of resistance training and why they matter to you.
Benefits Of Strength Training / Possible Outcomes:
• Build muscle strength
• More energy (When you strengthen muscles, you increase your physical capacity for any kind of movement: work, play, exercise, and activities of daily living.)
• Decrease fat tissue
• Increase metabolism (You'll burn calories more efficiently!)
• Improve body composition (More muscle tissue + less fat tissue = better body composition)
• Boost bone density (By stressing your bones, you make them stronger!)
• Decrease LDL (That's the bad cholesterol.)
• Improvements in Cardiovascular Disease risk factors
• Reduce blood pressure
• Improve insulin sensitivity (This can help with Type 2 Diabetes!)
• Balanced muscle groups will, in turn, reduce the risk of common overuse injuries
• Reduce pain from osteoarthritis
• Decrease depression
• Improve sleep
• Reduce stress levels
• Don't discount things like having less back pain (When muscles are stronger, they support your entire musculoskeletal system better and absorb shock more effectively from activities like walking and running.)
Why All Of This Matters To YOU:
If you don't use it, you WILL lose it. Muscle mass decreases with age for everyone. This might get your attention: in adults who don't participate in any kind of strength training exercise, they lose an average of 5 pounds per decade of muscle tissue. Since muscle tissue boosts metabolism, this means metabolism is negatively impacted as well.
Here's another statistic. According to the 2012 article "Resistance Training Is Medicine: Effects of Strength Training on Health" in Current Sports Medicine Reports by Wayne Westcott, PhD, inactive adults will decrease their muscle mass by 3% to 8% per decade after age 30. Again, this goes hand in hand with a decrease in resting metabolic rate and gains in fat tissue. Yikes.
In other words, if you don't continue to build or at least maintain your muscle mass, the average going rate is: losing 5 pounds (or 3% - 8%) of muscle mass per decade and decreasing your metabolism. You'll have less muscle tissue, more fat tissue, and you won't be as efficient at burning calories because your metabolism is lower, so the cycle will continue.
If you don't continue to build or at least maintain your muscle mass, the average going rate is: losing 5 pounds (or 3% - 8%) of muscle mass per decade and decreasing your metabolism.
Now let's talk about bones. I hear WAY too many stories of women far too young getting diagnosed with osteoporosis. I'm very aware of this as a small-framed female. Trying to protect my bone density is the MAIN reason I strength train with weights. Keep that in mind if you may be at risk for osteoporosis. When you strength train, you are being proactive at taking care of your bones to keep them healthy as you age.
If you're pre-diabetic or have Type 2 Diabetes, talk to your doctor and see if they recommend adding some type of resistance training in your life. There have been many studies showing improvement for this condition with the combination of strength training and aerobic training because it helps improve insulin sensitivity.
Lastly, here's a practical perspective on strength. You may not think you care to be "strong" but think about how your independence correlates with your health and strength. I don't know about you, but it would frustrate me if I couldn't perform activities of daily living by myself. Being able to lift heavy objects, unload my car, clean my house, move furniture, walk my dogs without fear of them pulling me along, perform yard work (that one is a lie, I don't do yard work), carry loads on stairs, climb a ladder, etc.... If I had to call someone each time I needed to do things like this, I would be disheartened. Very disheartened. Just last week, I had to take Samson, my 80 pound black lab, to a vet specialist a couple hours away. He's 13 and can't jump into my SUV anymore, so this means I had to lift him in and out of the car 4 times all by myself. Invest in your strength now so that you don't become feeble later, and you get to hang on to your independence longer.
Invest in your strength now so that you don't become feeble later, and you get to hang on to your independence longer.
If you're interested in starting up some type of resistance training, the good news is there are many fun ways to do it. Here are some options...
Strength Training Options:
• Free Weights
Dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls, and kettle bells.
• Weight Machines
Most fitness centers and gyms have a wide variety of machines, targeting specific areas of the body.
• Resistance Bands
These rubber tubes are easy to find, inexpensive, and take up minimal room. Many exercises can be adapted to include resistance bands. They are often sold in kits with different levels of resistance, a door adaptor, and a dvd or online access to tutorials on how to use the bands.
• Bodyweight Exercises
Bodyweight exercises are extremely practical, and many require zero equipment (this means squats, planks, push-ups, lunges, burpees, etc. are FREE). Some are done with things you already own (like tricep dips on a chair), and some require minimal equipment like a Power Tower where you can do many things for your entire body. If you don't have room for something like that, a piece like the Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar is much smaller and cheaper. If you use it on a door frame, it doesn't require actual installation and you can also use it on the ground for more bodyweight exercises. Other forms of bodyweight exercise include TRX suspension training, pilates and even some types and aspects of yoga.
At this point in my post, I have to ask:
Why aren't you strength training?
Let's do this: I'll tell you the most common excuses I hear, then I will politely blow them out of the water for you. :)
• Don't like going to the gym? Me either. Yuck. I'll admit, I'm really not a fan. I like to sing and dance to my own music way too much, which would get me laughed out of the gym. The good news is many of the above options don't require going to an actual gym. Many don't require any equipment at all. Even so, much of the equipment mentioned above are very inexpensive and you can even slowly build up basic equipment for your home over time. (Read my post, Make Your Own Home Gym with gear recommendations for practical, versatile, inexpensive equipment that doesn't take up much space.) No need to invest a ton of money on any of this until you find an option you like, anyway.
• Short on money? Bodyweight exercises are FREE. Bodyweight exercises are EFFECTIVE.
• Short on time? Read my post 4 Exercise Hacks To Get YOU Moving for more on this. Many of the exercises listed above can easily be adapted into routines that are 10 minutes or even less. Remember this: Just doing something is always better than doing nothing. I truly believe that. Small actions add up big. This is how I approach my own fitness journey. If you want encouragement on that, read my very own Exercise Manifesto.
• Women: "I don't want to lift weights because I might get bulky." This is a myth. Women don't have enough testosterone to get bulky like men do. A woman has to try really, really freakin' hard in an extremely focused way to get super bulky on a bodybuilder level. For the rest of us, embrace getting stronger. Strength is beautiful. Many supermodels (Nina Agdal, Kate Upton), singers (at age 60, Madonna is a great example— she's in amazing shape as discussed in this Self Magazine article), and actresses (Blake Lively, Sofia Vergara, Gal Gadot, Cameron Diaz, Scarlett Johansson) are into weight lifting. Here are several links to articles about female celebrities who lift weights... one from Women's Health Magazine, Shape Magazine, and Insider.
• Don't know exactly what to do? I'll sympathize a little more on this one. Getting over the inertia of not knowing exactly what to do is tough. Try a group class, hire a personal trainer if your budget allows, buy a workout DVD, look up some tutorials on YouTube, or contact me. It's never been easier to find resources on working out. Just pick one thing. (Here's a short video on how to do a Plank. Boom.) That's a start. Whatever you pick, try it several times until you get the hang of it. Simply knowing what to do (a plan) and having a little consistency may be just what you need to get some momentum going. When you are familiar with it, make it harder or choose a new DVD / YouTube workout, etc.
If improving your quality of life and taking care of your body to live well at all stages of life sounds like a good plan to you, give resistance training a whirl. Choose something from the category above that sounds fun, and give it a genuine, open-minded try. If you don't like it, that's ok. Try a different one. You may find that you actually love it, especially when you begin to feel stronger and better overall. Be patient with results; they do not happen overnight. [Read my post on the many markers of progress while on your fitness journey for a little encouragement.] The bottom line? Take care of yourself, you only get one body and you only get one life. Make it as happy and healthy as you can.
Love & Light.
*If you have an injury, illness, chronic health condition or are pregnant, see your doctor first before you start anything new. Your doctor will make sure that you are able to strength train without causing your cardiovascular system or body more stress than it can take. When in doubt, always check with your doctor first to make sure you don't put yourself in a dangerous situation.
Thank you for reading! Sign up for my free Monthly Newsletter here. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram here:
Hi, I'm Blake. I love adventure, cooking, costume parties, wine, yoga, and reading...in that order. Follow my blog for yoga stuff, fitness tips, & healthy recipes...
• The Meaning of Namaste
• Confessions of a Self Care Hypocrite
• Living In The Age Of Social Media: Swapping Comparison for Gratitude
• My Exercise Manifesto
• 4 Exercise Hacks To Get YOU Moving