Historically strength training has been seen by many as a man’s domain - conjuring up images of body builders with huge biceps and leading many women to steer clear of using weights in their workouts for fear of looking too bulky.
Thankfully things are changing and increasing numbers of women are recognising the huge benefits of strength training. In fact NHS recommends that every adult (regardless of age or gender!) engages in a minimum of 2 strength training sessions per week.
So lets look at the benefits of strength training.
Builds lean muscle mass: From the age of 30 women begin to lose muscle density, however the good news is that this muscle loss can be reversed by training, and you can see the benefits at any age. By embarking on a strength training programme you will very quickly begin to see results as after just a few sessions you’ll wake up those sleeping muscle fibres and fire up your neurological connections
Protects bone health: As with muscle mass, our peak age in terms of bone health is also around 30 and from that point onwards our bones begin to lose density and this particularly accelerates as we head towards menopause as oestrogen levels lower and put women at increasing risk of osteoporosis. However, research has shown that lifting weights can not only slow the decline in bone health, but can actually stimulate new bone growth keeping us stronger and healthier for longer
Helps improve performance in other disciplines (running, cycling, swimming, team sports): Strength training programmes can be created to target sports specific objectives, to ultimately help you build the strength that you need for the sport or activity you take part in. A strength programme should help prevent injuries by strengthening the muscles and connective tissues, improve speed of reaction, by boosting neuromuscular connections, and improve your technique and efficiency by boosting balance and coordination. A good personal trainer will devise a specific programme to target the needs of the individual athlete. For example a strength training programme for a runner would include lots of single leg work, whilst a programme for a tennis player would focus on rotational movements and include exercises that aim to mimic the motion of the different strokes and movement around the court
Supports weight loss: Strength training will increase your lean muscle mass and muscle burns more calories than fat which means that the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn by just existing! So whilst your calorie tracker may tell you that a 30 minute run will burn more calories than a 30 minute weights session, its actually much more complicated than that as it doesn’t take into account the fact that by building muscle you will be burning more calories outside of that 30 minute training session
Improves mood and mental health: The positive impact of cardio exercise on mood is well known (jogging or walking can help to release endorphins as well as mood regulating chemicals in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine). However, we now know that strength training can have a similar positive impact on our mental health. A 2018 study by BR Gordon et al concluded that ‘Resistance exercise training significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults regardless of health status’
It’s fun! Strength training can be extremely satisfying, especially as a beginner when you will begin to look and feel stronger quite quickly. Setting and achieving goals can give you a huge sense of satisfaction and it can be very social.
So, where to start? This doesn’t mean you need to rush down to the gym and start bench pressing 50 kilos, there are plenty of strength exercises which can be done using body weight alone as well as resistance bands, dumb bells or kettle bells. It’s important to start small and build up slowly to avoid injury and allow the muscles time to adapt to the new stimulus. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or advanced, think about basic movements like planks, squats, lunges and press ups and ensure you are applying the principle of progressive overload (this will be the subject of another blog post another day!). But most importantly find a method that you enjoy - that could be a class at a gym, training with a friend in the park, an outdoor fitness group, or working 1 on 1 with a PT, the more you enjoy it, the easier it will be to stick at it and make it a regular part of your life.