There’s a common misconception that strength training isn’t important for women. Popular culture tends to show men lifting weights, while women do more cardio exercises like running or swimming. In reality, women can—and should—be strength training, too!
While it’s important to complete a good mix of cardio and strength workouts, many women overlook strength training, often to their detriment. Strength training is crucial for many aspects of health, and it might be the key to reaching the fitness results you’ve been after. Here are a few key reasons why all women—young and old—should add strength training to their weekly workout routines.
- Builds strength: One of the most important benefits of strength training is right in the name—strength! Lifting weights or even doing bodyweight exercises helps to build stronger muscles and improves those muscles’ endurance, so you can feel stronger overall. What’s even better is that building strong muscles also reduces your risk for injury, whether you’re running, lifting weights or doing things around the house.
- Tones the body: A common fear women have about strength training is that lifting weights will make them look bulky, but this isn’t true. Really, strength training helps you burn fat more effectively and define your muscles, making you look more toned. It’s possible that strength training will make you gain weight, which is another common fear. However, remember that muscle is denser than fat, meaning you might be gaining weight but losing body fat, which improves your lean body mass. Additionally, muscles burn calories, so the more muscle you build, the more calories you’ll burn, helping you to stay toned!
- Keeps bones and joints healthy: Strength training is extremely useful in maintaining bone density. This is particularly important since women’s risk of osteoporosis increases near menopause. It’s also helpful in maintaining healthy joints. And, strength training helps improve and maintain muscle mass, which stabilizes the joints, reducing pain. These benefits are of major importance for older women, but they can improve and maintain the health of women of all ages.
- Improves overall performance: When doing cardio workouts, everyone’s bound to hit a plateau you just can’t seem to cross. But thanks to the physical results of strength training, your cardio can be improved, too! Added muscle strength and endurance can bolster your performance in all aspects of fitness to help you reach new goals and see better results.
- Builds confidence: The benefits of strength training are not just physical—they’re also mental. Women who strength train often learn how much their bodies are capable of, which can improve confidence and self-image. It’s empowering to be able to lift heavy weights and feel strong, especially if you’ve never considered doing so before.
Working out with a combination of cardio and strength training can have lasting effects on your body and health, including better immunity, better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of disease. Above all, though, you’ll feel stronger, healthier and better each and every day.
Strength training for beginners
It’s recommended that most women do strength training on the major muscle groups at least two times per week. It’s best to alternate between working on the upper muscles (chest, shoulders and arms) and lower muscles (legs, hips, glutes and abdomen) to avoid fatigue and injury.
But if you’ve never strength trained before, how do you get started? A lot of women are intimidated by the weight side of the gym, but there’s no need to be. You can start with whatever weight feels comfortable and work on slowly integrating resistance and strength workouts into your routine.
One good place to start is using resistance bands—rubber bands of varying thicknesses and sizes. Doing bodyweight exercises with only resistance bands can help you build endurance and strength, whether you’re in the gym or at home.
Small dumbbells are also a great option that can be used at home for upper body workouts. Find a few exercises that help you target different muscle groups. When doing these exercises, aim to complete multiple “sets” a certain number of times (repetitions or “reps”) with breaks in between. For example, you might hold a dumbbell in each hand and raise them up over your head, then lower them, 15 times, then take a 30-second break. Repeat that set of 15 reps three more times before moving on to something else.
You can build your own program of exercises with sets and reps to target individual muscle groups or find a pre-made program online. As you continue to train, you might want to begin using machines to target more specific muscles and get a more well-rounded workout in.
The most important thing to remember when beginning to strength train is that you still need to warm up! While you might stretch before a cardio exercise, a good strength training warmup might combine foam rolling to loosen tight muscles along with five minutes on a stationary bike to get your blood pumping.